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Aerospace and Defense

Brooks questions NASA experts with conflicting views on best way to return to the moon

Brandon Moseley



Wednesday, Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) questioned NASA experts on their starkly different views on how to best return to the Moon during a House Space Subcommittee hearing.

Former NASA Associate Administrator Doug Cooke advocated replicating the simpler “Apollo” approach. Current NASA Associate Administrator Kenneth Bowersox defended a more complex, multi-faceted “Artemis” approach. Cooke estimated that NASA’s current “Artemis” approach has a 49 percent mission failure risk versus an “Apollo” approach mission failure risk of 20 percent.

“Alright, let me quote from it in three different places. Quote, “Apparently under pressure from commercial launch providers who need additional launches to fill their manifests NASA is being directed to break the lunar lander into multiple pieces so that these can fit on less powerful commercial launchers increasing risk and constraining the architecture.” Brooks read. “Second quote, “NASA’s current approach requires 8 new developments— interjection by me, versus 3 with Apollo, 8 to 3— resuming the quote, 8 launches versus 1 with Apollo and approximately 17 mission critical operations versus 7 with Apollo to achieve the Artemis goals by 2024.” End quote. And then finally quote, “If you assume each event has a 98% probability of success the likelihood of mission success is 80% for this Apollo-like approach. In comparison, the likelihood of mission success for NASA’s current approach is 51%, not taking into account the launch vehicle maturity risk. NASA can significantly increase speed, simplicity, cost, and probability of mission success by deferring gateway, leveraging SLS, and reducing critical mission operations.” End quote.”

“Now, if I were an astronaut, I would be concerned about these kinds of comments from a former NASA associate administrator,” Brooks said. “And, they appear to suggest that profit motive (i.e. the desire of some individuals for personal gain) may be driving NASA decision making at much greater risk to our astronauts. So, I would like to have Mr. Cook, if you would, expound on that leaving enough time for Mr. Bowersox to reply.”

“I think that the pressure to get to commercial capabilities and drive that objective is causing us to do things that are higher risk and going to this many developments, from scratch by the way, starting now trying to get to 2024 with that many critical mission events the probabilities are that,” Cooke replied. “And, if you assume .98, .98 is arbitrary, and some of the numbers would be higher and some would be lower, but it is illustrative of the complexity that’s been bought into versus what could be done with a more simple approach.”

“First, nobody is driving us,” Bowersox said. “We actually came to these conclusions on our own and a big driver is to have flexibility. We want to have multiple options. We don’t want to rely just on one system. We would like to have other systems. And, what we are trying to build on is some of the success we have experienced in having flexibility with our commercial cargo vehicles for station. Having multiple providers, multiple options there has been really useful. When one has a problem we can go to the other provider and so we want to take advantage of some of that learning and move it into this other program to help us get to the moon and on to Mars.”
“Well, if I could interject for a moment, do you concur with Mr. Cooke’s belief that the Apollo method of going to the Moon was simpler and safer versus the current Artemis approach of going to the Moon?” Brooks asked.

“What I would say about the Apollo approach is that it was simpler,” Bowersox answered. “I would not say it was necessarily safer. We will know that after we are done. But, I think that our current approach has a lot of potential to be actually safer than Apollo. Because of the flexibility and complexity we can actually increase some of the safety aspects.”

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Brooks asked, “Mr. Cooke, in the time I have remaining do you have any additional comments you would like to give on this subject?”

“Just that it gets back to probabilities in the end and critical events, critical launches, and it is the more you have the higher the risk.” Cooke responded. “We did succeed with Space Station which was about 40 Shuttle launches to build. Had we lost a payload during that time we didn’t have backups. We didn’t have the margin and budget to have backup hardware. So, if we had lost one of those payloads we would have been scrambling. So, it is better to keep it simple. It is hard enough as it is. If you watch the documentaries from Apollo 11 and saw the team in the control room, who I grew up under at Johnson’s Space Center, you saw their anticipation. Every burn, every docking, every possible critical operation; you saw their anxiety leading up to that point and the relief when it was done. So, the fear that you have like that the better you are I think and less risk.”

