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History and Heritage

Last of its Kind

Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigates Sail into Naval History

For the first time in almost 38 years, there will be no Oliver Hazard Perry (OHP) Frigate on the fleet rolls of the United States Navy. The USS Simpson (FFG 56) was decommissioned in her homeport of Mayport, Florida, Sept. 29, and represented the last frigate in the Navy's inventory.

"Like today's Littoral Combat Ship, the Perry class frigate received a lot of criticism when it was first introduced, yet went on to provide decades of exceptionally versatile and valuable service to our nation," said retired Rear Adm. Sam Cox, who is currently the director of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). "Many disparaged her supposedly limited sensor suite, among other things, failing to recognize the significant impact of her new generation helicopter capability. And, as the USS Samuel B. Roberts demonstrated, the ship was much tougher than many initially gave her credit for, especially in the hands of well trained and well led Sailors."

The OHP Frigates were originally designed as cost efficient surface combatants with limited anti-air defense and anti-submarine warfare capabilities, to serve as escort protection for other ships.

In hindsight, they proved to be the Navy's "little ship that could" for enduring missions that mushroomed over the last four decades, including maritime interdiction operations, counter narcotic efforts, and engagements with partner navies in fulfilling the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, also known as the Maritime Strategy.

Sailors aboard FFGs

Left: A Sailor aboard USS REUBEN JAMES (FFG 57) prepares to man the rails as the sun sets while his ship pulls into the port city of Antofagasta, Chile, as part of Exercise TEAMWORK SOUTH '99. Center: Plankowners and crew of guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59) man the rails as part of the ship's decommissioning ceremony. Kauffman is the final operational Oliver Hazard-Perry class frigate to decommission. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shane A. Jackson/Released) Right: As the early morning sun rises, sailors aboard USS REUBEN JAMES (FFG 57) man the rails in their service dress blue uniforms as they depart the port city of Valparaiso, Chile, to start Exercise TEAMWORK SOUTH '99.

Ultimately the U.S. Navy commissioned 51 FFG-7 class frigates between 1977 and 1989, built by Bath Iron Works and Todd Shipyards. From the inception of the FFG-7 program, the Navy recognized a need for a large number of these frigates to replace World War II destroyers that were due to retire. In order to meet this numerical requirement, stringent design controls were placed on the size and, in particular, the costs, of the FFG-7.

During protracted periods of austerity, the ships and their crews suffered from spare parts shortages and reduced maintenance support. As a result the men assigned to the ships became known for their determination, ingenuity and grit to meet mission - with whatever was available. It became, for the community of OHP frigate Sailors, a badge of honor.

Sailors have traditionally been a superstitious lot, and the lead ship in the class, the USS Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG 7), provided literally an auspicious launch. At her launch ceremony on 25 September 1976, the crowd watched anxiously as the ship failed to roll down the slip-way when the ceremony called for it. As if scripted, movie star actor John Wayne (the "Duke") jogged up to the ceremonial platform from his seat in the gallery and gave the bow of the frigate a shove with one hand, and famously appeared to have 'pushed' the 445-foot, 4,100-ton warship down the ramp.

Not unlike that magic moment, the ships and men who crewed them have always managed to demonstrate surprising timely guile - despite the odds. Their relatively limited firepower and size never seemed to disqualify them from most tasks, and time and again the ships proved suited for most any assigned mission.

On routine patrol in the Arabian Gulf when Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, the USS Taylor (FFG 50) and USS Robert G. Bradley (FFG 49) were part of a small flotilla of ships that served as the original participants of Operation Desert Shield, which helped dissuade further Iraqi offensive action until the coalition assembled and transitioned to offensive action under Operation Desert Storm. While the coalition force amassed, the two FFGs served to implement the United Nations authorized blockade of Iraq.

Sailors aboard FFGs

Left: Sailors stationed aboard the USN Oliver Hazard Perry Class Guided Missile Frigate USS STEPHEN W. GROVES (FFG 29) present arms, with M14 rifles, as they participate in a burial-at-sea Nov. 10, 2006. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Regina L. Brown) Center: A crew member looks out from a hatch aboard the guided missile frigate USS CLIFTON SPRAGUE (FFG 16). Right: Crew members converse on the deck of the frigate USS SIMPSON (FFG 56) in the Persian Gulf.

