The deployment of the USS Kauffman marks a historic turn for naval surface warfare, signifying the end of an era for the Oliver Hazard Perry-class Navy Frigates as the Kauffman will be the last U.S. Navy Frigate to deploy and decommission.
The Navy has been phasing out Frigaftes for years, which have been in service for nearly 40 years — in favor of emerging higher-tech platforms such as the Littoral Combat Ship, Joint High Speed Vessel, Mobile Landing Platforms and Afloat Forward Staging Bases, said Navy spokesman Lt. Robert Myers.
“Frigates successfully met the missions they were intended to execute during the required time period. We appreciate the service and commitment of the many crews who set sail aboard these ships,” Myers said.
The USS Kauffman did not depart as scheduled Thursday due to an anchor being stuck. Navy officials said the stuck anchor is due to the ship’s age and anticipate being able to depart Friday.
Myers added that the Navy will build upon the lessons learned from Frigates as it enters a new era of shipbuilding.
Overall, the Navy built 51 Oliver Hazard Perry-class Frigates and has already decommissioned most of them. The USS Kauffman is slated to decommission later this year upon return from a six month deployment. The last 10 Frigates in the Navy’s inventory will decommission by the end of 2015, Navy officials said.
Oliver Hazard Perry-class Frigates were designed to replace the Knox-class Frigates of the 1960s and various classes of Destroyers that were in service during World War II, Navy officials said.
Oliver Hazard Perry-class Frigates were, among other things, originally designed for short-range anti-air warfare using a weapons system known as the phalanx Close-In-Weapons-System, or CIWS.
“They were designed to provide local area protection to battle groups, underway replenishment groups, amphibious forces, and military and merchant shipping from submarines, their mission evolved over time to include enhanced-maritime interdiction operations, mine warfare, and counter narcotics operations both as a member of battle groups and as independent deployers,” a Navy statement said.
The USS Kauffman will deploy to Central and South American waters in support of an international law enforcement and military operation to combat illicit drug trafficking. The effort, called Operation Martillo, involves the U.S. along with European and Western Hemisphere partner nations.
USS Kauffmann commanding officer Cmdr. Michael Concannon told Military.com he and his crew are acutely aware of the historical significance of the upcoming mission.
“I’m humbled and proud to lead this crew. They’ve overcome challenges with manning and equipment with a relatively old ship. We are ready for any and all missions,” he said.
Concannon said he and his crew were proud to be working against drug trafficking and helping to keep drugs off the streets. He added that a sense of history informs their spirit as they deploy.
“We recognize that since 1977, the U.S. Navy has sent Frigates to sea. It is awesome to represent the end of the line. It is rewarding for the crew. The excitement on the ship is electric and the crew is very excited to do this mission. The crew understands the historical significance of what we are doing,” Concannon said.
Navy officials said that the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates have performed well for more than 30 years but no longer have the ability to keep pace with much needed modern technological growth.
“There was a time and a place for it but things change. It was supposed to be a cost effective solution to address the Cold War. They were very good at the ASW (anti-submarine warfare) mission – maritime security, counter narcotics and patrolling waters with our allied partners,” Myers said.
While Frigates are credited for being somewhat well armored or fortified for their size, the ships are said to lack the multi-mission capability needed to address more high-tech threats.
“A force in numbers, they protected vital shipping against foreign aggression and forcefully contributed in our strategic shift to the Arabian Gulf. However, we built these ships with a different threat in mind than exists today and the cost to upgrade the ships’ combat systems to pace the current threat became prohibitive,” a Navy statement said.