More details about the Type 32 Frigate project have emerged as it is announced the warship has entered its concept design phase.
Earlier this month, during a meeting of the Defence Committee, it was announced that the general purpose ship had entered its concept phase. First Sea Lord Tony Radakin added that it was too early to define its characteristics but being a “Type 31 Batch 2” frigate could be an option. You can read more about that proposal here.
Up to five ships are planned, which, in combination with the planned five Type 31 frigates and eight Type 26 frigates, will grow the Royal Navy’s surface escort fleet from 19 to 24 vessels.
Radakin also reiterated the intent of the programme to provide “additional volume” to the fleet and embrace emerging technology. Below is the transcript from the committee session.
Jeremy Quin, Minister for Defence Procurement, kicked things off by saying:
“On all the things about Type 32, everything is changing very rapidly. We are very conscious with Type 31 and Type 26—we will get on to this with the lethality—that the kit that we will use in future will be very different from what we are used to at the moment. If you look on FCAS, in terms of future combat air systems, with swarms of loyal wingmen, it will be a different world. I am conscious that anything we say now may change during the course of the concept phase.”
First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin added:
“We are just kicking off the concept phase now. In terms of whether it will be an ASW platform, an AAW platform or more a general-purpose frigate, it is in the general-purpose frigate class. Does it have a wide spectrum of what it might be? At the moment, absolutely. The debate we had was whether this is really a Type 31 and just call it a batch 2. That could be one answer. Or, in the world that we are in, where the technology is moving so quickly, should we challenge ourselves about whether this could be a very different ship? It could have a lot more automation, a lot fewer ships company and a lot more in terms of some of the new technologies, whether drones or directed energy or some of the weapons that are coming through. That is why we have now started the concept phase to better understand what those choices are.”
Sarah Atherton, MP for Wrexham, asked the First Sea Lord what the timelines are for this project, he answered:
“The timelines for this are towards the end of this decade and stepping into the 2030s. From my point of view, this is about frigate and destroyer numbers that we have heard before are anchored around a 19 figure and potentially start to grow to 24 in the early 2030s. That makes a substantial difference to the Navy. The earlier debate that we had about having 60% availability and potentially 80% availability in the future gives me twice as many frigate and destroyer days than I currently have. This is a substantial change.
Atherton then asked:
“When you are feeding into the ideas of the concept that you want in a decade’s time, are you looking at capability gaps, or are you looking at new capabilities, or both?”
“This is more about additional volume in the fleet. In terms of the capability gaps, it is about embracing the technology that is out there. My wariness around some of the programmes we have had in the past—which get initiated, take forever to deliver and are fixed—is that you cannot ever introduce technology that is moving along at a faster pace than you are designing or building the ships.
If you look at how long it took to initiate Type 26, build it, and bring it into service compared to Type 31, the speeds are hugely different. It is the same with Type 32. Can we start to accept that the correct way to build our ships is to have a lot more flexibility and introduce the technology almost as you are designing and building the ships, rather than something that was cemented in aspic 10 or 15 years ago? You then get the wrong capability too late, and it is not good enough in terms of what we need.”
Atherton then asked about real world examples, saying:
“The Russian-Israeli corvette is a punchy bit of kit by all accounts: well-armed, speedy, adaptable. Are you looking at that?”
Admiral Tony Radakin replied:
“That would be part of the option set. If I take Type 26, one of the best things about Type 26 is this enormous mission bay that can take 16 containers. One of the other best things is that we have not decided precisely what will be in those containers and what will go into the mission bay. It is the same with Type 31 and Type 32. We are trying to avoid over-engineering and deciding too early, when I think, selfishly, that we want to maintain the amount of choice that we can have for as long as possible, and a level of ambition that allows you to embrace more lethality and is at the cutting-edge of technology in a better way that we have done in the past.
That does mean that we do not have the easy answers as to what this frigate will look like in 10 years’ time. It is deliberate. This will be a platform which will be able to host, ideally, a different set of capabilities that we can swap in and out, but will be much more modern and lethal in terms of what it can deliver.”