Laid down in December 1982, HMS CORNWALL the first of the Type 22 Batch 3 frigates class of four ships demonstrated that lessons had been learnt from the Falklands conflict earlier in the same year.
This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Kelvin Curnow. Kelvin’s particular area of interest is naval aircraft and aircraft carriers. He is a keen writer and over the past fifteen years he has had a number of articles published in different journals.
The weapons fit were dramatically revised in comparison to the previous two Batches. They were completed with a 4.5 inch (114mm) Mk.8 gun for Naval Gunfire Support (NGS) which proved essential in the Falklands but was missing from the Batch 1 and 2 ships.
The first generation Aérospatiale (now MBDA) Exocet anti-ship missiles (AShMs) found on the earlier ships were replaced by eight McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) Harpoon AShMs. Demonstrating that the weapons fitted to the ships in the Falklands Task Force had failed to counter the Exocet threat with disastrous consequences, a Hollandse Signaal (now Thales) 30mm Goalkeeper close-in weapons system (CIWS) was included in the design. The follow-on design, the Type 23 Duke class, the first of which was laid down in December 1985, reflected many of the features of the Batch 3s, but with notable differences.
The BAeD (now MBDA) GWS-25 Sea Wolf surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) previously carried in two six round launchers were replaced by GWS-26 Vertical Launch Sea Wolf (VLSW) contained in 32 cells. This addressed problems which had been encountered in the Falklands with the box launchers where failures in the mechanical hardware causing firing failures. The necessity to reload after twelve firings was also addressed by switching to vertical launching systems (VLSs).
The VLSW has now been replaced by the far more capable MBDA Sea Ceptor missile. For the first time on a RN ship the Type 23 introduced substantial radar cross-section reduction measures. Not so positive was the deletion of a dedicated CIWS as a cost cutting measure. The design features found on the Type 23s, which like the later Type 22s stemmed from lessons taken from the Falklands conflict, would set the pattern for current warships designed for the RN.
THE TYPE 26 FRIGATE
Commenced in 1998, under what was then known as the Future Surface Combatant (FSC) programme, by March 2010 this had developed to become the Global Combat Ship programme following the announcement of a four-year £127M design contract being awarded to BAE Systems. The Type 26 City class will feature some considerable improvements over the Type 23. Weighing 5,400 tons (8,000 tons at full load) the Type 26 is twice the tonnage of its predecessor and follows a pattern set by the RN of building ships of at least double the size and weight of those they succeed.
Originally planned to replace the Type 23 on a one-for-one basis, the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (2015 SDSR) stated that only eight of the frigates would be built, not the originally planned thirteen. This decision was taken to reduce costs, as was the decision to delay the start of construction from late 2016 until 20 June 2017 when the build of HMS GLASGOW the first of three Batch 1 ships of the class commenced. Of the other two Batch 1 vessels HMS CARDIFF was laid down on 14 of August 2019 with construction of HMS BELFAST yet to commence. HMS EDINBURGH, HMS BIRMINGHAM, HMS SHEFFIELD, HMS NEWCASTLE and HMS LONDON will form Batch 2.
The total cost of the programme will amount to some £8B+.
Despite it being designed to replace the increasingly obsolescent Type 23, many of the weapons and systems on the Type 26 will have already been proven on the earlier vessel, notably the BAES Type997 Artisan (Advanced Radar Target Indication Situational Awareness and Navigation) 3D radar and the Sea Ceptor SAM. Also carried over are the Thales 2087 low frequency variable depth towed array sonar and the Ultra Electronics 2150 bow sonar. Each ship’s single Rolls Royce MT30 Gas Turbine is the same as that fitted to the Queen Elizabeth class carriers.
