Following the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, we take a brief look at the Babcock offering for the Type 31e Frigate, Arrowhead 120.

Babcock say that the design is focused on providing a ‘reconfigurable platform’.

Arrowhead’s, ‘adaptable configuration’ acknowledges operational roles will change through the life of the ship with multiple mission bays incorporated into the design allowing for rapid reconfiguration and re-role to meet changing operational needs.

Babcock said they have been advancing operational and data analysis technologies at a rapid pace.

“Arrowhead is cleverly designed to reduce through life costs by embedding key innovations such as real time equipment health monitoring during the build enabling information to be collected during deployment on the fitness of its systems to inform future service and maintenance arrangements.”

With the vessel able to accommodate a variety of equipment choices and with flexibility at the centre of the design philosophy Arrowhead can be deployed for a broad range of roles from low threat security operations to task force deployments.

Babcock say that the Arrowhead design lends itself equally to either a single build strategy, or a cross–site build strategy bringing together modules – an approach used for aircraft carrier assembly at Rosyth.

Craig Lockhart, Managing Director Naval Marine, Babcock said:

“Arrowhead is a game changing general purpose frigate for modern navies. Optimising Through Life Support costs is at the very core of the principles of Arrowhead’s design and build methodology, all balanced against the ability to deliver the required capability.

In focusing Arrowhead’s development around a sustainable and capable design that will help to keep any fleet ‘mission ready’, Babcock has drawn upon its significant experience in vessel design and support for global clients.”

The 120m Arrowhead is an exciting addition to Babcock’s portfolio of ships. The most recent build example being the Samuel Beckett Class OPVs that Babcock is building for the Irish Naval Service at its Appledore facility in North Devon.


  1. The Irish Navy has some extremely well equipped ships, two of them ex-RN. The latest vessels are corvettes by another name.

    • The latest Irish Navy vessels when you look at their systems fit are more akin to a large fishing boat and certainly can’t hold the label Corvette.

      Don’t be distracted by the OTO-76 on the foredeck the Samuel Beckett class is an OPV design with the systems of a large Fishing Trawler or Rig support ship. It has the radios and radar you would see on civilian commercial vessels, little to no armour and no integrated mission or command and control systems. It does have a basic Electo optical tracker for the 76mm and that is about it!

    • On the contrary Harold.

      While they are good value for what they are, they are also the very bottom of the ladder in terms of capability.

      As Pacman mentioned, they have the bare bones sensor and communications package.
      A camera on the front of the 76mm gun is as sophisticated as it gets.
      the 2 x 20mm cannons are manually operated.

      Barely adequate for its only role of keeping an eye on fishing trawlers.

  2. Through life support would be a Babcock strength. Worth remembering though that the NSS prioritises short RN life cycles. Sell on and build new is the new strategy. The days of re-engining Type 23’s are over.

  3. With Babcock teaming with BMT, either Arrowhead or Venator will be abandoned for the Type 31e programme bid. Am I right in thinking that Appledore would be the place where the ships would be built? I hope other companies enter the competition, but the requirement for building in the UK rather hampers companies from abroad with good designs but no access to UK building facilities.

    • Its shouldn’t completely stop them the QE was effectively a Thales design which won because it was so much better than the BAE proposal.
      The government selected the Thales design then told BAE to build it, who then screwed it up by making sure adding cats and traps would cost £2bn.

      • BB85 – Blimey some re-write of history there. I was with you on the Thales design, although others did have a hand in the design work, but also bear in mind the French were supposed to be buying a CATOBAR version, ‘PA-02’, and one condition was using Thales. So not quite as you presented.

        The Government didn’t tell ‘BAE to build it’ at all. Building work was to be provided by the ‘Aircraft Carrier Alliance’ (ACA) spread out over 4 companies at 6 sites and including the MoD. They weren’t even assembled in a BAE Yard. Rosyth is a Bacock yard.

