Babcock’s Type 31 Frigate Attracts Global Interest: Over 30 Inquiries

The high-standing of the Royal Navy, coupled with the cost and quick-turnaround of the ships has garnered around 34 expressions of interest from overseas buyers interested in acquiring the vessels. Howie said the power of the ‘white ensign’ and the ships ‘sticker price’ made the vessel an attractive option on the export market.

The comments were made during a media briefing on the status of the programme which also revealed the ships were on schedule despite the effects of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. The briefing also countered earlier claims that the cost and price of the vessels had slipped.

Babcock is working with UK Defence and Security Exports on opportunities to either license the design to foreign countries that have an existing sovereign shipbuilding sector, or build ships in the UK for foreign navies, leveraging extra space on the production line.

Howie said that while the company was building five frigates for the UK, this would not max-out production facilities, thereby allowing ships for foreign navies to also be manufactured.

The Type 31 Frigate is based on the existing Danish Iver Huitfeldt-class of ships which were built for the Royal Danish Navy between 2008 and 2011. For Type 31, the design has been updated to meet new regulations and incorporate features sought by the Royal Navy.

Commenting on why he expected Type 31 to be a bigger export success than the Iver Huitfeldt-class, Howie said: “As soon as the Royal Navy declared the price that they were going to pay for a frigate they were inundated with requests. I think they had something like 34 expressions of interest from countries around the world who sat up and took notice at the idea the Royal Navy would pay that amount of money for a frigate.

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“And that is because that white ensign on the back of a ship, that seal of approval from a navy that is not the biggest in the world, but is still one of the most respected because of the operational tempo it runs and the training it gives (to) its people.”

Type 31 capability diagram. Image Babcock/ Royal Navy.

Babcock has a £1.25bn contract to deliver five frigates, bringing the cost per ship to £250m. There had been some reports that the cost per vessel had ballooned to £400m, however, Howie said this figure included the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Royal Navy’s costs and the cost of government-furnished equipment (GFE). The price per vessel paid to Babcock has not changed.

In order to meet the ambitious schedule, Babcock is aiming to build as much of the ships undercover as possible to mitigate the productivity challenges posed by poor weather. It is also set to build the ships without using any scaffolding. The company aims to have its new frigate assembly hall at Rosyth handed over for production in Summer 2021.

Under the company’s schedule, manufacturing of the first in-class Type 31 will begin in 2021 with ship five being delivered in 2028. Two ships will be built at a time, with a new vessel being added to the production line after a prior ship is delivered.

In order to meet the ambitious schedule, the vessel’s contract limits the options for the Royal Navy to alter the contract or change the vessels while they are in development. The Royal Navy is also in charge of bringing the ships into service.

Despite staff having to work from home, the development of the vessel was on-schedule, with 73% of subcontracts tendered, including the vessel’s guns, main engines, diesel generators, and combat management system.

Babcock described Type 31 as a ‘pathfinder contract’ adding that it would deliver 1,250 direct jobs and an extra 1,250 additional jobs in the ships supply chain.

Image: Babcock