By DAVID SHARP
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) —Fincantieri Marinette Marine has won a contract for as many as 10 frigates, beating out three other shipbuilders, as the Navy seeks to build smaller, lethal warships during a time of increasing threats.
The $795 million contract calls for Marinette Marine to move forward with the design and construction of the lead ship, and provides options for as many as nine more frigates, the Navy announced Thursday. The contract will carry a value of $5.6 billion if all 10 ships are built, the Navy said.
Construction for the first new major shipbuilding program in more than a decade will begin in Marinette, by April 2022, and the first ship will be delivered in 2026, said James Geurts, Navy assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition.
Frigates are ships that are smaller and less costly than the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Maine’s Bath Iron Works helped to design the Navy’s previous line of frigates, the Oliver Hazard Perry class, the last ship of which was retired from duty in 2015.
The Navy is seeking smaller warships that are more deadly and heavily armored than the Navy’s current line of small, speedy warships known as littoral combat ships. The littoral combat ships have been criticized for being lightly armored and lacking firepower.
The Navy pressed to expedite the process for the new class of frigates by using existing ship designs. Fincantieri Marinette Marine drew upon the Italian-French design for its proposal.
The announcement was disappointing for the other three finalists: Bath Iron Works, a General Dynamics subsidiary, along with Austal USA in Alabama, and Huntington Ingalls in Mississippi.
Marinette most likely stood out for the contract because it has less work than the major shipyards, Bath and Ingalls, and is better prepared to undertake the project, said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexinginton Institute.
The total cost of the first frigate, including design costs and other factors, is expected to be $1.28 billion and the average costs of the rest of the ships would be $781 million apiece, Geurts said.