At the close of Exercise Griffin Strike the head of the UK Royal Navy, First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin, spoke to Naval Technology about the navy’s future frigate programmes and keeping the door open for more Type 31s.
Radakin said the Type 26 and Type 31 programmes will upgrade the Royal Navy’s capability and offer interoperability for global allies with their export business model.
The Royal Navy is investing in two different frigate platforms to replace the outgoing Type 23 submarine warfare frigate that has formed the core of the Royal Navy for the past few decades. Radakin described the ships replacing them, the Type 26 and Type 31, as ‘two very different ships’ which take radically different approaches in terms of costs and development.
Talking Type 26
“The Type 26 is a super-sophisticated anti-submarine warfare frigate. And it’s been a huge success”, Radakin explained.
The eight ships, manufactured by BAE Systems, will continue a legacy of leading anti-submarine work within the Royal Navy.
BAE Systems is set to start delivering the ships in mid-2020, as Type 23s are decommissioned. Royal Navy sources previously told Naval Technology that several countries are interested in acquiring the outgoing ships.
Due to their more specialised mission, Type 23s are far more expensive than the Type 31, clocking in at around £1.25bn per ship for all eight vessels, compared with £250m per Type 31. The ships will provide a defensive shield for future carrier strike groups as the Royal Navy changes tack towards a carrier-based strategy.
Radakin said the capabilities of the ships were: “demonstrated by the fact that Australia is buying nine and Canada’s buying 15.” For Radakin this export potential will become central to interoperability and allow navies from across NATO and other alliances to work together more easily. This simultaneously supports British shipbuilding and more closely aligns the Royal Navy with international counterparts, which is also a goal of the Type 31 programme.
He added: “We have an amazing opportunity to have a global anti-submarine warfare frigate with some partner nations.”
Type 26 concept image. Credits: BAE Systems.
On the Type 31
“Type 31 is again a fantastic Frigate. It’s got size, it’s got endurance, and for me, it’s got adaptability,” Radakin explained. Set to be built by Babcock, the frigate is non-specialised, and cheaper, due to being based on the Danish Iver-Hutfelt class Frigate.
Radakin detailed this approach, saying: “Because we’re taking an existing frigate, and existing propulsion systems, we can manufacture it much more quickly. That has some cost benefits that go with it, and because it’s not bespoke for anti-submarine operations, it’s cheaper to produce.”
Radakin detailed how the modular interior of the ship provides the capability for today, but also for future proliferation of unmanned vehicles.
The £250m ships feature four mission bays and an expanded hangar that would enable them to carry two helicopters, or potentially drones, according to Radakin. The ability to have two aircraft in the air or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) gives the ship extended reach, which is critical for at-sea operations.
The ship’s flexible design also makes it ideal for taking on a range of missions where high-end vessels are not necessarily needed; the Type 31 could excel in safeguarding shipping, for instance.
Radakin championed the ships’ design and their short build time, with all five due to hit the water by 2028, something the First Sea Lord described as ‘really significant’.
The affordable nature of the ships, combined with their versatility, means they could easily become a model for further expansion of the Royal Navy.
Radakin explained: “If the government wanted to, we wanted to invest even more with frigates, then the Type 31 might be a model that allows government to get more frigates more quickly”.
Rather than spending billions of pounds per ship, the programme gives the current and future government the ability to cheaply expand the UK’s fleet allowing for increased force projection across the globe.
Type 31 concept image. Credits: Babcock.