President Trumps’ goal of fielding a 355 ship American Navy has led officials to reconsider the decommissioning of Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates that were retired from service in the 2000s. The frigates were retired early in an attempt to reduce costs, but they could technically be returned to duty for a decade or more of service.
The Perry-class frigate was designed as an escort ship intended to accompany Nimitz class aircraft carriers as a part of the ten carrier strike groups currently in use around the globe. At a comparatively light 4,100 tons, the Perry frigates proved to be formidable naval vessels, with their Mark 13 guided missile launchers capable of firing SM-1MR surface to air missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles via 40-round internal magazine. In fact, the Perry class frigate’s anti-ship capabilities could prove invaluable to existing carrier strike groups, as they can carry more anti-ship missiles than the Navy cruisers currently in use, which are limited to eight.
Plans are underway to convert some Tomahawk missile platforms into an anti-ship variant in hopes of bolstering the American Navy’s ability to engage in ship to ship warfare, but bringing back the Perry frigates could also serve the same purpose.
The Perry class frigates also came equipped with an Italian-made 3-inch rapid-fire gun, six anti-submarine torpedo tubes, a Phalanx close-in weapon system for last-ditch defense, and carried a single SH-2 Seasprite or SH-60 helicopter.
The Perrys were designed for anti-submarine warfare. Each vessel is equipped with hull-mounted and towed sonar arrays, which coupled with their helicopters and torpedoes made them extremely capable submarine chasers. Most carrier strike groups are accompanied by at least one nuclear submarine intended to provide defense against submarine attacks, but as has been demonstrated in international war games on more than one occasion, even outdated submarines have proven a significant threat to American carriers, despite their own submarine escorts.
The Perrys were also often used for tasks that did not require the presence of a larger destroyer or cruiser, such anti-piracy operations. Since their retirement, the U.S. Navy has been forced to change tactics, chasing Somali pirates on small skiffs in $1.3 billion Burke-class destroyers.
By the end of the Cold War, the United States had 51 functioning Perry-class frigates, all of which were retired between 2000 and 2010. Now, the U.S. Navy is considering bringing up to eight of them back into active service to bolster the Navy’s numbers. Of course, bringing these ships out of mothballs would be quite the undertaking.
“We’re taking a hard look at the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. There’s seven or eight of those that we could take a look at but those are some old ships and everything on these ships is old… a lot has changed since we last modernized those.” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said.
Updates would be required, not only of the navigation and communication systems employed by the Perry-class vessels, but also of the weapons systems. The Mark 13 missile launchers removed upon the retirement of their SM-1MR surface-to-air missile, for instance, could be replaced by Mk. 41 missile silos employed by larger vessels. These updates, however, could cost as much as $250 million.
Of course, daunting as that figure may seem, $250 million could produce as many as seven or eight combat vessels that have a record of versatility under difficult circumstances. Compared to the cost of fielding a single new Littoral Combat Ship, estimated at approximately $480 million per vessel despite concerns about their actual combat effectiveness, bringing the Perry frigates back could be seen as a real bargain.
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