The UK has begun construction of the fourth of an eventual fleet of eight Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates for the Royal Navy in a steel cutting ceremony at the BAE Systems Govan shipyard in Glasgow.

The Type 26, which will be known as the City class in UK Royal Navy service, has also found export success in recent years with the design chosen by Canada and Australia to form the backbone of their respective future surface combatant fleets. Australia is building nine vessels to the UK Type 26 design under its Hunter class programme, while Canada will manufacture up to 15 under the Canadian Surface Combatant programme.

In addition, construction has begun on a shipbuilding hall worth more than £100m to support the delivery of the eight City-class frigates and future orders. The 175m-long, 85m-wide hall will allow the simultaneous construction of two frigates side-by-side, under cover, and will be a “major factor” in the final five ships costing less than being delivered “in a quicker time” than the first three in class, according to a release by the UK Ministry of Defence.

With steel being cut on the first-in-class Type 26 HMS Glasgow in 2017, the vessel is not expected to enter UK service until the end of 2028 at the earliest, representing a near 11-year build and commissioning time.

BAE Systems stated that work on the first three Type 26 vessels is “well under way” with HMS Glasgow now at BAE Systems’ Scotstoun shipyard to have its complex systems installed, HMS Cardiff currently being assembled and HMS Belfast in its early construction phase.

The fourth in class HMS Birmingham is the first ship to be constructed under a £4.2bn contract for the remaining five ships secured in November 2022, the second batch and effectively completing the order for eight vessels.

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Royal Navy fleet troubles

The length of time being taken to build the Type 26 frigate for the Royal Navy will be a growing concern for a service already struggling with fleet numbers as the older Type 23 frigates are decommissioned. The Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose is due to be decommissioned in April without replacement, further reducing the UK surface fleet.

Given this, and with the Type 31 frigates – currently being built by Babcock in Rosyth – also not due to enter service in the near future, the UK will see a sustained reduction of its aspirational fleet of 19 surface combatants (13 frigates and six destroyers).

Of the Type 23 class, HMS Monmouth was decommissioned in 2021, and with the loss of HMS Montrose the UK will be reduced to a theoretical surface combatant fleet of 17 hulls.