A Ship that Still Isn’t a Frigate

Can the Royal Navy make use of a civilian vessel design, or even a conversion, to cover a number of less than warlike tasks, taking advantage of current market conditions to drive down costs?

A look at how civilian ship designs can be exploited for delivering a range of maritime security tasks at a low cost.

This is not a unique idea, many have proposed similar for many years.

The first I read was from Mark Tempest in 2009 at the US Naval Institute called ‘The Department of Cheaper Pirate Fighting’. Mark also blogs regularly about maritime security at his own blog, Eagle Speak.

One of the first multi-part series on Think Defence was called a Ship that is not a Frigate, so-called because it was a few thoughts on how the Royal Navy could create a class of vessels that could operate in the area between the RFA logistics support vessel and the frigate or destroyer, specifically on a range of non-war-like tasks.

Taking inspiration from Mark Tempest I expanded the concept from re-purposing surplus offshore supply vessels and creating a larger, more flexible ship, utilising an offshore construction vessel as a base.

Since then, and before, I have written about the general concept a few times so this is a continuation and consolidation of those various blog posts and longer series.

The reason I called it ‘not a frigate’ because it was not intended to be a frigate on the cheap, or a surrogate frigate, and to emphasise the point so that people would not get carried away by adding medium calibre guns and cruise missiles.

The reason this article is notionally called ‘still not a frigate’ is because that still stands.

If one wants a Frigate (light or global) ask those nice chaps at BAE or BMT to design and build one for you.

So why bother, the simple point, the whole raison d’être for this, is one of cost, trying to squeeze the maximum utility from the smallest pot of cash. A class of ships that fulfils a plethora of roles that are less than high-intensity combat, and might use some notional future budget for an Argus and Diligence replacement, and perhaps with a nod to future mine countermeasures and survey budgets.

Bunga Mas Lima

And that is all this is, a ‘thinking out aloud’ piece on whether such a ship is possible, desirable, that’s for you to decide!

Table of Contents

wsd-600-psv Introduction
hms-protector Part 1 – Examples and Initial Considerations
Wildcat Part 2 – Roles and Modules
1981-custom-platform-supply-vessel--2 Part 3 – MSS (Small) – Platform Supply Vessel Conversion
Offshore Construction Part 4 – MSS (Medium) – Offshore Construction Vessel Derivative
rolldock Part 5 – MSS (Large) – Multilift Vessel
CIEWS Phalanx Part 6 – Climbing the Fighty Ladder
Ulstein PSV Summary
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
February 15, 2016 8:11 pm

This is how I perceive we should move forward. We have the type 45/26 providing heavy duty escort role. Once you remove this type of role, what is left is low intensity roles.

For low intensity roles, we ideally would have fast vessels, requiring minimal crew, but room for a small contingent of marines plus a helicopter. They would need some basic stand off weapons, but something like a Oerlikon to be able to protect the vessel against improvised weaponry.

If they are buildable at a budget and sufficiently low crew, we could have far more of them than the gap between the 26 and type23, to provide a meaniful flag flying numbers, but allow for some rotation of crews between low intensity ships and the destroyers/frigates.

February 16, 2016 4:43 am

Steve, I do get what you mean but there is a very wrong assumption in many people’s thinking that if the “low intensity” roles are taken up, the T-26/45 etc will be freed to do their “high intensity roles”. The error in this premise is that there are always “high intensity” roles for the high end ships to take up. It is usually the inverse that takes place, the “high end” ships take part in “low intensity” roles not because there is insufficient ships to take up those roles but that “high end” jobs don’t come up so often that they are sent to do these roles to keep the crew sharp and to stop them from twiddling their thumbs waiting.

The extrapolation to this is that even if you have enough ships for the “low end” jobs, the “high end” ships will still be sent to do them as they have nothing else to do! And in all honesty, if something big comes up, most of these “low end” jobs can be easily abandoned with no large scale problems. Presence patrols, anti-piracy, drug interdiction, none of these are critical and most can be handled by other agencies. The “high end” ships are really there for training and to keep the crews sharp, not because they are do or die missions.

February 16, 2016 10:30 am

A thought on terminology. Low and high intensity seems to suggest that these roles are not equally demanding or \’intense\’, which is not really borne out by history (although I guess we are actually referring to the threat environment). Perhaps we need to think about \’peer-to-peer\’, \’hybrid\’ and \’ asymmetric\’ instead. Peer-to-peer and hybrid all involve high air (including surface, ballistic, sub and air launched missiles), submarine, mine and increasingly EW/cyber threat levels and an ability to work alongside and complement alliance partners. Hybrid and asymmetric all involve high levels of political risk (e.g. the impact of killing civilians or losing the support of populations) as well as insurgent, terrorist, criminal, info-ops and surface swarm threats and a requirement to work closely with partner nations in a mentoring and ebabling mode, often in support of NATO or the UN. Hybrid means we have to have people and platforms capable of operating against all conceivable threats. Admiral Z recently spoke about the RN having three capabilities: strategic deterrence, carrier strike and amphibious task groups – none of which could be categorised as \’low intensity\’. Perhaps a better description would be first line and second line capabilities – i.e those you take to a fight and those you use to support first line platforms. I\’m increasingly of the opinion that whatever constitutes our \’fleet\’ must be capable of being taken to a fight – be it peer-to-peer, hybrid or asymmetric. The lesson of LCS is surely that the world moves on faster than our shipbuilders can weld hull plates.

February 16, 2016 10:49 am

“The error in this premise is that there are always “high intensity” roles for the high end ships to take up. It is usually the inverse that takes place, the “high end” ships take part in “low intensity” roles not because there is insufficient ships to take up those roles but that “high end” jobs don’t come up so often that they are sent to do these roles to keep the crew sharp and to stop them from twiddling their thumbs waiting.”

But will that always be the case? There is not a huge amount of slack in the escort fleet as it exists today, and without a doubt it will be cut back further in the next five years.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
February 16, 2016 1:40 pm


“But will that always be the case? There is not a huge amount of slack in the escort fleet as it exists today, and without a doubt it will be cut back further in the next five years.”

We have to be realistic about escort requirements as well. CDG is coming to the end of a Gulf deployment where at no point did she have more than 4 escorts and at no point were more than 2 of them French. we are not going to have to find 2T45 and 3 T23/26 to send QE South of OSB.

February 16, 2016 6:22 pm

ajay, the problem is that this conundrum is being looked at backwards. If the problem is the lack of escort ships, then you need to build more escorts (or as APATS suggested, cut the cloth more to size), not more mini-patrol vessels that are not escorts to “free” up something that does not need “freeing” in the first place.

Let us be really honest here. If you decide to simply say “sod it, this anti-piracy patrol/drug interdiction/HADR is for the birds” and pull out all the Type-45 destroyers from the job, what is the worst that could happen? Some more sailors get robbed and/or killed, more drugs on the streets of some out of the way country, more casualties before the Red Cross can get their act together etc, but practically, what long term effect or existentialist crisis would happen if the RN simply dumped this type of jobs? Not much. The escort ships were never “trapped” in low intensity roles, they could have dumped the job any time they wanted to without much loss (if any). It was simply media manipulation that “highlighted” “wasteful practices of using billion dollar ships to chase pirates” for sensationalism as opposed to them being used to… invading China? India? Russia? There isn’t WWIII every day, hence such ships are sent to do other jobs to earn their keep instead of gathering cobwebs waiting for Russia to invade.

February 16, 2016 7:46 pm

@Observer (and by extension APATS),

Fair points all and broadly true. There may, however, be an honest tipping point ahead on numbers; by the same token let’s take a minute over “jobs that need doing,” the best point Observer raised.

So we know there are and will be the 6 T45s. Of course they’re sorting out propulsion-related issues but there are six ships (leave aside discussion about how best to fix those issues and how best to maximise weapons load on them.) We know there are plans for eight T26, and honestly it would be good if anyone decided to boost defence spending to bring that up to 9 full-cream (ASW optimised with all necessary gubbins especially towed array and a pair of helis in combat conditions) hulls. That’s not just fiddling or special pleading: it allows you to generate three hulls at rule of three, which is not as optimal a workup/maintenance regime as 3.5 to generate 1, but it’s meaningfully less tight than a 2.5-for-1 regime. Let’s be generous and go with that.

Out of six T45s a healthy rotation (tight but not too tight) would generate 2, and out of T26 that’d be 3. One T45 does valuable work (presence, alliance support, and contingency) on the outer rim of Kipion in the western Indian Ocean, able to join allied task forces, give cover for the MCM mission in the Gulf, or swing back to help out around the Bab if piracy flares up again or there’s local unrest. Job worth doing in all its facets. A second T45 would be assigned to the carrier group, and if things really do proceed — in particular if the combination of the Cousins’ pressure and HMG of all political stripes sucking up to them (also grasping how to do power projection in a more dangerous era) that will mean *two* groups rotating except when one QE is in refit, so a full-time commitment to either a T45 at sea on AAW overwatch of the task group (Admiral Z, who I like hugely, may talk about carriers *and* amphib groups, but they will end up the same thing esp if two QEs rotate: a QE, an LPD/LPD Successor, and a Bay makes your single integrated RFTG and brings its own air cover) or about to go.

Out of three T26s, the near-to-medium-term threat environment really wants for resumption of a proper APT(North), namely a TAP in the Gap or even further up (aiding the Norwegian EEZ?) So that would be one down, two left. Likewise the chance of peer/near-peer conflict kicking off quickly or by way of surprise action (shock is always advantage, especially given how easily-paralysed Western decision-making systems — based as they currently are on assuring re-election and not spooking financial markets — are) is increased. That kind of surprise re the surface fleet is all about submarines, so ASW is at a premium. In most conditions, at sea, a single T45 will do, and in more deliberate (ie planned-out) action against non-peer opponents, where their best shot at the task group (if they can even get it in range) is lobbing lots of crap ASMs waiting for you to run out of Asters/Ceptor and then chancing a breakthrough against soft-kill (that’s to the degree they *have* an anti-ship option) two T45s or a T45 plus an allied AAW vessel is fine. But the chance of surprise near-peer action (“we just sank your carrier and ruined your sea-control/coastal reinforcement plans — what’re ya gonna do? Nuke us?”) puts a premium on ASW and suggests keeping two T26 (and predecessor ASW T23) with the carrier at sea is just plain a good idea.

That’s already used up the standard T45/T26 deployment slate for legitimately important missions, where they either need to be ready to go for unexpected events or training up for that throughout their time at sea. For the rest, that’s your war reserve, especially if you had to put both QEs at sea simultaneously. (Not about “when will we do that?” A lot of those “when”s have started cropping up on the horizon again. It’s about being ready for that problem when it comes — the primary raison d’etre for conventional defence.)

What’s left, then? BOT/EEZ protection, definitely. MCM absolutely. Likewise hydrographic survey for the Trident boats, Vanguard and after. And what we could describe as a surge capacity to bring a vessel capable of the job into the anti-piracy/HADR role. Five and quite possibly six late-batch Rivers are on the menu: using them as station ships a la HMS Clyde or the French Floreals would be one good solution towards that. One at a time at home in refit, the others rotating through medium-term station duties in roles like FIGS, WIGS, Gibraltar, etc. (re: Gib that’s not about scaring the Spaniards, it’s about doing a share of managing Straits traffic.) Having them capable of mothershipping MCM when necessary (protection of home waters or backstopping overall MCM capability in wartime) would also be useful. But beyond that, there’s the potential replacement of the Hunts underway (although like tiny floating B-52s they could probably keep going until they disintegrate decades from now) and the whole Type 31 business. It seems like that’s where the action is: there is a need to look carefully at that and how those kinds of designs and decisions can be rationalised. Doesn’t mean, much as I like what’s on tap, I buy TD’s approach here. But it does mean (hydrographic really ought to have its own design esp for deep-channel work rather than just grafting onto a mothership model) that some choices need to be made about MCM capability vs patrol/HADR capability. The budget’s going to get tight now that the RN is however hesitantly on its way back to a revitalized (if too-small) sub fleet and two proper carrier groups in rotation. Multiplying specifications, taskings, and R&D programs at lower levels is asking for trouble of several kinds that could dead-end the potential results.

stephen duckworth
February 16, 2016 7:49 pm

Observer I agree wholeheartedly.
APATS on previous posts has stated that when a T23/45 is out on such a mission as anti-piracy/drug interdiction that much more is going on than the primary mission. Engineers still need to be re/trained , weapons handlers/maintainers need to practice , sensor operators still need to hone the finer skills of telling a A300 from an incoming F-14 ( i am looking at you USS Vincennes) or a deep diving sperm whale from an Kilo class attack sub.Helicopter crew need to keep their flight hours up in real world conditions not just simulators. The ship itself needs to be pushed to its limits in all weather conditions to prove that the design will perform as the constructors and suppliers said it will.
To be fair to this thought exercise to explore the concept of in time of need such as happened in both world wars and the given example of the Falklands commercial ships were pressed into service on an adhoc basis as building fighting ships takes years to bring into service it is a very interesting process in these very interesting times we live in.

