EagleHerald staff writer
MARINETTE—Look to the horizon over the City of Marinette, and you might notice the changing shape of the skyline as the massive girders of Building 34 at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine (FMM) shipyard begin to reveal the structure’s colossal size.
Still just a skeleton construct of heavy supporting beams, the current state of Building 34’s construction nevertheless poses an immensity as an impressive titan among buildings in Marinette. However, its purpose represents an even larger impact on Northeast Wisconsin and the Marinette area when it comes to growth and capital expansion at FMM.
The U.S. Department of Defense announced Thursday that the Navy exercised a $553.8 million option securing FMM to build the second Constellation-class frigate. As the largest building in Marinette Marine history, Building 34 plays a critical role in the shipyard’s production of the new frigate and just one component of FMM’s $200 million capital expansion underway in Wisconsin.
FMM continues to work with the Navy on the detailed design phase of building the first-in-class USS Constellation (FFG-62), a modern guided-missile frigate based partially on the Italian variant Fregata Europea Multi-Mission (FREMM) frigate. Planning to begin fabrication at the end of this year, FMM expects to deliver the ship to the Navy in 2026.
This contract is the first-in-class of nine potential options on future guided-missile frigates for the Wisconsin shipyard.
“The Navy’s announcement that FMM will build the second FFG validates the achievements we have made in both shipyard improvements and program progress on the first-in-class ship,” said FMM Chief Executive Officer Jan Allman. “We plan to build many frigates for the Navy over the next several decades, so we see the awarding of the second ship as the next logical step in our partnership with the Navy.”
Based on the progress of FFG design efforts, officials with the Fincantieri Marine Group expected approval on the second Frigate, according to Dario Deste, president and CEO of Fincantieri Marine Group. Another key element leading to that approval stemmed from FMM’s demonstrated commitment and follow-through on capital improvements, such as Building 34 which, when complete, will allow for the construction of two 500-foot ships within its immense climate-controlled facility. Additional expansion projects include the recent dredging and blasting operations along a portion of the Menominee River adjacent to the shipyard. Through October, Reon Salvage Company out of Sturgeon Bay will remove several inches of sediment and bedrock along the river’s shoreline, effectively increasing the river’s depth in that area, allowing for the launch and navigation of the larger Constellation class frigates.
“While it is good to have additional work lined up for our shipyards, I believe the most important aspect of this decision is that our customer believes that together we are a strong team focused on delivering a capable and adaptable ship that will serve well into the future,” Deste said. “We made substantial investments in our system-of-shipyards in Wisconsin so that we can solidify our position as a surface combatant center of excellence.”
FMM received the initial Constellation frigate contract April 30, 2020, with the options for nine additional ships valued at $5.5 billion. Although the award happened several months earlier than planned, FMM went into the Detail Design and Construction) phase with a lot of momentum.
“There was very little time for fanfare after the initial award,” said Deste. “Frankly we were happy to receive it (the award), but (happier) to start working closely with the U.S. Navy as the prime contractor on this important program for them.”
Building the first-in-class ship always brings challenges, but Deste pointed out that FMM started with a phenomenal parent design, the FREMM—a warship internationally regarded as reliable, versatile and operationally-proven.
“And we continue to work with the U.S. Navy to give them exactly the ship they want,” Deste said. “In the end, we expect to make many frigates for the U.S. Navy beyond the initial 10.”
According to a 2021 report issued by the Congressional Research Service, the Navy hopes to procure 20 Constellation class frigates. Unlike a cruiser or a destroyer—both designed to operate in higher-threat regions— frigates generally operate in lower-threat areas and are equipped with fewer weapons.