The Ministry of Defence is looking at the size and composition of frigate fleet as part of the Modernising Defence Programme, hinting that there could be more than 5 Type 31e frigates with some even having ASW capabilities.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said at a Defence Select Committee meeting, when asked about any intention on expanding the number of Type 31e Frigates to be built:
“We’re looking at that as part of the Modernising Defence Programme. If there’s opportunities going forward to expand on that [the fleet size] we’d look at that as part of the Modernising Defence Programme.”
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 Anti-Submarine Warfare and five General Purpose variants), 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.
This general purpose frigate has been designated the Type 31 frigate.
Babcock and BMT recently signed a cooperation agreement which could see the Type 31e Frigate built in Rosyth, Scotland and Appledore, Devon if their bid is successful.
Recently it was reported that Babcock International was keen to challenge BAE Systems dominance and is interested in bidding for the £2Bn Type 31e contract. We understand that Rosyth in Scotland and Appledore in Devon are the preferred build and assembly locations for the joint bid.
Babcock were originally offering the ‘Arrowhead 120 while BMT were offering the Venator 110, the companies now say that they will be exploring both available designs to determine the best possible option. The companies say that arrangement draws on the combined strengths of Babcock and BMT and will deliver ‘innovative, capable, affordable and flexible customer solutions, within a fast changing and increasingly demanding environment’.
Babcock say that the Arrowhead design lends itself equally to either a single build strategy, or a cross–site build strategy bringing together modules – an approach used for aircraft carrier assembly at Rosyth.
BAE Systems also announced it would partner with Cammell Laird, who would ‘Prime, build and assemble’ the vessels at their Merseyside facility while the Clyde will focus on the Type 26 Frigates.Cammell Laird would be main contractor with BAE providing design and combat systems.
BAE say the move will allow them to ‘appropriately support the National Shipbuilding Strategy’ whilst ensuring the delivery of the five Offshore Patrol Vessels and the first three City class Type 26 frigates currently on contract, ‘to time, budget and to the highest quality standards.’
The option to build the Type 31e frigates in blocks reflects how the biggest ship ever built for the Royal Navy, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was constructed. The aircraft carrier was built in blocks by over 10,000 people in six main British cities.
Tony Douglas, the Chief Executive Officer of DE&S, said,
“The Type 31e programme will drive the change that is needed through the entire system, because we have set tough time and cost constraints.
The collective challenge for DE&S and industry is to deliver Type 31e in a different, more innovative way than has gone before. I want this to be a transformation in the way we do business – not just in ships and acquisition but across the entire defence equipment and support portfolio.”