The Type 4X, the Type 45 Destroyer replacement, is just an early concept at this stage but a variant of the Type 26 Frigate is officially being considered for the job.
The UK Defence Journal has been speaking to Paul Sweeney, former MP for Glasgow North East and former shipbuilder. We have been told that consideration is already being given to the development of an Anti-Air Warfare variant of the Type 26, a variant that will function as a future replacement for the Type 45 Destroyer fleet – the programme is currently referred to as as T4X.
For a little bit of context, Paul Sweeney is a Scottish politician and has been the Member of Parliament for Glasgow North East since 2017. More importantly for the purposes of a discussion on shipbuilding, he was formerly employed by BAE in Glasgow. Paul has worked with the APPG for Shipbuilding which published the results of inquiry into the Government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy, taking evidence from a range of maritime security stakeholders and industry.
It is understood that the Ministry of Defence have an aspiration is to achieve continuous shipbuilding with the Type 26 programme in Glasgow beyond the current planned number of eight vessels.
Sweeney told me after attending the steel cutting ceremony for the future HMS Cardiff:
“It is clear that we now have a unique opportunity to create a truly international naval shipbuilding alliance with Canada and Australia with Type 26 (both countries have purchased the design) – and consideration is already being given to the development of an Anti-Air Warfare variant of the Type 26 as an eventual replacement for Type 45 – known currently as T4X.
The aspiration is to achieve continuous shipbuilding with the Type 26 programme in Glasgow beyond the current planned number of eight vessels.”
I’ve also been told that the 4X project has a nickname, ‘Project Castlemaine’. Pun intended.
What’s happening right now with the Type 26 Frigate build?
Eight Type 26 Frigates are to be built in total with three in the first batch, the contract for the second batch will be negotiated in the coming year.
Ordering in batches is common for projects of this size around the world and was last seen with the Royal Navy for the Type 45 Destroyers and recent Offshore Patrol Vessels. The Type 45s first batch order was for three vessels for example.
The last vessel in the class is likely to be in the water by 2035.
When asked about what comes after the Type 26 on the Clyde, Sweeney made mention of the desire to keep building a new vessel based on the Type 26 Frigate.
“Discussions are at a very early concept stage, but the merits of continuous build using T26 as a common family was clear from my conversations with BAE directors and MOD decision makers.”
“They said they were ‘keen to make the numbers work’ on it”, he added.
The Type 45 Destroyers are expected to begin going out of service in the thirties, perfect timing given the last Type 26 Frigate is expected to be launched in 2035.
Is the Type 26 Frigate suitable for hosting the required sensors for anti-air warfare work?
The Type 45 destroyers use the SAMPSON radar with the PAAMS missile system, now referred to as ‘Sea Viper’ in UK service. SAMPSON itself is a multi-function dual-face active electronically scanned array radar produced by BAE Systems on the Isle of Wight but it’s a big, heavy and expensive piece of kit.
SAMPSON provides surveillance, target tracking and missile information and on the Type 45, the radar sits nearly 40 metres (131ft) above sea level at the top of the ship’s distinctive mast.
However, some defence commentators have expressed concerns over whether or not the Type 26 Frigate hull is capable of supporting the system and required mast.
Addressing this, Paul told me that the vessel is capable of being fitted with a radar mast similar to that seen onboard the Type 45 Destroyers, the mast that puts some in mind of the ‘Coneheads’ from TV.
“The Type 26 is of sufficient beam to be fitted with a tall Sampson type MFR radar mast – especially given the latest composite design options – so there is the basis to have a common hull type and family of ships: ASW, GP and AAW.”
What does this approach mean for UK shipbuilding?
In a previous discussion, Paul pointed out that the aspiration for shipbuilding in the UK according to officials, would be to have two main yards for warships. The first being the Clyde with its Type 26 frigates and an eventual replacement for the Type 45 destroyers and the second site, currently somewhat up in the air given no contract has yet been awarded, would focus on building Type 31e Frigate.
“The Ministry of Defence want to get to a position where there is a constant rolling production line of Type 26/Type 45 successor and a second production line of Type 31e – building both lines permanently. As older ships leave service or are sold abroad, new vessels enter service.”
We all remember the proposed ‘Frigate Factory’ for the Clyde, dropped by BAE after the UK Government scaled back and slowed the pace of the Type 26 Frigate build. Could such an approach finally see it built? Well, I once again asked Paul.
“This opportunity would enable the proposed ‘Frigate Factory’ or Modern Dock Hall concept to be realised, which would finally deliver the purpose-built shipyard infrastructure to maximise shipbuild efficiency, which is similar to the level of investment that is being made in Adelaide by Australia and in Halifax by Canada for their respective Type 26 frigate programmes – that will ensure that the Clyde will then be in pole position to win further export orders for third party countries which are not interested in ensuring domestic build (e.g. New Zealand) as the cost significantly reduces over time and reputation of the ship is established.”
Sweeney also discussed the Type 31e, echoing a concern that many commentators have also expressed, that the vessel may ultimately detract from the Type 26 Frigate programme.
“There is also now increasing doubt that Type 31e will ever live up to its expectations on cost, capability and delivery schedule. Perhaps it might be best to emulate what Canada and Australia are doing and focus our efforts on an increased drumbeat of Type 26 production at a purpose built national naval shipbuilding centre of excellence.”
Given the aim being aspired to for two main UK production centres for fighting ships, this would in my view make long term orders from the Government more feasible as hopefully the cost may be reduced through efficiencies that are inherent to a large, single site.
Currently, ships are largely built in Govan and floated down the river to Scotstoun to be fully fitted out.
Such a commitment from the government in the form of more long term orders would perhaps enable BAE Systems to invest in the kind of frigate factory/modern dock hall discussed in previous years with all of this putting the industry on a more secure and sustainable footing.
It’s not a new concept either. Doing work like this would maintain relatively constant production, similar to the Arleigh Burke class in the United States which has now been in build for decades with each batch being superior to the last.
So, what does this all mean?
A Type 45 Destroyer replacement based on the Type 26 would provide a tangible means to meet the aspiration of continuously producing two standard classes of ships for the Royal Navy, allowing for a more sustainable UK shipbuilding industry.
As I’ve said time and time again, the UK needs a better way to effectively sustain its shipbuilding industry, let’s hope we’re heading in that direction.