        And then you fantasise about CATOBAR. While the French wanted CATOBAR the UK always intended a STOVL carrier and why the Thales design catered for both designs. As I understand it the QEs are passively engineered for later mid life CATOBAR fitment. BAE were never going to supply the CATOBAR kit being assessed in SDSR2010 which was EMALS supplied by GE and Converteam. And the decision to remain as planned with STOVL was because EMALS was a) unproven, b) un-deliverable in the time frame and c) astronomic cost. Go look at the Gerald R Ford for a demonstration of all 3 factors.

        I am no fan of BAE other than I do admire the breadth of their skillbase and their huge success in the USA but I think some accuracy is called for here.

        • Passively engineered? What does that mean.

          As I recall a labour defence minister told us back in 2008 that carriers were future proof? Meaning in his his words they could be easily modified to CATOBAR in the future at modest cost.

          When the Tories examined this in 2010 that modest cost was in excess of_£2bn per carrier.

          Investigation of the actual contracts revealed there was no requirement to build future proofing into the carrier.

          Regards BAE it’s a vast multinational, some parts are well run some parts are not.

          • It means nobody really expected the vessels to be reconfigured to CATOBAR during their lifetime.

            You have to remember what won in 2003 was a concept for a large conventional carrier configured as a STOVL one. It wasn’t a design by any measure, that came later.

            Future proofing them to be converted to CATOBAR was an admirable concept and certainly the design teams did put some effort to the idea that it could be done at some point in the carriers life but that doesn’t mean it would be cheap or easy like some have rather unfairly assumed.

            In the period up to Main Gate decision and afterwards the treasury was pushing the MOD who were pushing the ACA to keep costs down. As nobody thought that the Government would be mad enough to change the configuration at that late point only lip service was paid to having to change the carrier to CATOBAR. They did put in margins for it but nothing more.

            Then in 2010 without consulting the ACA it was decided that the carriers would be CATOBAR. All very well but steel had been cut, long lead items had been ordered and suddenly the ACA was being asked to reconfigure to CATOBAR and install an untested catapult and arrestor gear system. Hundreds of compartments already in build and thousands of systems already ordered would have to to be changed. Add to that the Americans wanted control over that part of the redesign process. It was too late to stop building QE as a STOVL carrier but they did start making changes to PoW (changes that PoW will now carry for the rest of her life), this is all VERY costly. The RN was told that in all likelihood if the UK carried on down the CATOBAR route they would only get one carrier configured in that way and the costs of training for those types of operations were starting to look rather big.

            Another issue was the French carrier CdG, whilst her Rafale could safely operate off the QE class the F-35C was too heavy for the CdG, taking away the interoperability that was touted when the switch over was first announced. So with the F-35B starting to perform well the sensible move was made to switch back to STOVL.

            To be clear re-configuring the carriers to CATOBAR would always be an expensive exercise! just because they were advertised as re-configurable doesn’t change that basic fact.

    • Appledore not suitable for final assembly of a vessel the size of a T31e, more likely Rosyth for final assembly with Appledore and other yards building blocks which would be in line with the direction the government wants.

      • Appledore built HMS Scott in 1996 at 13,500 tons. I expect the river estuary has silted up a bit by then though.

        But what an opportuinity for SW investment if the T31 got built there. Perhaps 12 of them as light frigates and 12 more configured as MCMV / GP mothership ships. All built over 24 years followed by 24 more years for replacements. Just saying…

    • @clive

      The MoD is insisting that the T31 design is British and owned by the UK.

      By the way, the Thales carrier design was created with British naval architects from BMT leading Bae design teams. 100% British.

  4. Agreed – why can’t overseas designs be built in the UK? It’s not like we need a new design every week, and a ‘team’ approach seems to be the way things are going anyway. BAE vs Babcock/BMT seems to be what we’re heading for, not exactly spoilt for choice! I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or the other withdraw, leaving the usual ‘sole upplier’ option. Indeed, foreign collaboration may be a way for UK companies to get a foothold in the MEKOesq build market. Many countries license produce overseas designs with excellent results (India, Australia etc) and as long as indigenous products and materials are specified wherever possible, its a win for British industry – AND the RN

    • Steve – BAE are not actually in the Type 31e competition as BAE Systems. They are providing combat system and other support to Cammell Laird on Merseyside and A & P on Tyneside who will be the main building yards. BAE will also add huge export nous and reputation (which seems to be better in the USA and elsewhere than in the UK).

