One thing is certain about the planned Type 31 Frigate for the Royal Navy – there is no consensus on what it should be or what it should do.

This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Alex Matthews, Alex has undertaken some strategic consulting whilst at university and has twice in recent years directed the University of Birmingham Model United Nations Society’s annual political crisis and war games simulation, one of the largest of its type in Europe not run by a government or armed forces. His approach to the subject comes from professional training in engineering and his passion as an amateur historian.

The role of the large, air defence escort is taken by the Type 45 destroyer, the anti-submarine frigate role is to be passed from the Type 23 to the Type 26, constabulary duties are the domain of the River class offshore patrol vessels. The only common type of smaller surface vessel not operated by the RN is the corvette, a term nobody wants to talk about.

Two schools of thought exist on corvette design. The first of which is a smaller, more affordable frigate design suitable for countries that want to project their interests at sea without the capital costs associated with maintaining a proper navy. The second option is a fast missile boat intended for swarming enemy defences in large numbers and drowning their fleet through volume of fire. European navies favour the former. Russia, Iran and China favour the latter. The Royal Navy appears afraid of wanting a corvette in the from of the Type 31, as such a designation would carry connotations of a small vessel with limited defensive capabilities, hardly desirable descriptions of a vessel seemingly conceived with the export market in mind. Another key factor in the Type 31 is cost, allowing the treasury to spend less on defence whilst convincing the public that they’re spending more.

Babcocks ‘Arrowhead’ design for the Type 31e programme.

This is not the first time a navy has found itself afraid of a particular word. During the Second World War, the United States Navy ordered a sextet of ‘Large Cruisers’ called the Alaska Class. A common description of these vessels was through the word the US Navy were eager to avoid; battlecruiser. The original idea behind the battlecruiser was a large ship armed with the guns of a battleship, but the armour of a cruiser. This would give such a vessel the speed to chase a fleeing enemy battlefleet and destroy any damaged battleships before they could escape. Their heavy armament ultimately lead many naval commanders to view them as conventional battleships until their limited armour protection, combined with unsafe ammunition handling procedures and the gung ho command style of Admiral Beatty resulted in the loss of three British battlecruisers at Jutland in 1916.

In a Second World War context, a battlecruiser would be invaluable for hunting down enemy cruisers, as battleship on battleship actions were now by far the exception of naval combat. The Alaska class was designed with the intention of being a ‘cruiser killer’ capable of hunting down and destroying the large fleets of Japanese cruisers that could inflict heavy disruption on allied supply convoys in a protracted war in the Pacific. By the time the first two ships had been completed, the Japanese cruiser fleets had been broken and the Alaska class never saw action in their intended role, with ships 3-6 being cancelled and the two completed vessels being decommissioned after less than three years service.

The success of the Alaska was that naval planners thought of it not as a light battleship, but as a very heavy cruiser. This definition allowed them to avoid the stigma associated with battlecruiser whilst building a ship that took the concept to its logical conclusion. The lesson for the Royal Navy would be to build the Type 31 not as a light frigate, but as a ‘corvette killer’.

A BAE concept design for Type 31e.

So what would a corvette hunter or heavy corvette feature? To fulfil the role it would need to be fast enough to catch up with the corvettes and missile boats it is likely to face, with an armament suitable for engaging a large number of small vessels. As such a vessel might be expected to last 20-25 years in service the inclusion of active stealth design should be considered as well. Corvettes and missile boats typically carry a single main gun, 8-16 anti-ship missiles, 4-10 air defence missiles and a point defence system. To counter this system it must be possible to overwhelm the defences and survive a response.

An aluminium hull would lighten the draft, increasing speed and acceleration whilst reducing capacity for detection by sonar, as compared with a steel hull. However as the Royal Navy knows all too well from the Falklands War, aluminium ships burn faster and hotter than steel ships reducing their survivability. Gas turbine engines common to frigates and destroyers will be of use in this design as well, as the Type 31 will need the speed to engage fast travelling corvettes, and the reliability to ensure that the ship can safely outrun anything larger.

Offensive measures should be built around missile and gun options. Although missiles carry advantages of range and payload, gunfire shells cannot be intercepted by air defence missiles or point defence systems. A heavy gun of either 4.5” or 5” calibre is a staple of modern escorts. Such a weapon has proven value not only in providing naval fire support for amphibious operations but also in engaging small and medium sized targets. A single turret could be incorporated simply into any design from existing developments. Two of these turrets, with one mounted on the front and another on the rear could increase the capacity of the ship to engage small surface ships whilst reducing the chance of a misfire disabling the ship’s offensive capacity. Another option would be for the ship to carry a pair of 30mm autocannons located amidships, as is the case with the Type 45 destroyer. Whilst these weapons are less effective at engaging larger vessels, their higher rate of fire than the main gun make them a better choice than a second large gun. A large gun at the rear would also preclude the presence of a shipborne helicopter.

