A speech by Admiral Sir Philip Jones, the First Sea Lord, today discussed the requirements and capabilities of the new Type 31e Frigate.

The following is a transcript.

“Minister, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to speak to you today, in the midst of a hugely exciting few weeks for the Royal Navy and the UK’s maritime industrial sector.

As the minister mentioned, when HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Portsmouth last month, I described it as a triumph of strategic ambition and a lesson for the future, and I really meant it.

Here was a project first initiated 20 years ago, in which time it outlasted 3 prime ministers, 8 defence secretaries and 7 First Sea Lords. It survived 5 general elections, 3 defence reviews and more planning rounds than I care to remember.

But despite all these twists and turns, the project endured and, in doing so proved to the world, and to ourselves, that we still have what it takes to be a great maritime industrial nation.

Now, in the National Shipbuilding Strategy, we have an opportunity to maintain the momentum.

So my reason for being here today is two-fold. Firstly, to outline the Royal Navy’s requirement for the Type 31e by describing the kind of ship we’re looking for and it’s place in our future fleet.

Secondly, to emphasise our commitment to working with you, our industry partners, to build on what we’ve achieved with the Queen Elizabeth class, and to bring about a stronger and more dynamic shipbuilding sector which can continue to prosper and grow in the years ahead.


The Royal Navy’s requirement for a general purpose frigate is, in the first instance, driven by the government’s commitment to maintain our current force of 19 frigates and destroyers.

The 6 Type 45 destroyers are still new in service, but our 13 Type 23 frigates are already serving beyond their original design life.

They remain capable, but to extend their lives any further is no longer viable from either an economic or an operational perspective.

Eight of those Type 23s are specifically equipped for anti-submarine warfare and these will be replaced on a one-for-one basis by the new Type 26 frigate.

As such, we look to the Type 31e to replace the remaining 5 remaining general purpose variants.

This immediately gives you an idea of both the urgency with which we view this project, and how it fits within our future fleet.

In order to continue meeting our current commitments, we need the Type 31e to fulfil routine tasks to free up the more complex Type 45 destroyers and Type 26 frigates for their specialist combat roles in support of the strategic nuclear deterrent and as part of the carrier strike group.

So although capable of handling itself in a fight, the Type 31e will be geared toward maritime security and defence engagement, including the fleet ready escort role at home, our fixed tasks in the South Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf, and our NATO commitments.

These missions shape our requirements.

There is more detail in your handout but, broadly speaking, the Type 31e will need a hanger and flight deck for both a small helicopter and unmanned air vehicle, accommodation to augment the ship’s company with a variety of mission specialists as required, together with stowage for sea boats, disaster relief stores and other specialist equipment.

It will be operated by a core ships company of between 80-100 men and women and it needs to be sufficiently flexible to incorporate future developments in technology, including unmanned systems and novel weaponry as they come to the fore, so open architecture and modularity are a must.

All this points towards a credible, versatile frigate, capable of independent and sustained global operations.

Now I want to be absolutely clear about what constitutes a frigate in the eyes of the Royal Navy.

In Nelson’s time, a first rate ship like HMS Victory was a relative scarcity compared with smaller, more lightly armed frigates.

They wouldn’t take their place in the line of battle, but they were fast, manoeuvrable and flew the White Ensign in many of the far flung corners of the world where the UK had vital interests.

More recently, the navy I joined still had general purpose frigates like the Leander, Rothesay and Tribal class and, later, the Type 21s, which picked up many of the routine patrol tasks and allowed the specialist ASW frigates to focus on their core NATO role.

It was only when defence reductions at the end of the Cold War brought difficult choices that we moved to an all high end force.

So forgive the history lesson, but the point I’m making is the advent of a mixed force of Type 31 and Type 26 frigates is not a new departure for the Royal Navy, nor is it a ‘race to the bottom’; rather it marks a return to the concept of a balanced fleet.

And the Type 31e is not going to be a glorified patrol vessel or a cut price corvette. It’s going to be, as it needs to be, a credible frigate that reflects the time honoured standards and traditions of the Royal Navy.


In order to maintain our current force levels, the first Type 31e must enter service as the as the first general purpose Type 23, HMS Argyll, leaves service in 2023.