      Babcok / BMT seem to have a viable design but only building in Devon (good though it is) may actually count against it. The NSS is looking to spread the taxpayer funding around the UK. For which read ‘anywhere but Scotland’ to be blunt.

    • Yes without a older company’s name attached CL would be sunk but with BAE who have a decent world reputation and actually a good one in the US they have a shot. The reason BAE has a better reputation worldwide is they actually have had to compete, so they behaved themselves on contracts. Their rep in the US they pretty much inherited from United Defense when they bought them for a song after the bottom fell out of the ant-communist market.

    • Overseas designs should not be built. By all means learn good ideas from them but warship design and building ought to be a sovereign capability for the UK.

      • Indeed design and development is the jewel in the crown for any top division Industrial Nation and increasingly so in the future. The US, Sweden, France, Germany have it at their core, even China is striving to become the designer over simply the workshop of the World, it knows the value in it. The metal beating just keeps people in jobs, good but leaves you a follower. Britain has sadly lost so much of that creative capacity already within the Industrial sector as it declined, it really can’t afford to lose its creative minds many of whom are as good as any in the world and one of the few sectors overall where we are still prised as our Architects, Engineers and visual designers prove every day on the World stage.

  5. Mike S : Well said ! I hope that ArrowHead is selected and we have nothing to do with Bae. We need something that other countries will buy on the export market. We need her to be upgradeable and have a good weapons fit we need her to come in on time and on price I think out of all them Arrowhead is the best looking and may be Spartan second . We need to get away from BAE and its monoploy….. Come on Babcock she look like a old Type 21 from the Front

    • I am not a naval architect, but with the arrowhead I like what I see.

      Flexible modular design with plenty of weapons and sensor stations, rather than some bastardised design which looks incapable of meeting the the core needs of navies around the world let alone the RN.

        • I’m not a fan of the weapons fit on the Arrowhead. The 16 VLS will presumably be for Sea Ceptor, leaving just those box launchers. It does seem like we’re going away from box launchers, but I would be much happier if the 16 VLS were Mk41, and rather than the box launchers there were 8 VLS for Sea Ceptor. In my opinion, T31 needs Mk 41 VLS to be considered a credible frigate.

          • Spartan has the same but with another 8 Mk41 VLS next to the hangar (I say another because the 16 bow VLS are also MK41). Stellar Systems have said that the box launchers are also just place holders, so Sea Ceptor could go there. That is a well armed ship.

          • My understanding from DSEI 17 that the 16 VLS were MK41 from Lockhead Martin capable of holding 4 Sea Septors per launch tube, you could have 32 missiles in 8 tubes, giving you 8 for ASROC or harpoon type missiles

  6. What about the Spartan design? And when BAES are talking about combat system etc. What platform are they integrating it on?
    You build a ship around the combat system T45 – Aster 30, T26 around Anti sub etc.
    It is good see competition for once though, companies are now starting to come up with different options (and being paid to do so) which can only be good for the UK in the future on the international market. Timelines are also challenging – dare I say it we might actually get something on time. We used to be a nation of ship builders and designers – good to see if we could do it again.

  7. It is strange that BAe is so effective abroad and yet appears to be inefficient in the UK, which makes me wonder if the combination of small build numbers and poor vendor management by the government is actually to blame.

    • BAE in the UK is addicted to cost plus contracts and has a monopoly in many sectors, they do not need to manage projects effectively any cost overruns are picked up by the UK taxpayer.

      • but that is poor vendor management by the government. They should structure the contracts better with more certain penalty clauses etc. Being a public sector contract though, I can’t help thinking there are probably a load of back handers flying around to ensure the contracts don’t penalise bae. saying that must be the same in other countries.