Wishful thinking
Wishful thinking
February 16, 2016 9:05 pm

I think the 5 in doubt t26 should be looked at to be something like http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=817, these could easily provide most of the ‘ongoing’ patrol like NAP and Gulf but still be useful as additional escorts / capacity for the LPD’s when [not If :-( ] Ocean follows Ark Royal to the breakers without replacement.

Rocket Banana
February 16, 2016 10:22 pm

If you pair up a T45 and two T26s with each QEC and rotate them in the same way that CVF will be rotated and used then you’re left with 4 x T45 and 4 x T26 which would deliver a T45 and T26 deployed and a T45 and T26 in UK waters, undergoing training, and/or ready to reinforce the RFTG.

Obviously the ships don’t remain “paired” with the QEC but it demonstrates that the UK can probably field a single AAW deployment and a single ASW deployment.

What we need after this are ships that can deliver the other tasks we actually need to conduct on a day-to-day basis. MHPC and “just being there”… lower-end, less “fighty” non-frigates :-)

February 17, 2016 2:21 pm

The real issue here is that the navy needs to rebalance (as does the RAF but thats another discussion)

The RN is short of combat boats and requires 30 frigates. A rationalisation across all the hulls needs to be conducted and the MCMV force needs to be replaced by a Bay operating Atlas ARCIM’s and the T45 replaced by these frigates at their end of life as I dont really see the difference between a 8000 tonne T26 and an 8000 tonne T45 to be honest.

In short we need to decide what we want and get a critical mass of them 1 Frigate every 10 months should be built indefinitely to ensure we get a good cost base, have an active industry and the scale to get export orders.

This is entirely possible as the cost is £400m per annum out of an £18bn pa equipment budget. This cost is the cost of a FREMM,Iver Huitfeldt, Absolon and other similar ships. If we cannot build and fit a capable vessel for this price, we should actually give up and buy from Korea and do fit outs only in the UK.

I have no problem with reusing equipment for the (10) GP frigates but the ASW(10) and AAW(10) frigates really need to be best in class. All should have 64 VLS cells with 24 being Mk57 strike length.

A T45 is not an offensive weapon and frankly if the RN comes up against a peer rival – it will probably come off second best at the moment. This needs to change. Smart (Vulcano) Ammo, more VLS cells with some strike length, awesome radar and the lates helicopters and UAV/UCAV’s all need to be purchased in bulk to get the right price.

February 17, 2016 3:02 pm

The problem as always is you can’t take this type of vessel anywhere “Fighty”! In theory they can be used for flag waving but beyond that useless.

Even if you have some clever ISO container method to add missiles, radar, guns and an armored armory to service them they are not survivable in any real sense. They have neither the fire fighting, damage control and armour around vulnerable sections that a warship has.

It also opens a question in my mind is this low intensity semi policing role even the right job for the Royal navy? Or do we expand what the Coast Guard do with an international policing section using commercially configured vessels?

Interestingly Japan and China both operate Coast Guard Vessels that have light armament that allows them to fly the flag but are built to a more commercial design without the survivability of a full warship. As they are also not a warship it is exactly the kind of vessel I would farm out to South Korea for construction with final fit out in the UK like the new Tide class.


February 17, 2016 3:17 pm

Further to my point here is the kind of stuff the South Korean\’s are building now, the 3000ton Taepyungyang class which uses a hybrid electric diesel propulsion system. It has a hanger, and a gun but not the features a full warship has. It is a Coastguard vessel first and foremost. Certainly sleek!

stephen duckworth
February 17, 2016 5:28 pm

“I dont really see the difference between a 8000 tonne T26 and an 8000 tonne T45 to be honest.”
Neither do I, yes the ASW version will have all sorts of bits of inevitably more expensive but quieter machinery , pipework that dosn’t gurgle etc so submarines do not hear it when drifting but thats a good thing , right? If the basic machinery is consistent across the fleet of ASW / AAW ships then you would have a reduction in engineering training , more flexible engineers , easier to keep them uptodate, less variety of spare parts to store etc etc etc……The sensor suite could vary as the AAW radar needs to do a much more complex job than the one on a ASW and vice versa on the bow sonar and the towed array.
In general identical hulls and general fit out but specialist kit for the task as fitted as the type it is replacing leaves service , AAW fit out as a T45 leaves service and ASW as a T26 leaves service. Yes thats a long way away but at the rate we design things we had better start now. Perhaps a full scale prototype to experimented with?
It could be that instead of a major refit to give a major life extension that a common design new build and selling the old hull with say ten years of low intensity operational life left in it to an ally such as Chile or some such that dont thrash their Navy like we do could be cheaper AND better for the overall economy.
The US is finding it extremely difficult to incorporate the latest updates to the new Arleigh Burke Flight III aswell as all the ASW gear etc as the power/cooling requirements to run it all at the same time are proving problematic. The new Ageis radar set is a big step forward and will enable this new class to both operate at the same time the AAW role and ABM role to the fullness of the Ageis radar power. At present in AAW mode it cant detect incoming ballistic missiles early enough to launch effectively and similarly in ABM mode it has to rely on its much less powerful auxiliary radar for AAW protection. At present this then means more escorts are required in some circumstances than if Flight III’s were available.It seems you cant have it all in one package so we can learn from this and keep the AAW and ASW roles on separate ships.

On enhancing the Coast Guards ships perhaps we could turn over the Rivers to them and reclaim the manpower back to the RN to man front line frigates over a period of time building upto the 30 or so 8000t fleet. The crew of the handed over Rivers could be ex-RN who find the overseas commitments too demanding on their family commitments and would like a permanent UK posting.The Coast Guards funding would need to be increased but in these days of increasing illegal trafficking be it drugs,contraband or people having larger ships that could act as mother ships to four 11m RHIB’s for boarding multiple vessels at a time if required might be a significant detterent. Over time a new specialist Coast Guard/Fisheries inspection vessel design could be found/created. Periodically they could be detached with a volunteer crew to sunny destinations such as the Caribbean or the Med to assist other foreign Coast Guards.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
February 18, 2016 4:05 am


“the MCMV force needs to be replaced by a Bay operating Atlas ARCIM’s”

Not going to happen. The MCMVs do far too much other useful work. from Defence Engagement to support of TF ops and MSO work in the operational theatre. Also the post mission analysis requirements are huge, at least 1 for 1 which delays the effect and even after a AUV marks a potential mine you still need to dive on it or send in an MCMV with an MDS to neutralise it.
A bay can only support ops within a limited range so again AUV from a bay can only deliver the effect in an area that 1 MCMV could and pushing them out to range either involves a slow swim out or causes huge FP issues for the deploying Rhibs.
They are a great bit of kit but are a force multiplier not the force itself.

February 18, 2016 12:32 pm

If we have a T26 line going, a ready to go T31 design in due course and the ability to produce River variants, I think we have all bases covered for the foreseeable future. Our globally deployable fleet (in the sense of RN ‘escort / patrol’) needed to cover all present standing tasks and obligations is somewhere between 19 and 30 vessels. The right mix between T45/T26, T31 and River OPV may well vary over time but a first stab at 14 / 5 / 6 is reasonable. I would hope with manning savings we may end up at 15 / 6 / 5, i.e. 26 hulls compared with an equivalent of 23 now. That just eases the stretch we have now. I would expect T31 to be more ‘River +’ than ‘T26 -.’ The Venator concept is a decent starting point. I’m not inclined to load it up with anything more unless we feel we are on a war footing. As for non frigate type ships, we need to look at Argus and Diligence in the first instance. Otherwise we have the Bays that are demonstrating versatility. I don’t think we need any more but their replacements down the line should have a hanger

February 18, 2016 5:22 pm


I like those coastie vessels very well. Very well indeed. Also I’m a lifelong fan of the US Coast Guard in fleet and concept: the largest and most effective maritime gendarmerie in the world. When the RN was considerably more massive (275 years — roughly 1692-1967 as either the first- or second-most powerful global navy have an influence on institutional practice) it was simple enough to let third- or fourth-order ships of the fleet handle that sort of role, or sloops and gunboats in slightly-fightier parts of the imperial fringe. Now, however, besides cutting through some Gordian knots in home-security bureaucracy (let’s stay away from that awful American “homeland” neologism it really does sound better in the original German…) having a proper HM Coast Guard would be a useful thing. A fine Union institution as well given the seas surround English, Welsh, Scots, and Ulster alike.

@mickp et al.,

A lot of what’s needed and what will be needed is either there already waiting for proper development or in the pipeline. There’s one missing ingredient. I’ll note them down with the proviso that none of this but the last is really fantasy fleets, it’s only about optimising what’s there already or will be (like what you could do if you *actually* spent 2%…)

1) Take the six T45, get CEC sorted out, and add the 16 Mk 41 cells but not for strike. Instead quad-pack the Mk 41 with Ceptor like the Kiwis are doing with their single-cell Anzac Mk 41s. Use the SYLVER cells solely for Aster 30 and its heirs. That gives you a max loadout of 64 Ceptor and 48 Aster 30-and-succesor for AAW which would be a proper job of cover, tasking Aster 30s for high-priority targets at a distance and Ceptor for general task-force goalkeeping. Those should be the priorities. A second-order “nice to have” would be Harpoon replacement for inner-layer anti-surface defence. But CEC and the extra cells for Ceptor should be the goal. Then you’ve gotten the absolute best out of these ships in terms of military purpose (propulsion is a separate issue and — fingers crossed — in hand.)

2) As I’ve said repeatedly get nine, not eight, T26. The eight figure is pure budgeting-as-policy: originally there were 8 ASW T23 because that made the fleet half-and-half GP and ASW (16 original hulls) *and* there were the T22 B3s with towed-array also which was really a fleet of 12 ASW ships. Since the ASW need now is more like it was in those days (building T23 to have a total of 12 ASW hulls) and because T26 has grown into an ASW destroyer like T22 B3, it’d be good to have enough to rule-of-three three at sea under normal conditions. To HMG: c’mon my sons, it’s one extra ship and a drop in your damned procurement budget (much as reworking *all* of the Army’s armoured-vehicle fleet) compared to the Deterrent and F-35 and such.

3) Looks like we may be on for six late-batch Rivers no matter what, because of T26 delays and contracts. Fair enough: they’re a bit more seaworthy, and if they’re used as station ships like Clyde it could work out well. Rotate them on taskings: one in refit, one FIGS, one WIGS, one at Gib to help mind the Straits, one North Sea because that still needs at least minimal military presence, and one somewhere else (Akrotiri? Bight of Biafra? Taking suggestions.) The back deck is good for light HADR and lily-padding helis for EEZ patrol. Make sure it can handle a bit of MCM mothershipping too in high-threat periods, to help sanitise EEZs and backstop the general MCM capacity of the RN. And there you’ve got another valuable layer of the overall Victoria sponge.

– It’s only the last bit that’s fantasy at the moment — all the rest is extant or coming or can be massaged into being like finally moving ahead with CEC or including the new-build Rivers in MCM mothershipping. But it’s a very important bit — there are competing programs at work here. Which is more important: a large, long-endurance patrol vessel that’s really focused around MCM as its “fighty” capability, or a patrol frigate (armed mostly for anti-swarm defence, which covers both operation near beacheads in serious combat or warding off well-armed pirates/drug-runners) with a mission bay-style setup that can swing between fast boats for anti-pirate/smuggler ops and MCM equipment for serious wartime? And how much daylight is there really between the two sorts of vessels?

I suspect that at the end of the day the RN will be faced with budgetary and manning levels that will only allow one iteration of category 4 to go ahead. (At some point there will be not just hydrographic but T45 and LPD replacement to consider.) So it seems like this is the debate to have. It is also exactly the place where TD’s vessel either does or does not belong. I suspect, sadly, “not” is the answer. But given the scope of operations necessary — core MCMV capability, extended patrol, smaller-payload HADR, and some swing to “naval skirmishing/counterinsurgency” (fighting pirates, smugglers, and other non-state threats) — it’s an essential part of the debate if not the definitive answer.

February 18, 2016 5:26 pm

Just a clarifier on one internal point: each of one more T26 and re-armouring the Army are, individually, drops in the long-term procurement budget. They are not equivalent (the T26 is a damn sight cheaper by comparison!) but have as much defence value as water-in-the-desert prices for specialist sub-programs within the higher-tech end of procurement.

February 18, 2016 9:27 pm

“A lot of what’s needed and what will be needed is either there already waiting for proper development or in the pipeline”

That was my point, that you’ve made much more clearly, although I’d perhaps added T31 as being in the pipeline, if longer term. I agree entirely with 1-3 – maximise the benefit of what we have. I believe we are losing 2 or 3 Sandowns and with the leaner manned T26s coming on line (eventually) I would keep the 6 OPVs for the meantime. There will do a job as you outline. I still think the B1 Rivers should go to an expanded border force taking on fisheries duties. I think a T31 study is right, but all you would need to do is raid the piggy bank for 1 more T26 (making 10) and then you start to think that 10 plus 6 Rivers freed from fisheries duties makes the argument for another frigate look a bit weak. That’s when T31 becomes MHC possibly. I actually think its a sensible ‘options open’ position. In the medium term the DD/FF force stays at 19, with T26 coming on line to replace T23, and we have 6 Rivers as presence vessels with a design in progress for something else to fit future requirements when we are clear on what they are.

