These new warships will be tasked with many missions, including finding and destroying small swarming boat attacks, supporting carrier strike groups, conducting disaggregated operations, attacking enemies with over-the-horizon missiles, and engaging in advanced surface and anti-submarine warfare.
The new ships come in at 496 feet long and will displace 7,300 tons. Their size and weight specifications are intended to fit between Littoral Combat Ships and DDG 51 destroyers. While the frigates are not being built with the kinds of armaments used on destroyers, they will still be armed with heavy weapons, Aegis radar systems, and vertical launch missile systems.
A Navy report notes that the new Constellation-class ships will include cutting-edge Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar systems, an emerging threat detection system capable of performing air defense and air traffic management missions in support of maritime combat operations. The ships are also well-armed, as they are being built with Mk 41 Vertical Launch Systems, Mk 110 57mm naval guns, and a suite of electronic warfare technologies.
The integration of Aegis Baseline 10 radars is quite significant, as they incorporate a software suite that connects to a combat system with fire control, advanced radar, and computing technology, giving the Baseline 10 systems the ability to identify targets and launch interceptor weapons.
The Navy’s vision for the Constellation class, first articulated several years ago, emphasizes warfare networking capabilities. Navy plans have long called for the establishment of a local sensor network that uses passive onboard sensors and embarked aircraft to act as a “gateway to the fleet tactical grid,” as the Navy describes it. This vision was expressed in the service’s call for a netted-system of sensors called the Cooperative Engagement Capability, which is intended to connect radar systems to other sensor-derived information.
This concept of networking is integral to efforts to link the new Constellation-class ships with large surface platforms. In doing so, the Navy aims to develop its area air defense capabilities and the ability to defend against raids of small boats.
Well-armed Constellation-class ships are consistent with the Navy’s previously articulated plans, which call for a platform that can travel in substantial aggregated combat scenarios, such as carrier strike groups and expeditionary strike groups. At the same time, in a manner likely aligned with the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations strategy, the concept for the ship also likely incorporates a requirement for the ship to be able to operate autonomously from other ships, enabling it to carry out independent missions.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.