        • in private sector if you mess up a big contract because you didn’t see a way the vendor could exploit it, best case your made to feel very uncomfortable and then if you mess up again best case your sacked. Somehow the public sector seems to make the same mistakes over and over and doesn’t learn from them.

        • Over the past 40 years the UK government has been complicit in creating corrupt system.

          Politics have made our shipbuilding and defence industry uncompetitive on the world stage.

      • Cost plus contracts are what a supplier insists on if the requirements are not clear when the contract is signed or they need to protect themselves against enforced late changes to requirements.

  8. All new designs must allow space for multiple drone deployment, as this will be one of the most important developments in the coming years. Helicopters or equivalent size aircraft will need to be accommodated too, as this facet of operational flexibility will always be part of shipborne practice.

  9. Lets not forget Spartan guys – its a great design and is as someone else said “looks British” and for me does stand out from a design perspective (it looks different). It also seems to me to have better multi mission spaces but of course this may not actually be the case as it is very much a design only at present.

    The good thing for me is that we have regenerated industry excitement around this and the skills are still around.

    Next we should do the same for our land vehicles (all of them) get a strategy sorted (TD has a good article on this at the moment) and then start getting the factory build Ajax a pipeline of future work using British designs.

    • I agree Spartan ‘looks right’. And if something looks right it often is right. But two questions: how mature amd detailed is the design and who is going to step forward and bid to build it for £250m?

      • Agreed Paul

        I do think that we must have a load of data and hulls that we can get going rather quickly (even a T23 hull) and reconfigure accordingly. I could see a joint BMT/Spartan design eventually coming to the fore. For me this is the time for the industry to work together and come up with something world class, I also think that the Irish OPV’s do lead the way here – if these can be built at around 71m Euros each (Wikipedia) then surely we can build a T31 for 4 times this cost. I for one am really positive about the T31 and think any of these designs can come in to price and schedule.

        Hull & M&E – £100m
        VLS – £40m (£10m per 8 cells)
        Radars – £10m
        Main Gun – £30m
        Helicopter – £30m
        Combat System -£10m
        Tolerance – £30m

        Seems to me that £250m is doable

        • Agree the £250m should be doable, at least for the ‘core’ spec. Not sure I would extrapolate from Babcock’s Irish OPV design and manufacture experience. These are simple ships, not warships. But what they do have is deep knowledge of how robust a RN warship needs to be from their Type 23 refits and of course they made blocks for the carriers – to someone else’s design. As would be the case for Arrowhead or Venator.
          Right now I am seeing only 2 lead bids but maybe 3 options. Cammell Laird bidding the Leander design ( really a BAE Cutlass lookalike) with BAE as systems integrator and/or Spartan and Babcock with probably Venator ( or a hybrid Arrowhead/Venator) design because the govt would prefer the Type 31 to have UK DNA and because for me Venator is still the best thought through design in terms of modular manufacture and adaptability – start with a patrol frigate and mid life upgrade to full fat frigate. Systems would still be BAE because its a RN standard- maybe even a straight copy of the River 2. Overall I share your enthusiasm.
          I see Janes are reporting Chile’s interest in another Type 23 come 2023 so no pressure then on the Type 31 timetable!

          • Paul

            I know they are simpler ships and that it is dangerous to extrapolate, but and its a big but, you have to start somewhere and the Euro 71m Irish OPV has a 76mm Otto and is total cost, my cost profile allows for a hull and M&E cost of £100m without any weapons – so I think it is realistic – even for a more complex ship. Our River 2’s are far more expensive and seem to be less capable, so it is a good starting point to review why and then correct.

            I am no expert (far from it actually) but I am good with numbers and I think there is a good 5-10% profit in this for a yard bold enough to go for it -although it would be easier if there was a second batch in the schedule as I think £250m is more achievable across 10 ships than 5.

        • The helicopter doesn’t have to be a Wildcat or Merlin. It could be a Eurocopter EC635 which is only £5m. Less capable but this is only a light frigate.

          If the gov really did some joined up thinking all the police helicopters and air ambulances in the country (some of which are EC135 – a civilian version of the EC635) could have some great economies of scale. The AAC also need a replacement for their old Gazelles.

