The process to build the Type 31e frigates is being restarted due to ‘insufficient compliant bids’ and ‘has not been cancelled’, according to the MoD.
It is understood that none of the bidders were able to meet the £250 million per ship requirement, causing the programme to be restarted putting the original in service date of 2023 for the first ship in question.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman insisted that the project would still be going ahead, hinting that industry will have to refine their bids to meet the price tag:
“There have been no changes in our plans to procure a first batch of five new Type 31e frigates to grow our Royal Navy.
We still want the first ship delivered by 2023 and are confident that industry will meet the challenge of providing them for the price tag we’ve set.
This is an early contract in a wider procurement process, and we will incorporate the lessons learned and begin again as soon as possible so the programme can continue at pace.”
We spoke to a contact in the Ministry of Defence who told us on condition of anonymity:
“The issue here is cost, nothing else. The designs put forward aren’t meeting that requirement from what I’m told. So, the reset button has essentially been pressed in order for the designs put forward to be worked on in the hopes they can be made cheaper while still being credible platforms.
The project hasn’t been cancelled, it’s being effectively restarted with both eyes on cost.”
SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said:
“The MoD has been unable to answer the most basic questions about the cost of this new Type 31e frigates and today they have had to own up to their own chaotic failures.”
Gary Smith, Scottish secretary of the GMB union, said:
“This will come as a real blow to shipbuilding communities in Scotland and across the UK. We are already losing jobs in yards like Rosyth as the carrier work is completed.
This news comes after big cuts to the original Type 26 programme, the broken promise to build a state of the art frigate factory on the Clyde that would have allowed us to compete in global markets for building complex warships, and the decision by the Tories to put the tender for the three support vessels for the carriers out to international tender as opposed to putting the work into UK yards. It is an utter shambles but this is what happens when you have Treasury dominating decisions over sovereign defence capability.”
A spokesman for Cammell Laird, part of one of the bidding teams, said in response to the news:
“Cammell Laird have continued to develop the exciting Leander proposal with BAE Systems for the Royal Navy T 31e frigate competition. We are particularly encouraged by the emerging BAE Systems export prospects in the international market.
The National Shipbuilding Strategy required a new approach from the Ministry of Defence and industry. Cammell Laird remains fully committed to achieving those aims by bringing forward its entrepreneurship and commercial shipyard capabilities.
Cammell Laird will deliver a world-class frigate if we win the T31e competition in due course.”
According to USNI here, an article published Monday by Jane’s stated that at least two of the potential bidders regarded the terms and conditions set by the MoD as unworkable, citing both commercial aspects and intellectual property rights.
“Even if the MoD achieves its stated intention of ‘delivering’ the Type 31e lead ship in 2023, the subsequent sea trials, crew training and work-up could see entry into operational service slipping a year or two.”
What are the options?
Two strong contenders for the Type 31e Frigate programme have emerged, Arrowhead and Leander.
Arrowhead is expected to sit at 5,700 tonnes and 138.7 metres in length, the ships company is around 100 with space for an embarked military force of 60. Babcock’s Team 31 has selected the proven in-service Iver Huitfeldt frigate design as the baseline for their T31e product.
Leander is expected to be around 4,000 tonnes and 120 metres in length with a ship’s company of about 120 with space for an embarked military force of 30. The Leander design has evolved from the Khareef class corvettes built by BAE Systems.
Where will they be built?
For Arrowhead, the distributed build and assembly approach would see work going to Appledore in North Devon, Ferguson Marine on the Clyde, Harland and Wolff in Belfast with integration in Rosyth. 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.
For Leander, BAE Systems will 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.
Which design is best?
Leander is smaller and may be less expensive, the platform will utilise systems already in use around the fleet lowering any extra costs associated with new and specialist technologies. However being the smallest of the two, the room for future growth and adaptability may be less than desired, potentially impact any future exports over the decades.
On paper, it would appear that the Arrowhead design is the most capable, but the downside of that could be the cost. Can this design be built in numbers for a maximum price of £250 million? Clearly not. The main downside as far as I can see with Arrowhead is the use of a new radar type and a new Combat Management System at a time when the Royal Navy is moving towards fleet standardisation. Going in another direction would add cost and complexity.
I believe the Arrowhead 140 design to be the better option for the Type 31e Frigate, the option most inline with the build requirements set out by the Ministry of Defence and the option most in line with the National Shipbuilding Strategy, but only if the costs are kept under control which has clearly been a struggle.