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”.

ven110
IMAGE: BMT Defence Services (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

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.

Weapons

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.

BMT's Venator-110 future frigate offering breaking away from a Tide class tanker and Queen Elizabeth class carrier.
BMT’s Venator-110 future frigate offering breaking away from a Tide class tanker and Queen Elizabeth class carrier.

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.”

Summary

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.

42 COMMENTS

    • the uk could be saidto have already wasted millions on the tomahawk system, the swiftsure ssn submarines were modified to operate tomahawk, the whole class of boats(7) are now mothballed in devonport and rosyth. i believe all R.N SHIPSshould have a system of the tomahawk type.

    • the issue with the venator is, nobody can estimate
      a)the cost pership
      b)the estimated build time.i’d rather the following to rivershttp://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2016/06/thoughts-batch-2-river-class/

  1. Not sure this Type 31 is a wise choice. How much money does it actually save per ship compared to a basic armed Type 26?

    Surely it would be better to make 5 GP Type 26 with gun and AA; fitted for, but not with, the ASW.

    You’d get more economy of scale, plus the ability to shift the ASW capability from an early build to a later build when we inevitably look to retire/sell early models.

    Further, the Type 45 could be replaced by an AA Type 26 ‘mk2’ in the future.

    The Type 26 could be a ship design that serves the Navy for the next 40 years… we should aim for that. It will make for better and more flexible ships. And a proven design with such longevity will be attractive to foreign buyers.

  2. The design now seems to cater for 8 strike length VLS, this was specifically not the car for the season published in December 2015. Is this confirmed?

      • The reason for asking is that Fergusson is one of the yards identified in the Rand report, is politically ‘on the Clyde’ and has just had £12m of investment. A few months ago their web site talked about building ships in competition to BAE but that has disappeared, so curious

  3. It seems to lack any sort of ASW capability. It should at least have a hull mounted sonar, even if ASW weapons not fitted from the outset.

  4. Nice article George. You obviously got some good access to BMT and some nice scoops there e.g. the possibility of strike length VLS.

    Re survivability there is an interesting paper from BMT that goes into it in some depth and from my reading implies that BMT took the middle path on Venator survivability, i.e two separated engine spaces but they are actually adjacent in the hull and separated by a strengthened bulkhead to prevent shrapnel & small-arms-fire penetration rather than being in totally different parts of the hull. The paper is here: http://www.bmtdsl.co.uk/media/6097931/BMTDSL-Exploring-Flexibility-And-Design-Families-For-Future-Warships-Pacific-October-2013.pdf

    I read one criticism in another forum that those cutouts for the RAS points would create horrible radar reflection points and defeat much of the signature reduction work, and to compound it the “shoot me” reflections are right where the critical funnel area is. Does BMT have anything to say on this point? They seem to have put a lot of effort into the design and I would be surprised if they hadn’t considered that so maybe the comment on the other forum was rubbish.

    I think Venator has real promise. I like the fact if has lots of topside space port & starboard for things like Phalanx, 30mm (maybe on a Sigma mount to include LMM), decoys (Centurion launchers would be nice) plus the dedicated space for the box launchers which might really help anti-ship capability e.g. next gen Harpoon or Kongsberg NSM. Done well this could be a great ship.

    • Don’t think it can handle Phalanx which would mean it couldn’t take the lasers that have just been announced as under development because they use a Phalanx mount.

      • I wouldn’t have thought there’s much issue with Phalanx, apart from cost of course. US Coast Guard has them on their Hamilton class cutters which are only 3,250 tonnes, 115m length & 13m beam so a fair bit smaller than Venator 110. They’re also non-penetrating mounting and lighter than Goalkeeper. Maybe a combination of a 30mm plus a Phalanx on each side might create some topside weight issues but only BMT has the data to model that right now. I certainly hope it would be possible because a pair of 30mm plus a pair of Phalanx seem to be becoming a fairly standard future RN/RFA defence fit now (e.g. T26 & Tides) and, as you say, it opens up the possibility of lasers in the future.

