Missile Loadouts: Constellation (FFG-62) (2026?)

Note the "62" on this image from the Navy.mil announcement - has sanity finally returned to USN hull numbers?
Note the "62" on this image from the Navy.mil announcement - has sanity finally returned to USN hull numbers?

With the recently announced selection of the Fincantieri offering for the United States Navy's (USN) FFG(X) program, we now have enough knowledge of what the future USS Constellation will look like to post a notional missile loadout page. Now, the Constellation-class remains very much a paper design and will not join the fleet until at least 2026, so this post is even more speculative than my other missile loadouts posts. However, the result of the FFG(X) program has several unique aspects to its armament that are worth discussing.

We now know that the planned armament of the Constellation-class will consist of a 32-cell Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) forward, four quad canister launchers for the RGM-184 Naval Strike Missile (NSM) amidships, and a 21-cell box launcher for RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) aft. This is a considerable quantity and variety of weapons for what is intended as a "low-end" ship and outguns some "high-end" foreign designs (include the Italian FREMM parent ship). Compared to my analysis of an "average frigate," The Constellation-class is clearly a serious warship and would probably rate as a destroyer in most other navies.

While the exact loadout of the VLS is of course unknown, we do know that it is intended to carry the RIM-66 SM-2 Block IIIC and the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) Block II. These weapons are both interesting as they are active-radar homing versions of what were originally semi-active radar homing missiles. While this does have tactical advantages, it is also a necessity as the Constellation-class will not have any missile illuminators - a first for any USN guided missile ship. The Navy has also discussed adding the Vertically-Launched ASROC (VLA) in the future and it seems likely this simple weapon will be added sooner rather than later. Given Navy missile procurement, it is probable that only relatively small numbers of ESSM and VLA will be carried, and the primary weapon will be SM-2.

USS Constellation (FFG-62) in 2026?: 24x SM-2, 16x ESSM, 21x RAM, 4x VLA, 16x NSM
USS Constellation (FFG-62) in 2026?: 24x SM-2, 16x ESSM, 21x RAM, 4x VLA, 16x NSM

However, there is one weapon that is conspicuous in its absence - the RGM-109 Tomahawk missile. Although the Constellation-class VLS would be theoretically capable of fitting this weapon, Tomahawk requires a sophisticated set of on-board computers called the Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control System (TTWCS) to be useful and it appears that these will not be installed on the USN's new frigate. Although TTWCS could be retrofitted at a later date, with only 32 VLS cells, Constellation is unlikely to be able to carry enough Tomahawks to be useful. This will severely limit its value in offensive action, both against targets ashore and (with the new Maritime Strike Tomahawk) against targets at sea.

But this limitation is somewhat mitigated by the fitting of no fewer than 16 NSM, which have a secondary land-attack function and will give the Constellation-class a limited ability to strike targets ashore. Also of note, this actually is the largest battery of dedicated antiship missiles ever installed on a USN warship and matches that of the retrofitted Iowa-class battleships.

Altogether, the heavy antiship battery and three layers of (relatively short-range) air defense missiles found on the Constellation-class are something new to the USN. If anything it is more characteristic of old Soviet practices and may be representative of the USN planning to fight a more "Soviet-style" war based on missile-armed surface ships rather than aircraft carriers. However, these ships still only exist on paper and it is still early to be drawing conclusions.

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