          • The Gazelles do need replacing. But the Type 31 helicopter does have to be Wildcat for the RN. With its Seaspray radar and other sensors Wildcat is a sophisricated surveillance and attack system capable of launching depth charges, torpedos, Sea Martlet and Sea Venom missiles; in addition to utility and constabulary functions it fulfils with stretchers and gp machine gun. Foreign navies can order it with a dipping sonar. It is a completely different animal to EC 635.

  10. I believe Arrowhead is based on the proposed USCG cutter; which I am sure will be a fine ship. However, not withstanding UK purchase of US platforms like Poseidon I believe warship design and building ought to be sovereign capabilities for the UK as an island nation. Choosing Arrowhead would be the start of a slippery slope. We should choose Venator, Spartan or ‘Leander’. If Leander ( modified Cutlass as I understand it) is chosen then any defects in the relationship should be fixed rather than cut loose from the largest and most advanced engineering skill set in the UK. Seems to be BAE have done the honourable and humble thing in designing Leander and letting Cammell lead the bidding.

    • I rest my case. We should own the intellectual property rights of our warship designs. The RN is part of the national DNA.

      • But over the past 40 years we have shown that we no competitive shipbuilding industry.

        We have to have a new approach if we wish have a viable industry, if we do not then at some point in the future the industry will cease to exist.

        • Agree compteley, which is why it is good to see a published spec for Type 31 with clear statement of core ( minimum must have) and adaptable ( future growth) requirements.

    • The Cutter is being built by Eastern Shipbuilding Panama City Florida. Foreign designs can be purchased by the US military ex.(Harrier, Beretta,). Babcock designed the superstructure, electronic and combat systems integration. Eastern Shipbuilding however came up with the hull form, basic systems, and power plant. What they needed was a partner with experience in military systems and design. Due to Eastern being a civil builder mostly building oil platform supply ships, tugs, and ferry’s but they have been trying to get into the Military market by getting the CG contract. Babcock needed a way into the US market so a win win.

      • Not being an expert in ‘open system’ for naval ships does it make sense to have half the RN fleet with commms amd combat management systems built and integrated by BAE while the Arrowhead Type 31’s have cms designed by Babcock?

        • In the USN where their are far more contractors than BAE usually the the coms, cms, and weapon systems are only suggested by the contractors and final selection is made by the buyers and acceptance (and therefore payment) is contingent on integration.

          Furthermore armament manufacturers design their products to be able to integrate with as many things as possible. For instance their are currently 5 major ship builders involved in USN construction of combatants. Integrating hardware and software from hundreds of companies around the world.

  11. I’m not convinced local ship building industry is really needed anymore and I think we should focus on value for money.

    the idea of local is based around the idea that in a war situation we could churn out ships. The problem is the weapon systems mean that mass building just can’t be achieved anymore. With modern weapons the average ship takes years to build and needs items from around the world to make it more than an empty hull.

    the same has happened to the air force and army, they have gone fully foreign for value.

    its time the same was true with the navy, time to join a much bigger order from the US or cheaper from Korea or whatever it takes to get a better pricd and to get more hulls for the price. instead we have massively under armed ships in small numbers just to support a few thousand jobs in a country of 50 mil jobs.

    • My old boss used to say technologies are either a commodity or a ‘circus act’. RFA tankers are a commodity – you buy on price. Frigates are a circus act – you buy on expertise and you make sure you cultivate it.

    • The overprice comes from not buying enough ships. Small production runs always result in higher costs. Build local is based on not only war production but also a very overlooked thing. The ability to MAINTAIN the equipment and personnel. Yes it is always going to be expensive and if you’re buying the good stuff it should be there is a old Swedish saying “We are to poor to buy cheap things.” Yes there should be more joining allied procurement but domestic production should always be secured where possible.

      • But why, please explain to me why we need to maintain this expertise locally.

        We are seeing that maintance of high end tech can’t be done fully locally anymore, once you cross the line of no longer fully controlling the supply chain of anything, whether its military equipment or LCD tv’s you ask why bother trying to maintain any of it and instead focus on what makes you different.