Clearly that’s a demanding timescale, which means the development stage must be undertaken more quickly than for any comparable ship since the Second World War.

But while this programme may be initially focused on our requirements for the 2020s, we must also look to the 2030s and beyond.

You know how busy the Royal Navy is and I won’t labour the point, suffice to say international security is becoming more challenging, threats are multiplying and demands on the navy are growing.

Added to this is that, as we leave the European Union, the UK is looking to forge new trading partnerships around the world.

Put simply, Global Britain needs a global Navy to match.

It is therefore significant that the government has stated in its manifesto, and again through the National Shipbuilding Strategy, that it views the Type 31e as a means to grow the overall size of the Royal Navy by the 2030s.

If we can deliver a larger fleet, then we can strengthen and potentially expand the Royal Navy’s reach to provide the kind of long term presence upon which military and trading alliances are built.


This is a hugely exciting prospect, but we must first master the basics.

We can all think of examples of recent projects which have begun with the right intentions, only for timescales to slip, requirements to change and costs to soar.

As Sir John Parker highlighted in his report last year, we end up with a vicious cycle where fewer, more expensive, ships enter service late, and older ships are retained well beyond their sell by date and become increasingly expensive to maintain.

So we need to develop the Type 31e differently if we’re going to break out of that cycle.

We’ve said that the unit price must not exceed £250 million.

For the Royal Navy, this means taking a hard-headed, approach in setting our requirements to keep costs down, while maintaining a credible capability, and then having the discipline to stick to those requirements to allow the project to proceed at pace.

It also means playing our part to help win work for the UK shipbuilding sector from overseas.

So the challenge is to produce a design which is credible, affordable and exportable.

Adaptability is key, we need a design based on common standards, but which offers different customers the ability to specify different configurations and capabilities without the need for significant revisions.

So while it may be necessary to make trade offs in the name of competitiveness, export success means longer production runs, greater economies of scale and lower unit costs, and therein lies the opportunity to increase the size of the Royal Navy.

With a growing fleet it would be perfectly possible for the Royal Navy to forward deploy Type 31e frigates to places like Bahrain Singapore and the South Atlantic, just as we do with some of our smaller vessels today.

If our partners in these regions were to buy or build their own variants, then we could further reduce costs through shared support solutions and common training.

And because of the Royal Navy’s own reputation as a trusted supplier of second hand warships, we could look to sell our own Type 31’s at the midpoint of their lives and reinvest the savings into follow-on batches.

So by bringing the Royal Navy’s requirements in line with the demands of the export market, we have the opportunity to replace the vicious circle with a virtuous one.

And beyond the Type 31e, the benefits could apply to the Royal Navy’s longer term requirements, beginning with the fleet solid support ship but also including our future amphibious shipping and eventually the replacement for the Type 45 destroyers as well as other projects that may emerge.

Ultimately, the prize is a more competitive and resilient industrial capacity: one that is better able to withstand short term political and economic tides and can serve the Royal Navy’s long term needs.


So, in drawing to a close, I believe we have a precious opportunity before us.

My father worked at the Cammell Laird shipyard for over 40 years. It was visiting him there as a schoolboy and seeing new ships and submarines taking shape that provided one of the key inspirations for me to join the Royal Navy, nearly 40 years ago.

And yet, for most of my career, the fleet has become progressively smaller while the UK shipbuilding sector contracted to such an extent that it reached the margins of sustainability.

But with the Queen Elizabeth class carriers, and the 6 yards involved in their build, we demonstrated that shipbuilding has the potential to be a great British success story once again.

Far beyond Rosyth, we’ve seen green shoots emerging in shipbuilding across the country, and throughout the supply chain, driven by a new entrepreneurial ambition.

Now the National Shipbuilding Strategy has charted a bold and ambitious plan to capitalise on that and reverse the decline.

And in the Type 31e, we have the chance to develop a ship that can support our national security and our economic prosperity in the decades to come.

The navy is ready and willing.

Now we look to you, our partners in industry, to bring your expertise, your innovation and your ambition to bear in this endeavour.”

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mike Saul

Go back 7 years and they said the same thing about the T26 project, much lower cost than current warships, export focused, etc……..

Time will tell if they get it right this time.