Artemis is NASA’s program to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, including the first woman to walk on the moon. When they land, our American astronauts will be the first humans ever before to visit the Moon’s South Pole.

NASA is working with U.S. companies, including some with a presence in North Alabama, as well as our international partners. NASA is vowing to push the boundaries of human exploration forward to the Moon. As a result of Artemis, NASA will be able to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028 to uncover new scientific discoveries and demonstrate new technological advancements, that will lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.

President Donald J. Trump (R) has renewed the nation’s focus on expanding humanity’s presence beyond planet Earth. Space Policy Directive-1 provides the direction for NASA to organize more effectively government, commercial and international efforts to develop a permanent presence off Earth that generates new markets and opportunities, both scientific and economic.

NASA’s ultimate goal is to send humans to Mars, and NASA says that Artemis is the first step to begin this next era of exploration.

NASA is working on going quickly and sustainably with a reusable architecture as much as possible. NASA is going with our corporate and international partners to explore faster and explore more together. The moon project will be used to prove out the technologies that will take us to Mars and beyond.

The SLS will take NASA into space and Orion will take our astronauts to deep space to usher in a new era of space exploration. Orion will take us farther than anyone has gone before, and will dock with the Gateway in orbit around the Moon. The spacecraft will carry up to four crew members and is designed to support astronauts traveling hundreds of thousands of miles from home, where getting back to Earth takes days rather than hours.

The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway is a lunar-orbit space station, which will serve as a solar-powered communications hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, and holding area for rovers and other robots. The power and propulsion element is a high-power, 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft that is three times more powerful than current capabilities. As a mobile command and service module, the Gateway provides a communications relay for human and robotic expeditions to the lunar surface, starting at the Moon’s South Pole.

Both the distance and duration demand that Orion have systems that can reliably operate far from home, be capable of keeping astronauts alive in case of emergencies and still be light enough that the SLS can launch it.

NASA will launch Orion on the Space Launch System, from a modernized spaceport at Kennedy Space Center. On the first integrated mission, known as Exploration Mission-1, an un-crewed Orion will venture thousands of miles beyond the Moon over the course of about three weeks. A series of increasingly challenging missions with crew will follow including a test flight around the Moon before operational missions to the Gateway.

“President Trump and the leadership he has surrounded himself with believe that we [the United States] can marshal our resources properly and lead in space again,” Economic Developer Dr. Nicole Jones explained. “Part of that strategy includes public-private partnerships; federal resources (NASA) can focus on exploring the frontier, and the commercial sector can focus on supplying space.”

Thousands of Alabama workers at both Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center and NASA’s corporate partners with facilities in North Alabama are working on the Artemis project. Engineers at Marshall are doing the lead engineering work on both the SLS and the Artemis moon lander.

Mo Brooks is serving in his fifth term representing Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.


Aerospace and Defense

Sen. Jones: Millions for Alabama priorities in annual defense bill

Eddie Burkhalter



Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Thursday highlighted how the latest National Defense Authorization Act could positively impact Alabama service members, state universities and businesses that work with the U.S. military.  

The fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), approved on Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee, now goes before the full Senate for a vote. 

“Alabama is an undisputed leader in securing our nation and this legislation recognizes that by providing significant funding for our troops, including a three-percent pay raise, and continued funding for our defense assets,” Jones, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. “Each year, this bill is an example of the kind of work we can do when we come together on a bipartisan basis around a common goal – protecting our country and supporting our service members and their families. This bill provides the support and funding needed for Alabama to continue to lead in this effort, and I look forward to its passage in the full Senate soon.”

Jone’s office in a press release noted that the latest NDAA provides a three-percent pay raise for service members for a second year in a row, and addresses several quality of life issues for military children and spouses. 

Key provisions in the FY 2021 NDAA for Alabama’s servicemembers and their families, military installations, and contractors and research institutions are listed below.

