Surface Forces: Prefab Constellation-Class


January 23, 2023: The new American Constellation-class frigates are being built in the United States by Fincantieri, a successful Italian manufacturer of prefabricated ships. Constellations use the Franco-Italian FREMM design which makes use of many prefabricated sections of the ships to speed construction and reduce costs. The United States has been using this technique for over a century, including the construction of 150 destroyers during and after World War I, 2,700 Liberty Ships (cargo ships) and more recently nuclear submarines and frigates. Fincantieri has experience using prefab sections to build cruise ships. China and South Korea, two of the largest shipbuilders in the world, use prefab techniques for their commercial ships and naturally do the same for their war ships. As a result, they can build their warships much faster than the United States. Having a much larger number of skilled workers and shipyards also plays a role as well.

Constellation-class ships displace 7,300 tons and are the sixth warship class to use the FREMM design techniques. The first FREMM type ship entered service in 2012 and 41 were built or on order before the order for twenty American Constellations came along. The first Constellation enters service in 2026.

The Constellations specialize in ASW (anti-submarine warfare), while also equipped for anti-ship and anti-aircraft operations, and cost $800 million each. The FREMM ships built so far have all specialized in ASW, Air Defense or something in between. The exact mix of weapons is still to be determined but Constellations are likely to be armed with a 57mm gun and 32 VLS cells containing a variety of anti-ship and anti-satellite aircraft and cruise missiles. There is a 16-cell JSM (anti-ship missile) launcher. a 21-cell RAM anti-missile/aircraft system and anti-submarine torpedoes. Constellation has a variable depth sonar system as well as a towed array sonar. There are defensive systems against torpedo attack and a fire control system that shows all weapons available and the status of each. Constellations have a modified Aegis radar that can could also provide BMD (ballistic missile defense) using the Aegis BMD capabilities many destroyers already have as well. This means the mix of missiles in the VLS cells includes SM-6 (anti-aircraft and anti-ship), SM-3 (the anti-missile version) or Tomahawk (land attack cruise missile)

The MH-60 helicopter can carry dipping sonars and anti-submarine torpedoes. Crew size is 200 and top speed is over 50 kilometers an hour. Service life is 25 years.


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