The extent to which a missile armament should be provided is more difficult. Major NATO anti-ship options take the form of the Boeing Harpoon and the MBDA Exocet, neither of which compare favourably with the Russian P-800 Oniks and P-1000 Vulkan entering service. Current options for an anti-ship missile appear focused on Marlet and Sea Venom for maritime helicopters, with Harpoon being phased out without replacement. The MBDA SCALP missile could provide a viable long term solution, with either extended service of Harpoon or Exocet being used in the interim. The standard practise of equipping ships with 8 Harpoon missiles is also a serious limitation in a protracted engagement with corvettes. As this design of the Type 31 would not be intended for supporting ground operations, there is no need for land attack cruise missiles, allowing for an increased load of anti-ship missiles, either in VLS tubes or in angled silos.

BMT’s design proposal for the Type 31.

Survivability measures for such a ship would be twofold. Passive defences would include a stealthy hull configuration, and decoy launchers. For more active measures, a VLS with 8 missile tubes would be capable of long distance air defence, especially given that the new generation ‘Sea Ceptor’ Anti-aircraft missiles are designed to be ‘quad packed’ into a single tube. A point defence system, most likely in the form of a single superstructure mounted Phalanx CIWS would be needed to provide a second layer of defence against anti-ship missiles.

Finally the ship should have a flight deck and hangar capable of supporting a single helicopter, presumably a helicopter in the weight class of a Wildcat as opposed to the larger Merlin. A helicopter is essential for target scouting and aerial fire support with torpedoes and missiles. A helicopter capacity also includes the potential for the Type 31 conducting anti-submarine operations in support of the more dedicated Type 26. The capacity to support a helicopter fills the naval aviation requirement that the River class OPV critically lacks, which may have been a factor behind the limited international interest in the design.

A vessel in this configuration would have the teeth to fight against corvettes, whilst providing planners with a ship that can be produced more cheaply than larger frigates. Overseas deployments could involve maritime security and counter-piracy in peacetime, and patrol escorts for battlegroups in war operations. It should also be possible for such a vessel to be constructed under a specification of £200 million, suitable for the constrained budget of the British Armed Forces as well as filling a niche role in the export market.

98 COMMENTS

  1. ‘The capacity to support a helicopter fills the naval aviation requirement that the River class OPV critically lacks, which may have been a factor behind the limited international interest in the design.’
    The Thai navy opvs HTMS Krabi and the under-construction Trang are modified River class and are designed to operate helicopters.

  2. The main area where i see the type 31 falling through is the anti ship missile department. With harpoon leaving service in the uncomfortably near future and the high costs associated with vls (Mk 41 and lrasm) I can see anti ship being neglected by the navy in order to achieve the tight budget and only arming with sea ceptor, naval gun (hopefully 5 inch but possibly downgrading to 76mm) and possible ciws.

    • LRASM is also going to be cannister mounted, which would obviously be more suitable for the T31, but given that we’re developing our own Perseus missile with France, a UOR for a cheap AShW missile would be a better overall.
      The Kongsberg NSM matches the criteria nicely, it’s not as high end as LRASM but it’s still a very capable missile. Other options include a shiplaunched SPEAR missile (Sea Spear certainly has a ring to it…), which carried in bulk in the same soft launch cells as Sea Ceptor would be well suited to engaging multiple smaller targets or a single larger vessel

      • I agree that all those options (except maybe SPEAR) would be credible and welcome but I’m just thinking about costs and the MoD trying to tighten those costs.

        • Costs are definitely going to be the major limiting factor in this project, but the ability for ships to sink other ships shouldn’t be thought of as a supplementary option.

          http://www.mbda-systems.com/product/brimstone-sea-spear/
          Sea Spear is already in testing and development, and for a light frigate, I’d happily have a pair of those 8-cell spear launchers over half the number of bigger missiles. Ok, they’ll do less damage per missile, but firing off smaller missiles 1)lets you potentially disable a target instead of crippling or sinking it, 2) swarm their defences with a greater volume of fire, and 3) in a fleet engagement, that swarm of lighter missiles would provide a good cover for heavier ship- or air-launched missiles

  3. I don’t quite understand the thinking behind the Type 31 as it is. If all it’s going to be is a “frigate with similar but less surface-to-surface, SAM and anti-sub weoponry”, why not focus the antisub and anti-surface armament on helicopter platforms and drones, rather than giving it not enough of anything?

    why not ensure a large hanger and provide it with an Apache for anti-surface roles armed with hellfire or brimestone? that would give the smaller vessel a whooping great area of effect and leave cells free for air defence. why not also provide a wildcat for anti-sub work, or some new drone(s) capable of the role? why not a couple of ligh-weight and recoverable drones for Airborn warning so that the vessel’s lethal envelop and detection ranges are substantially increased? Precious missile cells could then be dedicated to air defence (with a mix of long- and short-range missiles in the ‘escort’ role. Put an Apache and another more anti-surface, missile armed drone side by side and you have a powerful package for ensuring littarol operations and anti-A2AD ops, especially with a rib or two and some capacity to carry special ops forces.

    • The thinking behind Type 31 is simple. The RN needs to replace 5 clapped out GP Type 23s and after paying for 8 Type 26 can afford £250m per ship. They will cover lightly armed duties as documented in the request for info doc but should be 4000 ton 110- 120m vessels so that export models can be competitively armed in the world wide frigate market.