 Strengthening Alabama’s Defense Infrastructure and Industry

  • $24 million for advanced electrical generation and storage facilities at Fort Rucker in Dale County;
  • $23 million for next generation fighter aircraft (F-35) facilities at Maxwell Air Force Base;
  • $18 million to construct a small arms parts demilitarization facility at the Anniston Army Depot;
  • $10 million to help steel manufacturers meet future defense needs, protecting current and future employment of thousands in Birmingham;
  • $5 million to improve efficiency and readiness at the Army’s Aviation and Missile Center in Huntsville; and,
  • $2 million for the Aerospace Education Research and Innovation Center (AERIC) at Tuskegee University, and a $5 million increase overall for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Funding for Alabama’s Contribution to the National Defense Strategy

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  • $349.7 million for an additional THAAD ballistic missile defense battery, key parts made in Troy;
  • $35 million for Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASM), made in Troy;
  • $10 million for research into lightweight power sources for Navy ships. The University of Alabama conducts leading edge research and development of silicon carbide power sources;
  • $7.3 million for continued research and development of advanced plastics technology. The Mobile area is home to a company that is pioneering thermoplastic tailorable composite manufacturing;
  • $5 million for research into advanced repair and modification processes. The University of Alabama is currently working with the DoD to develop these technologies;
  • $5 million to complete development of new satellite technology. Huntsville is home to companies that are leaders in this field and are well-positioned to compete for these funds;
  • $5 million to accelerate the Army helicopter modernization program. Bell Helicopter, in Ozark, is participating in this program;
  • $3 million to develop a hypersonic missile testing facility. Huntsville is home to a number of companies that contribute to the Defense Department’s hypersonics research and development;
  • $10.5 million to build a high energy laser system lab to help with the Army’s weapons modernization programs. The Army’s high energy laser program is headquartered at Redstone and works with a number of Huntsville companies; and,
  • $3 million for hybrid additive manufacturing research and development to help with the Army’s weapons modernization programs. The additive manufacturing industry is robust and growing in Alabama, with research and development ongoing in Birmingham. 

Support to Improve the Safety and Health of Military Housing and Bases

  • Requires the Secretary of Defense to implement within 90 days all applicable security and emergency response recommendations to protect U.S. military installations, which follows a call by Senator Jones to increase base security after Enterprise, Alabama native Joshua Kaleb Watson was killed during a terrorist attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola last year; and,
  • Requires the Secretary of Defense to ensure that each installation conducts or develops a plan to conduct regular live emergency response training with first responders.

Funding for Coronavirus Response

  • Increases funding to support the Defense Department’s coronavirus vaccine research and to integrate with other vaccine research programs; and,
  • Authorizes hazard pay for troops deployed in response to the coronavirus.

Expanding Support and Opportunity for Minority Service Members

  • Authorizes pilot programs to reduce barriers to participation in satellite ROTC programs and to provide flight training scholarships at HBCUs;
  • Takes steps toward identifying and eliminating barriers to minority participation in elite units in the armed forces; and,
  • Supports continuing and expanding the Air Force JROTC pilot training scholarship program to increase diversity in the pilot ranks and address the pilot shortage.

 Support for Military Spouses and Children

  • $50 million for Impact Aid to schools that serve military children;
  • $20 million for aid to military children with disabilities;
  • $15 million for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) youth educational programs (STARBASE);
  • Authorizes a pilot program to expand eligibility for attendance at DoD schools for military dependent children living off-base;
  • $4 million to continue development of interstate agreements on licensed occupations for military spouse; and,
  • Increases reimbursement to military spouses for state licensure and certification costs resulting from relocations.

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Aerospace and Defense

Brooks is excited by America’s return to space

Brandon Moseley



Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) praised the launch of American astronauts on American rockets from American soil—the first such launch in a decade. The USA finally has put astronauts in space. SpaceX accomplished the feat on Saturday.

Congressman Brooks said that the Tennessee Valley is excited by the launch.