Just perhaps need to modestly upgrade the Rivers gun fit and possibly UAVs (Camcopter?)

February 18, 2016 11:31 pm


Don’t know that I’d call it eloquent but thank you :) The basic question going forward seems to me that there are two programs:
– MCMV replacement (really Hunts replacement as the Sandowns go away steadily and perhaps the late-batch Rivers do take on mothershipping in extremis), and
– Type 31 research

I suspect that the most result the RN can expect is one, not two, new ship classes actually produced out of that. So the question becomes, what is the priority? I suspect a variation on what you propose is both the cheapest and the most effective *realistic* option for the service. That is:

1) Sod Type 31. Boost up to ten full-cream ASW T26s, fulfilling the old “C1” numbers and providing 3-easily-surging-4 (SSBN sanitation, FRE, short-term “send a frigate” crises, etc. without compromising war reserves) for the fleet. Before Scotstoun and the SNP go spare, tell them that by that point because of overwork and lifetime propulsion issues they’re likely to be on to T45 replacement anyway. That’s not likely — buying two more in an extant production run — to cost more than Type 31 R&D plus a couple of actual hulls out of five planned. Job done, money saved.
2) Carry on normal running with the Rivers but on the suggested model (station ships with MCM mothership capability in a pinch, basically seaworthy Sandowns on the cheap without the specialty design/gubbins of true MCMVs.) I like the suggestion of kickstarting a proper HMCG with River B1s, alternately I’d gift the North Sea B1s over to Irish Naval Service sorting out their medium-term issues in exchange for increased patrolling, and Clyde over to the Caribbean BOTs or the most-capable local Commonwealth partner (Jamaica? Barbados?)
3) Build something like Venator to the tune of like-for-like with the Hunt (8 hulls) concentrated on MCM but with a Lynx hanger and some basic guns (fore and abaft the bridge port and starboard) for swarm/sea raider defence.

The alternate is, still go for more T26, but keep the Hunts going forever in the American/Indian style (think B-52, incremental C-130s out to Kingdom Come, Hermes’ diamond anniversary, or the IAF Jags chuntering along.) Then double-down on cheap and cheerful with T31 (really, truly, just stretch the Khareefs about 10m, that’s nearly the length, roughly the displacement, and greater beam than the T21s, and better armed all the way round.) Get a few hulls in a friendlier defence/Treasury climate.

The alternate-alternate is do as you suggest (ten T26, up-arm the late-batch Rivers, replace Hunts with something ocean-going.)

Of the two I would favour the first or third option simply because it prevents proliferation of project-administration jobs, opaque budget lines for design and especially doctrine studies, and in general the threat of a naval FRES cluster****.

February 19, 2016 10:32 am

For God’s sake put a hanger on the last 2 or 3 rivers. Minimal expense much more flexible particularly with UAVs. I think there are 2 reasons why this has not been done. 1, because bae systems is being greedy again and RN never wanted the ships anyway, it’s just to make work. 2, RN fears (with some justification) that it will make them sound useful enough, that they will be included in the escorts total.

Peter Elliott
February 19, 2016 10:54 am

Grubbie – I agree with your analysis of the reasons for not hangaring the Rivers. But disagree that it would be quick or easy to do.

The whole reason they were chosen was because as a MOTS design, compliant to RN standards, they would “make work” for the fabricators but NOT for the design office who are busy sorting out T26 and will then move on to T31.

Stretch the rear of the ship to accomodate a hangar and everything has to be recalculated. Plus you still pay the steelworkers to stand still while all that happens.

Much rather the design wonks pressed on with working out if T31 is really possible. Either working upwards from a Ventnor 117 or downwards by deleting things like the mission bay and mission crew accomodation from T26. Remember there could be concurrent construction of the 2 combat ship designs so T31 may not be as far off as you imagine.

February 19, 2016 11:52 am

Peter Ellliot,
I think your argument’s have some validity. Maybe a minimal transom strech, a bit of repositioning at the back and a removable composite hanger for when larger helicopters need to be deployed. Wishful thinking I suppose. I just find it very frustrating.

February 19, 2016 12:29 pm

Wherever we end up on T31 etc I wouldn’t be looking at retiring the 8 Hunts anytime soon. They are all going through engine refurb I understand, Even if we do get some working remote mine hunting kit off a Venator type ship in the future, I’d still keep the Hunts for UK RN port / SSBN security and / or deployable reserve (i.e. rather than fishing boats in the FI). Can’t be complacent about future asymmetric threats to key RN installations. Should last for years

Peter Elliott
February 19, 2016 12:37 pm

Agree Mick P that we will still need specialist hulls for MCM for a while yet.

And to me the advent of T31 makes that even clearer because the obvious features these ships will lose compared to T26 is space for off board systems and the folks to operate them. Don’t see much other way to retain “fightyness” while still making them smaller!

The Other Chris
February 19, 2016 12:56 pm


Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 19, 2016 1:05 pm

Why? What’s she done? B’dum, tish……..

February 19, 2016 1:29 pm

Maybe the reason for no hangar is that by the time they have done the redesign (i recall there was a dropped proposal to reroute the exhaust trunking on the batch 2s’ which was probably related to aviation) the shipbuilding gap they are filling would have passed. Sadly the whole point is to keep shipbuilders busy and retain skills while we still dick around with T26, and without incurring costs greater than we would have to pay BAe to do nothing at all. Financial crisis, 2010 SDSR spillover has left us in this mess.

The Other Chris
February 19, 2016 2:36 pm

Tee hee :)

February 19, 2016 3:48 pm

Minor comment about Mk.41 VLS on T45 for SeaCepter. RNZN is NOT using Mk.41 VLS for their SeaCeptor. See Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (or #4114 post of http://www.defencetalk.com/forums/navy-maritime/royal-new-zealand-navy-discussions-updates-4854-275/).
I agree T45 will be better without 16(?)x ASTER15. In the space kept for 16 Mk41 VLS, I’m sure you can mount more than 64 CAMMs, if you like. But, I think 48 CAMM (along with 48 ASTER30) will be fine.

On T26, T31 discussion, I love it. But here I would wait for TD’s next post.

February 20, 2016 3:32 pm

@ Jackstaff – “We know there are plans for eight T26, and honestly it would be good if anyone decided to boost defence spending to bring that up to 9 full-cream (ASW optimised with all necessary gubbins especially towed array and a pair of helis in combat conditions) hulls. That’s not just fiddling or special pleading: it allows you to generate three hulls at rule of three”

Yes! tho i think we’d both prefer 12 ASW frigates.
I’d have no problem spending the change on Ulstein SX-121 not-a-frigates.

40 deg south
40 deg south
February 26, 2016 5:33 am

This is a bit premature given TD hasn’t posted the installment on Ro-Ro conversions, but HMNZS Canterbury, NZ’s purpose-build Ro-ro military conversion, is currently in Auckland stocking up on plumbing supplies, emergency rations and Air Force helicopters before departing for cyclone-hit Fiji



David Stephen
David Stephen
March 3, 2016 5:17 pm

How about a programme to replace the 5 general purpose frigates and the 12-15 mcm vessels? 16 hulls in 2 different configurations. One batch of 8 to replace and increase the escort fleet and another batch of 8 to cover mcm. These ships would be around 4,000 tonnes, deisel powered (25knts). Standard fit for general purpose escort would be as follows – 1 x 57mm gun, 1 x 8 cell mk41 vls (tactical length for ASROC), 1 x 20mm Phallax (on hanger roof aft), 24 Sea Ceptor, Artisan 3D radar, type 2050 sonar, a hanger for 1 Wildcat, plus a couple of GPMGs or miniguns. This equipment fit would allow these 8 ships to escort other high value targets (LPDs, or Tide class), or perform other duties in a high threat enviroment, with a reasonable chance of survival. This batch would also come ffbnw Captas 2. Some of the equipment can come from the 5 general purpose Type 23s. The 2nd batch of 8 hulls to be epitomized for mcm. The difference would be in the hull mounted sonar, instead of type 2050, type 2193 would be used (recovered from Hunt class). These ships would not require the mk41 vls but would retain the 24 Sea Ceptor and the Artisan 3D radar, also the 57mm gun and the various GPMGs and miniguns. The batch 2 vessels would also be fitted with the type 2093 VDS (recovered from the Sandown class). Although the 2nd batch of ships would be a mostly mcm focused fleet they could still be used in the patrol role if required. The batch 1 vessels would compliment the 14 high end escorts and give some depth to the navy. Almost all of the equipment would be recycled and what would need to be purchased is not expensive in the scheme of things. Try to keep to around 75 crew. This gives us 6 AAW, 8 ASW, 8 GP, 8 MCM, 6 Rivers. This would allow the the lesser ships (GP, MCM, Rivers) to cover most standing tasks and patrol duties leaving the bulk of the 14 high end ships to form escorts for the 4 capital ships (2 x CVF, 2 x LPD). If organized correctly this could allow the formation of 2 task forces. Task Force 1 (CBG) 1x CVF, 1 x Type 45, 1 x Tide, 1 x FSS. *Type 26 not required as CVF will have 9 ASW Merlin*. Task Force 2 (ARG) 1 x CVF in the assault configuration, 1/2 LPD, 2 LSD, 1 x Type 45, 2 x Type 26, 2 x MCM, 1 x FSS, 2 x Tide/Wave. This would allow the fleet to operate on a 6 mnth cycle. 6 mnths with CBG at sea, then 6 mnths with ARG. This should allow ships to be very well maintained and upgraded and in an emergency both Task Forces can be combimned and spun up quickly to form a very potent armada.

The CVF working in the CBG should have 2 x 12 F35B and 14 Merlin (9 ASW, 5 AEW) a 3rd squadron of F35B can be surged if required.

The CVF in th ARG should have 6 x F35B, 12 Merlin (junglies), 6 x Apache, 4 x Wildcat. 6 extra F35B can be surged if required.

March 7, 2016 9:16 am

Have the Danes gone down the correct route with the ‘Absalon’ class, and would something like the ‘Damen crossover’ series of vessels be a good fit for a general purpose vessel for low to medium intensity ops with the capability of providing a fighty role within the fleet for high intensity conflict,with the MSS (large) forming the base platform for a range of RFA tasks?

shark bait
March 9, 2016 3:00 pm

@DavidNiven, I think the Danes have certainly done something interesting, as have Damen with there crossover series. Where as those vessels are used as a cheap amphibious platform for the smaller navy, I think the concept could be extended to a general purpose frigate, perfect for launching and operating off board vehicles like helicopters, UAV’s or force protection craft that are vital for the general purpose role.

However those ships are still trying to be flighty and still trying to be a frigate, and for me that misses the point of the MSS. I would still like to see a derivative of those vessels in the royal navy fleet however, but at the Type 31 GP platform.

C1 – Type 26
C2 – Type 31 Damen Crossover Derivative
C3 – MSS small

The Other Chris
March 9, 2016 3:13 pm

Aren’t we more at the place of:

C1 – Type 26
C2 – Type 31
C3 – River-class, Tupperware-extension-project


The Other Chris
March 9, 2016 3:42 pm

Type 26 is going to be too busy dashing between US CBG deployments and dry-dock for plant replacement, going on current form, to do the weekend work… ;)

March 9, 2016 4:25 pm

Don’t you mean the Type 26 drawings will be too busy dashing between design offices while a US CBG gets a River batch 6 with a TAS and the privilege of hosting a Merlin/Wildcat and its crew, but then again maybe I’m being too cynical as I’m sure we could offer up a Type 45 if they’ve got big enough jump cables to lend us……. ;-)

The Other Chris
March 9, 2016 4:31 pm

I can neither confirm nor deny that @RT is working on an alternative option:

comment image

March 9, 2016 4:36 pm

@Shark Bait

The thing about the crossover is the range of vessel types they have, such as the Security model which roughly the same size as the new Rivers but with more capability in terms of what it can carry and deploy we could make them as fighty or non fighty as we wish in the same way as TD’s MSS but with a bit more speed and survivability? (which seems to a major sticking point)


And use a larger version as the basis of the Type 31.

shark bait
March 11, 2016 2:09 pm

I could totally advocate using the larger crossover versions as basis for the type 31 design.
However I’m not convinced about the smaller ones, I worry it is trying to pack too much into a small ship, which will no doubt lead to compromises and weaknesses. Damen’s crossovers look like a cross between a frigate and an MMS to me, a flighty support vessel if you like, and I don’t think the C3 should be too fighty.

@TOC & TD;
The “River-class, Tupperware-extension-project” sounds horrific and it is worrying that is seems a possibility. I hope the project can be a little more ambitious and look beyond building just a cheap frigate.

