RogerBW's Blog

Type 31e Frigate: First Thoughts 10 September 2017

Now that construction has begun on the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, some early announcements have been made about the next British military shipbuilding project: the Type 31e frigate.

As usual I have no inside information; I'm going only by what's been announced so far.

Mind you, one of those annoucements was made by the Minister for Defence Procurement Harriett Baldwin, a person who thinks that one of the jobs of a frigate is to escort ballistic missile submarines: see the last paragraph here. From the point of view of defence contractors she's clearly the ideal person for the job, since she doesn't know enough to work out when the country is being conned.

Even with the minimal detail that's been announced so far (the constraints within which the industry will submit designs), it's very obvious that keeping costs down is the most important thing. With a theoretical cost limit of £250 million per ship, this class is intended to be both cheaper and more capable than the Batch 2 River OPVs (£348 million each); it's not meant to stand with Type 45s and Type 26s against first-line military opposition. Having a cheaper ship for lower-intensity operations makes sense: you can have more of them, and be in more places. As long as it's able to do the job, and reasonably survivable (oh dear, they're talking about commercial shipbuilding standards); and as long as politicians don't send it to try to do a first-rate warship's job. This is to replace the five Type 23s that aren't already being replaced by the Type 26. And the first one is to be in service by 2023!

Beyond that it's all speculation. If I were commissioned to build a cheap ship, I'd start with much the same sort of approach as was done on the Type 26s: systems proven on other ships, plugged into this new chassis. But most of the systems currently available won't fit.

A 5" Mk45 gun, or even the current 4.5", would be good, but will probably be too heavy and expensive; there's mention of a desire for "more than 76mm", but there's not much in current service in the 3-4" class. (It's too slow to track to engage fast-moving targets, and too light to make it worth engaging big ones.) So that needs a new weapons development programme. Unless they're planning to bring back the OTO Melara 76mm as a main gun?

There'll probably a Phalanx, maybe some 30mm, and a couple of miniguns, and that'll be about it for the initial weapons fit: no missiles except maybe some for point defence, and who knows what those will be - CAMM(M)/Sea Ceptor might well be too big and costly, so that could be something new too. There seem to be no plans to fit bigger missiles, or torpedoes.

No word on propulsion; CODLOG is the conservative choice, even if IEP would be vastly more sensible in terms of lower running costs and survivability against low-power but well-directed attacks. (But it would mean a higher initial price.) No idea about radar, though they seem to plan a fairly serious EW fit. No sonar, but provision to fit it later.

This is basically a ship for stopping civilian vessels, and for putting shore parties, small boats and helicopters into hazardous situations, with lots of spare room for all the things nobody's thought of yet (which presumably won't be included in the £250m either, but will be available as options for the export version). That's actually not a terrible concept if the cost can be kept down; that sort of business is a lot more of what the Navy actually does than going toe-to-toe with the Rooskies or Chinese. Whether a warship that's only medium overwhelming to a pirate or smuggler, rather than completely outclassing it, can provide the same level of intimidation remains to be seen. Type 31e is meant to be a bit more grunty than a River, but apart from the possible gun the current design ideas don't make that at all obvious, and putting it into a frigate-shaped mission is likely to cause problems. Certainly selling it into an export market already crowded with good cheap light frigate designs, rather more capable for a not significantly higher price, seems remarkably optimistic.

Of course the Type 31e may yet turn into a fiasco like the USN's Littoral Combat Ship; to avoid that, the designers should concentrate on proven-working systems rather than the new shiny. Which will need a Minister for Defence Procurement who's very much on the ball… oh dear. Maybe she has some competent underlings.

Here's an MOD press release (complete with misspelling) off which most of the current speculation, including this post, seems to be based.

Tags: naval

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 09:39am on 10 September 2017

    Sounds like a really sweet little Corvette, bursting into song with Susan at my side.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 09:44am on 10 September 2017

    I don't know that one, but:

    Little grey corvette Baby you're much too light Little grey corvette You need to stay out of the fight

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 09:57pm on 10 September 2017

    I'm still concerned about the six Type 42s that aren't going to be replaced by anything. Going from twelve Type 42s to six Type 45s is a serious reduction in ability to be in multiple places, irrespective of how fantastic the Type 45s are supposed to be (whether they are is a different matter).

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