    • A laser would definitely be very useful, but I imagine at at least the first few ships will have Phalanx, or Dragonfire mounted on Phalanx as a supplementary weapon system. In terms of power requirements, we’re still up in the air as to how much power the T31 will generate, and how much Dragonfire will use

    • I’m going to skip over the phallus measuring part of your comment and ask what they are primarily used for?

    • The french have one carrier and only 2 horizon class destroyers to protect it I doubt your claim pierre and when you add the auxillery fleet to the royal navy na you are just plain wrong!

      • I’m sure the French and the British don’t envision deploying alone or with out the umbrella of a Arleigh Burke destroyer.

        • Both the Royal and French navies either do or will soon have the capability to deploy sovereign carrier groups. Yes, they’re generally less capable than a comparable US group, but they’re still carrier groups, which is something only a handful of fleets around the world can muster.

          Obviously allied warships are nice additions (especially big ones like an AB), but the UK and France are just about the only European nations left that could practically fight a war on their own

    • Pierre, is that why the recent French white paper said it would not be able to support large naval deployments without the help of the Royal navy?

    • The RN and RFA number 82 vessels, Vs the 86 of the French. For that small difference, the RN generally has bigger, more capable ships and submarines. The only real advantage the French Navy has over the RN is amphibious capability, which the RN is partly sacrificing to get the two largest European warships in history.

      Looking at the future, both are planning to operate pretty similar fleets. The RN will still hold the advantage in carriers, destroyers, and fleet submarines, but both are planning a new class of light frigates (the T31 and FTI respectively) with almost exactly the same specs

    • I suspect the RN is quietly moving to a similar MN model with River 2, the tentative retention of River 1 and the basic Type 31 specced as a ‘patrol frigate’. There is not universal approval of the strategy, which it seems is being implemented by stealth.

      • The French l’Aéronavale does have one very good asset on their Charles de Gaulle that is the Hawkeye E2C AEW&C aircraft. The Hawkeye can operate at over 20,000ft whilst the Sea King ASaC.7 can only go up to 10,000ft on a good day. This height advantage makes a massive difference to threat early warning. The Sea King’s Searchwater 2000 X-band mechanical pulse doppler radar however, gives better target resolution than the E2C’s S band radar (not sure if France will upgrade to E2Ds APY-9 radar).
        The Merlin is a step change in its capabilities over the Sea King, but it is still a helicopter and is maxed out at 15,000ft (crew on oxygen). The Crowsnest system is a development of the Thales Seawater radar ASaC.7, but now uses a different antenna array, better signal processing and increased power so resolution and range should be further enhanced. It will still have its awesome overland capabilities, shame it can’t be used from a fixed wing platform of the QE class.

        • I see the Merlins operating from R2 pickets – outriggers to the carrier task force. This will increase the coverage

          • The OPVs aren’t going to be deploying with the carrier group, sending them on combat ops would essentially be sacrificing the ships and their crews.

            As far as pickets go, that role will either be fulfilled by T31 or T26. ASW platforms are more effective when deployed away from the main task force and all the noise it generates anyway

        • A sensible joint route for maximizing the strengths of the two navies would be for combined CSGs with the CDG providing the primary AEW and CAP with its airgroup and the QE class proving the primary strike capability with its F35’s. That synergy would maximize the combat capabilities of both carrier types IMHO.

  4. Having corvettes is fine, but we need to have enough frigates first, and 8 frigates and 5 corvettes is not a good replacement for 13 top of the range frigates, get your 13(if not more) first, and then anything is a blessing!

      • I absolutely agree 13 type 26 anti submarine frigate should be the back bone of the Royal Navy, yes I know it’s money but if we want a force that is able to do the job it is asked to do by there political masters defences spending needs to be increased now, or else its all just hot air.

  5. ‘unsafe ammunition handling procedures’

    The procedures laid down were correct – don’t leave the doors between the gun deck and the magazines open when passing ammunition. Unfortunately, trying to obey ‘Jackie’ Fisher’s dictum about rate of fire the doors were left open.

  6. I find this article misses the point, tries to solve a niche problem we don’t really have (FACs in the Gulf would be taken out with airpower?) and contradictory. It advocates 2×5 inch guns, fore and aft, then states that a helo and hanger is required. Where is the second 5inch mount going? Also specifies SAMs, SSMs, CIWS, gas turbines for high top speed, plus active stealth, all for £200m. To use a phrase ‘on the optimistic side of realistic’. The US tried that theory with the LCS (minus the missile fit) and ended up with a higher price tag than this.

    Given our island status, and our likely wartime role in NATO of securing the Atlantic sea lanes and the GIUK gap, I would much rather have a more ASW focussed vessel, with hull sonar and some ASW/mine hunting drones.

    Need to be realistic with cost/benefit balance and avoid scope creep.

    • It’s not suggesting two 5″ guns, merely exploring the utility of such a choice. The article actually recommends a pair of 30mm cannons amidships over a second main turret.

