BMT Defence Services offering to the Type 31 Frigate programme, the Venator-110, is emerging as the most serious contender, let’s take a look.
As announced in the Strategic Defence & Security Review, the government intends to launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of future light frigates to complement eight Type 26 Frigates.
While it was previously expected that the “five lighter frigates” mentioned in November would be heavily stripped down general purpose variants of the Type 26 Frigate, other contenders seem to be emerging.
The Joint Requirements Oversight Committee is expected to determine the top-level capability for the new General Purpose Frigate soon and there is an expectation that the requirement will be met by an off-the-shelf design.
One of the most obvious contenders for the programme is an offering from BMT, the Venator-110.
There are three variants of the Venator-110, each designed to suit specific roles and levels of affordability. The three variants are the ‘General Purpose Light Frigate’, the ‘Patrol Frigate’ and the much lighter ‘Patrol Ship’.
The General Purpose Light Frigate variant is, clearly, designed to meet the expected requirements of the Type 31 Frigate programme.
The design is billed by BMT as the “optimum balance between capability, survivability and cost“.
With an estimated displacement of 4,000 tonnes, a top speed in excess of 25 knots and accommodation for over 115 personnel in addition to a crew size of 85 personnel the craft is “designed to cover a multitude of general purpose and specialist roles”.
BMT also describe the vessel as being intended to counter the recent problems the Royal Navy have had with regards to ships becoming ever more expensive and complicated, resulting in fewer of them ever being built:
“The overriding design intent behind Venator-110 is to blend a lean manned and adaptable capability with an affordable procurement cost, within the dimensions of a Light Frigate.
This intent, facilitated by a ‘Middle Out’ design philosophy, is essential to avoid the spiral of escalating platform requirements that can result in ever larger and more expensive warships.”
With a range in excess of 7,000nm augmented by replenishment at sea, the ship can reach and maintain a presence in an area of operations anywhere around the globe.
In April this year, BMT’s Venator-110 hullform started hydrodynamic testing at QinetiQ’s Haslar facility.
The Vertical Launch Silos on the vessel will cater for a range of missiles and decoys, including the quad-packed Sea Ceptor missile that will arm the Type 26 frigates.
In addition, the vessel can also be fitted with automated 30mm cannons, heavy machine guns, soft-kill systems, anti surface and anti-submarine weaponry.
The design of the vessel presents a tailorable choice of Vertical Launch Silo (VLS) configurations, ranging from 24 missiles in two 3-cell silos to 48 missiles in four 3-cell silos or even 24 missiles in two 3-cell silos in addition to an 8 cell strike length silo.
Images below via BMT show a few examples of how the vessel could be configured.
With regards to the gun system, the design can support a medium calibre gun system including 57mm, 76mm, 114mm and 127mm calibres in addition to various general purpose machine guns and soft-kill defences.
There is currently little information on the sensors the vessel may carry.
Manning & Survivability
With the perceived manpower shortage in the fleet, the manning levels of any solution to the Type 31 requirement will be a key factor.
In what BMT describe as its ‘lean manned’ form the vessel is capable of maintaining a routine operational capability found on most warships.
Figures suggest that even in the full combat configuration, the core crew would consist of 85 personnel, capable of maintaining 24 hour operations.
BMT has conducted a series of simulations with this core crew. This reportedly included warfighting scenarios such as Naval Gunfire Support operations in addition to simultaneous internal firefighting, the simulations validated the figure.
Interestingly, the option to forward position the ship, allowing the crew to rotate while the ship stays deployed (much like what’s currently done with the MCM fleet) is made more practical by the lean nature of the core crew.
Forward basing in this manner may be considered for the class.
The information regarding plans for the Type 31 being based abroad came to light in a speech by Admiral Sir Philip Jones, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, delivered the Lord Mayor of London’s annual Defence and Security lecture in Mansion House.
“Given our long standing defence relationships in the Middle East, it is certain that a Royal Navy task group – centred on a Queen Elizabeth-class carrier – will regularly deploy East of Suez.
And it will be perfectly possible, should we wish, for Type 31 frigates to permanently operate from the Gulf region or from Asia-Pacific in the decades ahead.
These are examples of what we COULD do and not yet policy, and I am never complacent about the challenges we continue to face in recruiting and retaining the very best men and women in a competitive employment market.”
Survivability is a key factor throughout the design of the vessel, especially when it comes to propulsion.
Separated main engine spaces each containing two independent prime movers and two independent shafts feature in order to increase the chance the vessel can maintain propulsion even following major damage from hostile action.
The Venator-110 design adopts a Combined Diesel And Diesel (CODAD) configuration and features two shafts combined with four prime movers.
The design uses off the shelf equipment, which BMT say ensures simple maintenance procedures and leaves room for future capability growth while requiring minimum levels of personnel to operate.
Where would the vessels be built?
The Prime Minister at the time at the Strategic Defence & Security Review, David Cameron, confirmed that the five future light frigates mentioned in the defence review will be built in Scotland.
This is in addition to the eight anti-submarine warfare frigates and two extra patrol vessels on top of the three already being constructed at the Glasgow yards.
David Cameron told the House of Commons:
“There will be eight of the Type 26’s and at least another five of the new type of frigate, probably more, and they can be built in Scotland if the conditions are right. The only way these ships wouldn’t be built in Scotland is if Scotland was independent and didn’t have the national resources of the Royal Navy.”
Mr Cameron also told the Commons that the new class of frigates would be “more affordable than the Type 26 which will allow us to buy more of them for the Royal Navy so that by the 2030’s we can further increase the total number of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers.”
The Venator-110 design by BMT represents perhaps the most practical solution to the future light frigate needs of the Royal Navy, the product emphasises a few of the most used buzzwords on frigate design, namely affordability, modularity and survivability while still seemingly being able to fulfil a war-fighting role.
The robust and flexible baseline design of the vessel would appear to allow a range of roles and capabilities to be developed over the service life of the vessel, what’s called ‘future proofing’. This capability allows the ship to be adapted to a role with much less effort than some other designs.
We can only hope for “at least” five of them.