Ushuaia Class Frigates
ARG-DDthreesmall.jpg
(Note: drawing contains some parts taken from Shipbucket.com)

Ship Characteristics

Dimensions Length 377.2 ft
Beam 38.7 ft
Draft 13 ft
Displacement (Standard) 2,150 tons
Displacement (Full Load) 3,050 tons
Performance Speed (max) 28 knots
Speed (cruising) 20 knots
Endurance 7,000 nautical miles at 20 knots
Armament Guns 2 76mm L62, 4 47mm L70
Anti-ship Missiles 4 Otomat
ASW 2 triple 14 inch torpedo tubes
Aircraft 1 Light helicopter

Background

In the late 1950s, the Italian Fincantieri shipyard became increasingly concerned over the escalating size of warships that appeared to have no end. This, they felt, was putting naval power beyond the reach of smaller powers (not least Italy). That opened a hole in the market for a relatively small and inexpensive warship that would fulfil the limited needs of such powers. At the time, that hole was being filled by the sale of surplus U.S. warships but Fincantieri realized that by the time they had designed and built their new ship, those ex-U.S. warships would be at the end of their lives. Accordingly they started work on their "Multi-Role Frigate"

Of course, one of their earliest lessons was why ships were growing in size so quickly. Designing a relatively small, inexpensive ship was much easier said than done. The new frigate ended up as being about the same size as the U.S. Gearing class destroyers it would be replacing but was, apparently, much less heavily armed. It was produced in three "versions" all of which featured two three inch L62 guns, two twin mounts for 47mm guns and a hangar aft for a light helicopter. The ASW version also carried a Bofors 375mm anti-submarine rocket launcher forward and had a reasonably capable (for its day) sonar. The surface warfare version had four Otomat anti-ship missiles replacing the rocket launcher while the air warfare version had a third 76mm gun in that position. This caused a certain level of ridicule and the AAW version was hastily renamed the General Purpose variant.

The late 1950s onwards were great years for naval designers producing paper studies that never went anywhere. Fincantieri used a different approach. They actually built a prototype of their multi-role frigate at corporate expense. This ship, the MV Audace was built in ASW configuration and was equipped with the latest prototype guns and radars from the Italian armaments industry. Other bits of equipment were purchased as surplus or, (as happened in one famous case where Enzo Ferrrari donated his winnings from the French Grand Prix) private donations from wealthy Italian corporations. When she set sail on her world-wide sales cruise, she was the first privately-owned warship to sail the seas for almost a hundred years. She had a highly successful sales career that ended when she was sold (for cash down) to the Cuban Navy where she still serves (a cruise on the ship being one of the tourist attactions of the resort island, the excursion including the opportunity to fire the ship's guns).

The Multi-Role Frigate proved a highly successful sales commodity, receiving orders from a wide variety of navies and coastguards. Their diesel engines gave them long range while their design made them suitable for a wide range of roles. In addition to their intended market of smaller navies, several major regional navies also purchased them as second-line combatants. For example, the Indian navy purchased a variant (armed with six 57mm guns in three twin mounts) to replace the old World War Two destroyer escorts they had obtained from the United States. Other ships of this class went to (amongst others) South Africa, Thailand, Singapore, Mexico and Greece.

Argentina was an initial purchaser with an order for six surface combat variants in 1964. These six ships were followed by a second group of six built under license in Argentina's Arsenelo de Marinha shipyard. Probably due to the simplicity of the design, construction of the second group went reasonably well, giving the Argentine government enough faith in the capabilities of Arsenelo de Marinha to allow them to attempt the construction of much more advanced ships. This second group of ships was also armed for surface warfare and the class of twelve provided the surface combat backbone of the Argentine Navy for many years.

The Ushuaia class frigates proved adequate for their tasks and their number meant that the ships were available when needed. They had their limitations, most notably their hangars were too small to accommodate anything more than a small helicopter, putting them at a grave disadvantage when escalating demands shifted attention to larger aircraft and when rotodynes took over many helicopter functions. of course, it was the introduction of the rotodyne that was a major factor in pushing up warship sizes, the very trend that the Fincantieri frigates had been designed to counter. In general the Fincantieri multi-mission frigate served its various owners well. It was never a really front-line warship but it was never intended to be although this escaped some naval analysts who insisted on criticizing it by comparison with much larger and very much more expensive ships.

Class Members

Name Ordered Laid Down Launched Commissioned Fate
Ushuaia 1964 1964 1967 1968
Patagonia 1964 1964 1967 1968
Chaco 1964 1964 1967 1968
Pampa 1964 1965 1968 1969
Mataco 1964 1965 1968 1969
Toba 1964 1965 1968 1969
Azopardo 1967 1967 1970 1972
Ona 1967 1967 1970 1972
Querandi 1967 1968 1971 1973 Sunk by Royal Navy air attack, Grytviken South Georgia, April 23, 1982
Punta Alta 1967 1968 1971 1973 Sunk by fire and internal explosions, Grytviken South Georgia, April 4, 1982
Fournier 1967 1969 1972 1974
Spiro 1967 1969 1972 1974
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