        Think TV’s, Panasonic etc no longer make panels and so have got rid of their full production lines and instead focuses on tweaking the LG panels it gets to max their capability. This is what we should be doing iwth military tech, now we can no longer build them end to end.

        • If you are looking for a reason we should maintain skills locally look at France, home of Airbus, MBDA, DCNS, Rafale, sovereign nuclear deterrent….
          Skills = high tech jobs, control of strategy and product evolution and control of selection of manufacturing location and the jobs that go with that.

  12. We should define what are strategic defence industrial facilities that we must retain.

    I am open minded as to what that should be, for example I consider the ability to design and build nuclear submarines to be of strategic importance, however the building of light frigates is not of strategic importance and can only be justified if sizeable export orders can be achieved.

    Technology change is accelerating at a pace not seen before, perhaps the it is only way ahead for our defence industry to survive but to do so involves financial risk.

    One thing is certain we cannot try to carry on as we are, all decisions involve risk.

  13. Bearing in mind one of the aims of the NSS is to break the BAE virtual monopoly, Arrowhead / Venator would be a good option, depending on which design or amalgam of design was chosen to be put forward by Babcock.

    Babcock have said they’ll work with any shipyard, which could include Rosyth itself, or basically anywhere.

  14. Fallon has visited Ferguson on the Clyde and suggested Type 31 is an opportunity for them. Lots of permutations opening up. Ferguson and Cammel Laird could both build complete Cutlass / Leander hulls amd BAE could supervise systems integration or Ferguson, Cammell and Appledore could make modules of the hybrid Venator/ Arrowhead design for assembly at Rosyth. Depends how literally you want to take the NSS.

  15. Arrowhead would be fine, do not care if we get arrowhead or venator just so long as not cutlass or avenger.
    whatever design is chosen we need first batch built and in service before 2024-2025 to prevent royal navy shrinking below its pitifully low escort numbers we have now.
    following first batch of 5 vessels there needs to follow a subsequent batch of 5 vessels before 2030, then once 10 in service a continuous low rate construction of 1 vessel every 12-18 months for the next 15 years.
    What the RN needs is a small increase in manpower by 2000-3000 and a polyvalent escort hull able to conduct surface strike, convoy escort and independent patrols. A type 31e in essence.

  16. 2 new flat tops new ships being built new sub’s .. The royal navy is getting rid of old ships with brand new state of the art ships soon getting the F 35 and we are the biggest and most modern navy in Europe and ppl still moan unbelievable ..

    • We need the right balance of quality and quantity and it’s simply not there at the moment due to several well known reasons.

      • Some research I did in March this year. The UK and FR ship numbers over 100 tonnes. Under 1,000 tonnes in brackets. Data from Wikipedia.

        Subs: UK = 7 + 4. FR= 6 + 4.
        Carriers: UK = 2 building but use only 1. FR = 1.
        Amphibs: UK = 2 but use only 1, + 1 to retire early. FR = 3.
        AAW Escorts: UK = 6. FR = 4 + 2 building.
        ASW Escorts: UK = 8. FR = 3 + 3 building + 5 to retire.
        GP Escorts: UK = 5. FR = 11.
        OPV: UK = 4 + 5 building + ? to retire. FR = 13 (+4)
        MCMV: UK = (15). FR = (18).
        Coast guard: UKBA = (5). FR = (6).
        Survey/Support/Research/Training: UK = 8. FR = 21 (+15).
        Auxillary: 13 + 4 building. FR = 3

        There’s not much difference in the numbers of big fighting ships but FR have more GP escorts and OPVs. UK has a lot more Auxillaries especially Bay and Point class ships but FR has a lot more support and training ships.

        If UK operated both carriers with at least 2 sqns of planes then UK is better, but one or two Exocets would level it and our QEs don’t even carry CAMM whereas the CDG has Aster 15. If UK had 20 simple GP escorts instead of 5 older T23s then we would easily be better and those Exocets might not hit something quite so valuable.


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