Plans to acquire a new class of “more affordable” Type 31 Frigate were announced as part of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
It is understood that the Type 26 Frigate will primarily support carrier task group operations while the Type 31 is to be deployed for a range of less high-tempo operations.
The original planning assumption for the Royal Navy was for thirteen Type 26 Frigates (eight ASW and five GP), replacing the Type 23 frigate fleet like-for-like. However, it was later announced during the November 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review by then Prime minister David Cameron that only the eight anti-submarine warfare Type 26 frigates would be ordered.
The funding for the remaining five general purpose Type 26 frigates is instead to be spent on developing a new class of lighter and more affordable general purpose frigates. Due to an expected lower cost, the government suggested it may (but probably not) allow an eventual increase in the total number of frigates in the Royal Navy.
This general purpose frigate will be designated as the Type 31 frigate.
The Cutlass design from BAE offered for the General Purpose Future Frigate (Type 31) is pictured above and is a significantly stretched and enhanced derivation of the Al Shamikh-class corvette design and sits at the high end of the cost/capability spectrum.
In Omani service, the vessels this design is based on carry one 76mm Oto Melara cannon, two 30mm MSI DS30M cannons, eight MM-40 Block III Exocet SSMs and twelve MBDA VL Mica SAMs.
The vessels, despite being smaller than the proposed UK variant, also house an enclosed hangar and are capable of hosting Wildcat sized aircraft.
During a July 2016 Defence Select Committee hearing, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones described the GPFF as:
“To be a much less high-end ship. It is still a complex warship, and it is still able to protect and defend and to exert influence around the world, but it is deliberately shaped with lessons from wider industry and off-the-shelf technology to make it more appealing to operate at a slightly lower end of Royal Navy operations.”
It remains to be seen how this vessel meets those needs with very little UK specific details having been released.