The life of a frigate sailor in the U.S. Navy doesn’t look much like what you see in the recruiting commercials.
As described by Navy Times’ senior writer Mark D. Faram, the crew of the frigate USS Elrod struggles constantly with breakdowns, old equipment and the limitations of a ship deliberately left out of combat relevance in the 21st century.
Plus sailors’ accommodations are cramped. Their clothes come back damp and wrinkled from the central laundry. Sometimes they shower without hot water for weeks.
The frigates, in short, are the self-described “Ghetto Navy,” the part of the surface force that makes the rest of the surface force — which has had its own maintenance, training and readiness problems — look good. But in the true spirit of the service, the crew has to look on the bright side. Everyone, starting with the ships’ chiefs, treats her or his time aboard as an experience that, as Calvin’s father might have put it, “builds character.”
The “Figs” were built with a very specific purpose in mind. Open ocean escort of merchant shipping, amphibious shipping, and underway replenishment groups. They were optimized for Anti-Sub warfare, with a significant secondary capability for Anti-Air Warfare and limited Anti-Surface Warfare. That is, they were balanced, well rounded ships. Hence their adaptability to a wide variety of roles and missions. They were specifically NOT intended to sail as part of a Carrier Battlegroup (though shortages in other ships meant they often did fill that role).
They were among the first ships “designed to cost” with the capabilities and growth potential of the class sacrificed in order to keep the unit cost as low as possible, thus permitting large numbers to be bought. But that approach meant that when the main battery, the Mk13 Guided Missile Launcher System became prohibitively expensive to maintain, removing it without replacement was the only viable option. The Navy could have upgraded the Figs in a manner similar to what the Australians have done with theirs. But the costs involved would eat into budget dollars that are now going to buy LCS, DDG-51 and other hulls. I personally think that was a shortsighted choice.
But the simple math is, the Figs are old. They’ve earned their retirement. Too bad they don’t have a real replacement.