The BAES Outfit DNA(2)/CMS-1 Combat Management System (CMS) will also be a carry-over from both the Types 23 and 45. Likewise its helicopter, either the Leonardo Merlin HM2 or the Leonardo Wildcat HMA2 along with their attendant weapons will already have been in RN service for some time before HMS GLASGOW is commissioned in 2027. Whereas the equipment of the Type 45 was 80 per cent new, in the Type 26 only 20 per cent will be new.
This ensures that despite the £1B price tag per frigate costs are kept down by using proven technologies and equipment, and expenditure can be concentrated on aspects of the design to ensure that it is a generation ahead of offerings from other ship builders.
The claim by BAES that the Type 26 is the world’s most advanced anti-submarine frigate is largely based on noise reduction which is achieved by a mixture of engineering solutions building on knowledge gained via the Type 23 programme. These include hull shaping, internal pipework design and fixing equipment on shock and vibration-resistant mountings. Noise reduction has been achieved by mounting the MT90 gas turbine in an acoustic enclosure designed to minimise vibration and radiated noise. The Type 26 is powered by a Combined Diesel-Electric OR Gas Turbine (CODELOG) arrangement with four MTU 20-Cylinder 4000 M53B engines providing the diesel generator power. These are also contained in acoustic enclosures which are on mounts designed to isolate them from the frigate’s hull structure. Noise reduction is further aided by the aft two diesel generators being mounted above the waterline.
The vessels will carry the BAES 5 inch 127 mm L54 Mark 19 gun and will be fitted with a 24 cell strike-length Lockheed Martin Mk 41 VLSs which are sited forward of the bridge. The VLSs will make possible the carriage of the Raytheon Tomahawk Land Attack cruise Missile (TLAM), the Lockheed Martin RUM-139C Anti-Submarine ROCket (ASROC) and the Lockheed Martin AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). Other possible weapons will include the MBDA SCALP (Système de Croisière Autonome à Longue Portée – Long Range Standoff Cruise Missile) Naval (or MdCN Missile de Croisière Naval – naval cruise missile), or the Anglo-French MBDA CVS401 Perseus cruise missile currently under development. However, none of these weapons are currently in RN service and at this point there is no commitment to purchase any new munitions.
It may well be that the Type 26 enters service with the 5 inch gun, two Phalanx CIWS, twenty four Sea Ceptor missiles and the Thales Martlet, MBDA Sea Venom AShMs together with BAES Stingray torpedos carried by the on-board helicopters. With its primary role designated as an anti-submarine frigate it appears extraordinary that any attack on a submarine will be reliant on getting the ship’s helicopter aloft, something which cannot occur in extreme weather conditions. It is not fitted with the Magazine Launched Torpedo System (MLTS) carried on the Type 23s which would allow the frigate to fire Stingray anti-submarine torpedoes from an internal magazine.
By way of comparison the Franco-Italian FREMM (Frégate européenne multi-mission – European multi-purpose frigate) are equipped with B-515 launchers for the EuroTorp MU-90 torpedo while the Italian frigates are also equipped with the MBDA MILAS anti-submarine rocket system. The frigate also carries the NH90 anti-submarine helicopter which is also armed with the MU-90. Ironically in the 1970s and 80s RN ships were equipped with the Australian GAF Ikara ASW missile, generally accepted to be a superior weapons system to the ASROC.
While the Type 26 is primarily an anti-submarine frigate procuring single role vessels for the RN which is ever decreasing in size must be examined. In this respect the effectiveness of the vessel in the air defence role must be questioned. This may be compromised by the Artisan radar/Sea Ceptor missile combination. It is claimed by BAES that Artisan radar has a high level of resistance to jamming. Like the BAES SAMPSON radar it provides air surveillance, target identification and air traffic management services. Unlike the Type 45s which have a BAES S1850M dedicated air search radar, the Type 26 frigates must rely on Artisan for all surveillance and targeting functions.