        Is there a specific reason why you think fitting Phalanx might be a technical no-go? I’d be interested to know if there’s something I’m missing.

        • To get a decent arc, a Phalanx would have to be mounted on top of the hangar. That would create top weight issues. They are not as easy to deal with as you think. Note how low the radar is compared to the Type 26 or Type 45. That’s because of weight and the Artisan radar shown is a lot lighter than a Phalanx.

          Two Phalanx would be totally out of the question, just not enough deck space.

          The Type 23 doesn’t have Phoenix either for similar reasons.

          I’m very familiar with Hamilton class cutters. Their Phalanx is located at deck level at the stern. For the Royal Navy, that couldn’t be a worse location.

        • I would stick with non-penetrating weapons for the moment. However, they really need to start making preparation for laser weapons. This may seem to be a secondary warship on paper but the fact is with the size of the RN it will be a front line ship facing front line weapons…ie mach 3-5 ship killing missiles. It needs as much survivability as it can get.

  5. The Americans build their shit like super cars while the Russians build their shit like tanks and by the time our gov sort this shit out there will be naval advancement.

    STOP FECKING ABOUT FFD

  6. I am sure which ever platform is picked HMG will end up paying more for them and get them delivered late.
    We are the only country that manages to build 3 OPV’s for one country, then sell them to another for £133 Million to then build another 3 for ourselves but bill ourselves £348 Million for the privilege.

    What ever BMT or BAE state the sale price is of the ship they are offering, be assured we will find a way to pay more. More importantly, stand by for the Government Minister that then tells us “That is value for [email protected]

  7. May I echo the comments below, excellent article George. Good scoop.

    These criticisms are not of the article but of the ship, designers & the MoD:

    1. BMT is breaking the mold of high cost platforms by designing a ship with lower levels of capability, survivability, and ability to fight. Nothing revolutionary there just penny pinching.

    2. In particular, the ship will be slow, less able to take hits. less able to recover from hits and completely lacking in any anti-submarine capability. In fact its very noisy diesel engines will lure every submarine in a wide area. In short, it can offer nothing to a carrier based task group other than another hull that will slow the task force down (especially in rough weather) and require additional re-fueling via a tiny RAS station.

    It’s capabilities are roughly inline with the Type 21 frigates that contributed so little to the Falklands war and suffered sad losses. Deathtraps. The Navy ditched them as soon as possible after that debacle. At least the Type 21’s were fast.

    3. The MoD has just started a concept & design study for a Type 31 even though they’ve been studying a Type 23 replacement for 20 years. Leaving it so late means that only existing designs or modifications of existing designs are able to be ready in time. So whatever is on the shelf, is by definition, all the RN will get. That means this feeble design, or a Bae extended River OPV, or Khareef corvette. Lousy choices. All three significantly less capable that the Type 23’s they are replacing.

    4. The MoD is pinning their hopes on the Type 31 being bought by other countries. Dream on. Compared to offerings from France, Korea, China, Russia and even the USA, the UK won’t stand a chance. Just like with the Type 21’s which were built with the same pious hope.

    5. The previous First Sea Lord, Zambella said very strngly that he wouldn’t allow the Navy to accept a non-credible frigate. He has now retired and his more pliant successor Philip Jones has, through his speeches, basically said he will accept anything that floats. Of course, he won’t have to go to sea and fight in one.

    P.S. The mission hangar is miss marked on the BMT drawing. It’s located midships.

  8. Uk needs to buy Barak 8 for these ships Germany has bought it Barak 8 has a range of 100Km and far superior to Sea Sceptor also Barak 8 was designed to take out Sea Skimming missiles like the SSNx-26 Yakhont. We dont have not enough ships in the RN we need the best missiles systems to protect the small amount we have

    • Very true. There is little point in buying a bunch of cheap ships that will just serve as target practice for the enemy. And if it can’t fight subs, it is definitely a no-go as far as I’m concerned.

  9. If they are going to be based in the middle east, let’s hope that they can cope with high temperatures better than the 45s

  10. This vessel seems very ‘boxy’ with a very strange looking front end An easy target for any self respecting anti ship Missile??