      As for everything else the author is suggesting, it’s hardly revolutionary. Using the Khareef corvette and the Leander design evolved from it as examples, the main differences are 1) bigger ship with greater endurance 2) more AAW missiles and a Phalanx 3) better sensor fit. Given that the difference between the corvette and the T31’s budget of £250mn is about £130mn, none of this is unattainable.

      Also, I personally agree with your preference for an ASW platform, but the budget doesn’t exist to make them as capable as the T26 or even the T23. However, the mission bays included in all the designs at least offer the opportunity to carry future ASW drones

      • BAE lost an enormous amount of money on the Khareef class so whilst they may have sold them for that much its not representative of how much it actually costs to build a ship of that capability. That said BAE seem to be extremely uncompetitive in naval ship building and part of the idea of this exercise seems to be to increase UK competitiveness. However I suspect as others have suggested that for 250m they are not going to be able to fit a SSM, the navy seems to have a bizarre disregard for them given the attempt to retire harpoon with no replacement and the complete absence of a request for them in the announced T31 requirements.

        • (Chris H) TW – I agree BAE seem unable to be cost competitive in surface naval shipbuilding on their own and why we should be developing wider consortia across the UK preferably outside Scotland as they, despite the protestations of the SNP, have been amply rewarded and promises made in 2014 well kept. The carriers proved BAE can actually work well with others and that consortia can work when the MoD is also partnered. Its time to release the latent capabilities across the rest of the nation and just maybe this Cammel Laird (CL) led idea is the start.

          Its why I totally support the bid from CL (with ‘Leander’) albeit with assocaited support from BAE. This is a proven partnership with CL supplying big modules for the Carriers and major units for Astute and CL has a proud past history on its own. Its time for it to lead this project to delivery.

          Call it a Corvette or Frigate as people wish but it is a good design and meets the RN specifications. Exports? I doubt it.

      • Callum – you are right, it mentions 2×5 inch as an option, but identifies the cost of the helo and hangar. I retract that element of my post.

    • Yes. But it’s not either / or. We need the 5 Type 31 as currently ‘specced’ for patrol frigate duties – drugs, piracy, uk escort, humanitarian- AND we need another 5 sub hunting ‘corvettes’. Diesel electric Rivers with bow, usv crane, towed sonar and Wildcat might do it. Batch 3 River anyone?

    • What are your thoughts on the likes of the Visby class stealth corvette with a decent weapons fit? £160 million a pop would permit a decent number in service.

  7. Calling it a Corvette killer means that it is no longer GP. Personally, I don’t like the wording of “general purpose”. Usually it means that it can’t do anything well. I would prefer T31 to have a hull mounted sonar, Wildcat, and room for UUV for ASW, at least 24 Sea Ceptor and a Phalanx for AAW (perhaps Dragonfire, and a 5″ gun + >8 JSM when it enters service for AsuW and land attack if it needs to carry out this role. (Incidentally this is very similar to the light frigate Venator 110 configuration, and Spartan.) That would be a general purpose frigate worth having as it would be able to contribute to a CSG if it was required to, and patrol alone in moderately high risk regions. Anything less than that and we might as well go for full corvette designation and load as many missiles on-board as we can.

    • What you’ve just described is essentially every current T31 proposal. Both Leander and Arrowhead either include or have the option of all of those features (bar the JSM, which would depend on the RN selecting it as their new AShM)

      • you are not going to get all that (“hull mounted sonar, Wildcat, and room for UUV for ASW, at least 24 Sea Ceptor and a Phalanx for AAW (perhaps Dragonfire, and a 5″ gun + >8 JSM when it enters service)”) for £250 million. Be realistic, what will you prioritise from that list?
        I suspect we will be lucky if we get a hull built to naval standards with a hull mounted sonar, merlin sized hangar (though it will rarely deploy with one), a 57mm/76mm/4.5″ gun (5″ seems too expensive for the budget), ca. 18 seaceptor, and fitted for but not with/fit to receive CIWS and antiship missiles.

  8. Excellent article. The thing that bothers me about a lot of comments on these pages is some of you seem to want the Type 31e to have the same capability as a 26 or even a 45. In any navy you need different ships with different capabilities to carry out different tasks Hopefully this is what we’ll get with the Type 31e.

  9. The whole point of T31 is a much cheaper ship built in numbers to give mass to the RN saving our best assets for their main roles.

    It does not need nor should have the same capability as T31.

    In that case might might as well scrap the idea and just have 8 T26 and 6 T45 and be done with it.

    Then people will moan the RN is too small.

    • Because it is to small it should never have dropped below 30 Frigates and Destroyers. The so called piece divided was a mistake instead of trimming fat it has completely removed capability. As a nation we totally depend upon the sea 95% of everything we use comes by ship. It was imperative in WW2 and it hasn’t changed we are still an island.

    • Well said. Adds no value to the direction the RN is taking with Type 31. The minimum and adaptable requirements are a done deal and have been published. A ship with a displacement of 4000 tons, a range of over 5000 miles, organic Wildcat capability and the standard RN CMS and probably Artisan is not a corvette. If anyone is desperate for a label and in the context of its likely assignments I would suggest minimum spec Type 31 is a patrol frigate capable of being uparmed to a general purpose frigate.