During Desert Storm, USS Nicholas (FFG 47) and the Kuwaiti fast attack craft Istiqlal (P 5702) conducted the first surface engagement of the war on Jan. 18, 1991. Supporting combat search and rescue operations for the air campaign, Nicholas employed her Seahawk helicopters to scout the Dorrah oilfield.

Despite nearby Iraqi combatant ships and aircraft armed with Exocet missiles, Nicholas and Istiqlal sailed within a mile of the southern platforms. Once in range, the Nicholas' helicopters launched precision-guided missiles that destroyed enemy positions on the two platforms. As a result the frigate took the first 23 enemy prisoners of war.

Nicholas later attacked Iraqi patrol boats operating less than a mile from the Kuwaiti coast, and sank or heavily damaged four enemy craft.

The ships themselves demonstrated in battle they were also capable of withstanding considerable damage. Their stoutness was proven when USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) struck a mine, and USS Stark (FFG 37) was hit by two Exocet cruise missiles, both patrolling the Arabian Gulf at the time.

In the case of the Samuel B. Roberts' mine strike, April 14, 1988, the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis where coalition air and surface units destroyed the two Iranian oil rigs and also Iranian units attempting to counter-attack U.S. forces.

During the operation the USS Simpson (FFG 56) participated in destroying the 147-foot missile patrol boat Joshan (P 225), avenging the damage inflicted on her sister ship. In fact, by the end of the operation, U.S. air and surface units had sunk, or severely damaged, half of Iran's operational fleet.

The guided missile frigate, USS ANTRIM (FFG-20), during the underway NATO exercise Distant Drum.

Left: Seaman Clarence Davis tries to stay dry during a Sea and Anchor detail onboard the Oliver Hazard Perry Class Guided Missile Frigate USS GARY (FFG 51) at Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Paul J. Phelps) Center: The guided missile frigate, USS ANTRIM (FFG-20), during the underway NATO exercise Distant Drum. Right: Electronics Technician First Class Tim Benson fires the saluting rounds as USS REUBEN JAMES (FFG 57) pulls into Valparaiso, Chile, as part of the bilateral Exercise TEAMWORK SOUTH '99.

The OHP class proved itself worthy in a different war the U.S. has been waging for decades: Stemming the tide of illegal narcotics entering the nation from the sea. The frigates proved to be the platform of choice, and their presence resulted in dozens and dozens of drug seizures worth an estimated street value measured in billions of dollars.

While the ships and crews have proven worthy, the reality remained that they lacked the multi-mission capabilities necessary for modern surface combatants faced with increasingly available high-technology threats. Their design also offered limited capacity for change.

In time, arguably because of their relatively diminutive status, the ships and crews serving in the class very much came to embody the same hallmarks of determination, gumption, self-reliance and surprising effectiveness as their namesake, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785 - 1819). When war with Great Britain was declared on June 18, 1812, Perry was assigned to what he considered an insignificant command of small gunboats at Newport. While his fellow officers gained glory on sleek vessels like the Constitution and Hornet, Perry was dissatisfied with the opportunity given him. After petitioning the Navy Department, he earned assignment to complete construction and soon after successfully lead a flotilla in the Battle of Lake Erie, forever earning a place in Navy history.

The capabilities of the OHP frigates will now be subsumed by new ships like JHSV, LCS, Mobile Landing Platforms and Afloat Forward Staging Bases deliver the capabilities today's environment demands.

The Secretary of the Navy announced in January 2015 that going forward, new Freedom- and Independence-class ships will be christened under the frigate designation

The U.S. Navy retains the 218 year old frigate USS Constitution, currently in dry dock undergoing a planned maintenance availability.

Sailors aboard FFGs

Left: A signalman operates a signal searchlight aboard the guided missile frigate USS CLARK (FFG 11). Center: Cooks prepare a meal aboard the guided missile frigate USS HALYBURTON (FFG 40) during Exercise BALTOPS '85. Right: An officer monitors the damage control console aboard the guided missile frigate USS CLARK (FFG 11).

The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions throughout our nation's history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archaeology, Navy histories, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.
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