The government intends to launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of future light frigates to complement the Type 26, according to the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).
While it was previously expected that the “five lighter frigates” mentioned in November would be heavily stripped down general purpose variants of the Type 26 Frigate (and of course still might be), other contenders seem to be emerging.
One of the most obvious contenders for the UK’s future light frigate is an offering from BMT, the Venator-110 which is “designed to cover a multitude of general purpose and specialist roles”. Recent changes to the vessels marketing fact sheets and computer generated imagery show more or less what the Royal Navy want with a light frigate and the vessel quite clearly is now being pitched as a solution to meet the light frigate requirement. The full specification guide for the vessel can be found here.
BMT Defence Services is a leading independent centre of engineering design, support and technical services for defence customers in the UK. The company is based in Bath, Fareham and Weymouth in the United Kingdom. It employs over 300 specialists and support staff. Its people include systems engineers, combat systems engineers, naval architects, marine engineers and software developers.
BMT describe the vessel as intended to counter the recent problems the Royal Navy have had with regards to ships becoming ever more expensive and complicated, resulting in fewer of them ever being built:
“The overriding design intent behind Venator®-110 is to blend a leanmanned and adaptable capability with an affordable procurement cost, within the dimensions of a Light Frigate. This intent, facilitated by a ‘Middle Out’ design philosophy, is essential to avoid the spiral of escalating platform requirements that can result in ever larger and more expensive warships.
The platform has been comprehensively configured to carry out Maritime Security and International Engagement tasks, whilst remaining flexible to expand to dedicated Warfighting roles, with both offensive and defensive capabilities, accomplished through both integrated systems and the intelligent use of modularity.”
The available documentation from BMT also describes the vessels complement, much lower than that of the Type 26 Frigate:
“By specifying highly capable yet proven equipment and systems within Venator-110 the demands of space, weight and power on the host platform are known, and are incorporated into the design from the start. This serves to reduce the risk, delay and cost of integration to the entire procurement programme. Not withstanding this, when future technologies mature the Venator-110 design stands ready to adapt to the new capabilities that they can offer.
The level of manpower required to crew Venator-110 is intended to be as lean as possible whilst maintaining an appropriate level of operational capability. Even in the full war-fighting configuration the core crew consists of 85 personnel, capable of maintaining 24 hour operations. With overall accommodation for up to 106+18 personnel there remains the ability to significantly augment this crew with additional flight, boarding, intelligence, cyber or unmanned systems operators and personnel.”
The initial Type 26 frigate order has been cut back from 13 to 8 in order to fund more of the immediate spending, a move that has been widely expected since 2013.
The Prime Minister confirmed that the five future light frigates mentioned in the defence review will be built in Scotland. This is in addition to the eight anti-submarine warfare frigates and two extra patrol vessels on top of the three already being constructed at the Glasgow yards.
David Cameron told the House of Commons:
“There will be eight of the Type 26’s and at least another five of the new type of frigate, probably more, and they can be built in Scotland if the conditions are right. The only way these ships wouldn’t be built in Scotland is if Scotland was independent and didn’t have the national resources of the Royal Navy.”
The original plan for the frigate fleet had been 8 anti-submarine warfare variants and 5 general purpose variants, this remains largely unchanged except for the specification and class of the later five vessels, which has been reduced to make them more affordable.
Mr Cameron also told the Commons that the new class of frigates would be “more affordable than the Type 26 which will allow us to buy more of them for the Royal Navy so that by the 2030’s we can further increase the total number of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers.”
It would seem that the Venator 110 design by BMT represents perhaps the most practical solution to the future light frigate needs of the Royal Navy, the product emphasises a few of the most used buzzwords on frigate design, namely affordability, modularity and survivability while still seemingly being able to fulfil a war-fighting role.