A once-proud class of U.S. Navy surface warships is quickly fading away
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 4 Nov. 2014. Throughout the Cold War U.S. Navy frigates were essential pieces in the Navy's role of first line of defense. These relatively small, fast, and maneuverable surface warships were designed for the vital role of screening aircraft carriers from aircraft and missile attack, as well as protecting Marine Corps amphibious invasion forces and cargo ships from enemy submarines.
Next year, however, the American Navy is expected to be without its frigates for the first time since World War II, as the last of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates (FFG 7) are decommissioned and stricken from the Navy's roster of active warships.
The Perry-class frigate is an icon of the Cold War. Its sleek silhouette was part of the outer screen of defenses for U.S. aircraft carriers and -- for a brief time during the 1980s -- for battleship surface-action groups when the nation's Iowa-class battleships briefly were put back into service for shore bombardment.
The Perry-class frigates performed the role of anti-air warfare and anti-submarine warfare to help protect sea lanes for commerce, as well as to screen the flanks of the carriers and the big-deck amphibious assault ships.
Notable surface actions of the Perry-class frigates included the near-sinking of the USS Stark (FFG 31) in 1987 after being struck by two Iraqi Exocet sea-skimming missiles. One year later the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) hit an Iranian mine and nearly sank. Both vessels later were repaired and put back in service.
Even Hollywood movies added to the fame of the Perry-class frigates. The 1990 move The Hunt for Red October, starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, featured a cameo role for the USS Reuben James (FFG 57), when the ship launched a gun attack on the fictional Soviet missile submarine Red October.
In all, 51 Perry-class frigates were built and commissioned into the Navy surface fleet between 1977 and 1989. The first ship of the class, the USS Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG 7) was commissioned in 1977 and taken out of service in 1977. The vessel was scrapped in 2006.
A changing world started putting the Perry-class frigates out of a job with the end of the Cold War. A fleet designed for blue-water operations started fading away with the Cold War, and ships designed specifically for near-shore operations along coastlines and near harbors increased in importance. Taking the place of the Perry-class frigates in the Navy's fleet are to be the littoral combat ships.
Today only 10 of the frigates remain in commission. The last ship of the class, the USS Ingraham (FFG 61) is scheduled to be decommissioned within the next two months. The last Perry-class frigate to serve in the fleet, the USS Kauffman (FFG 59) is scheduled for decommissioning in September 2015.
Although intended to replace the Perry-class frigates, the littoral combat ships will be built in nowhere near the same number as were the frigates. It's yet another symptom of the dwindling size of the U.S. Navy combat fleet.
There's less than one year left in the Navy's legacy of the Perry-class frigate. These vessels will be missed when they fade into history next year.