This is the first time in a long time the Royal Navy had been present with the opportunity to develop a platform without the constraints from historical labels like ‘air defence destroyer’ or ‘anti-submarine frigate’. They now have the opportunity to build something new and potentially revolutionary, which will allow the Royal Navy to do what it has done best over centuries, innovate and use that technical advantage to dominate the battle space. Alternatives to ‘a frigate’ absolutely need to be considered.

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
March 12, 2016 8:34 pm

@TOC – I think you are right – that’s where we are at the moment i.e.
C1 – Type 26
C2 – Type 31 (feasibility studies)
C3 – River-class, Tupperware-extension-project

The C2 is not yet fixed and the C3 stuff at the moment is all about future development, using older platforms for the trials.

Because of the language used up til now, I think that the T31 is likely to be “slightly lighter” than the current T23, while others feel that it will be a slightly lighter T26 – either side could be right. Whichever is correct, I feel that the C2 should be a straightforward, cheap as chips, conventional GP frigate, if only for the political purpose of re-establishing the number of escorts that is “normal” for the RN. Rather than look at it solely from the point-of-view that we might be able to get more than 5 GP frigates – if we build the GP frigate cheap enough, there might be enough room in the budget to get another T26 and 5 T31.

Unlike SB, I think that the innovation should go into the C3 design – not the hull itself, which I think should a cheap and simple hangar strapped to a garage design (so there may be some merit in TDs ideas – though I would have thought that a purely civilian design might not be completely suitable), but into the off-board systems that will give the C3 both its “fightiness” and its purpose – starting with MCM and moving up the difficulty scale towards full-blown autonomous unmanned ASW. Get those right and you could be looking at sending a single C3 to the Gulf, to replace both the 4 tupperwares and the Bay mothership. or even sending one to augment the ASW defences for the CBG with a small flotilla of drones. Once the kinks have been worked out and reliability is approaching 100%, then maybe we can start retrofitting the C1/2s with some of the same offboard systems.

shark bait
March 13, 2016 12:56 am

@A Caribbean Perspective;
I would add that the T26 was suppose to be the straightforward cheap as chips frigate. Everything possible has been done to de-risk the program, and yet it has still failed with numbers being cut as a result. I worry if we define the T31 as our straightforward cheap as chips frigate again, the program will follow the same course and again fail to deliver the numbers we need.

Rather than new frigate, we need a new approach.

March 13, 2016 10:36 am

BBC defence correspondent Mark Urban tweeted recently that core crew for the light frigate could be as low as 50, which is similar to the LCS (40-50 core crew, plus mission specialist teams) and suggest a 3,500 ton vessel, Ministers have also been evasive on whether they will be built in Glasgow. Can imagine Babcock will be interested to get some work at Rosyth and Appledore out of the shipbuilding strategy, and they have built variants of a nice Canadian OPV design for the Irish naval service (also in service with RNZN) which could form the basis of a light frigate. Also an alliance between Babcock and BMT could build a Venator variant too. The shipbuilding strategy to be published towards the end of this year will reveal all.

March 13, 2016 10:45 am

Furthermore, back in 2007, MoD commissioned RAND to carry out a study into naval shipbuilding strategy – the main conclusions remain relevant although some have been addressed recently (funding for BAe to improve infrastructure on the Clyde, for example).

These were:

— The MOD should attempt to smooth, or ‘levelload,’ the production and design demands it places on the industrial base. Several factors will impact this ‘loading,’ such as drumbeat between ships in a class, duration of design/build, total force size, and expected time in service of each platform. However, the considerable benefits include better workforce and facilities use, more stable financial costs, and a greater ability for the industrial base to make long-term investment decisions.

— Long-term planning may force the MOD to re-evaluate its competition policy. In order to best use the industrial base, competition may not always be the default option; in some cases, it may be in the MOD’s interest to allocate work for certain types of warships. However, this should not excuse the need to obtain value for money in procurement, and the MOD will need to work closely with industry to ensure that this remains the case. Competition will likely remain a viable value for money consideration.

— Long-term planning will require the MOD to work more closely with industry than previously, in order to understand factors impacting its plans. This closer working relationship may require the MOD to supply industry with more information regarding long-range plans, future budgets, and procurement options. However, it should also reduce risk in shipbuilding programmes by providing the government with greater understanding and certainty regarding industrial capacity as well as better progress indicators, such as earned value metrics.

Similarly, long-term planning may also encourage shipyards to work more closely together as they act to use complimentary skills and facilities, advance skill synergies (such as design resources), and give the MOD procurement options which result in greater industrial efficiencies.

Our research also reveals that the Ministry of Defence should consider a number of alternative strategies to improve its design and production efficiencies, within the context of a long-term shipbuilding strategy:

— MOD placement of multi-ship contracts may provide industry with incentives for long-term facility investment and skill training. Because they have received only limited orders for new ships and have faced a highly competitive market in recent years, many UK naval shipyards have not modernised facilities. Only with longer-term contracts and prospects will the shipyards be able to justify this type of major investment. The benefit to the MOD is that the shipbuilders should achieve greater efficiencies and pass reduced costs onto the MOD. It should be kept in mind, however, that such long-term contracts work better for mature designs and, therefore, may not always be appropriate for the first-of-class ship.

— A critical number of shipbuilding trades and skills are difficult to recruit and retain. To meet peak workload, the shipyards will have to hire and train new workers. However, after the peak, workers will likely become redundant. Therefore, UK industry should focus on training skills that are readily employable outside the shipbuilding industry. In this way, any resulting unemployment after a shipbuilding peak can be minimised. The MOD should discuss with other government departments (such as the DFES and the DTI) the potential of training programmes or incentives for these skills.

— As the MOD’s future shipbuilding programme unfolds, UK shipyards and firms will likely need to share design, as well as production, resources to best accomplish the plan. One difficulty in sharing design resources is that shipbuilders and design firms often have different 3D CAD/CAM tools. Thus, interchanging data and working cooperatively on a common design is difficult.

The MOD should facilitate a discussion among the firms and shipyards to explore whether the industry should adopt a common set of design tools that are interoperable, or develop industry standards that would allow design work to be easily interchanged. Common design tools will also lead to common product models and databases and would benefit the MOD in lifecycle logistics support.

— Regardless of planning efforts employed, periods of peak demand will likely remain in any future shipbuilding plan that may strain, if not exceed, industry’s capacity. During these periods, the MOD should mitigate this demand through a number of options to include outsourcing, subcontracting to smaller shipyards, or completing the work outside the UK. Increasing use of outsourcing will decrease the labour required to be resident in a shipyard; likewise, subcontracting any peak demand work to smaller shipyards with excess capacity will ease peak demands.

— Finally, the MOD could also consider relaxing the current defence industrial policy in order to allow peak workload to be completed outside of the UK.

One of the reasons given for schedule slippage and cost increases on recent naval shipbuilding programmes has been the high number of changes introduced after production has begun. The MOD should be aware of this trend and guard against it through the following measures:

First, the MOD should ensure that designs are mature before proceeding into production; second, programme managers should strive to reduce the number of both government- and industry-introduced change orders into a mature design. Finally, when changes are proposed to a design, the MOD should attempt to resolve these changes as quickly as possible in order to reduce schedule slippage.

Within warship production, the MOD can encourage best practices in order to reduce cost and shorten build schedules. RAND’s research highlighted the potential benefits of increasing the use of advanced outfitting in warship construction and encouraging the use of greater outsourcing, where appropriate. Of note, both of these tasks require a mature pre-production design that should facilitate greater outfitting.

Additionally, the use of commercially available equipment solutions may be less costly than ones that conform to traditional military standards, given no adverse impact on operations or safety.


March 13, 2016 1:00 pm

I think given the financial situation then the C2 (FLF) and T26 should be built in parallel perhaps one of each every 2 years.

Additionally looking at potential markets, which is one of the drivers for the FLF and interest from the Thai navy for Khareef design light Frigates, then an extended version (@110m) would be the right approach for the RN. Cancel the additional OPV versions and start building from 2018. Also, invest in expanding the design over the period with an eye on other markets.

If the RN aims for a core of 6 T45s, 9 ASW T26s, 9 extended Khareefs and 3 Batch 2 OPVs, then that would be a good balanced fleet. Oh and yes, also 16 cheap MHCs built in Appledore…

Rocket Banana
March 13, 2016 6:35 pm

I agree with a 30 x FF/DD requirement.

I also think that half of these should be frigates with 6-8 low-end corvettes and 6-8 high-end destroyers.

The reason for this is that we simply cannot predict the future and having the majority of our eggs in the middle tier is the most sensible strategy. If the low-end is all we need over the next 30 years we decommission the high-end and degrade the middle tier. If all we need is the high-end we decommission the low-end and upgrade the middle tier.

This should mean that the T31 (low-end corvette) should be easy to design, as it does not need room for growth. We should not plan to ever use these in high intensity situations.

The converse is the need for a) more T26 than is currently planned, and b) a very adaptable hull.

This very design ethos is the reason why the T26 should actually be the most sensible ship for any navy to procure. However, export success can only be achieved by building the ships with the bare essentials, a lot of unused space, and a free oxy torch.

Allowing the design process to run away with lots of scope creep is the thing we need to control in the future. We need to get back to designing a ship, or more accurately, a platform for operations, rather than getting embroiled in the optimisation of every aspect of a forever changing future.

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
March 13, 2016 6:55 pm

@shark bait
“I would add that the T26 was suppose to be the straightforward cheap as chips frigate”

But what we got was a “best in class” ASW light cruiser.

“Rather than new frigate, we need a new approach”

We need both, if we are to build mass as well as capability and stay within a budget.

March 14, 2016 12:58 pm

The Italian take on the low-to-medium end requirement is interesting. They’re ordering seven ‘multippurpose offshore patrol vessels’, whose purpose and fit-out will range from disaster relief to war-fighting:


There isn’t a lot of detail out there, but they seem to have decent size guns, Asters as an option, and provision for lots of ISO containers. The price seems reasonable (subject to what it actually covers), and delivery is expected within the next 10 years.

The design makes an interesting contrast with those that simply stretch a smaller vessel (Khareef, Gowind).

shark bait
March 14, 2016 2:47 pm

@ A Caribbean Perspective

We did indeed get ‘a best in class ASW light cruiser’ which is fantastic. Next we need ‘mass as well as capability’ as you say, but I worry that isn’t achievable. Something needs to change otherwise the program will again creep, and hulls will be lost.

I would like to challenge the capability part, I would deliver a ship with zero war fighting capabilities. The US Navy developed a concept call ‘ship as a vehicle’, which as far as I can tell they haven’t really followed, but the concept is sound. The ship is built purely as a ship, a naked platform of just the hull and engines, that is designed, built, developed and tested independently of the rest of the programme. The systems can be added later, either as modules like an integrated mast, weapons in a VLS, or off board vehicles like a CB90 or MCM drone. Building the ship and its systems in isolation has many advantages, delays to one part of the program is isolated from the rest and the program can still move forward, reducing risks and costs. Overtime these systems can have completely isolated lifecycles and independent upgrade paths lowering through life costs.

I can understand why a T45 or T26 need highly integrated systems as they are highly specialist, highly capable platforms, but I don’t think a general purpose surface combatant is constrained in the same way.

The scope of the type 31 should be to deliver a platform that floats, can move at 25+ knots and has massive margins for future growth. It also makes sense to include an integrated mast in the scope, but that should be handled by a 3rd party (eg, Thales not BAE). That should keep the specification simple, and costs low, which should facilitate an increase in hulls.

The capabilities then come later. Develop the capabilities separately, but to complement other platforms, such as adding VLS at the same time as the T45, add CB90 at the same time as the marines, add UAV capabilities at the same time as the T26, add MCM capabilities at the same time as the MHCP, ect…

It follows a similar to the MSS, but with the end goal of ending up with a fighty surface combatant.

March 14, 2016 3:45 pm

Dear God that Italian, thing, is ugly. What the actual **** is it supposed to be? I want whatever OCCAR have been smoking!

At 4,500t it’s the same size as a T23. It has an integrated combat system and a selection of weapons and sensors. And space for some ISO containers. So it’s a frigate. Well done OCCAR, reinventing the ****ing obvious.

March 14, 2016 3:48 pm

Sharkbait, nice try but answer me this. One of the key design requirements of the T45 was radar horizon vs. performance. Antenna height drove the size of the array, the weight of which drove the size of the hull sto stop the damn thing from capsizing. How would that work in the proposed ‘hull-only’ concept? For that matter, what about acoustic or magnetic signature management? These issues need to be designed in from the outset.

shark bait
March 14, 2016 5:47 pm


The T45 and T26 present a different challenge. When there are extremely high fidelity, long ranged, very capable sensors we need to optimise the shit out of the platform so our sensors work better than everyone else’s. Those optimisations have a profound impact on the ships design, such as the example you give for the T45, and importantly, costs a lot.

A general purpose surface combatant can avoid that challenging circle of optimisation. Rather than the actual surface combatant being the super piece of kit, allow the off-board systems be the primary sensors, and the host platform then becomes a very simple vehicle. That removes the sensors from the busy, noisy environment of a traditional surface combatant, so there is no need for complex radar integration, or magnetic signature management, or other complex optimisations. At the same time you increase the sphere of influence of the frigate and distribute the risk over multiple independent systems.