Mike Saul

From an article written in 2010. “Lord Nelson loved his HMS Victory external link and her fellow first-rate ships of the line, but he asked the admiralty for more cruisers external link because he knew their versatile value as the “eyes of the fleet.” “Key Type 26 design criteria include multi-role versatility, flexibility in adapting to future needs, affordability in both construction and through-life support costs, and exportability. In reality, these requirements represent a set of key trade-offs. Some can be complementary, such as cost and exportability. Other pairings usually come at each other’s expense, such as the desire for… Read more »

Mike Saul

Also from 2010 “Britain intends to develop its frigates with an eye to export orders, in hopes of to spreading development costs over more vessels, getting more benefit from the manufacturing learning curve, reducing costs per ship thanks to volume orders, and sustaining the UK’s naval shipbuilding industry. Rumored design options for export customers include a choice of gas turbine engines for maximum speed, or a slower but more efficient all-diesel design; as well as optional ship equipment fit-outs focused on either anti-submarine warfare (ASW) or air defense. So far, countries that have been reported as expressing some level of… Read more »


I am feeling a bit more positive about the NSS and T31 after reading that, particularly the bit about it being a credible frigate, not a patrol ship or corvette.

Over to you industry!

Dave L

I agree Rob, especially about it being a credible frigate rather than a patrol ship or corvette. I think I pushes the Venator 110 design into pole position.


The words are pretty but the infographic they released:
comment image

talks about it having defenses “to survive attacks as expected in constabulary operations”
and weapons “capable of engaging small vessels up to FAC size, and surviving attacks”

Thats a description of an OPV and for the price they’ve said they want them for thats exactly what they will be getting.


30mm pop guns then and Wildcats with missiles.


We can realistically hope for 10 of these plus export orders. Type 31 is the new Leander. Kudos to long forgotten Gordon Brown. The QE carriers have catalysed the rebirth of British shipbuilding. And the vision and fortitude of the RN look like they are giving the current government hope, a priceless commodity.

Mike Saul

I would love to see your analysis to support your prediction.

Regards kudos to Gordon B for the QE carriers and the rebirth of UK shipbuilding, why are we getting rid of nearly new mega crane at Rosyth?


It is not being ‘got rid off’ – if someone wants or needs it, they will buy it.

Mike Saul

Well obviously UK shipbuilding doesn’t need it, so much for its rebirth


You don’t need a crane that size for frigates. That was for an aircraft carrier and we’re not going to be exporting those.


Mainly the crew size. I think Type 23 crew is 185 (wiki) versus Type 31 spec of 80-100. Half.

Mike Saul

The Labour government 97 to 2010 ordered 8 surface warships costing over £13bn and scrapped over 20 warships. Locked future UK governments into expensive monopoly supplier contracts.

During that time not a single export order for a UK warship over 2000 tons was placed.

The Labour government defence industrial strategy of 2005 stated that surface warships for the RN should be built overseas and fitted out in the UK. Only nuclear powered submarines should be built in the UK.

Best to examine the facts before putting on the rose tinted glasses.


The Labour government seemed to display a distinct if not disturbing lack of confidence in British engineering.


Brown was a major sponsor of the new carriers, albeit because he was Scottish and looking after Scottish jobs. Notwithstanding his motives it has worked out, just saying.

Mike Saul

Gordon B cared little for our armed forces, in terms of both personnel and equipment. He slashed spending on helicopters and armoured vehicles just as they were urgently need in Iraq and Afghanistan to try and balance the defence budget. Only when the body count rose was anything done via UORs to correct the situation.

The carriers were primarily a job creation scheme for Scottish shipyards, their military value was a secondary importance to the Labour government.


