Navy's Quest: Keep Frigates Serviceable; Naval Officers from around the World Came Together to Share Data on Working with the Aging Vessels

By Gibbons, Timothy J. | The Florida Times Union, May 17, 2009 | Go to article overview

Navy's Quest: Keep Frigates Serviceable; Naval Officers from around the World Came Together to Share Data on Working with the Aging Vessels


Gibbons, Timothy J., The Florida Times Union


Byline: TIMOTHY J. GIBBONS

It was the height of the Cold War when Bath Iron Works turned out the first Oliver Perry-class frigate, filling the Navy's need for a tough, nimble escort ship.

Thirty years later, the aged ship class still plays an important role in navies worldwide, as well as making up the bulk of the force at Mayport Naval Station.

Over the next several years, though, as the ships surpass their expected 25-year life span, they'll be decommissioned, eventually destroyed. The Navy is working on replacements - such as the Littoral Combat Ship - but exactly how the niche now filled by the frigates will be satisfied is uncertain.

Last week a group of naval officers from around the world and a range of U.S. frigate experts sat down at Mayport to figure out how to push back that day of reckoning. The big question: What can the various nations learn from each other's experiences when it comes to working on the aging vessels?

Seven countries other than the United States operate Perry-class frigates, mainly ones they've been given or sold after they've been decommissioned by the U.S. Navy. That means the navies of other nations may be dealing with issues that are just in the early stages of cropping up for the United States, such as advanced corrosion. Other issues are things the various fleets have in common. The stock of some spare parts, for example, has dwindled, and the original manufacturers have gone out of business, presenting a widespread need.

This is the first time officers from all of the countries that use Perry-class frigates have met to talk about the ships.

Such cooperation is natural, said Rear Adm. James McManamon, deputy commander for surface warfare at Naval Sea Systems Command, which hosted the meeting. "Our goals are exactly the same," he said.

It was evident as the various officers toured a frigate at Mayport that sharing information could help the allies deal with similar issues, said Capt. Glenn Zeiders, who commands the frigates at Mayport and in a related job oversees all the Navy's frigates.

"I think we've found a lot of common ground this week," he said. "The same things that interest my sailors interest their sailors."

The U.S. fleet includes 30 frigates, with another 33 operated by other countries. Thirteen of the ships are based at Mayport.

Fifty Perry-class frigates were built beginning in the mid-1970s, filling a niche as relatively low-cost escorts during the Cold War. Over the years, their ability to fight, both on the surface and against submarines, has been expanded.

The job of hunting submarines and protecting convoys has gone away, though. …

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