March 14, 2016 6:45 pm

Well as that Rand report was 8 year’s ago, it seems to have been a complete waste of time and money.

Not A Boffin
Not A Boffin
March 14, 2016 11:16 pm

The T45 antenna height size thing is a bit of a myth I’m afraid. The sensor height was entirely driven by the performance requirements of PAAMS. However – even with the comedy weight of SAMPSON (7te or so), the effect is actually fairly minimal. When you deal in moments (which is much of what stability is about) the moment contribution of the SAMPSON is about 0.3% compared to that of the ship. The sixe of the ship is largely down to accommodation, use of the great white turbine plus HV distribution and a BFO ops room among other things.

However, the idea that you can somehow get a bare hull and graft complex equipment onto it with good results and without incurring eye-watering costs, is I’m afraid half-witted. Here’s another little thought along those lines – never mind AAW and ASW and your combat system kit. Is COLPRO part of your GP frigate specification? If not, why not? Lots of CBW been used recently, lots of delivery systems around. Or does you ship just run away………

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 15, 2016 9:45 am

Shark Bait, we already do add systems later with the concept of “fitted for, but not with”.

FFBNW is accepted by the service, MoD, and defence committee as a practical way of spreading program costs and of speeding equipment introduction into service.

There is a limit though to how generic you can make a hull without it becoming grossly over or under spec for the various tasks.

What you mention is probably an idealistic extreme and part of the conceptual studies that eventually justify more practical modular design and FFBNW. You suggest that the Americans did not follow through with the “ship as a vehicle” idea, but the LCS program would probably be aa direct descendant from those kind of studies – the same basic vessel performing various missions with the addition of the relevant mission module, and a number of weapon systems being added later and well into the program.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 15, 2016 10:19 am

I think Repulse will be right about there being some degree of concurrency between the Type 26 and Type 31 programs.

The T31 “light frigate” was conceived for financial reasons. The problem the treasury has is that it wants to realise the savings now, not in eight large frigates’ time.

There is apparently some discussion and dealings between government and BAe, and suggestion that the government want to squeeze a little more delay into the Type 26.

I wonder whether one option being looked at is to swap those two additional Rivers (that haven’t started their build yet) for a more capable vessel. Something like the Khareef that might only require minimal design tinkering to accommodate chosen systems; but which would give the Navy a cheap, lean-manned “frigate” of sorts to replace a couple of the older Type 23, and which might delay the T26 for a little longer than another pair of Rivers.

Then perhaps bang out the first three Type 26 (for which long-lead items have been ordered); and then return to the Type 31 proper, with a modified/extended version of the Khareef (or whatever other vessel had been built in place of those two OPV); then back to the Type 26 again.

Production might be more expensive in the long-run, than if T31 was built at the end of T26, but that would presumably be more than offset by getting manning levels down and the simpler vessels into service sooner.

March 15, 2016 11:04 am

@TD: anyone who thinks a “cheap, merchant standard” hull is a good base for a warship?

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 15, 2016 11:14 am

The French, TD?

Don’t those little French frigates come without CBRN protection?

Peter Elliott
March 15, 2016 11:29 am

It really depends who we expect to be fighting. A simple COTS based hull without CBRN, signature reduction, designed damage mitigation etc will be fine if all we expect to do is a bit of HADR and occasionally bomb, shell or rocket only those poor bastards who can’t shoot back.

But if we buy a rack of ships like that and end up fighting someone who can shoot back, whether with missiles, torpedos or dirty bombs, then we risk ending up with a lot of dead sailors and ships on the bottom of the sea.

To be honest we have plenty of allies who have stepped down the “fightyness ladder” and as has been shown if we want to hire merchant hulls at short notice we always can. I’m therefore quite happy that with our history of active internationalism and willignness to engage militarily with peer enemies we have opted to invest in small, potent, armed forces that can actually fight.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
March 15, 2016 11:39 am

Errr, this.

“The ship is built purely as a ship, a naked platform of just the hull and engines, that is designed, built, developed and tested independently of the rest of the programme.”

Fine in theory, not so clever in practice. It only works if you are prepared to sacrifice the “naval platform” requirements – as was the original LCS SeaFrame concept, which Navsea subsequently backtracked on when they realised what that entailed. Which is one reason why the costs ballooned as “simple” designs built by Tier 2 shipyards, suddenly had to become “navalised”. Sound familiar?

Or you build in all those naval platform standards from the off. Which costs the real money. And then costs more money as you have to insert weapons systems into an existing hull.

For T31, there’s a danger of boxing themselves into a position where parallel build is going to be essential. Rushing off down the road of modified Khareef will only end in pain. Those who think it’s only a little tweak here and there, are decidedly unfamiliar with the stability performance of the design, let alone power and propulsion resilience. None of which will be simple or cheap to fix. One of the by products of Mr Haddon-cave and the Coroners jamboree during Telic and Herrick is that MoD is vastly more sensitive to the impact of putting people into combat in kit that isn’t “survivable”, especially with the demise of Crown immunity.

Either T26 is good to go now. Or it isn’t. If it isn’t there are only two causes – budgetary (as in it won’t fit the spend profile and/or MoD don’t like the price) or technical (as in they still haven’t managed to find a compromise on the one or two rather interesting elements to the hull design).

Time will tell. Game of chicken continues.

Peter Elliott
March 15, 2016 11:53 am


Will the new Clyde “Factory” be good to hande a parallel build, or in effect building alternate ships of different designs? Sounds to me like a lot of the efficiencies and iterative cost control could be lost that way.

Or would it actually be cheaper and more efficient to farm the smaller ship out elsewhere? If the latter would you favour Merseyside (limited recent experience of complex warships) Appledore (small slipway), Rosyth (could they do a whole ship? – and would more scottish jobs be politically acceptable in England?) or a resurrected Pompey (embarassing initially but maybe a political win)…??

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
March 15, 2016 12:42 pm

No idea what the current iteration of the Clyde ship factory looks like, so difficult to say. However, not convinced that parallel build is too much of a major drama. I’ve worked in a yard where we had 5 ships in various stages of build simultaneously and that five included warships, merchant ships and auxiliaries. Despite the use of the term “factory”, ships are not built on a production line. That’s not to say you don’t get a learning curve and economies of scale – you do – but it’s generally not measured in fixed infrastructure and tooling. What tends to be amortised over several builds is the design information like drawing packages, operational information like the phasing of specific elements of the build and their detailed workpackages and any associated numerical files (eg plasma burning control files, CNC files etc). Generally the only bits of “fixed infrastructure” tend to be things like lifting and build frames, pin tables for curved hull sections and occasionally module build jigs for specific machinery/equipment spaces. But the capex involved is generally minimal in the great scheme of things.

You do get additional economies like bulk purchase of material and external contract support and of course as you build subsequent ships, you discover where production estimates are over and under budget and can adjust the programme accordingly.

Where there will be issues is in labour capacity. The whole idea behind the ToBA and ship factory and T26 build drumbeat is to drive to a minimum the number of people you need to build a warship so that the “overhead” in maintaining a sovereign capacity is minimised. That tends to extend the build duration per hull from what it could be, but levels out the labour demand across trades. At the bottom end, it also assumes that said yard is not going to do anything else significant – no build exports, no complex commercial ships, nothing. Not exactly a recipe for long-term sustainability – you end up completely dependent on MoD and unable to contemplate anything else.

Of the yards you mention, CL would require significant recruitment in people to build complex ships. The NPRV is going to be a real challenge for them. Appledore doesn’t have a slipway, it has an indoor building dock which is one dimensional limit. That shiphall is also very cramped for building heavily outfitted hull sections and most importantly, the outfit berth dries out at low tide and has limited cranage, so anything with significant topsides equipment or requiring complex commissioning routines is going to struggle. Nor can they expand because of the topography of the site. Rosyth isn’t really set up to build ships – although they’ve made a reasonable stab with the sponson blocks for the carriers. Trouble is, all the steel sub-units had to fabricated elsewhere because the have no real steel manufacture and unit fabrication capability. It’s a little late for Pompey now. Most of the “build” workforce has now gone and the new steel panel line that was installed when VT moved across has been hacked out and moved to Jockistan and the welding supplies (allegedly) hacked out in a most damaging way. You could reconstitute it, but it would need reinvestment in the plant and more importantly, you’d have to convince any workforce that it had a long-term future. Once shipbuilders leave the industry, they don’t tend to come back. Once bitten, twice shy and all that.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
March 15, 2016 1:09 pm

Hate to break it to you, but no-one was actually responding to your concept, it was the idea someone posted of a basic hull to which weapons / sensors would be clagged that triggered this latest flurry of posts.

The whole MSS thing is a sideshow – an idea looking for something it could do on the premise that it would be cheaper than using a FF/DD and purely on the assumption that the FF/DD is on-station purely to do non-combatant constabulary stuff.

If it isn’t a frigate, there’s not a lot you can use it for, other than HADR (which is entirely elective) and “training” which is of limited use on a ship with no warfighting capability. The only other things you could point MSS at are MHC (highly dependent on whether offboard can be made to work reliably – not the “done deal” being suggested btw), aviation training and OMAR/FRS. The latter capabilities not requiring lots of hulls and still being deferred because doing “something” – even MSS – costs money. Of which there is none.

shark bait
March 15, 2016 1:12 pm

I never suggested the ‘naked frigate’ should lack survivability features. I fully endorse the need for a top tier highly credibly navy and without survivability there is no credibility. If course it should have similar protection to the rest of the fleet.

I feel like I could write lots, but I shall try and be concise. When building the ship as a vehicle it is fully reasonable to incorporate survivability features into the scope of the program, it is after all a fundamental part of the ship that cannot be detached, but what can be detached are complex weapon and sensor systems. Detach those from the hull and suddenly the performance demands on the platform are greatly reduced, making compromises and savings acceptable where they weren’t before.

I would also like to distinguish between ‘fitted for but not with’ and the ‘naked frigate’. The former suggests the platform is designed to encompass a system which isn’t fitted to save money. The ‘naked frigate’ does the opposite, the ship its built with a huge space with little consideration given to the complex systems that may fill it. Separately the systems are then designed to fit the frigate. That fixes the design of the highest value item (the ship), and adjust the lower value items to fit, reducing the risk and cost.

An example of the principal may be the mission bay of the T26 which is in essence a large empty space that doesn’t have a purpose beyond storing some RIBs at the moment. In the future off-board modular systems will be developed to operate from within this space which, will have a non-intrusive effect on the frigate. Off-board systems afford the designs this kind of isolation, which places much less demands on the host platform which is the most expensive bit.

The T26 is obviously limited to what it can achieve in this regard because it is a finely tuned specialist submarine hunter. The general purpose frigate is free from this kind of requirement. It could afford to be all mission bay, no complex systems. In the beginning it will get its capabilities from off-board systems such as the wildcat, force protection craft, Merlin ect… In the future it is ready to accept any system for any domain, it can be developed in isolation and integrated with ease.

Note, this is different to stan flex modules, or LCS modules, this is a more or less a mother ship, that host systems that operate at range from the platform and in greater numbers than a single unit. That also greatly increases the sphere of influence of the surface combatant.

I am careful not to directly reference unmanned systems, because there is still some uncertainty here, but I think the ‘naked frigate’ will almost certainly be a host for drones to go off at range and preform data collection, perhaps even the flighty business. But because of the uncertainty it also need to be fully capable of operating existing manned platforms for some manned-unmanned teaming.

Peter Elliott
March 15, 2016 1:14 pm

TD – what you are really suggesting is either a larger RFA or other government departments getting into the business of “constabulary” shipping. Not in itself a bad idea as the recent hire of VOS Grace shows. We have a budget for the RFA and its going on MARS Tankers and SSS. Anything else is probaly a one off to replace Diligence and/or Argus. Interesting but a niche project by anyones standards.

What gets people twitchy is talk of climbing the “fightyness ladder” becuase that means a growing risk of people getting burned, drowned or otherwise killed when it all goes wrong.

shark bait
March 15, 2016 1:17 pm

On a side note, the T31 should defiantly not be a stretched patrol boat, or shrunk destroyer for the already reasons stated. If as seems likely there is to be a concurrent build there has to be some commonality between the T31 and T26, propulsion and power system seem an easy example to start with.

The trades and processes for building the platforms with be highly common, just put together slightly differently, which should still allow for efficiencies to develop between the program.

It certainly would not be cheaper to build the platforms elsewhere. All the other facilities need millions spending on them if they are to build complex warships efficiently. Even BAE’s facilities on the Clyde need massive investments, and if that investment is spread out over more hull the lower the unit cost becomes. It is simply not feasible to support two yards, we can barely support one.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
March 15, 2016 1:47 pm


I did read it and very well researched it is too. However – despite your assertions – it is based on the premise that we buy and deploy FF/DD to do constabulary/MACP work rather than potential warfighting and as such they could be supplanted by some sort of MSS. A premise which I believe to be utterly wrong and which then leaves the utility of MSS squarely in the “nice to have if we’ve got some spare money” bucket. Which we haven’t. The question of how these might be paid for is left unanswered – the unspoken implication being that FF/DD numbers would somehow be traded.