The RN believes that this issue is offset by the Sea Ceptor missile system which requires no dedicated tracker/illuminator radars. The Mach 3 Sea Ceptor missile is cued by the ship’s target indication data and incorporates a datalink for mid-course guidance updates before it uses its own active seeker to guide it to its target. Artisan, like the SAMPSON radar, sits atop a tall mast giving it a good radar horizon and this feature is enhanced by the Sea Ceptor which does not require line-of-sight in order to engage its target. However, unlike SAMPSON which features two back-to-back planar arrays which rotate at 30 revolutions per minute (RPM) leaving no area of the sky without coverage for less than 0.5 seconds, Artisan rotates at 30 RPM which means that with its single array the radar picture is updated every two seconds.
Once detected the target’s position can be updated frequently on which basis it can create a tactical picture. Conversely, the effective radar range is limited because Artisan cannot stare in any one direction for very long it cannot put so much energy onto a target. The effectiveness of using a single mechanically scanned radar can also be compromised by how violently an incoming AShM manoeuvres. A lack of targeting information would also mean that Sea Ceptor must then rely on its own seeker which may then put the AShM dangerously close to the frigate.
In addition to the Sea Ceptor the other legacy weapon which will equip the Type 26 is the ubiquitous Phalanx CIWS. The continuing viability of the Phalanx to provide a ‘last ditch’ defence against incoming AShMs must be questioned considering its inauspicious combat record. Given its past failures in the face of relatively unsophisticated first and second generation AShMs the probability of it being effective against the latest generation of missiles is very low. To compensate for its growing obsolescence the US Navy has been augmenting the Phalanx by equipping its ships with the Raytheon RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM). Future US developments for short-range defence will possibly rely on the AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System.
The UK equivalent is the MBDA Dragonfire laser directed energy weapon currently being developed by the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). At this point laser weapons have proven to be capable of shooting down drones, though whether or not enough power can be generated by a ship for the laser to be capable of shooting down supersonic or hypersonic AShMs remains to be seen. The performance of lasers is also downgraded by bad weather and smoke, so at best such weapons would be complementary to gun/missile defences. All of this remains very much in the future, for the present however, the Phalanx as a weapons choice for the Type 26 signals no progression in ‘last ditch’ defence.
The June 2018 decision by Australia to purchase nine Type 26 frigates as the Hunter class could see the RN purchasing the same radar fit to be mounted on the Australian vessels, the CEAFAR 2 Active Phased Array Radar and CEAMOUNT Active Phased Array Illuminator. The CEAFAR/CEAMOUNT radar combination radically changes the size and design of the main mast with six diamond shaped arrays for each radar mounted on the mast. The radar will be integrated with the Lockheed Martin designed Aegis combat management system and Saab Australia 9LV tactical interface. CEAFAR employs a unique microwave tile-based design. The combination of the microwave tile and the Digital Beam Forming (DBF) backend provides the CEAFAR radar with the capability to perform simultaneous 360 degree 3D volume air search, surface search, fire control support and target classification in cluttered and jamming environments.
The CEAMOUNT radar provides target illumination and missile uplink simultaneously for multiple semi-active radar homing missiles and would probably not be purchased by RN with both the Aster and Sea Ceptor being active radar homing missiles. The CEAFAR/CEAMOUNT combination requires considerably more power than the Artisan, is heavier and takes up more space. Claims were made in the Australian press that the Type 26 would require a substantial redesign and the vessels would grow to 10,000 tonnes. These claims were subsequently denied by BAE Australia which suggest that the claim the original design had growth potential built in would appear correct. The total cost of the Australian programme is AUD$35B which reflects the far more sophisticated fit out of the Hunter class giving it a capability to provide area air defence and operate in conjunction with the RAN’s Hobart class destroyers via Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC).