All that needs saying about ‘PFI Gordon’ is that he was the Constituency MP for Rosyth. So he made sure the carrier assembly work went there despite the fact that a) the place had never built a ship before and b) it had neither the dry dock or cranes to build a 65,000 ton ship. But £80 Mn was found to rebuild Rosyth dockyard and we bought ‘Goliath’ from China. So thats OK then…. Someone forgot that H & W in Belfast had both dry docks and cranes suitable for the job and had a history of building hundreds of… Read more »


“including the fleet ready escort role at home, our fixed tasks in the South Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf, and our NATO commitments” We need more than 5 to commit fully to those patrols. Like I said on another thread it’s sounding better and better, it’s clearly obvious to anyone who doesn’t have a deep down desire for it to fail that the government have realised there is a steep decline and are trying to address it, using the modest resurgence in UK shipbuilding and are trying to capitalise and grow on that. When a government creates new posts… Read more »


Indeed, this is one of Parker’ points in the NSS, if you build your own ships to a faster cycle rather than keep old ships going you save money, create jobs and grow the economy. Alleluja! Light has dawned ( on government). This thinking is why the Fremms and Mekos get built and gain export sales while we are still figuring our requirements.

Mike Saul

There will be 40 export orders, what analysis are you basing that on?


“We assess that there is a potential light frigate export market of around 40 ships over the next 10 years”

Chapter 4 paragraph 84

Did you not read the strategy?



Mike Saul

So a world market for 40 light frigates and the UK is going to win 100% of that market?

Can you see flaw in that position?


There is no flaw in aiming high and wanting success Mike. They have identified customers for 40 ships, these customers will be allies & countries we have done business with before. If the product is good enough and at the right price there will be buyers. Even if they could export between 5 and 20 ships it would still be regarded as a success. An island nation with a history like ours, our naval history, innovation and game changing ships throughout history, largest empire ever, we SHOULD be exporting ships in massive numbers, we should be using our soft power… Read more »

andy reeves

it won’t happen, true to form incompatence will set in somewhere, and good intentions will screw the hole thing up


What a load of guff. ‘And the Type 31e is not going to be a glorified patrol vessel or a cut price corvette.’ Isn’t that exactly what it is going to be? What we are seeing here is an attempt to maintain numbers of ships in the water whilst continuouly diluting capability. How will this ship respond to aggression or a developing situations? Of course there is always going to be a trade-off between capability and cost but what we seem to have here is the navy wanting a ‘proper’ ship even if it means including very little on that… Read more »

andy reeves

if you look at the high end modern corvette, the build time to comissioning is still in the region of 3 years, so for the fleet to increase production will have to be carried out on a faster scale. yards need to be put in direct competition . first to build a ship, gets the contract for the next the u.k should look to be producing two ships per year, maybe a t26 or two (i’d hope t31’s) the monopoly of the clyde should be ended, opportunities should be given to yarrow, cammill laird, an harland wolfe


The French experience has shown that they build better equipment at cheaper prices points where the product competes on the international market. It is absolutely critical that once a design is settled on it is not tinkered with by the MoD, that numbers are guaranteed and the government throws its weight behind getting export orders for this ship. Then under these circumstances the government has the right and responsibility to put pressure on the ship builder to deliver on time, drive learning efficiencies and get the product at the planned cost. Under such a regime the shipyards have the opportunity… Read more »


“It is absolutely critical that once a design is settled on it is not tinkered with by the MoD, that numbers are guaranteed and the government throws its weight behind getting export orders for this ship.” I agree. At least the 1SL seems to explicitly accept your first point in his speech (“For the Royal Navy, this means taking a hard-headed, approach in setting our requirements to keep costs down, while maintaining a credible capability, and then having the discipline to stick to those requirements to allow the project to proceed at pace.”). There’s quite a lot of encouraging stuff… Read more »

Mike Saul

You to add a touch of realism into your life.

We haven’t exported a single frigate or destroyer in over 40 years, now all of a sudden we are going to export 40 in the medium term.

The reality is we will be lucky to build 10 t31 frigates, including the RN order.


It’s called being optimistic Mike. I’m not naive, I’ve expressed my own doubts on the dismal performance of the goverment, but if they throw their weight behind this there is no reason why it shouldn’t succeed. Just because we haven’t exported in a while doesn’t mean we can’t again. If there are naysayers and doom mongers like you in the MOD then we would never export a single item.

andy reeves

we won’t export anything but the icensing to build until we’ve built our own. the type 21’s and t22’s wereretired or sold far too soon. the fact that countries like pakistan still operate 21’s shows they went before their time. the type 22 as origionally configured to be a light destroyer, they were, and still could be if we bought them back a useful cog in an expanded fleet. maybe if the brazillians have ocean, the return of one of their two operationaland maybe the two laid up 22’st22’s dependingon condition should have been part of the deal.get the chillean… Read more »


I think the FSL has hit the nail on the head – especially with selling the ships off at midpoint. That for me is crucial as our current cost base is too skewed to maintenance costs. As others have commented I really hope we take a good hard look at the Meko (amongst other designs) and don’t settle for anything less than great – as we need to have a capable asset at the right price point to be competitive globally. £250m is a challenge – but 5 gives us some scale – especially if we standardise on some of… Read more »


CEC would cost you one of those type 26. Still want it?