Most importantly, the idea addresses the symptom of cost growth, not the cause. You want to reduce warship costs? Reduce the amount of time spent c0cking about iterating in ever more detail to try and reduce predicted costs. Understand the actual causal factors and magnitudes of those costs a lot better and earlier to apply commercial pressure behind closed doors, before both parties are locked into a game of chicken neither can afford to lose.

And shoot anyone who says they can predict the cost of a ship just by looking at its displacement. Twice. Just to be sure.

SB – The survivability features are actually a significant part of the cost of the ship compared to the sensors and weapons. Signature measures, shock, blast, ballistic protection, COLPRO, fire detection and sensing, fire resistant materials, explosive-safe electrical systems etc etc all cost money both in equipment and manhours installation terms. By contrast, the majority of CS equipments, while expensive in material terms tend to be much less so in installation terms. Which returns us squarely to the ongoing mystery of how T26 – which re-uses T23 CSE – can possibly cost as much as suggested……..

stephen duckworth
March 15, 2016 9:09 pm

By 2035 HMS St Albans will have left service , the last of 13 T23 being replaced by 8 T26 . HMS Edinburgh left service in June 2013 one of 12 T42 replaced by 6 T45. The fleet will have dropped from 25 FF/DD to 14 FF/DD albeit much more capable ships. The UK’s moral and legal commitment to NATO and the Commonwealth will not have diminished by 2035 , World stability and peace in less than two decades I think not :-( The purpose of the T31 programme is nothing to do with producing a cheaper GP frigate its to do with keeping the warship design team skill set and providing a future for incoming designers. It would be a simple measure to just keep the Scots in porridge and IrnBru by just building 5 more T26 but without a towed array (or a new one?) but by the time comes to replace T45 with a new design to the new stability,survivability,accommodation standards etc in place by 2045 when Daring keels over we would end up with a hash up as the design skills would have been atrophied .T31 has to be a full on warship design from start to finish.
That said those T42 had crews of over 250 , 3000+ men and those T23 had crews 185 , 2400 men. T45 has a crew of 190 , 1140 men with T26 having a crew of 120 , 960 men. Thats a reduction from 5400 to 2100 crewmen. Thats a big saving in itself both short and long term along with the savings from only running 14 first rater’s down from 25 surely that gives the Navy some wiggle room for an small fleet of low manning level very adaptable MSS type ships. No need to bother the warship designers just use one of the commercial firms used to designing and building similar vessels for the commercially astute but exacting safety conscious oil and gas industry (Deepwater Horizon cost BP $18.7 billion in settlement alone , you don’t build crap with that kind of axe over your head )
Four of the large MSS TD proposes wouldn’t even get you half a T45 .
Perhaps a variant of the Damen Offshore 8500 http://products.damen.com/~/media/Products/Images/Clusters%20groups/Offshore%20and%20Transport/Offshore%20Carrier/DOC%208500/Documents/Damen_Offshore_Carrier_8500_DS.ashx

March 16, 2016 1:46 pm

The USN are converting the M/V Cragside, which looks rather like a Point Class, into a Spec Ops Mothership-

comment image

March 16, 2016 2:01 pm


“there is no need for complex radar integration, or magnetic signature management, or other complex optimisations.”

Disagree. Unless you are advocating an expensive, customised hullform that has none of the advantages of a bespoke warship, and all the disadvantages of an off-the-shelf merchant vessel, in which case why bother when it’s cheaper to just buy a merchant ship and accept the compromise, or pay up and get a warship that delivers.


I’m well aware of metacentric height and GZ curves and all that jazz, so you’ll forgive me I’m sure if I don’t buy the premise that 7t of radar plus all the associated electronics in the mast at a height in excess of 100ft wasn’t a key driver for beam and stability. Radar horizon is a given, but getting that radar sufficiently high required a sufficiently stable platform to achieve it. T23 is a nice, beamy stable hull design, and I’m well aware of the stability and loading limits on something that small even without big heavy equipment at height.

However, your later point about this whole thread, and series, is right. You either build a warship or you dont. No matter how well you research the range of available off-the-shelf merchant vessels and bastardise them into useable peacetime half-efforts, it changes nothing about the fundamental minimum requirement for combat capable vessels that deliver capabilities. If you want aircraft carriers, build the escorts. If you want to bomb people at range, build the aeroplanes. Once you have that minimum warfighting capability, then use it to do other stuff. Buying peacetime vessels based on cheap hulls is the same argument as arming Hawks to do low-intensity warfighting – it does not add to your core requirement and is therefore an extra which we cannot afford.

TD, I agree with NaB and it’s the reason I said I wasn’t going to comment from the outset – got suckered back into it. We will reach a point where the minimum required capability no longer equals the available budget, in which case you either increase the budget or decrease the capability required. There is always merit in exploring what can be done to prevent warships from turning into multi-billion megaprojects, but equally these are incredibly complex pieces of equipment that embrace significant amounts of risk in having high voltage alongside fuel, explosives, helicopters, heavy moving machinery, RF transmitters of varying power and, above all, a steel hull that moves around constantly, on the assumption that you have a fully resourced and trained crew and all the spares and support you need to keep it together. That means risk, it means a heavy and constant burden of risk assessment, systems integration and deconfliction, design expertise and review, which does not change no matter what hull you apply it to and which costs a shitload of money. Air is free and steel is cheap, but operational capability is made of gold-plated rockinhorse sh*t.

The Government cannot continue to shrink the RN and expect it to deliver. If they cannot afford their minimum requirement, either find the money from elsewhere (NHS springs to mind – they could lose £32Bn in a week) or accept that you cannot maintain that capability.

Peter Elliott
March 16, 2016 2:23 pm

MV Cragside is a good example of a ship that is useful for fighting people who don’t shoot back. The USN can afford a ship like that because they’ve got a full rack of Capital ships, CVN, LHA, LHD, LPD, to send on any kind of fighty assignment.

If we converted a Point Class into an Auxiliary LHA then (a) The Treasury would come for our Carriers and Amphibs and (b) We would end up sending it into a hot war because we are tight for Capital Ships to begin with.

So that’s why we haven’t done it, and why there won’t be an Ocean Replacement until the Albions fall due. Which isn’t to say we might not try it as an expedient in the event of a sudden conflict or if we lose a big ship or two.

shark bait
March 16, 2016 5:31 pm

A quick Google shows he’s a man who should know a few things about shipbuilding by now, probably a good choice.

shark bait
March 16, 2016 5:37 pm

@TAS that is the opposite to what I advocate, which is a simple hull with a simple sensor fit. The concept of operations allows this compromise to be made. The ship uses offboard distributed systems to collect data at stand off range, which enables the host platform to sit outside of the hot zone. At this range the host platform has lower self defence performance requirements requiring something simpler like the integrated masts from thales to cue a sea ceptor.

I think the views that only a traditional frigate with a gun on the front will do is very dated, especially in an age where data can be collected over hundereds of square miles, shared instantly and acted upon from hundereds of miles away.

If some one could describe what a general purpose frigate actually is? what capabilities it should have? and what are the ” fundamental minimum requirement for combat capable vessels that deliver capability”?

If they then compare those capabilities to modern threads and adaptability to disruptive technology’s, a general purpose frigate looks pretty much useless. A frigates life cycle is 40 years, a drone can be iterated year on year and the traditional surface combatant just isn’t agile enough to keep up. A different approach is very much needed.

“Systems Not Platforms. Much as torpedoes, submarines and aircraft changed the face of maritime warfare in the last century, unmanned systems will do the same in the 21st Century. In the future, unmanned systems could help to provide a solution to maintaining a balanced fleet by matching the required capability to future threats, available resources and mandated tasks.
This future concept would concentrate investment in systems, rather than the ship, and a change in emphasis to one that does not see the ship as the fighting platform.”

MOD Joint Concept Note 1-12 (JCN 1-12), dated May 2012

March 16, 2016 6:18 pm


But that is exactly my point – what you are advocating cannot exist anywhere other than the fantastical mid-far future. Relying on distributed offboard technology to provide you with a solution is fantasy – how do you launch, recover, operate, arm these sensors? How do you store/launch/operate/deliver your weapons systems? All of your supposed remote data gathering capabilities will need command, control and data capabilities, which is a complex RF/EM requirement layered on top of your existing sensors and installed in a complex, risk-loaded hull – the complexity is immense and that is where the cost lies, not the steel. There is no such thing as a simple sensor fit in warships (I never mentioned a gun), and what do you define as a ‘hot zone’ when your average peer threat can project hundreds of miles?

There is a very good reason why the traditional frigate platform is still built and operated worldwide. It is already flexible and adaptable, it is already a system of systems, and all these desperate forays into alternatives fail because they do not deliver the core warfighting requirement. My definition of a general purpose frigate, put simply, is a warfighting platform, able to operate in a contested threat environment and which presents a signficant threat to one or more of the enemy’s capabilities, be that above, on or below the water or on land. Adaptability is usually little more than a black box plugged into an aerial, or a platform launched off the flight deck or by crane. JCN 1-12 is a load of nonsense – it is a far look into the future, and is based on very little fact.

shark bait
March 16, 2016 7:13 pm


Thing is, this is not fantasy, distributed system’s already exists. Merlin, wildcat, F35, scan eagle, REMUS 600, sea fox, SWIMS, sonobuoys all in service with the British military right now. Looking forward, HALCYON, ARCIMS, CB90 ,FDUAS, JMUAS in the pipeline and that’s just the UK. Look globally and distributd systems are everywhere and the pace of development accelerating.

This platform is for the future, if it denies developments that are clearly happening it will not be equipped to operate in the future. The traditional surface combatant is not yet irrelevant, the T45 and T26 prove that, but they also fulfill the local AAW and ASW roles. What is left to do that can be credible within the 30km sphere of influence of a general purpose frigate?

March 16, 2016 10:05 pm

T31 and unneeded OPV in construction are the end result of T26 being far more costly than expected, Politics (trying to dampen down the howls of protest from the Scot-Nats when the order was cut to eight) and the inability to get ToBA operating right.

As NAB has already intimated ToBA was meant to consolidate UK military ship building, ensure the Navy was getting vessels it needed and end the cycle of plenty followed by famine in the yards that leads to increased costs, lost skills and delays. Thus also making the yards competitive and hopefully score some more export orders.

So far ToBA has failed due to the politicians/MOD, treasury not keeping their side of the bargain and actually ensuring the steady order stream needed to make it all work due to the vagaries of defence cuts and the five year election cycle.

Now personally I think ToBA should be made to work, the politicians and MOD need to actually think far enough ahead and outside of the five year election cycle. I am not too fussed about 8 T26 or 5 T31 as long as they can properly plan what is to come next after that and stick to it. That way the Royal/RFA get what they need rather than unwanted make work OPV to keep the yard workers busy whilst the politicians/MOD/Treasury prevaricate. The same goes for Submarines, all talk is about Successor when they should be putting serious thought into what next to avoid the gap that yard suffered last time between the Vanguard and Astute classes.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 17, 2016 4:30 am


All the systems you trot out have one thing in common, they augment a core war fighting capability and do not replace it. we already operate systems but they supplement war fighting capabilities. The best manner to achieve this core capability is and will for some decades probably continue to be with the core “war fighting” capability built into the platform.
We (UK/US) are operating a lot of unmanned MCM systems out here but they form part form an “adaptive MCM force” and come with a host of issues that means that the traditional MCMV remains the centre piece and most useful asset within the force.
Rotary wing aviation and UAV supplement core ISR and “fires” capability on an FF/DD not replace it. they allow the focus to be “tuned” towards a specific environment by embarking a Merlin HM2 or a wildcat as the “threat/mission” dictates. Scan eagle is useful for MIO etc. None of these take away the fact that they are embarking on a 45 or a 23 with a core set of capabilities.

shark bait
March 17, 2016 8:19 am


I completely agree with you, those systems are indeed there to augment a core war fighting capability, they extend the range and increase the flexibility of the platforms they are embarked upon. That core war fighting capability will be AAW from the T45, and ASW from the T26, extremely valuable “core war fighting capabilities” that we absolutely need. As they are local by nature it does not make any sense to distribute those “core war fighting capabilities”.

My point is, after the T46 and T26 has fulfilled those roles, what is the “core war fighting capability” of a general purpose frigate? Quite frankly there isn’t one. There is no core capability to augment.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 17, 2016 10:49 am

Peter, the repurposing of MV Cragside is not being done because the USN already have plenty of capital ships; it is being done because the USN deem they have insufficient amphibs and other vessels to perform all their required tasks.

What the US is doing is largely at odds with what TD suggests in this series of articles. Rather than dumbing down US Navy vessels in order to afford more, the Americans have chosen to enhance the capabilities and roles of MSC (RFA equivalent service) and the Coastguard in order to lessen the burden placed on the Navy.

