Bring back the Garcias!
One big result from the end of the Cold War in 1989ish and the subsequent onset of the “peace dividend” in the early 1990s was that the near-600 ship U.S. Navy was drastically drawn down. While the carriers, dropping from 15 to 10, and the mothballing then disposal of the four Iowa class battleships got the most attention, it should also be remembered that via the “Great Cruiser Slaughter” and the untimely demise of the Sprucans saw 57 cruisers and destroyers vanish from the Navy List followed by the 23 Adams-class (all decommissioned in just a 33-month period) and 4 Kidd-class DDGs, and the 40 Knox-class fast frigates which killed off the tin cans.
But one interesting class I am here to bemoan is the loss of the Garcias, the 10-pack of fast frigates that preceded the Knoxes.
Built in the 1960s as some of the last of the destroyer escorts, they were kind of easy to forget. Just 414 feet overall with a 2,600-ton displacement, they used a simple steam plant of two boilers feeding a single steam turbine and a centerline screw, giving them a top speed of 27 knots but the ability to cruise at 20 for 4,000nm– making them perfect for wartime cross-Atlantic convoy escort.
They had a decent ASW fit including a bow-mounted sonar, a platform for an SH-2 Seaprite, both Mk32 (side-launched) and Mk25 (stern launched) torpedo tubes, and an 8-cell ASROC “Matchbox” launcher with eight reloads. For surface action, they had a pair of WWII/Korean War throwback 5″/38s in Mk 30 mounts as well as the possibility to use Harpoons in the ASROC launcher.
While they were dead meat against an incoming airstrike, at least one ship, USS Bradley (DE-1041), had a RIM-7 Sea Sparrow BPDMS installed while keeping the rest of the armament fit. All this with a 250-man crew. Indeed, the first six FFGs (originally DEGs), the Brooke class, were essentially just Garcias that had been equipped with an Mk-22 “one-armed bandit” launcher amidships with a 16-slot magazine.
Imagine for a moment that an updated Garcia were to be fielded today.
The same-sized hull is already made in America, the Legend/Berthoff-class national security cutter (NSC).
The centerpiece of the Coast Guard’s fleet (which runs 418 feet oal and weighs in at 4,500 tons) the NSC has a CODAG engineering suite of MTU 20V 1163 diesels and a single LM2500 gas turbine that is capable of “over 28 knots” with a 12,000nm cruising range while needing fewer sailors to keep it running than a Garcia of old. Add a modern MK45 5″/62 up front, shoehorn a second 5-incher amidships– the mounts weigh almost the same as the old Mk 30s on the Garcias while having a much more capable gun. Insert an 8-cell of strike length VLS for VLA-ASROC, another 8-cell short VLS for quad-packed Enhanced Sea Sparrows for air defense, and swap out the NSC’s current CIWS for a 21-cell RAM launcher. The NSC already has a sonar fit, which could be expanded, as well as a huge (for its size) hangar and stern pad. Instead of the stern-launched 31-foot cutter boat, install a towed sonar array and an eight-pack of Naval Strike Missiles similar to the stern Harpoon cans seen on the Ticonderogas.
They would be a great “low” part of a “high/low” frigate mix when balanced against the building Constellation-class FFGs.
While the Constellations are direly needed, there is still a huge gap left in the FF arena that was created when the Knoxes and Garcias left. Further, once the 21 remaining Ticos are retired, that is a further 42 5-inch guns that will disappear from the fleet without any real replacement (the Constellation has a 57mm gun while the Burkes aren’t realistically going to get close enough to shore for NGFS any more than the Ticos would have.)
NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $950 million per ship as it is, and you could imagine a 20 percent increase with the redesign and new weapon fit, putting such a program in the range of about $1.3B per hull, which is about the same as the larger Constellations. However, you get two 5-inch guns and a focus on killing subs whereas the multi-mission nature of the Constellations means they will be much like the old Perry-class FFGs they replaced and lean towards a more anti-air frigate concept– and will take several years to get in the water and the bugs worked out.
Contrast this with the fact that the NSCs have been under construction for 15 years and Ingalls has kind of gotten it figured out, plus, they have used the hull for a series of proposed LCS and Patrol Frigate designs they have pitched around the world, so they likely already have a lot of the backend design work brainstormed for an up-armed NSC already.
A 20-30 ship class of “Garcia’d” NSCs in haze gray, matching the Constellations hull-for-hull, would go a long way towards making the Navy whole, and would be an easy export option for allies seeking a similar ASW/AShW optimized fast frigate.