Design Fiddling Stalls Constellation-class Frigate Program

By Dan Middlemiss, 31 May 2024

A highly critical report just released by the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) offers more insight into the currently delayed frigate program in the United States.

Recall that in the selection competition for the new frigate, the US Navy (USN) had insisted that only warships with an established ‘parent design’ could enter the competition. Ultimately, Fincantieri Marinette Marine (FMM) was selected to build the first 10 ships of the class, with the possibility of extending the build contract to an additional 10 ships. Contracts have been let for the first 6 warships, with the lead ship scheduled for delivery in April 2026.

However, scattered reports seemed to indicate that all was not well with the construction program and that schedule delays were expected.

Initially, the delay in delivery of the lead frigate was expected to be at least a year late. Part of the explanation was that almost every design drawing of the parent FREMM design had been modified in some respect. In addition, the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s testing of the modified design found that the ship failed to meet USN standards for operating in heavy seas, there being structural issues with the keel. This was something of an unexpected surprise to say the least.[1]

A follow-up report stated that the delay for the first frigate was now expected to be at least 3 years. This added delay was in part due to FMM’s heavy workload, and difficulties in hiring and retaining skilled workers. But a larger issue was the constant modification of the design to meet the NAVSEA’s higher survivability standards and requirements than those for European navies. It was estimated that instead of the 85 percent commonality with the original FREMM design, the much-altered Constellation-class now shared less than 15 percent commonality.[2]

So troubling was the political impact of these delays, the US House of Representatives was considering a bill to mandate ‘100 percent’ warship design completion before construction could actually begin. This is nearly unheard of for US naval warship building.[3]

Then the bombshell. On 29 May 2024, the US GAO released a damning report on the scheduling delays for the Constellation-class frigate, and in so doing, provided a deeper insight into the causes behind the delays. The report highlighted ‘unstable design’ and ‘inadequate metrics’ as the principal causes of the reported delivery delays. Far too many design changes occurred not only because of the many mandated design changes, but also because the USN, which does track such changes and hence should have been aware of their implications, gave priority to monitoring the quantity of FMM’s completed design documents, rather than to the quality of these documents.[4] A fascinating read!

For those preening with an I-Told-You-So attitude inasmuch as the Constellation option to the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project now seems truly dead, remember, design changes are likely still going on behind-the-scenes as the RCN tries to produce a sellable CSC for Cabinet before the clock runs out and a federal election is called. Potentially, all these design changes and delivery delays lie ahead for Canada. Canada built continuous design modifications right into the CSC project nearly from the outset.


1. Mallory Shelbourne and Sam Lagrone, “First Constellation Frigate Delayed at Least a Year, Schedule Assessment ‘Ongoing,’” USNI News,, 11 January 2024 updated 23 April 2024.

2. Mallory Shelbourne and Sam Lagrone, “Constellation Frigate Delivery Delayed 3 Years, Says Navy,” USNI News,, 2 April 2024.

3. Justin Katz, “House poised to require ‘100 percent’ ship design from Navy prior to construction”,, 23 May 2024.

4. U.S. GAO, Report to the Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, Navy Frigate – Unstable Design Has Stalled Construction and Compromised Delivery Schedules, GAO-24-106546, 29 May 2024.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 thoughts on “Design Fiddling Stalls Constellation-class Frigate Program”