The export success of Meko and some of the French designs is only possible because there is a culture of trust and co-operation between government, navy and industry in those countries. Such a culture is a necessary condition for speedy requirements definition and agreements on design and manufacture and it is what has been lacking in the UK. Sir John Parker and the obvious success of the QE project have catalysed something of a miracle, the RN, MOD and industry are all on the same team.

andy reeves

they should be designed to be able to take as much of the retiring t23’s parts as possible.


The only thing I’d comment on is the lack of specificity about armament; he says that it must be able to handle itself in a fight, but then lists core requirements as being a hangar for helos and space for additional “novel” weapons as they come online. No mention of anti-ship missiles, or gun calibre. And while the history lesson is justified in reminding us that frigates were not considered part of the ‘order of battle’ during major engagements, he does seem to neglect to mention that they were capable of going toe to toe with warships of similar size;… Read more »


In related news, the RAF announced its new fighters will be price capped at 50 million each and the Army’s new tanks will be no more than 5 million.

Service chiefs were delighted, “Of course, they’ll lead to more pilot & tank crew deaths and lost wars”, they said, “but think of the exports!! Where’s our lordships minister???”

Ben P

Ron5. Stop been a troll. If you have nothing constructive to say get back in your cave.


The reply of a man with no arguements.


The reply of a troll.

geoffrey james roach

I have an argument for you. Across the posts that you so inadequately cover your comments are argumentative, bad tempered and pointless and largely based it seems on your hatred for anybody in any type of position of power which, thank God, you do not have.

andy reeves

merge all the services, scrap the f 35 programme and build more ships simples. looking on the netat AMARG inventory(have a look) the usaf boneyard 300 odd of the f 16’s in storage shows where the u.k should be shopping. we’d get them operational a whole lot faster than ‘hank the yank can turn out a f 35.


Fine words from the 1SL but the MoD’s core requirement https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/mod-announce-procurement-programme-royal-navy-type-31e-frigate/ is for an Ocean-going Patrol Vessel that can do constabulary duties. The Avenger design is the lowest capability of those announced so far and is actually over-compliant to the core requirement – she would still be compliant with a 57mm gun and a Scanter 4100 instead of a 5″ and Artisan. I hope the intention is the best adaptable ship for less than £250m and not the cheapest one that meets the core requirement. Also, the MoD are required to take account of the introduction into service, training and… Read more »


Superficially I agree. But Avenger is essentially an evolution of an OPV design. You see the same limes in Khareef/Cutlass. In my opinion what is needed to support the NSS ambitions of modular build and export potential is a new design like Venator, Arrowhead or Spartan. Venator seems the best thought through; common hull for opv, patrol frigate and light frigate but Arrowhead and Spartan have got the message I think and really look the part. For me the key phrase on the 1st Lords speech was ; “But despite all these twists and turns, the project endured and, in… Read more »


I hope you are right; it depends on the marking scheme for the bids but in the end it will be a political decision – which should favour a new design.
Incidentally the MoD rules for procurement are in the Acquisition System Guidance https://www.gov.uk/guidance/acquisition-operating-framework (registration required).

Nick Bowman

Mike Saul, you are mistaken. We have exported Leander’s, 21s, 22s, 23s and 42s – just off the top of my head. Of course, they were exported after RN service, but exported they were. There IS demand for British warships. I like the idea of a $250M frigate. I am buoyant about the export potential for the frigate, particularly if it’s built around the Mk41 VLS which is so flexible. We need to tune in to what our export customers actually want. I imagine that ASW is less important than surface war ware and AAW to most potential buyers. I… Read more »

geoffrey james roach

good post Nick. Leanders and 42s were exported as new build as well