Thought I would ask a controversial question!
so, the Type 26 is billed as the austerity frigate and the latest models on show at DSEi shows 16 Vertical Launch Cells (VLS) cells of the grown up, strike length variety (we assume)
So far, the majority of discussion has been about which type of VLS will be fitted, the Lockheed Martin Mk41 or DCNS SYLVER.
Recent news for the Mk41 has seen MBDA and Lockheed Martin demonstrate the launching of a Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM) missile from the ExLS silo.
The ExLS is a development of the existing Mk41 system that allows users to reduce integration cost by putting already cannistered missile inside the launcher. It is also available in single launcher variant as per the image below.
LM have also demonstrated a successful launch of the Long Range anti Ship Missile (LRAS) from a Mk41, the development momentum is clearly with the Mk41
SLYVER, on the other hand is already in service with the Royal Navy on the Type 45 Destroyers, it carrying the Aster missile
The model at DSEi showed a 2×8 silo arrangement and the conventional 2×4 module layout of the Mk41 would seem to fit within the models geometry. The SLYVER is also available in the same geometry so I don’t think we should read too much into the models and video either way.
The question remains though, do we actually need either of them as the Type 26 is introduced or do we need any at any rate?
A bit of a controversial question I know but by the time the Type 26 starts coming into service what will be in service that can be stuffed into either a Mk41 or SYLVER?
Anti Air; the Type 26 will be fitted with the Sea Ceptor system whose missile component has its very own cannister launch system and the missile itself is cold launched, therefore not requiring the exhaust management features of the Mk41 or SYLVER. Is it likely that Type 26 will ever be fitted Aster, unlikely to say the least so for for the anti air role, the cheaper CAMM silo is enough.
Anti Ballistic Missile: If the UK does follow through on its long term aspirations for a theatre ABM system it will likely utilise the Type 45 and Sea Viper system, not an SM-3 Block II launched from a Type 26
Anti Ship: the recent news about the Type 45 eventually getting the type 22 surplus Harpoon missiles is interesting but the Royal Navy currently has no programme for a Harpoon replacement. It might have more of those aspirations, it might have its eye on the recently tested from a Mk41 Long Range Anti Ship Missile (LRASM) but this is a a development programme with no firm future funding. Harpoon cannot be VLS launched and interestingly, the very sophisticated and all new Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile is box launched, not VLS launched. The air launched and improved variant of the NSM, the Kongsberg Joint Strike Missile that will be integrated with the F35 has been proposed for the US Navy Offensive Anti Surface Warfare (OASuW) requirement to include vertical launching, maybe there is some justification for the VLS if the UK were to join this programme, the Multi Mission Maritime Tomahawk has also been proposed as an interim measure.
Countermeasures: LM and BAE Australia have recently demonstrated launching a NULKA countermeasure from a Mk 41 but the RN’s existing countermeasures are conventional tube launched and Chemring have the Centurion launcher that seems to offer a much more flexible and capable solution than using an expensive VLS for countermeasures.
Deep Strike: The UK has a limited stock of Tomahawk Land attack Missiles (TLAM) that are submarine launched, the existing stock will be transferred to the Astute submarines as they come into service. The RAF also has the Tornado launched Storm Shadow and these will eventually be integrated with Typhoon. Then of course we are invested a huge sum of money in Carrier Strike which with its ‘stealthy’ F35B’s will be able to conduct those day 1 strike missions we hear a lot about. Whilst launch platform diversity is always a good thing does adding another platform for TLAM make sense in budgetary restricted times? Some future purchase of SCALP Naval or even a development like Perseus would require a VLS but within the timeframe for the initial contracts for Type 26, not so sure?
Anti Submarine: The US has a VLS launched anti submarine weapon which would be nice to have, it would be a new capability and it presumes that the existing combination of merlin HM2, Sonar 20187 and the relentless ASW training carried out by the Royal Navy is in some way in need of improvement. Another nice to have.
Land Attack; providing support for embarked forces will be delivered by whatever medium calibre gun is selected for the Type 26 and MIFS. The MBDA concept version for Hoplite makes for interesting reading, the video looks like it can launch from a cold launch CAMM cell, although the video shows it quad packed into a Mk41/SYLVER
So, it would seem the case for either the Mk41 and SLYVER is very weak for Type 26. As long as there is space to provide a degree of future proofing the initial main gate does not need to decide now.
If the UK buys into the NSM/JSM programme to replace Harpoon then the F35 and potential VLS option would provide justification but beyond that, arguing for a VLS on the basis of SCALP/TLAM whilst there is submarine launched TLAM, Storm Shadow and the multi gazillion billion Carrier Strike programme to bring into service and sustain seems like a rather difficult job.
All that said, with LM and MBDA pushing their agreement to integrate each others products there might be a chance to ditch SYLVER and go Mk41 throughout the RN surface fleet.
What was that, oh, you can get back up now!