• US Navy's guided missile frigate project faces delays due to a flawed design.
  • The $22 billion project started construction before completing the design, causing issues.
  • GAO recommends prioritizing design quality and testing systems on land to mitigate risks.

A congressional report published Wednesday found that the US Navy's designs for its guided missile frigate project are flawed, stalling construction and delaying the delivery of the first frigate.

"The Navy had good reason to be optimistic that the frigate program was positioned to deliver capabilities on the schedule it promised," the report said. "Subsequent missteps, however, have jeopardized the Navy's ability to achieve these goals."

In order to accomplish its ambitious goal of acquiring and delivering up to 20 Constellationclass guided missile frigates over the course of 20 years — an endeavor projected to cost over $22 billion — the US Navy began building the first frigate before its design was complete. But that was a big mistake, a congressional watchdog found.

The US Government Accountability Office reported that this misstep resulted in design challenges that paused construction on the first ship, which began in August 2022, and will cause the frigate to be delivered to the service three years late.

"To reduce technical risk, the Navy and its shipbuilder modified an existing design to incorporate Navy specifications and weapon systems," the report said. "However, the Navy's decision to begin construction before the design was complete is inconsistent with leading ship design practices and jeopardized this approach."

In addition to scheduling delays and the halting of ship construction, the Navy has yet to demonstrate frigate propulsion and machinery control systems.

However, the report suggests that scheduling delays coupled with changes made to the frigate testing process may allow the Navy to test these two unproven systems on land. By doing this testing, there may be fewer problems once the ship is at sea.

The future frigate was designed to be a multimission workhorse that carries air defense and strike missiles, as well as torpedoes to attack submarines. It is being built by Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Wisconsin.

The report proposed five recommendations including that the Navy prioritize measuring the quality of ship designs over the quantity of design deliverables as well as complete and assess the design before moving on to building the second frigate.

The Navy agreed to accept four of the recommendations and one of them partially, which involved updating testing.

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