An alternative to the Australian radar could be to mount both the SAMPSON and S1850M radars on the Type 26 hull as proposed for the Type 4X destroyer. This would give the Type 26 area air defence capabilities equivalent to those of the Type 45s and make them more of a multi-role frigate rather than a single role ship. As with the Hunter class concerns have been raised with respect to the Type 26’s ability to be fitted with a large mast capable of mounting a SAMPSON radar with the commensurate increase in weight. These have been addressed in UK Defence Journal interview with Paul Sweeney, former MP for Glasgow North East and former shipbuilder. The possibility of building the Type 26s in different configurations delivers the possibility not only of an ongoing ‘drumbeat’ of construction but also economies of scale.
THE TYPE 31 FRIGATE
Announced as part of the 2015 SDSR, the Type 31 will comprise a class of five vessels, described as light frigates, replacing the cancelled Type 26 frigates. A contract for the ships was formally awarded to Babcock Group on 15 November 2019 for their Arrowhead 140 design. Based on the Danish Iver Huitfeldt class the Type 31 weighs 5,700 tonnes making them heavier than the Type 23, hence it is misleading to describe them as ‘light frigates’. Compared to the BAES 3,677 ton Leander design submitted in competition with the Arrowhead 140, the Babcock ship ensures greater growth potential for adding weapons and sensors in the future. Costing an average of £250M per vessel there is the possibility that more will be built and the RN’s surface fleet expanded.
To keep the costs down it had been conjectured that the Type 31 would employ weapons and sensors transferred across from the Type 23s as each was decommissioned. It came as somewhat of a surprise when it was announced that the ships would be armed with one Bofors 57mm Mk110 and two Bofors 40mm Mk4 guns and use the Thales TACTICOS Baseline 2 combat management system (CMS) and the Thales NS110 AESA radar. These are found on no other RN ship. The Type 31s will also have a 24 cell VLS for Sea Ceptor missiles (although the latest illustrations show only 12 cells) and carry either a Wildcat or Merlin helicopter. The RN’s earlier experience with light frigates, the Type 21 Amazon class, were ill-equipped particularly with respect to anti-air weapons and consequently suffered two sinkings in the Falklands War.
The Type 31 in comparison will carry cutting edge weapons and sensors and prove far more survivable in a shooting war, especially when operating in concert with Type 45s and Type 26 where each type will provide complementary capabilities. Operating alone, they would prove useful in patrolling the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and on anti-piracy duties off Somalia. Moreover, the increasing deficit in RN personnel would be offset by building ships of this type which require smaller crews. The Type 23s require a crew of 185, the Type 31 in comparison will require 80-100 officers and ratings.
With the Type 31 contract being awarded to Babcock the UK will have two frigate designs in production simultaneously. Moreover, each design will be armed with different weapons and equipped with different radar systems which will be complementary to each other. The move away from a BAES monopoly on warship construction will ensure that going forward the RN will have access to a wider range of weapons and systems. A primary example of this is the decision to equip the Type 31s with the Thales NS110 AESA 4D E/F band dual axis two panel radar. The radar scans at a rate of 30rpm and simultaneously scans in azimuth and range. It has a maximum air search range of 152nm (280km) and can simultaneously track 1,000 targets.
An Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) interrogator antenna is integrated with the main radar as part of the multi-purpose platform. Also integrated are the: X-band Scout Mk3 frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW) radar for low probability of intercept (LPI) and high resolution surface search; an IR-camera; the automatic identification system (AIS) for commercial ship tracking; and, Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) civil aircraft tracking antennas. Not as sophisticated as a radar with four flat panel arrays the NS110 is nevertheless scalable with the addition of transmit/receive (T/R) modules and as an AESA radar uses superior technology to the Artisan.
Without a medium-calibre gun the Type 31 will be incapable of providing NGS. Nevertheless, for its intended roles in low-medium intensity conflicts the frigate is very well equipped to provide air defence against aircraft, UAVs and AShMs and against surface threats posed by fast attack craft. The 40mm gun is arguably superior to the Phalanx as a CIWS by delivering a heavier weight of fire further away from the ship. The gun has a rate of fire of 300 rounds per minute (rpm) and has a maximum range of 7.8 miles (12.5km). The 57mm gun can fire up to 220 rounds per minute out to a range of 10.6 miles (17km). Both guns can fire the BAE FUZE Pre-fragmented, Programmable and Proximity-fused (3P) ammunition and can quickly switch to engage a range of air and surface targets.
