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Austal makes cut for next round of Navy frigate program

The U.S. Navy has picked five shipbuilders to advance to the next round of its future frigate program, including Mobile-based Austal USA and Mississippi’s Huntington Ingalls Industries.

The program is a huge prize: The Navy plans to buy 20 ships in what it has termed the FFG(X) program, which denotes an experimental guided-missile frigate. According to a recent defense-industry report, officials anticipate paying nearly a billion dollars per ship.

To some extent, the frigates are envisioned as a successor to the Littoral Combat Ships. Austal builds one version of the LCS, an aluminum trimaran, in Mobile; Lockheed Martin builds a second version, a steel monohull, at Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyards in Wisconsin.

Initially, the Navy seemed inclined to base its frigate on a beefed-up version of one of those two ships, but in 2017 it opened the program up to other contenders. Interested shipbuilders were asked to submit a proven “parent design” and to describe how it could be adapted to meet FFG(X) program requirements.

The five finalists each get a $15 million contract for design work. According to industry site defensenews.com, options allow the contracts to increase to $22 million, and the design work must be finished by June 2019.

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Austal’s frigate design is closely based on its existing LCS. Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle has said that the Austal LCS has the capacity for the additional weaponry and other systems a frigate will be required to carry, so adding them to the design wouldn’t dramatically change a production process that’s already up and running.

Austal currently has enough LCS contracts to keep it delivering two of the ships per year through 2021. Winning the frigate contract would provide work for the company’s 4,000 employees past that last LCS. (The shipyard also builds a transport catamaran for the Navy.)

Lockheed Martin has taken a similar tack, offering an upgunned version of its LCS. According to a report by the U.S. Naval Institute News, the Freedom-based frigate will have “much in common” with a version of the Freedom class that the company is building for the Royal Saudi Navy. It would be built in Wisconsin.

According to the USNI News, the other three contenders announced Friday are:

Fincantieri Marinette Marine, which is offering a design based on the multi-mission European frigate it builds for the Italian Navy. The American version would be built in Wisconsin.

General Dynamics Bath Iron Works has proposed a ship based on the European F100 frigate built by its Spanish partner Navantia. Versions of the ship are used by Spain, Australia and Norway. The American version would be built in Bath, Maine.

Huntington Ingalls’ design is based on the National Security Cutter it builds for the U.S. Coast Guard in Pascagoula.

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If the program stays on schedule, in 2019 the Navy will pick a winner and in 2020 it’ll award the first contract.

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© 2018 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.