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.”


  1. 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.

  2. 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 high-end multi-role capability within a small ship footprint, versus the desire to keep initial purchase costs low.”

  3. 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 interest have included Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Turkey.”

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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 Navy ships including the carriers:
          Campania – Escort Carrier
          Glory & Warrior – Colossus Class
          Eagle – Ark Royal Class
          Magnificent – Majestic Class
          Centaur & Bulwark – Hermes Class

          Always handy to have the Chancellor and then PM as your MP.

  7. “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 to oversea strategies, you can be pretty sure they want it to succeed. This is not camparable to what’s been said or done before.

    The two carriers are a massive step in the right direction and a massive success story for UK shipbuilding, now is the time to build on that, we have work on the OPVs ongoing, 8 very large frigates and now these 5 next at the least.

    There are two major factors that need to succeed if this is to work, the biggest one is Brexit, if we can get though this process without falling into recession and come through the other side, remember we were the fastest growing economy in the g7 two years ago. People keep talking about dipping into other budgets etc but the best way to increase defence spending keeping everyone happy is to grow the economy at a good rate, remember 2% of a larger economy is a lot more money than 2% of very slow growing economy or even worse a retracting economy.

    The other factor is the type 31e, can it be delivered with those capabilities at £250m, and will there be 40 export orders for build and design sold abroad which they have apparently identified in the NSS, we will just have to wait and see, but if we succeed in those two then the fleet will grow in the 2030’s and this strategy will be a massive success.

    • 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.

    • “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?

      • 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 and the commonwealth to shore up deals, that’s what the NSS says, that’s why I’m excited about it, for the first time the government are going to be taking an active role in securing export orders, the director in charge of the strategy is going to be working with the international trade secretary on securing deals.

  8. 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 ship. If we were aiming so low perhaps something smaller might have done, perhaps even some used US Coast Guard vessels.
    For a project to have been going for so long only to come up with something so lacking in ambitions such as this is worrying.

    • 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

  9. 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 to drive growth and re-vitalise industry. If they don’t its time up for shipbuilding in the UK. This is the last change saloon.

    • “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 in his speech. Yes, Meko etc are good but there is no reason why, if your three criteria are met, we can’t produce world-class designs that can compete on the international stage.

      • 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.

          • 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 t22 back on the cheap, upgrade them with the latest gadgets and the fleet would grow for a much lower cost and
            time scales.romania operates 2 t 22’s.
            there i’ve just frown the fleet by arou!nd 4 ships in 5 minutes

  10. 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 the elements being placed in to T26.

    7 big decisions still outstanding for me are:
    1. CEC for the combat fleet – important force multiplier me thinks.
    2. Mk41 strike for T45.
    3. Sampson radar for carriers -if we add CEC to fleet.
    4. Torpedoes for the whole escort fleet.
    5. Compact C4 for T31 Batch2.
    6. Adopt Rolling Air frames across combat fleet.
    7. MCM fleet to be replaced by T31’s with Atlas Arcims (Arrowhead images show them deploying this)

    The above decision are crucial in getting the most out of what we have and CEC is integral to the fleet being able to work together.

    A Mk41 VLS order for 19 ships+ must give us some leverage on price surely – not all have to be strike length and certainly not for the T31. Same can be said for the Guns – we need to push for better pricing.

    The last thing the MOD need to stop doing is embedding support costs into the price of these assets, Everyone quote the Absalon and Huitfeldt classes as benchmark because the headline figure is cost of buying the ship and does not include support and maintenance. If we are going to export these things we need to start marketing ourselves properly instead of pricing ourselves out of the market.

    I have a suspicion the T26 will cost circa £700m to actually build and the remaining $600m is 10 year support costs – and am open to be educated if this is not the case. Sounds a lot better saying the cost £700m with through life costs of XX doesn’t it.

    Interesting times ahead gents….

    • 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.

  11. 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; without ASMs or even a decent size gun, these frigates would be hard-pressed to do that.
    Other than that though, a commitment to proper sized frigates is good, as is the drive to make the whole building process more competitive and export driven. Industry of all kinds has been ignored for too long by British governments of both sides of the political spectrum…

  12. 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???”

        • 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.

          • 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.

  13. 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 through life support costs of any new to service items: as an example the Oto 76mm is a fine gun but the 5″ Mk45 will already be in service an have a UK ammunition supply train. The 5″ might push the £250m limit but still be cheaper to MoD overall.

    • 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 doing so proved to the world, and to ourselves, that we still have what it takes to be a great maritime industrial nation”
      I believe we are going to break the habit of recyling old stuff and go for a new design.

  14. 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 could be mistaken, though. We should ask those potential buyers what they’d like to buy and see if the RN can live with it. These are not going to be first-rate warships so we shouldn’t agonize over every last aspect of the weapons and sensors fit. Just include MK41 or we won’t sell any.


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