The Mk110 can fire BAES Ordnance for Rapid Kill of Attack Craft (ORKA) projectile which is a one shot-one kill round fitted with an imaging semi-active seeker. It can be guided to its target through laser designation or autonomously by downloading an image of the target prior to firing.
In development is the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Multi-Azimuth Defense Fast Intercept Round Engagement System (MAD-FIRES) point defence anti-missile missile which will be fired from the gun. When factors such as the rate of fire and the amount of explosive per shell into account the Bofors gun actually achieves a higher amount of explosive fired per second compared to the Leonardo 76mm gun.
The primary air defence weapon, the Sea Ceptor, combined with the two gun systems provides good protection against saturation attacks from the widest range of air threats short of hypersonic missiles.
Propulsion will be provided by four MTU 20V 8000 M71 engines, each delivering over 8,000 kW in a Combined Diesel And Diesel (CODAD) arrangement. This is the same layout found in the Iver Huitfeldt class which does not make either type particularly well suited to an anti-submarine (ASW) role although care has been taken to reduce the acoustic signature. Nevertheless there is provision for mounting a sonar on the hull, and the Danish vessels do feature the Atlas ASO 94 hull mounted sonar.
The Iver Huitfeldt class also mount four launchers for MU-90 ASW torpedoes, a feature also lacking on the Type 31. This reflects the reality that the Danish vessels are designed to perform a wider variety of roles than the Type 31 as demonstrated by their ability to carry thirty-two Raytheon SM-2 IIIA SAMs in Mk 41 VLSs, twenty-four RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSMs) in Mk 56 VLSs, and eight to sixteen Boeing Harpoon Block II AShMs.
This indicates the possibility for growth in the future for the Type 31 thanks to the modular design of the ship permitting an increase in top weight, something which has inhibited adding weapons to previous RN ships. (Witness the inability to add Phalanx CIWS to the Type 42s without removing the ship’s boats.) The Type 31 has a large flight deck and hangar, plus flexible mission bays amidships offering future growth potential.
What is not clear at this point is if the Type 31s are going to use some form of the StanFlex modular mission payload system as found on the Danish vessels. Such a system would greatly enhance the flexibility of the design and permit the addition of additional weapons with greater straightforwardness.
Like the Type 26 the Type 31 will go to sea with a minimal weapons fit particularly with respect to ship-launched ASW weapons, long-range SAMs, land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) and AShMs despite both vessels having the ability to be so equipped. Both designs feature mission bays which provide the possibility that the frigates will carry unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). The RN has already carried out successful trials with the Elbit Systems UK Seagull USV.
The Seagull has multi-mission capability, being able to perform ASW, Mine Counter Measures (MCM), Electronic Warfare (EW), Maritime Security (MS), Hydrography and other missions. Two vessels can be controlled from the same MCS (Mission Control System) and the Seagull is capable of both manned and unmanned modes of operation. Employing USVs for a wide range of missions will provide a force multiplier for the host vessel. The problem remains that neither the Type 26 nor 31 will carry on-board ASW weapons.
Prospectively to be announced in the upcoming 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy is a decision on the Interim Surface to Surface Guided Weapon (I-SSGW) requirement which will be purchased to arm the eight towed-array sonar equipped Type 23s. The possibilities to fulfil this requirement are the Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and the Saab RBS15 Mk 4 ‘Gungnir’ (Odin’s Spear). These will undoubtedly transferred to the Type 26s as each Type 23 leaves service.