  10. Strange how things turn out. Once upon a time someone thought we should build two classes of Frigate, then someone else with a brain pointed out it would be better to build just one and save on differing design costs etc and just build 13 Global Combat vessels – should be 16 or better still 20. Then along comes an idiot from the government who says I won’t give you the money for one class, design and build two! And here we are again – constrained by shortage of funds struggling to design something barely able to defend a local duck pond. My god, it makes you ashamed to be British!!

  11. Surely what ever design the navy picks needs to have plenty of fire power and needs to be very fast and built to budget and on time.

  12. When are Babcock BMT releasing more details on their t31 offering? I will be happy with ciws, some seaceptor, some ability to launch anti ship and anti sub missiles and fitted ready to take dragonfire in the future. I do think batch two (I live in hope) will need to have some decent asw ability but that could come from a separate platform delivered by t31. As long as there is a cohesive plan in place. If not money for an extra few t26 should be found. We need to have enough asw ships to have a permanent multi ship presence north of Scotland.

    • Good question. The project timeline says April is the start of the competitive design phase – between Leander and Arrowhead/Venator I presume.

    • “some ability to launch anti ship and anti sub missiles”

      Sorry T.S, I’d love to see it to, but as things stand we are going to be lucky if the high end escorts (T45 and T26) actually have antiship and sub munitions (aside from those delivered by the helicopter). Harpoon is due to be withdrawn in 2020 with no known replacement as of yet. neither the T45 nor the T26 have.will have torpedo tubes. Asroc is not yet funded so it’s not yet a given for tjje ASW specialist T26…and for £250 million we won’t be seeing mk41 VLS on the T31….
      I think at best we will see FFBNW mk41 and some space left available for for antiship missile canisters…..

  13. No Royal Navy ship has plenty of firepower – compare any rn ship to the USN and you will see what a ship with plenty of firepower means Type 45 was a complete debacle with everything fitted for but not with. I still can’t see how all rn ships (supposed world leaders) in asw can be totally be dependent on helicopters (other than t23 with short ranged stingray and being replaced by t31e) – why did you lose your billion pound vessel oh the helicopter was unserviceable that day! Stingray is a minimum but asroc or similar should surely be added. Asuw is almost as bad at least t45 now has harpoon (if it was deemed necessary or we had the stock) Russian vessels must quake in their boots when being escorted in British waters

  14. Interesting article that challenges you to think differently.
    Liked the idea of a secondary gun and would have gone for a 127mm and 57mm pairing forward mounted.

    However the best Corvette Killer would be a Wildcat Seavenom combination. You will need the Wildcat for targeting at range and it’s better to keep your ship out of range of enemy guns/missiles.
    To that end I would have my main offensive capability being able to operate two wildcat helicopters. So a double hangar come mission space. A smaller version of the Type 26 hangar mission space which can accommodate two Merlin’s. The T31 accommodating two Wildcats instead.

    The Battle of Bubiyan demonstrated how effective the Sea Skua Lynx combination was.

  15. Gents, I enjoyed the article but would actually question whether this spec could take out a “fighty” corvette.

    The Turkish, Israeli and South African MEko’s are armed to the teeth and look great to me. Do I think a current RN ship would come off best against one of these (no I dont – the RN is really lacking offensive punch on all its platforms).

    I would actually be happy for the T31 to be a C-Sword 90 which is a much smaller ship – definitely a corvette, but actually looks as if it can do a job for us.

    Good article – sound logic.

    I do think that gunbusters point about the T23 being a great platform is often overlooked, surely we should just take the T23 hull and all its known ASW qualities and build a newer version of this that adds in the mission areas. Surely this wouldn’t be a massive job??

    A fleet based on an updated T23 design (or a cut down of the T26 design) must surely be the starting point for T31 with the design flourishes of spartan, venator, arrowhead being added to what are solid designs and known technical quantities from an engineering point of view

    • Good comments Pacman27. A more frugal design on a Type 26 hull offers greater potential, commonalities and efficiencies. Surely significant savings can be achieved after the 8 Type 26 ships are constructed?

      • That was the initial logic behind having 8 ASW and 5 GP versions of the T26, but given that the only difference there would’ve been is the presence of a towed array, the costs were still far too high.

  16. But my little roast beefs, I laugh at your wrong comments. The Fdn does not rely upon the USA for its nuclear deterrent as does every aspect of the UK Rn. Ours is a true independent Force de dissuasion and we also have air nuclear weapons! Submarines nuclear 6 but replacement via the new class,
    The Charles de Gaulle which now finishes upgrade, is nuclear powered and has fixed wing aircraft of substance and not promise which of us all we laugh at you. Our major vessels of the first rank to escort the carrier are of Horizon 2; Aquitaine 14 of which ten are building replacing older vessels; vessels of frigate size 11; so 25 to your own – 17; vessels of patrol 18; large helicopter carrying vessels of Mistral class 3 similar to UK now sold Ocean; numerous smaller and mine vessels 18;

    Your UK Rn cannot match this magnificence. Now I refer you to this — https://www.globalfirepower.com/countries-listing.asp

    You decline rather! I prove this here I believe?

