The Type 26 Frigate, or ‘City class’, represents one of the most capable warships the Royal Navy has owned in decades, albeit one of the most costly.
The City class will replace 8 of the 13 Type 23 frigates of the Royal Navy and export orders are being sought after by BAE. The programme has been underway since 1998, initially under the name ‘Future Surface Combatant’. The programme was brought forward in the 2008 budget at the expense of Type 45 destroyers 7 and 8.
The original working model for the ship put the length at 141 metres long and gave a displacement close to 7,000 tonnes. In late 2010 it was reported that the specifications had been reduced in order to bring down the cost from £500m to £250-350m per ship. By 2011 new specification details began to emerge of a 5,400 tonne ship emphasising flexibility and modularity. The new design is 149m long, has a top speed of more than 26 knots and accommodation for up to 200 people. It is expected to have 60 days endurance and have a range of 7,000 miles at 15 knots.
It’s no secret that the Type 26 is designed with modularity and flexibility in mind to enhance versatility across a wide range of operations ranging from counter piracy and disaster relief operations to high intensity combat. The final BAE design had a large amidships mission bay instead of the stern well deck featured in previous designs. BAE have commented regarding the mission bay:
“A key feature is the flexible mission space, which can accommodate up to four 12 metre sea boats, a range of manned and unmanned air, surface or underwater vehicles or up to 11 20ft containers or ‘capability modules’, and the most advanced sensors available to the fleet.”
This versatility of roles is enabled by mission bay, capable of supporting multiple helicopters, UUVs, boats, mission loads and disaster relief stores. BAE say that a launcher can be provided for fixed wing UAV operation and it’s well known that the flight deck will be capable of landing a Chinook helicopter for transport of embarked forces.
The relocation of the bay amidships from stern could possibly mean a decrease in the volume of space available to the equipment carried but the new design would seem to have space enough for a few large boats or other large-scale systems and material.
The value of the mission bay cannot really be understated but it’s only part of the equation, the variety of firepower carried is key to the variety of tasks a high end warship can perform.
What kind of weapons will the vessel have?
The type is expected to be armed with BAE’s 5″/54 calibre Mark 45 main gun. It will also be armed with two Phalanx CIWS (close in weapons system), two 30mm DS30M Mark 2’s and the standard complement of miniguns and general-purpose machine guns. The Type 26 will have Sea Ceptor silo’s on the bow and at the funnel of the vessel. Additionally, it will carry MK 41 Vertical Launch System positioned behind the Sea Ceptor silo’s.
“Lockheed Martin has a long and successful partnership with the Royal Navy, and we look forward to working with BAE Systems to integrate the MK 41 VLS with the Type 26,” said Paul Livingston, Group Managing Director of Lockheed Martin UK Rotary and Mission Systems.
“The MK 41 VLS will provide the Royal Navy’s Type 26 Global Combat Ships with a proven and cost-effective vertical launching solution.”
Each Type 26 will be equipped with three 8-cell MK 41 VLS modules. BAE Systems initial order includes nine MK 41 VLS modules, enough for the first three ships of the class.
“The signature of this contract is another important milestone in the ongoing delivery of the UK’s Type 26 program,” said Mike Holstead, head of the Type 26 program at Defence Equipment and Support, the Ministry of Defence’s procurement organisation.
“The vertical launch system will be a key part of the capability of the new frigate fleet, and an essential tool for Royal Navy in operations to defend the UK and her interests.”
Nadia Savage, director of the Type 26 program at BAE Systems, said:
“As momentum builds and GLASGOW, the first of three contracted next generation City Class Type 26 Global Combat Ships, takes shape at our facilities in Glasgow, we are delighted to place this contract with Lockheed Martin. The Vertical Launching System contributes to our overall combat management system and will further enhance platform flexibility and capability, which are core to the design of the Type 26.”
What can go in the MK41?
The MK 41 VLS is capable of launching anti-air, anti-submarine, surface-to-surface and strike-length missiles. Being able to hold Tomahawk cruise missiles, ASROC anti-sub munitions and potentially, the next generation of anti-ship missile is a huge deal as this would ensure that these vessels would be one of the most versatile British warships in decades.
The next generation of anti-ship missile bit is especially important as Royal Navy ships will lose anti-ship missile capability in 2020 when the Harpoon missile is withdrawn with a replacement not due until ‘around 2030’.
While the Royal Navy will still have an anti-ship capability via the submarine fleet and embarked helicopters, this will still be a significant capability gap and even then, no Royal Navy helicopters will have anti-ship missile capabilities until 2020. As we reported last year, Harriett Baldwin and her French counterpart signed an agreement to explore future long range weapons for the Royal and French Navies and Air Forces with the aim of replacing the Harpoon anti-ship missile and the Storm Shadow cruise missile as well as an array of French weapon types.
French arms procurement chief Collet-Billon said last year at the meeting:
“We are launching today a major new phase in our bilateral cooperation, by planning together a generation of missiles, successor to the Harpoon, SCALP and Storm Shadow. The FC/ASW (future cruise/anti-ship weapon) programme’s aim is to have by around 2030 a new generation of missiles.”
The missiles however will not be ready to replace Harpoon until 2030, leaving the Type 26 Frigates without any real means to engage surface warships aside from their helicopters. The Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon programme will look at options to replace and improve existing Naval and Air Force weapons systems in the next decade. Lasting up to three years, the assessment phase will help to define the missile designs and reduce risks to inform decisions about the next stage of the programme.
What will go in the MK41?
Currently, we don’t know. No firm commitment has been made for any of the weapon types able to be fired by the MK 41 but with the first vessel not entering sea trials for quite a few years, the time hasn’t yet come to order anything.
The key factor that will determine the true capability of these ships is really quite simple, the funding put in place to arm it properly. Without proper funding the vessels will not be fitted out to their maximum potential with the wide range of weapons they’re designed for and as such are likely to see the vast sums of money already spent on their design and build, spent in vain.