With no prospect of additional AShMs being available, the Type 31s will rely on Wildcat helicopters armed with Martlet and Sea Venom missiles to provide an anti-ship capability. Here the same problem exists as with ASW weapons; if the helicopter is not airborne the frigate effectively possesses no ant-ship capabilities. In the Gulf where the greatest surface danger comes from Iranian fast attack craft a combination of the Type 31’s 57mm and 40mm guns and the missile equipped Wildcats are particularly well suited to counter such a threat. However, initially there are no plans to equip the frigates with heavier AShMs, undoubtedly because of cost.
A possible answer to this dilemma could come by retaining the Harpoon Block 1C missiles currently arming the Type 23s and due to be retired from service in 2023. Rather than retiring their stocks of the Block 1C the USN is modifying and upgrading the missiles to Block II+ which features an improved GPS guidance kit and a networked enabled data link that enables the missile to receive in-flight targeting updates. At a cost of USD$240,000 (£185,000) per round this is a very cost-effective solution for providing long range anti-shipping strike and land attack. This solution makes further sense if the Boeing Poseidon MRA1 aircraft are armed with the air-launched version of the Harpoon.
The Royal Navy has wisely chosen two designs which are considerably larger than any frigates which have preceded them. There is ample space in both designs for future growth should decisions be made to either update or add additional weapons and sensors.
Indeed this will prove necessary throughout the life of the ships as the type and lethality of threats grow. Unfortunately, as demonstrated with the Type 45 where Mk 41 VLSs have not been fitted to the ships, despite space specifically in place for them, under-investment in both the Type 26 and Type 31 will see their potential limited.
At a time when there is an increasing threat from a resurgent Russian Navy to not see the ships developed to their full potential would be negligent.
Powering the stealthy submarine hunter – Type 26 frigate propulsion system in focus, Save the Royal Navy, accessed 12 September 2020, <https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/powering-the-stealthy-submarine-hunter-type-26-frigate-propulsion-system-in-focus/>.
Will the Type 26 frigate deliver a punch commensurate with its price tag? Save the Royal Navy, accessed 11 September 2020, <https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/will-the-type-26-frigate-deliver-a-punch-commensurate-with-its-price-tag/>.
Norman Friedman, Australian frigate decision analysed, Australian Naval Institute, accessed 10 September 2020, <https://navalinstitute.com.au/australian-frigate-decision-analysed/>.
See my earlier commentary on the failures of the Phalanx CIWS: Kelvin Curnow, Improving the Type 45 Destroyer, UK Defence Journal, accessed 11 September 2020, <https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/improving-the-type-45-destroyer/>.
George Allison, Feasibility study looking at fitting Australian CEAFAR radar on future British ships to be launched, UK Defence Journal, accessed 11 September, <https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/feasibility-study-looking-fitting-australian-ceafar-radar-future-british-ships-launched/>.
Stephen Kuper, BAE sets the record straight on Hunter Class concerns, Defence Connect, accessed 12 September 2020, <https://www.defenceconnect.com.au/maritime-antisub/6356-bae-sets-the-record-straight-on-hunter-class-concerns>.
George Allison, The Type 4X Destroyer – An early look at an early concept, UK Defence Journal, accessed 22 September 2020, <https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/the-type-4x-destroyer-an-early-look-at-an-early-concept/>.
Jed Cawthorn, Type 31 Light Frigate – Weapons options, UK Land Power, accessed 18 September 2020, <https://uklandpower.com/2019/09/19/type-31e-light-frigate-weapons-options/>.
French Navy FTI Frigate: From 57mm to 127mm, Naval Gun System Choice Still Open, Navy Recognition, accessed 23 September 2020, <http://navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/naval-exhibitions/euronaval-2016/4535-french-navy-fti-frigate-from-57mm-to-127mm-naval-gun-system-choice-still-open.html>.
According to the RAF website the aircraft are to be initially armed with US weapons without specific reference to the type of munition. <https://www.raf.mod.uk/aircraft/poseidon-mra1/>.