    • Are those Aquitaine figures correct – “14 of which ten are building”? If yes then you might want to go and correct the Wikipedia page on the Aquitaine Class since that says that the original grand plan for 17 French Aquitaine Class has now been cut to a total of 8 in order to free up funds for the 5 planned FTI so the same as the current U.K. planned 8 T26 + 5 T31e numbers.

      We know almost nothing of T31e yet but we do know quite a lot about T26 and it looks as if it will be an appreciably more capable vessel than an Acquitaine, or at least so long as we (the UK) do buy sensible stuff to put in the Mk41s.

      As for submarines, let’s not get into the tired old “the U.K. deterrent is not independent” debate that has been done to death so many times already. I admire the way the French have kept so much home-grown technology alive but the fact that the U.K. uses some US technology in its SSBNs doesn’t make it non-independent. I doubt that every battery, integrated circuit etc inside a French SSBN is French, there is probably plenty of US stuff in there. Then when we get to SSN, even once you have your Suffren class built the Astute will still be in a whole different league. Just look at weapons storage racks, according to Wikipedia 20 racks for Suffren vs 38 on an Astute, not surprising when Astute displacement is 7,800t submerged vs 5,300t planned for Suffren which also gives Astute 20 days more food endurance and presumably more internal space and power and hull size for more sonar processing power inside and bigger flank arrays outside.

      On amphibious, yes you have 3 Mistrals and a part time carrier vs soon to be 1 much bigger U.K. carrier available at all times, perhaps sometimes even both U.K. carriers available but that will be rare I suspect, plus Albion/Bulwark are both big ships and built to military specs, and everyone seems to keep forgetting the 3 Bays. We should also mention the U.K.’s 4 Point Class ro-ros for follow-up logistics, does France have any equivalent to those?

      I’m almost tempted to channel my inner Peder here and start talking about your “wee little ships”, and boats since we were also talking subs, but obviously I’ll resist that temptation.

      And we won’t even get to the fact that you totally ignore support logistics, i.e. the RFA tankers and other supply ships vs the very meagre French capabilities. That global firepower report also seemed to be overlooking quite a few U.K. RN & RFA assets for some reason.

  17. Also it is true that not only without planes of substance but your carrier will need our country to defend it with our first rank vessels! And this was in your very own newspaper as well as news in our home! The GB is a state of the USA is it not with European allies to help too!

    • Mon Ami-the Charles de Gaulle is known internationally as the Worlds most unreliable Aircraft Carrier, the F 35 B will be more than a match for your Maritime Rafaels, and the 2 QE Class carriers have a combined tonnage more than 3 times the size of votre petite bateau so put that in your pipe and smoke it!

    • Pierre has some solid points but no need to make this a slagging match. On paper the QE and F35b are a more potent combination than the CDG / Rafaels, however the Rafaels might lose on stealth but gain on range / payload.

      The UK frigates and destroyers are larger and in theory should be a lot more powerful than their France equiv but it’s impossible to say if 1 larger vessel is more useful than 2 smaller ones. Strength in depth is an issue when you top end everything.

      Same with subs, the astute/vanguard are on paper more powerful.

      In the end the French and the British have just looked at the problem from a different perspective, one more on numbers and the other more on top end capability.

      • Fair comments. The one big thing I always miss and would be interested in knowing when comparing capabilities is availability rates. As an example of a particularly bad case look at all the articles that we have had on this site regarding the dire state of German asset readiness across all 3 of their services.

        We know that the U.K. also has some of its own issues right now with T45s needing to rotate through dry dock to get their engine/power fixes done, allegedly at least one frigate alongside due to personnel shortages, needing to rotate Albion and Bulwark operations, etc.

        There are probably other similar issues within the U.K. armed forces but I would very much like to know how things like percentage availability of MBTs, frigates, combat jets, etc compares between various nations such as France, Germany, Australia, USA, Canada, China, Russia etc. That would be a really interesting comparison for some organisation to undertake. Probably difficult to get accurate data for the more closed and press-unfriendly societies such as Russia and China but freedom of info requests and an active press should make it possible to compare the other countries listed.

  18. Reading the article it would seem a lot of equipment will be transferred from remaining type 23 frigates sea ceptor artisan etc it would seem wise to retain all 4.5 in gun mounts and 30mm mounts and keep these for type 31 as you have enough for amount of ships which are said to be minimal requirement (5) and have spare guns for any future build or replacements if needed and a plentiful supply of ammunition

  19. Sounds like your building an up gunned LCS with price tag to match T26. We already have a corvette killer it’s called lynx wildcat and sea venom, no need for a surface vessel to perform that role. If T31 is having any Gucci extras it should be noise reduction to allow it to carry out ASW tasking and fitted for but not with Type 2087. No gas turbines just a hybrid diesel electric propulsion running in a battery for ASW work.

    Other than a 76mm gun the only other weapon system it should be fitted with on day one is sea ceptor.

    • Yes. That’s also how I see it and with good sensors and soft kill is a credible patrol/light frigate. Plus ideally bow sonar on day one.

