Guns and Gear

Tough Little Ships That Could: Remembering The Perry-Class Frigates

Harold Hutchison Freelance Writer
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In September, the Navy decommissioned USS Simpson (FFG 56), the last Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate in service. This ended 38 years of this service from this class of 51 vessels in the United States Navy, but for those 38 years, the Navy got one heck of a ship.

Displacing 4,100 tons, the Perry-class frigates were equipped with a Mk 13 missile launcher that held RIM-66B SM-1 surface-to-air missiles and RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, the Mk 75 76mm gun, a Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, two banks that held three 324mm anti-submarine torpedoes, and two helicopters (either SH-2 Sea Sprites or SH-60/MH-60 Seahawks). Their mission had been to serve as convoy escorts, protecting against aerial threats and submarines.

In the 1980s, the ships proved they could take punishment. In 1987, an Iraqi Mirage hit USS Stark (FFG 31) with two AM.39 Exocet anti-ship missiles. While a single hit by a dud sufficed to sink a British destroyer during the Falklands War, Stark survived the two hits and eventually returned to the fleet – serving for 12 more years until she was decommissioned despite having been in service for less than 17 years. USS Stark would make her final trip to a scrap yard in 2006.

A year later, the Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) survived being hit by an Iranian mine that broke her keel and flooded her engine room, damage that by all rights should have sent her to the bottom. Thanks to heroic damage control efforts by her crew, she survived.

The Perry-class frigates USS Simpson (FFG 56), Jack Williams (FFG 24) and USS Gary (FFG 51) took part in America’s response, Operation Preying Mantis, days after the mine attack. USS Simpson took part in the sinking of the Iranian missile boat Joshan, hitting the vessel with four SM-1s. USS Jack Williams took part in the sinking of the Iranian frigate Sahand.

USS Samuel B. Roberts went on sea trials less than a year after hitting the mine – with a new engine room. She would serve until this past May. The Perry-class frigates would later see action during Desert Shield (two of them were near Kuwait when Saddam invaded), Desert Storm (USS Nicholas sank four patrol craft and captured the first POWs of the war), and help escort the fleet through the 1990s.

The ships quickly caught the attention of American allies. Australia had the United States build four Perry-class frigates, and then built two more on their own. Spain would build six more to a modified design in the late 80s and early 90s, while Taiwan built seven in the 90s and one more in 2004. When the Clinton Administration began retiring some of the older Perry-class frigates, Poland snapped two up, Bahrain bought one, Egypt got four, and Turkey acquired eight.

The remaining Perry-class frigates continued to serve – and proved their worth. Then, in 2004, the Navy decided to remove the Mk 13 missile launchers from these ships. The ships still deployed, though, but their days were numbered as retirements began in earnest as this decade started. Some are slated to be sold to American allies, with Pakistan and Taiwan reportedly among those slated to acquire second-hand Perry-class frigates. Others, like USS Samuel B. Roberts, are destined to share the fate of USS Stark – scrapping.

The Littoral Combat Ships are supposed to replace the Perry-class frigates. The Navy is currently buying both the Freedom-class vessels and the Independence-class ships. These ships are fast (capable of reaching 47 knots), stealthy, and versatile. While they are presently the subject of controversy, one thing that is certain is the fact that the Littoral Combat Ships will have very big shoes to fill.