MSC vessels have increasingly been tasked with embarking Marine Corps groups, and the US Coastguard have operated thousands of miles away from US shores.

I don’t accept the premise that maritime tasks falling outside of the Royal Navy’s core role are superfluous activities; but they don’t necessarily have to be performed by the Royal Navy. Missions concerning piracy, drug trafficking, and people smuggling have a value in their own right; but they are often diplomatic efforts to a greater degree than they are defence efforts. I also think we often over-emphasize the military aspect when considering “presence” and long-term engagement in regions.

If there are enduring tasks that justify some of these MSS type vessels, why are the Royal Navy considered the most appropriate body to operate them? If the vessels have no inherent fightiness, why get the expensive fighty organization to operate them?

We’ve previously seen RFA vessels take over from Navy vessels on some tasks. We’ve also seen the UK Border Force employed on anti-smuggling operations around Gibraltar, and on the refugee operations in the Med and Aegean. If by some means there was a pot of cash to invest in these kind of minor vessels, would it not be more cost-effective to enhance the role of these two organisations instead of using the Navy?

Peter Elliott
March 17, 2016 11:25 am

BB you are right in the sense that the only place for these ships would be in an enlarged RFA or hired in by other parts of government. Any attempt to climb the fightiness ladder would be a big mistake.

What that would do however is cut away the RN’s ability to brand itself as a pink and fluffy international rescue service. No bad thing according to some of us on here but how long until the Corbynistas and their ilk start to divert all the funding to the “HADR Force” and give up on blue water warfare altogether? That would be the other risk of pulling fighting ships off the “fluffy” tasks: they become politically unsustainable.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 17, 2016 11:46 am

@ SB

“My point is, after the T46 and T26 has fulfilled those roles, what is the “core war fighting capability” of a general purpose frigate? Quite frankly there isn’t one. There is no core capability to augment.”

You could not be wider of the mark if you tried. What you refer to as core capabilities are specialist capabilities. The whole point is that an FF/DD will have a level of “core capability” built in. For T26 it is self and local area air defence via sea Ceptor, Naval fires via 5 inch gun and strike length tubes, it retains the ability to conduct MSO/MIO Ops, ISR and operate in a hostile environment via appropriate build and CBRNDC measures. These are the “core warfighting capabilities” that are best built into the hull. ASW is a specialised role but make no mistake they have core capabilities in many other roles.

For T45 it supplies specialist Area AAW capability but it has core capabilities in ASuW via 4.5 gun and harpoon, naval fires via 4.5, more limited ASW via the hull mounted sonar and again can conduct MSO/MIO/ISR and operate in a hostile environment via appropriate build and CBRNDC measures.

The core capabilities of a GP frigate will be that it can defend itself against air attack at least (slightly more via Sea Ceptor) conduct ASuW via a gun/missile system (probably a gun which increases MSO/MIO) capability. It will almost certainly have a sonar offering ASW and be built to a standard that allows operation in a hostile environment. they are the core capabilities that are augmented. what it will not offer is a specialist ASW or AAW capability but “core war fighting capability” yes in spades.

Peter Elliott
March 17, 2016 12:13 pm

BB – USN may think they have fewer ships than they want but they actually have more ships and more budget than anyone else. So they can afford to have separate Strike Carriers (Nimitz/Ford class CVN), LHA (America Class) , and still afford Cragside for the Spcial Forces. Plus all the dock ships which also have big flight decks and hangars.

We can’t afford to do all that which is why we built the QEC classs to be big and flexible and cover all those roles and why we’re really chuffed at getting both of them into service because it will allow us at a pinch to have one ship for fixed wing and another for rotary.

Doing a Cragside job on one of the Points would be a way to cover the likely 10-15 year gap between Ocean and Argus going and the Albions being replaced with LHDs but it is most unlikely to happen becuase all the budget we have in that time will be sucked up into Successor, T26 and T31 programmes. And no-one will want to risk either QEC#2 or the future LHD being sacrificed becuase the Treasury says: you just had a new ship for helicopters.

shark bait
March 17, 2016 1:05 pm

@APATS I’m not so sure;

Firstly I cannot dispute the point about NGFS, its proven to be useful and proven we have a deficiency here. You cant distribute a big gun, and as we discussed previously they require distributed systems to “augment a core war fighting capability”.

However, I believe you completely contradict your self on strike length tubes, which by themselves are just useless tubes. The missiles that fill them are distributed systems, by nature they are an off board vehicle. They have their own engine, power supply, sensors and decision making, if ever there was a definition for a distributed system, that is it. They are also useless without a distributed network of sensors. There is no way a TLAM or the LRASM can be used effectively using only the platforms fixed sensors, they simply don’t have the range, and physics dictates they never will. The Mk 41 VLS may be a fix system, but it is a distributed system of systems that make it work.

I am not expecting the T31 to have a meaningful ASW core capability. If that was the scope of the project surely the answer would be more T26, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I don’t acknowledge ASuW as a core capability as it will always be less capable than aircraft, missiles, and submarines. There is no point in a core capability if it only duplicates existing capabilities, only much much worse.

I don’t acknowledge self defense as a core capability, its important yes, but not a core capability. Naval power exists to influence events on the shore, if you can only self defend, you cannot influence anything. Self defense exists to “augment a core war fighting capability”.

So we have a general purpose frigate with a core capability of NGFS. That doesn’t sound very general purpose to me. Is that enough to warrant an entire platform?

(Side Note: CAMM is another example of a distributed system, the launcher and the radar can be distributed (seen in land ceptor) and fitted with the Common Data Link it can receive mid-course corrections from a different distributed radar.)

March 17, 2016 8:25 pm

This is a very interesting piece from ‘Stars and Stripes’ in regard of the MV Cragside and also the utility of TD’s proposal and how the USN are expanding the use of the MSC and it’s civilian derived vessels.

‘With Navy strained, Sealift Command crews eye greater military role’


All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
March 17, 2016 8:44 pm



You seem to be under the illusion that any weapon system that in any way involves an offload feed justifies your crazy idea.

You illustrate the fact that you have zero understanding whether that feed is required or not. see your strike tube quote and then think static targets.
Claim any multi use silo as an off board system and then discount core capabilities as irrelevant because you think they are with zero reference to actual availability of a better option.

I hate to be harsh but you are the perfect illustration of a military geek with zero operational training or experience.


shark bait
March 17, 2016 11:07 pm


Please justify you statements rather than making a personal attack.

I stand by my comments, an autonomous anti ship missile is by definition a off-board system. At a high level the concept of operations for the LRASM is little different to that of an ASW Merlin. They are both stored on the ship, they are both cued by a different system, they both fly themselves away from the ship, the both look for there own targets and they both prosecute those targets. The missile doesn’t return to the platform, but that doesn’t make it any less of an off board vehicle. They are both examples of distributed off-board systems. These aren’t my crazy ideas either. My ideas are largely based around the US navy’s own ‘distributed lethality’ which focuses on increasing the effectiveness and the range of the fleet through distributed system. It is how surface combatants will remain relevant in an increasingly challenging domain.

You also misinterpret me, I never used the word “irrelevant” when describing anti-surface, you made that up, or made an incorrect assumption. The words I actually used is “much worse”, with reference to aircraft and submarines that can provide an anti-surface capability beyond that of a fixed frigate. If it is felt we need to improve that capability we should purchase more of those, not build a new frigate to do a worse job.

Actually as part of a distributed system the frigate can develop a reasonable anti-surface, more or less as an arsenal ship that will respond to the data collected by a network of distributed systems. A 1,000 Km missile simply makes no sense without that network of distributed systems, there is no way fixed frigate could see that far.

“You seem to be under the illusion that any weapon system that in any way involves an offload feed justifies your crazy idea.”
Incorrect, I have previously recognised on this page that NGFS and area AAW make no sense to be distributed from the platform.

March 18, 2016 6:59 am

shark, according to your definition won’t the A-gun be a “distributed system” too since it fires a shell that can be aimed at a location beyond ship sensors, like the lee side of a hill?

March 18, 2016 9:06 am

@APATS: I understand your comments on core capabilities. What is the relative price differential between a FF with core capabilities and specialist AAW / ASW capabilities? Doesn’t sound much, 20%?

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 18, 2016 11:09 am

TD, when I say that your ideas and the American ideas are at odds, this is what I’m talking about…

“Can the Royal Navy make use of a civilian vessel design…”

Your initial premise is that the Royal Navy should be operating these kind of vessels rather than conventional warships. Over in the US, the process has been to increase the remit of their auxiliary and coastguard forces while the USN concentrates on warfighting roles. While your concept is to simplify the RN in order to have more, the USN concept (as seen with the up-arming of the LCS frigate) has been to maximize what they’ve got.

PE, I think the USN has two substantial problems which may be experienced by other navies, but which seem more acute in America than in other countries (the result is having shiploads of money swilling about, but not going where the USN wants it. I get the impression that the RN has much more influence over how its meagre budget is allocated than the USN gets over theirs).

The first is the circular problem, that the USN pleads for tasks that it doesn’t necessarily want in order to justify funding; but having got itself additional funding, it’s obviously stuck with another task to perform and consequently, despite the additional funding, there are no additional assets available for the USN’s self-identified priority tasks.

The second is the procurement and upgrade problem, that the USN’s own hierarchical list of program priorities takes a very clear second place against the results of political lobbying. If the USN gets a pot of cash for something, it may well want that something, but there are often several other somethings it would rather have first.

March 18, 2016 11:36 am

@BB: interesting thoughts on the USN. I’d say that the RNs problem is that it doesn’t want to give up tasks as its budget decreases, as it fears that budget will go down even further. Coupled with this is the firm belief that the only ships it needs are world beating specialist warships, and that anything less are dangerous and irrelevant. Hence you get over stretched ships & people and even the slightest hiccup will cause a big effect.

I see two real options for the RN; either come back to the notion that a balanced fleet is needed, or give up tasks (and tell the government honestly how much it’ll cost to get the back with the necessary gold plated ships).

I’m hoping that using OPVs for the APT(N) is a sign the RN is going back to a balanced fleet concept, but it’s early days, which is why the design and numbers for the T31 is a key barometer.

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
March 18, 2016 12:44 pm

– re: a balanced fleet – looking back over the C1-C3 idea, it looks to me as if there was very similar thinking in the RN until not so long ago. I think it has been a combination of economic and nationalist political issues that has pushed the RN into it’s current position. Hopefully, now that the 8 T26 are effectively agreed, and the FLF is being investigated, we are seeing a return to a more balanced approach. I also had another look at the wiki page relating to the Global Combat Ship, and one of the things that struck me is that there have actually been a number of different designs developed for the T26, varying between 5400t and 6800t on displacement. Since we are allegedly building the larger of these designs as the T26, maybe the FLF will use the lighter design, even though it is a little larger than the original 4-5000t C2 requirement? It wouldn’t surprise me if it was being considered. Just a thought.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
March 18, 2016 1:27 pm

I wouldn’t hold your breath about previous designs “existing”. You may even find that these previous design displacements quoted are for the same design, just different definitions of “displacement”…………

C1 – C3 isn’t particularly different to T26 + MHC. C1 was always going to be a fully-capable warship with specialist ASW capability on top. C2 was always a GP frigate with most of the C1 capability, standfast the high-end ASW stuff – incidentally a requirement which NEVER had a displacement associated with it – and C3 was always MHPC (now MHC).

The only reason people get confused is that they automatically assume that the C2 GP frigate was in some way vastly different in configuration from the C1 ASW ship. In reality, the difference was always going to be limited to some systems elements rather than wholesale change. Particularly once the people who think ships are built on a production line began to invent economies of scale.

All of it can be and is being affected by those who think they can derive price/cost by magicking up a displacement number.

March 18, 2016 1:49 pm

@NaB: What was the original expected price differential between the C1 and C2? You’ve mentioned the displacement price model before, so unless something else changes the “only” real price difference between a T26 based C1 and C2 would be the cost of the 2087 TAS which has already been paid for? There could be some cost savings in different sub systems, but surely that would be greatly reduced by the cost of supporting different kit?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
March 18, 2016 2:26 pm

What on earth makes you think the S2C2 work ever got as far as deriving a real cost/price number?

That whole Pathfinder / S2C2 project was conceptual and if truth be told was aimed squarely at demonstrating that if one used the words “offboard/systems/modular/autonomy” with sufficient frequency you could convince yourself and others that a common ship design could fill the “minor war vessel” roles, without the need for specialist Tupperware tubs. Thereby liberating an entire future funding line to apply to what was at the time, the FSC project………

May be possible. May not be possible. But the money line for FMCM capability miraculously disappeared, without the case being proven.

On the specifics of detail between C1 and C2 – it would be possible to remove many of the noise reduction measures from the systems which tend to cost money in manufacture, testing and installation without necessarily compromising logistics support. As an example, the DGs on a T23 are exactly the same basic model, it’s just that one pair has some NR measures added.

March 18, 2016 3:19 pm

Thanks NaB. It feels that measures such as removing noise reduction measures, would save only a relatively small amount over a full fat ASW T26. So if the money was there for the remaing 5 T26s to buy GP T31s then about 6 is the best that can be hoped for.