“The Tennessee Valley is the birthplace of America’s space program and Huntsville is proudly nicknamed the ‘Rocket City,’” Rep. Brooks said. “I well remember the earth-shaking, dish-rattling Apollo rocket engine tests on Redstone Arsenal just a few miles from our home. I also proudly remember 1969, when our community’s rocket engine work came to fruition with landing and walking on the Moon.”

“I again feel great pride in America’s space accomplishments,” Brooks said in a statement. “There hasn’t been an all-American launch in a decade.”

Brooks said that the successful launch “signals a resurgence of America’s human space flight preeminence.”

“NASA and SpaceX have teamed to launch American astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, the same rocket that successfully flew uncrewed in March 2019,” Brooks explained. “Bob and Doug will embark on a 19-hour journey to the International Space Station where they will spend between one and four months onboard.”

“The Tennessee Valley stands ready to again do our part in making this launch and future launches successful,” Brooks concluded.

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This is the first time in history, that NASA astronauts have launched from American soil in a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station.

“Today a new era in human spaceflight begins as we once again launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil on their way to the International Space Station, our national lab orbiting Earth,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I thank and congratulate Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, and the SpaceX and NASA teams for this significant achievement for the United States. The launch of this commercial space system designed for humans is a phenomenal demonstration of American excellence and is an important step on our path to expand human exploration to the Moon and Mars.”

Known as NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2, the mission is an end-to-end test flight to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations. This is SpaceX’s second spaceflight test of its Crew Dragon and its first test with astronauts aboard, which will pave the way for its certification for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“This is a dream come true for me and everyone at SpaceX,” said Elon Musk, chief engineer at SpaceX. “It is the culmination of an incredible amount of work by the SpaceX team, by NASA and by a number of other partners in the process of making this happen. You can look at this as the results of a hundred thousand people roughly when you add up all the suppliers and everyone working incredibly hard to make this day happen.”

President Donald J. Trump (R) and Vice President Mike Pence (R) were both on hand to watch the launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 launch on Saturday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“It’s incredible — the technology, the power. I’m so proud of the people at NASA — all the people that worked together, public and private,” Pres. Trump said. “When you see a sight like that, it’s incredible. The power of that machine and the danger — no matter how you figure. When you — when you hear that sound, and you hear all of that — the roar — you can imagine how dangerous it is. When you feel the shake — and we’re very far away, but you feel the shake over here — it’s pretty — pretty amazing. A beautiful sight. A beautiful ship, too. That’s really a beauty. Considered a beauty. I would say it’s a beauty.”

“I speak to him all the time. Great guy,” Trump said of Musk. “He’s one of our great brains. We like great brains. And Elon has done a fantastic job. But that was a beautiful sight to see, and I hope you all enjoyed it. And we’re going to be saying a few words inside, so I’ll see you inside, okay? Thank you very much. A very great honor to have you here.”

“You know, four years ago, this place as essentially shut down,” Trump said. “The space program was over. The shuttle program was dead. One of the Secret Service men said they were here with the past administration — I won’t tell you who — and they were here to shut down the facility. And now we’re the leader in the world again. And this is just the beginning. They’re going to Mars. They’re going to the Moon, but they’re going to the Moon in order to go to Mars. It’s a platform.”

“It’s difficult to put into words how proud I am of the people who got us here today,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “When I think about all of the challenges overcome – from design and testing, to paper reviews, to working from home during a pandemic and balancing family demands with this critical mission – I am simply amazed at what the NASA and SpaceX teams have accomplished together. This is just the beginning; I will be watching with great anticipation as Bob and Doug get ready to dock to the space station tomorrow, and through every phase of this historic mission.”

SpaceX controlled the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Control Center Firing Room 4. SpaceX has leased the former space shuttle control room as its primary launch control center.\

NASA teams are monitoring space station operations throughout the flight from Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew program at:

The United Launch Alliance is also working on a platform to launch men into space with the Dreamliner and NASA itself is doing testing on the Space Launch System which will launch astronauts into space in the Orion module that is also undergoing final testing.