  20. Morning All
    So what is in a name?
    Interesting article that has, always, generated lots of debate (including from our NATO allies).
    However, remember what the RN are trying to achieve:
    Multi-purpose frigate
    Budget of £250M
    Exportable
    Configurable
    Simple to use and operate
    Able to operate independently
    Credible
    What they are not trying to do is an anti sub frigate or air defence destroyer on the cheap, hence the weapon package requirements do not include them.
    These are vessels to replace the GD T23’s that are now rapidly reaching the end of their operational lives (I would suggest that some of them will never go to sea again – but that is a debate for another day).
    Aluminium hulled vessels are lighter, they burn faster as well.
    Extra weapons makes the platform heavier, more power is then required and more fuel. This is called scope creep and something the suppliers will actively being trying to do “for just a bit more money we could give you this or that”
    The RN has defined its requirement, it now needs to stick to it – regardless of whether some see it as a corvette, light frigate or whatever.
    The requirements are there, stick to them and get industry to build the platform you asked for, not some lobbyists and former senior RN 3/4 stars legacy wet dream that you cannot afford and will end up being late.
    T23’s are getting old, they need replacing – rapidly!

    • I think you raise many sensible points that in a general sense I would agree with but oddly, in the T31e context, I actually find myself hoping that some of the things you warn against do happen.

      I was originally not so pessimistic about T31 but, having seen the target spec and £250m per vessel price cap, I am now very concerned that we will end up with vessels that falls exactly between a light frigate and a patrol vessel, too light to have much utility in anything but a very safe zone (e.g. base spec is a CIWS but Sea Ceptor optional so possibly not there at all) and possibly no offensive capability other than a main gun. If this really is the spec then I think that the worse thing that we could do is stick to the requirement and ask industry to build what is being asked for. I think we need to do one of the following…

      1 – Allow some scope creep, at least for the RN versions, either by allocating extra budget for some non-core elements to be added to the RN versions (e.g. Sea Ceptor and ASM probably via box launchers) or by demanding a higher core spec for the £250m (which industry might simply be unable to deliver of course).

      2 – If they really are going to be little more than a pimped OPV then build more OPVs and invest in drone technology to make up for a lack of a full-sized helicopter hanger.

      3 – Accept a reduction in hull numbers and at least build another 2 T26 (ideally more but that is probably what T31e budget would fund).

      4 – Perhaps a combination of the above, 1 more T26 + 4 or 5 more OPV with a drone project on the side to enhance their utility.

      Yes, none of the above are very big or exciting fantasy fleet scenarios because they are all trying to work within the stated T31e budget of £1.25bn. Some might say all of the above are admitting defeat and giving up on a decent sized RN. With extra budget we could of course do a lot better but my concern is that we are in danger of spending this T31 money and not really get much useful for it. Maybe I will be wowed by the spec that the bidders can deliver for the £250m per ship in which case I will be very happy but until we see more details I remain quite nervous about this whole T31e thing.

      • Hi Julian
        1. Problem with just a bit of scope creep is where to stop.
        2. Agreed WRT hangar unless the RN plan to deploy the Wildcat on T31 and Merlin on T26 and T45. Reduces the RN liability for Wildcat (transfer to Army so they can retire Gazelle) and allows the RN to revest in the 8 Merlin frames currently in stasis.
        3. Hull numbers, regardless of platform need to match tasks as defined by MoD, you cannot have numbers being calculated by what you want but by what you need.
        4. The RN have defined their requirement bound by an MoD requirement – cost. If the MoD are to be taken seriously this budget has to be achieved.

    • Agree completely. What is required now is constancy of purpose to replace the GP Type 23s. The RAN have come at this problem in a pragmatic way. We can afford £250m per ship; tell us what you can do. I would further suggest that retaining the Batch 1 Rivers has less to do with post Brexit fishing and more to do with the possibility of such drastic defence cuts that the 5 GP Type 23s actually get replaced by the River 2s!

  21. Aluminum does not burn . Its also not the best material for building warships. Yes its light and in the Falklands it did not directly lead to the loss of ships. Any ship hit by 500 lb/1000 lb bombs is going to have a hard time staying afloat be it steel or ally. The 2 x T21s that sank had steel hulls but lots of internal Ally bulkheads and superstructure…the 2 x T42s that where sunk where for the most part steel.

    Ally melts at around 600 degs and conducts heat 4 times faster than steel. This means that the heat from a fire can conduct away from the heat source and has the potential to start fires elsewhere. So at the 600 deg ish point the big bulkhead your stood next to will start to disappear if you have not started boundary cooling it…ie throwing water on it to keep it cool.
    Ally also stress cracks like bas**d. Ships made from Ally are constantly getting cracks and welds redone every time they come alongside. On this subject I am speaking from experience It is a never ending task fixing the cracks and re welding.
    Underwater is equally as bad. If there are pin holes in the paint scheme you can expect pitting and holes to form in short order. The same happens in the bilges. If the bilges are wet the Ally starts to disappear through galvanic corrosion and the hull begins to thin.

    In my opinion Ally is fine for masts and high structures to help reduce top weight but should not be used for a hull.

