Surface Forces: January 9, 2004


Gelding the Perrys? The U.S. Navy is removing the Mk13 missile launchers from the thirty Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates still in service. The move, which will cost $8 million per frigate, will reduce the size of the crew, as well as training that was required for the missile systems being taken away. The Perry class ships, some of them anyway, will still be around for another sixteen years. The weapons removed are considered nearly obsolete and better replaced by missile armed helicopters on board, the better to deal with likely threats.

The modifications will turn the 458 foot long, 3,210-ton frigates into small helicopter carriers armed with a 76mm gun, a Mk 31 launcher for the RIM-116A Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), and a Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS). The RAM and Phalanx are used against anti-ship missiles. One other added feature is the Nulka decoy system, which is also used for defense against missiles. The savings from removing the Mk 13s and the obsolete 
SM-1 anti-aircraft missiles are considerable, particularly in simplifying the logistical considerations. It also improves the stability of the frigates. Another benefit is that several other navies (such as Australia, Taiwan, Greece, Spain, and Turkey) use the Mk 13 and SM-1 on their own Perry-class frigates or older Charles F. Adams-class destroyers and can buy the American launchers and missiles to replace damaged or worn out ones.

The Mk 13 carried forty missiles, either SM-1 (RIM-66B Standard) missiles or RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The SM-1 and has a range of 46 kilometers, and can be used against aircraft and missiles. It can also be used against surface targets its one combat use was to sink the Joshan, an Iranian Combattante II-class patrol boat during Operation Preying Mantis in April, 1988.

The primary weapon for the Perry-class frigates will be the two SH-60 Seahawks, carrying either Mk 50 Barracuda anti-submarine torpedoes or AGM-119 Penguin anti-ship missiles. The infrared-guided AGM-119 has a range of 26 kilometers, and delivers 110 pounds of high explosives onto a hostile vessel. That is enough to sink any patrol craft (vessels usually under 50 meters in length and lacking any real armor).

The decision has generated criticism. First, there is the general impression that the Perrys have been gelded. The logic is that the frigates look less menacing, which might encourage attacks. However, the frigates will still be capable against the likely threats they will face during the remainder of their service lives, submarines and patrol boats. Harold C. Hutchison


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