Congressman Mo Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District.

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Aerospace and Defense

Jones disappointed that Austal lost frigate contract to Fincantieri

Brandon Moseley



Thursday, Austal USA’s bid for the U.S. Navy’s $795 million contract to build the next-generation guided missile Frigate was rejected in favor of a design offered by Fincantieri Marinette Marine, a Wisconsin-based shipbuilder. U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, did not hide his disappointment with the Navy’s decision. Austal builds the the Independence class littoral combat ship (LCS), expeditionary fast transports, and other navy vessels in Mobile.

“I am disappointed that the Navy chose not to award the contract for the next-generation guided-missile frigate to Austal USA,” Jones said. “Austal is the only U.S. shipbuilder providing ships to the Navy on time and on budget right now. It is my understanding that this award is for the first ten of a potential 20-ship buy, and I am confident that if Austal chooses to compete for future awards, the Navy will find Austal to be the best choice.

“Just last December, Austal USA celebrated 20 years of shipbuilding in Mobile,” Jones said. “Austal’s extraordinary success is testament to its unmatched local workforce and its ability to build highly capable, cost-effective ships safely and on schedule. I especially appreciate Austal’s commitment to the health and safety of its employees and the community, as well as to our national security, through the workforce protection measures it has implemented and its economic support donations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our shipbuilders are critical to our national defense, and I am grateful for their dedication during this difficult time.”

Fincantieri will build an adapted variant of the Italian FREMM (European multi-purpose frigate) in Wisconsin at its Marinette shipyard. The contract also includes plans for up to nine more ships from the firm — a deal that’s ultimately worth more than $5.5 billion.

Fincantieri’s European built FREMM is already in service with both the Italian and French Navies.

Austal was the builder of the Independence class littoral combat ships as well as other designs including fast transports. When the LCS’s were first built, Austal produced the U.S.S. Independence, an all aluminum trimaran design, and Lockheed produced the U.S.S. Freedom. The two competing LCS designs were evaluated by the Navy and the initial decision was to complete the order as Freedom class LCS’s. Austal’s allies in the Navy and Congress rallied behind the innovative new ships and ultimate the Navy purchased both vessels in quantity, rejecting an Obama Administration plan to build just one class of littoral combat ship. There is still some hope that ten of the new guided missile frigates will be of the Fincantieri design; while ten could be of a second design that Austal could still compete for. General Dynamics and the Bath Ironworks also submitted frigate designs.

“The frigate will be an agile multi-mission warship,” said Navy assistant secretary James Geurts. “They’ll operate in all environments and will be more lethal, survivable and have increased self-defense and local-area defense capability and capacity over previous small-surface combatants.”

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The new frigates are designed to defend against near-peer adversaries, such as China and Russia. The new frigate is designed to fight on both the high seas and near the shore, with more capabilities than littoral combat ships but at a much smaller price tag than cruisers and destroyers.

Speed was a factor in the decision. Because the Fincantieri design is a derivative of an existing class of warship, the European FREMM, the Navy believes that Fincantieri can deliver the new ships quicker than Austal or the other ship builders. The contract award came three months ahead of schedule, in order to get the new frigate program moving surprising many in the political world who did not expect a decision before late summer. The new frigate will have 300 tons more steel than the FREMM to improve its survivability.

“All this was done with an intense focus on cost, acquisition and technical rigor so that we got the best value for our warfighter and the taxpayer,” Geurts said.

Geurts expects delivery of the first ship in 2026, with the class reaching full operational capability by 2032.

The new ships will use a modified version of the SPY-6 radar Raytheon is developing to keep the Navy’s aging destroyers in the fight, along with Lockheed Martin’s Aegis Combat System.

Doug Jones is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Original reporting by and the Defense News contributed to this report.