    • The CVRTs (Scorpian etc) suffered from the same types of issues mostly stress cracks. The idea for an lightweight tank made from Aluminium alloy was sound, its just they chose the wrong spec’ of alloy at the time. The later Scimitars were made of a different spec Alloy and different suffer nearly as many issue with cracking.

      The RAF Pumas had a similar issue. when they were operating in Belize, due to the humidity the underfloor structure would literally melt away. This was because the moisture could get in, but the frames couldn’t dry out. The moisture would then attack fretting damage. When the aircraft came back for servicing a lot of the frames had to be replaced.

      Apart from the Russian Alpha attack submarines has any other ship been made of titanium? I know cost for cost it is quite a bit more expensive, plus you have to use special Tig techniques to weld it together, but as a metal its hard to beat.

    • Hi Gunbuster
      Apologies on use of terminology, aluminium as you state has a lower melt and faster conductive rate – however if aluminium is to be used it must be used for something other than to save weight (not for ladders etc) and as you say not the hull.

  22. I wonder if PierreLM knows that in order for the Naval Rafales to get sufficient deck time and training that they cross deck with USN Carriers? If not for this, the French Navy Carrier would be “toothless.”

    With the way operational costs are, no country’s Armed Forces are totally independent. Both the French Navy and British F-35B personnel train with the USN, which currently has the largest carrier fleet, to gain experience to take back to their own services.

      • Yes, they’re coastal class though classed as a corvette because they’re supposed to be quite seaworthy. 8 NSM each times 6 = 48 NSM, pretty good for coastal defence. Nick out of a Fjord, fire a couple, nick back into cover. Could be cool to have an auxiliary capable of carrying 2 of them lengthways, kind of like a RORO, for taking to another war zone.

        • Like a mother ship. I like the sound of that.
          So whats the catch?
          Has this approach ever been explored?
          Only thing I can think of remotely like that is SD Victoria carrying FIC for SBS training, and maybe more.

          • Not that I know of. The Glen Sannox built at Fergusons on the Clyde, ferry on the Ullapool to Stornoway run cost about £50 million, length 102 metres, beam 17m compared to the Skjold 47m x 13.5m. Perhaps more fuel, some CIWS and some air defence, dual purpose troop carrier. The upper masts of the Skjold might need to be hinged all the same! Could have two mother ships for £100 million, make it £200 million after being RN-ised. 8 Skjolds, total cost £1 billion for effectively a brand new capability.

  23. Someone makes a fair point further up about costs of extra designs. How much of the cost of the T26 is the specialist ASW gear? Would the RN still be able to hit the £250million mark with a de-specialised T26 hull?

    • Hi
      No is the simple answer. Ship has been designed from the outset as ASW, it will be as a surface ASW platform far and away superior to anything else in its class. Ripping out the sonar sets would still leave the platform and all the other systems that go to make a warship. This is one of the reasons why a cheaper hullform (T31e) was born in the first place.
      With the 26 we do what we do best, design and build a superb platform that we probably won’t be able to fully arm and as shown be so expensive that we price it out of the market.
      Canada and Australia will have to decide pretty soon, do hey want the best or do they want what they can afford.

  24. I think this article misses the point of what Type 31e is for, which is to have a cheaper grey hull than Type 26 so that overall fleet numbers can be maintained and 5 “GP Type 23s” can be replaced like for like. Now I have problems with the RN’s thought process here but I think Alex Matthews goes in the wrong direction chasing a requirement does not exist in pursuing a vessels which does not address capability or capacity gaps which need filling. ASW, AAW and adequate numbers to maintain a reasonable global maritime security presence are the driving factors in shaping the frigate/destroyer force. Alex Mathew’s proposes a Corvette killer, we have submarines and in the future air launched weapons to kill corvettes, there is no need to have an entire warship type dedicated to the role. Alex Matthews also seems to miss, as in fairness to a great many, that the capabilities of a single ship matter less than the aggregate of capabilities across the fleet. Alex Matthews also has some odd ideas about the placement of weapon mounts aviation when a design could easily work in both by having them either offset from the centreline or at different height/decks. I’d also say that given steel is cheap and air is free limiting the size of the hangar is rather foolish, you may only ever carry a Wildcat, or even something less capable the a Dauphin but if you build a box big enough for Merlin and the day comes when the only available helicopter is a Merlin you are still good to go.

  25. This article reminds me the term “torpedoboat destroyer” for some reason 🙂 Here “destroyer” stays but “corvette” replaces “torpedoboat.”

  26. I don’t think we should be putting escorts out there without across the board ablilities. In a large navy there might be other vessels to cover, but in such a small navy as ours now is, we need a full basic GP capability with specialist extras. In war you can face any threat, even very inconveniently. Playing around with spin saying a vessel is just an OPV/corvette/light frigate/police/low threat etc doesn’t change what the enemy sends in its way one jot. The crew & asset needs to stand reasonable chance. Type 31 seems way too big a vessel to fit a corvette designation.
    We need to step up as a nation to pay for the forces needed to protect us. We did it throughout the cold war.

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