  11. This looks a very good offer. But can I gently suggest there is a very good design already operating at this tonnage with very good weapon / operation capability. It is powered by two MT30 Gas Turbines and RR Hydrojet systems and has a top speed of 45 Kn. It also has a BAE Systems Mk 110 automated gun and space for a Merlin type helicopter and drone. Automated systems mean a very low crew number is needed.
    It is called the Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ship. I am sure the Americans would be happy to let us build a copy seeing as we supply two key components.

    • Sorry but the US LCS project has become an unmitigated disaster. The ships are drastically over priced, the high speed concept is very limited, I think speed has to be significantly reduced in anything over a Force 5. The USN has substantially cut down on hull numbers ordered due to the problems that have manifested after delivery.

  12. This will be no cheaper than the 26, given that it has all the same features (pretty much) if slightly lower performance, the issue is the significant cost of getting this stuff to all work together, plus developing new low performance version (of say Artisan) and getting it to work with new lower cost missile. will and up costing more than just using the higher performance stuff on the 26 with no development cost and risk.. Madness

  13. Venator class looks like a good starting point to the type 31 frigate requirement but not the finished product.
    I would like to see the design enlarged a little more with a 18-24 cell Mk 41 VL system, sea captor SAM, a hangar for lynx with landing capacity for merlin’s. as well as torpedoes, bow mounted sonar and a medium weight gun- oh wait a minute that is a shrunken type 26. The proposed type 31 frigate I think will only get any appreciation from those who have to sail and fight in them if they are adequately armed and capable “high-end” warships.
    Then the next fact is that we need to order in more than 5 hulls to provide vitally needed critical mass back to the RN- so 10 hulls as a minimum must be the only sensible outcome. We are a wealthy and rich country- we can and should be able to afford to deploy a RN that is of adequate size and power to defend itself and the UK national assets from other hostile nation states.
    Can we not go back to a 3-4% GDP to defence ratio- order in a further batch of 4 astute submarines, as well as the above mentioned frigates and a replacement for HMS ocean.
    Then all we need is a mk41 vl strike length launchers for the type 45 destroyers and we are then just about coming back to a credible and capable naval force.- number of ways to afford this- increase income tax by 5p per pound- 1p to NHS, 1 p to social care, 1p to sovereign infrastructure investment fund, 1p to defence, 1p extra to education and within 15-20 years we will have a country we can be proud of instead of current poor public resources but cash rich personal wealth.

    • I am an American that is a gr8 fan of the RN. It pains me to see how gutted it has become. It has some world-class ships but not nearly enough of them. If the RN had to go back to the Falklands (hope that’s spelled right) tomorrow it would have to hire pirates to help. Quite frankly, the SSNs are the main thing keeping the RN relevant in my opinion. The surface fleet has fallen way down the line. The QE carriers will help redress that. But they still need a large enough supporting cast to survive and they don’t have it.

  14. Well put Mr Bell .
    Perhaps the Navy could just use the same hulls as type 45
    How’s it save money having now 3 hulls .
    Type this type that .
    Build one hull , with full air and sub capability ., Well armed , well armoured , and build em .
    A bit of competition would be good seeing BAE has a manopoly to build crap .
    As for mission bays , well that’s just a big hole .
    Would the ship have to return to port for each mission package , or will.it be flexible to sail and take whatever comes in its stride .
    Give it , power , fire power , good armour and build something that does its job without cost cutting crap.
    A tanker with the Russian s400 AA system would be better than what we are thinking of .
    Give our serviceman what they deserve , the best .

  15. How about we give bea systems the specification and the price we want and if they do not agree, we go elsewhere, maybe even abroad to get what we want for a competitive price. I’m all for keeping our own independent capabilities but not at twice the price, but industry/government incompetence costs 100s of millions with every ship building contract.

  16. Do any of you think Fallon knows anything about what is good for the navy. He has advisor’s who know nothing as well so together with senior officers who protect themselves first and last this is what we get.

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