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Aerospace and Defense

Austal loses frigate contract to Fincantieri

Brandon Moseley



Thursday, the U.S. Navy awarded a $795 million contract to a Wisconsin-based shipbuilder to begin production on the first of the service’s next-generation small-surface combatants. Fincantieri Marinette Marine won the contract to design and build the first of the new guided-missile frigates. Fincantieri won the contract over a design offered by Mobile-based Austal USA.

Fincantieri will build an adapted variant of the Italian FREMM (European multi-purpose frigate) in Wisconsin at its Marinette shipyard. The contract also includes plans for up to nine more ships from the firm — a deal that’s ultimately worth more than $5.5 billion.

Fincantieri’s FREMM is already in service with both the Italian and French Navies.

When we began this journey nearly two years ago it was with the belief that there was a place for new ideas, new platforms and new partners in an already talented U.S. shipbuilding industry,” said Fincantieri Marine Group CEO Dario Deste. “Today’s announcement validates that thinking.”

The Navy plans to build 20 ships as part of the future frigate program.

“Congratulations to the Navy on this important decision,” added Deste. “The men and women of Fincantieri Marinette Marine and our partner suppliers throughout the United States are ready to get to work.”

In addition to Austal, Fincantierri also beat out designs offered by General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Huntington Ingalls Industries. Lockheed withdrew its entry into the competition, an upgraded version of its’ Freedom class LCS from the competition last May.

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The award was a disappointment to Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose),

“The men and women who work at the Austal shipyard in Mobile are the finest in the country,” Rep. Byrne said. “I disagree with the Navy’s decision, and I look forward to thoroughly examining the Navy’s decision making in this process in the coming days. At the same time, I’m committed to working with Austal, the Navy, and the Trump Administration to ensure we don’t destroy our critical shipbuilding industrial base, especially at a time when the threat environment clearly demands more small surface ships.”

Austal was the builder of the Independence class littoral combat ships as well as other designs including fast transports.

Fincantieri is one of the world’s largest shipbuilding groups and has built more than 7,000 vessels in over 230 years of maritime history. It is a leader in cruise ship design and construction and a reference player in all high-tech shipbuilding industry’s sectors, from naval to offshore vessels, from high-complexity special vessels and ferries to mega-yachts.

“The frigate will be an agile multi-mission warship,” said Navy assistant secretary James Geurts. “They’ll operate in all environments and will be more lethal, survivable and have increased self-defense and local-area defense capability and capacity over previous small-surface combatants.”

The new frigate is an important part of the Navy’s plans to modernize for more distributed operations, positioning the U.S. to defend against near-peer adversaries, such as China and Russia. The new frigate is designed to fight on both the high seas and near the shore, with more capabilities than littoral combat ships but a smaller price tag than cruisers and destroyers.

The Navy awarded its contract to Fincantieri three months ahead of schedule, in order to get the new frigate program moving. Since the design is based on an existing warship that is already in service Fincantieri that will speed up the process.

“All this was done with an intense focus on cost, acquisition and technical rigor so that we got the best value for our warfighter and the taxpayer,” Geurts said. “It’s the best I’ve seen in the Navy thus far at integrating all of our teams together and it’s a model we are building on for future programs.”

Geurts expects delivery of the first ship in 2026, with the class reaching full operational capability by 2032.

The new ships will use a modified version of the SPY-6 radar Raytheon is developing to keep the Navy’s aging destroyers in the fight, along with Lockheed Martin’s Aegis Combat System.

Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, deputy chief of naval operations for warfare requirements and capabilities, said the goal is for the frigate to be able to fight in “all spectrums of potential conflict.” That includes being able to carry manned helicopters and unmanned aircraft, he said.

“Though it’s classified as a small-surface combatant, it really falls nicely in between our small-surface combatants and our large-surface combatants,” Kilby said. “And I see it doing multiple things. This is going to be a real workhorse for the United States Navy, supporting distributed maritime operations in the future.”

The new frigate will have about 300 tons more steel than the FREMM design because the U.S. Nay has higher standards for ship survivability than the Italian Navy does.

(Original reporting by and the Defense News contributed to this report.)

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