However based on the fact that money is still required in addition for the MHC programme, and that the money for the C2s (T31s) has already significantly impacted by the over spend on the T26, then forget any C1, C2 and C3 concept, unless it’s T26, OPV+ and MHC.

If that is the case, i say go for 9-10 T26s, and keep evolving the River class for the C2 to keep up numbers to cover as many of the standing commitments as possible.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
March 18, 2016 3:33 pm

Type 31 has nothing whatsoever to do with C2.

C2 was a concept requirement for a GP frigate derived in the S2C2 studies of the mid-noughties.

T31 is the designation for a concept made up on the hoof during SDSR15 when it became clear that the budget requirement for T26 was not compatible with HMT/MoDs wider aspirations.

They are related solely in their use of the term general purpose. Whether the definition/understanding of that term is coherent remains to be seen.

March 18, 2016 4:32 pm

Even the Daily Telegraph is saying that Osborne’s budget is the shortest term, “long term” budget ever i.e. the real budget comes after the EU referendum, to fix the holes skipped over this time. So any extra ships is unlikely, no matter how big & unarmed. With only 14 escorts (6 T45, 8 T26) the best way forward would be to upgun the last 3 of the 5 OPV that the government are buying anyway. Bung on a 57mm gun + a 20mm Phallanx & you have a useful OPV/corvette. Sure there is a cost, but its peanuts in comparison to a whole new ship class.

March 18, 2016 5:13 pm

@JH, that is heresy :) I would agree though that the 2 announced but not ordered Rivers should be longer and better equipped. I’d also then suggest an expanded order to be built in parallel with the T26s, leaving the 3 Batch 2 Rivers to cover the UK EEZ.

March 18, 2016 6:28 pm

It interesting to talk about what weapons or systems this ship may have etc but if the penny hasn’t dropped yet that requirement number 1 is budget and that it overrides all other requirements then it will end up cut in numbers or scrapped altogether.

We’re sending rfas to stop human traffickers and pirates, opvs to the Caribbean and survey ships to Libya. Are we really saying we don’t have a role for a ship short of full on warfighting. It’s the navy equivalent of a reaper drone.

Not A Boffin
Not A Boffin
March 18, 2016 7:23 pm

“It’s the navy equivalent of a reaper drone”.

The same Reaper drone that needs a bunch of Typhoon/Tornado/Sentinel to make it remotely effective in a relatively benign threat environment? When the big boys come knocking in a few years time, it would be unfortunate if said force structure resembled a chocolate fireguard in its utility and required a similar or larger amount of bodies than a warfighting unit. Don’t hold your breath getting real warfighting force structure back then.

March 18, 2016 8:02 pm


Yes the very same.

We still type 26 and type 45 for when the big boys comes knocking because we aren’t getting a bigger force structure back anytime soon in any of the services. Because not everything has to fight the Russians in world war 3.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
March 18, 2016 8:23 pm

“Because not everything has to fight the Russians in world war 3.”

That may become a very debateable point. The issue is the elective nature of constabulary ops which is at the heart of this debate, vs the non-elective nature of warfighting. Would the RAF have countenanced sacrificing (say) the two additional typhoon sqns for armed Tucano or similar to prosecute Herrick had Reaper not existed?

March 18, 2016 9:21 pm

Ironically NaB, the priorities are reversed for us here. Warfighting (especially out of region conflicts) are the elective while constabulary tasks are the non-electives. Despite the “just in case” philosophy our government has, the area has been fairly peaceful country-wise, it is the daily anti-piracy tasks that are critical.

I was looking through some of the piracy reports recently and it came to my notice that the MO for the pirates in Somalia and the MO for the pirates in SEA are drastically different. The Somalis come in loaded with weapons, hijack the ship and kidnap the crew for ransom, very high profile, while the SEA pirates simply sneak in and vanish with the petty cash or engine parts. Many reported cases, they don’t even spot the pirates at all. This makes loading a ship to the gills with guns and missiles very redundant as you simply don’t even spot the culprit. Ironically, this might make the best defence against piracy simply a locked outer door or 2nd layer door with a lock or number lock.


The video is very instructive. The map too, it is also very instructive, look at the type of attacks, mostly pilferage.

Part of the problem is also the 3 way national borders, the area is so closed that the coast guard and navies have to be careful not to overshoot into another country’s territory. The civilian vessels are not so constrained and they often dart past the border and into the mess of little islets to evade pursuit if spotted.

Peter Elliott
March 18, 2016 10:45 pm

TD is right to point out the utility of the ship types he mentioned. And it’s good that we gave rediscovered the art of using the RFA, Survey ships, and hired vessels to do peacetime tasks where once we would have sent a frigate without thinking.

The fact is though that a large fleet of RN flagged ships of this type would still be a liability to the fighting navy in wartime.

The one area where big flexible ships have a wartime role is in Expeditionary Delivered Port Infrastructure (modern mulberries). If we are serious about intervening in broken countries with a medium mechanised force then such ships have utility enough to comnand the necessary escort ptotection.

The nature of the beast however is that such things will almost certainly have to be created on the hoof and using hired in assets. The budget simply isn’t there to do any different., especially as a core, full time RN, ship will still be needed to command and control the amphibious group.

PS – TD it is still rubbish that the comment box is not at the end of the thread. Plus your green buttons have gone. Not great…??

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
March 19, 2016 12:44 am

@NaB – Mea culpa on the C1-C3 displacements – I did say that I had referred to wiki! I do however stick to my comments about a more balanced fleet being considered only 10 years ago or so.

I would say the main difference between C1-C3 and T26/MHPC is that the C3 was originally based on the Global Corvette concept, which the MHPC requirement really isn’t. Even less so, now that the patrol requirement is being covered by the Rivers, You would need a good imagination to count them as corvettes.

As for the use of the different T26 designs, I was thinking more along the lines that they would probably be quite closely related. However, clearly, we didn’t get much more than a few powerpoints for all that money spent on “design”.

Even though I think, at the moment, that a smaller design will be adopted, I do hope that the FLF (or T31) will be based on a slightly slimmed down T26. Personally I can see that stepping down from “best in class” ASW to just “pretty decent” ASW could actually save quite a lot of money, based on the old 80:20 principle (no idea if that ratio applies in naval engineering, but I’m sure that a similar principal does). I don’t see that approach benefitting the design department in any significant way, however, which is, I would have thought, something of a priority

March 19, 2016 7:38 am

Of course, an alternative would be to look at the T31s from a complete different angle, something along the lines of “A Ship that Still Isn’t JUST a Frigate”. Said it before, but I’d the approach where the T31 and future LPD replacement was combined and go for a version of the “Improved San Giorgio” which have significant AAW capability and could have a larger gun / SSMs making it an independent platform for a variety of tasks. Build 6 and then focus on the River class as the MHPC evolution.

March 19, 2016 9:14 am

The RN used to have 50 escorts in the 1980s. Our Labour/coalition/Conservative idiots in charge, have reduced that to 19 & perhaps only 14 in future. Either build more escorts, or require any new large multi role ships to be well enough armed that they can be their own escort. For example, the Italian mini carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi, had Albatross anti air, Otomat anti ship missiles + 2x triple anti sub tubes + 3x twin 40mm turrets. Forget about just arming the helicopter. Manpads are widespread & shooting down Mig 21, F-16, Mirage 2000 in the Middle East hotspots now.
Of course there is little money. The real budget will be the Autumn Statement. Will Cameron & Osborne still be PM/Chancellor or will it be Boris & IDS?

shark bait
March 19, 2016 1:27 pm


That is a much better angle to approach the T31 situation. I am an advocate of these frigate amphibious hybrids, like the Damen crossover, Danish Absalon, even the San Giorgio would offer more utility than a traditional general purpose frigate, which has very little purpose in a modern naval environment.

I had not considered a San Giorgio type before, it would make the T31 a through deck frigate, I like it! My concern is the ability to control the cost of such concept, but it could deliver a very flexible platform that could excel throughout all domains by adopting the qualities of a carrier, all be it on a smaller scale.

For the first time in a very long time the Royal Navy has been given the opportunity to develop a surface combatant free from the constrained defined by the historical tags of ‘air defence destroyer’ or ‘anti-submarine frigate’. That affords the design team a considerable amount of freedom with the design, freedom that should be exercised to analyse modern threats and disruptive technologies, instead of focusing effort on countering historical threats. This opportunity should be used to design and build something new, better suited to countering developing threats and allow the Royal Navy to do what it has done best over centuries, innovate and use that technical advantage to dominate the battle space. Perhaps a hybrid design derived from one of the aforementioned classes could enable that.

(Whilst I think these hybrid type could make an excellent general purpose frigate replacement, I don’t think they could make a credible LPD replacement)

March 19, 2016 2:10 pm

The problem with “hybridizing” a ship is that you get capabilities that are neither here nor there, for example, the Absalon class ships mentioned. Sure, you *can* turn it into an ad hoc hospital but a small ship like that simply does not have the space or capability to match large LPD/LHD hospital set ups.

During our navy’s deployment to Iraq and the Gulf of Aden, 2 types of ships were deployed, frigates and LPDs. The end consensus was that both types had their advantages, the frigate had a fast intercept speed while the LPD had a lot of endurance on station for presence/denial. Now, a “mixed ship” would end up being slower than a frigate for intercepts yet does not have as much endurance as an LPD. Basically the worst of both worlds.

Frigates are simply too small for a “hybridization” to give decent capabilities, you need a larger ship for that, but once that happens, the “small, flighty, fighty” characteristics of the frigate is reduced very drastically.

As I said previously, if you need escorts, build escorts, if you need LPDs, build LPDs, not Frankenstein’s Monster.

shark bait
March 19, 2016 4:34 pm


I think all of what you said is also typical of a general purpose frigate. You could go as far as to say a GP frigate is a hybrid between a real escort and a patrol boat, taking the worse features of them both.

I should be clear, I do not advocate using a frigate to land marines, I agree they are too small to meet the demands of the royal marines. It just so happens the qualities afforded by designs such as the aforementioned classes are also qualities we should expect from a modern flexible general purpose escort, lots of space to enable rapid adaptability, extensive facilities for the launch, recover, maintenance, storage and operation of surface and air vehicles, a gun and VLS at the front with a comprehensive sensor suite on the top. There is no reason why it would be slower than the T26, and it would come with the endurance to match the rest of the fleet and fit seamlessly into out logistical system.

The Absalon is the only non power point example of this hybrid, everything about that ship would make sense for a GP frigate apart from the ability to deliver a MBT. I agree you could design a hybrid that takes the worse qualities of each type, or you could design a hybrid that takes most of the best qualities of each design.

March 19, 2016 4:36 pm

Define peace and wartime? Is the definition of wartime only when we firing Exocet at each other because I don’t think it is anymore. Are constabulary operation really elective? If the last few governments are anything to go buy then they are not.

If we have terrorist organisations using migrant routes to smuggle agents into Europe is it an elective operation to stop or search those routes. If there undertaking pirate/narcotic or oil smuggling activities to finance there operation then is stopping those activities elective anymore I don’t think so.

You may say well there not the activities the navy wants to be involved with it coastguards stuff etc and that’s ok then transfer the type 31 budget to the relevant department. If we try to turn type 31 into a type 26 it will end up a paper exercise and we’ll keep building river class vessels instead

March 19, 2016 4:55 pm

The new Algerian variant of the San Giorgio class has:
– a medium calibre gun
– 3D Empar Radar
– 16 Aster 30 VLS silos
– ability to store 5 helicopters below deck
– 60 bed hospital
– space for 420 marines
– 3 LCMs from a well dock
– 3 LCVPs

Change the Radar to be Artisan, the gun to be 127mm, and extend the silos to be MK41 and you have a kick as ship. Not a compromise at all from a T31 fudge.

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
March 19, 2016 5:28 pm

@Observer – however, as the number of “escorts” diminishes, there comes a point when you no longer have the luxury of sticking to the old separate roles, not if you wish to cover them all. I see no problem with a hybrid, as long as it is done well, which does not necessarily mean that it will be cheap. Personally I would look to a future in which all ships are capable of covering a core mission, whilst being capable of covering one or more other roles competently. The Absolon/ Crossover idea could be extended to produce an LPD capable of it’s own NGS and local-area Air Defence, simply by placing common equipment on a different hullform. Maybe it could also ship a 2050 (or similar) hull sonar and a Merlin to provide it’s own ASW capability. Build it twice the size of an Absolon. Specialist escorts will still be needed, but they should follow a similar principle. The T26 has started along that route, with the mission bay concept, allowing it potentially to act as a mothership for MCM or other offboard systems (should they develop sufficiently) .

March 19, 2016 5:54 pm

, I do like the concept of an LPD with frigate armament but think it is something that would be in the mix down the line when the Albions are up for replacement. The whole point of the T31 is that it should be cheaper than the T26. If it isn’t just build more T26s. The T31 concept may stay just a paper one though if it’s determined it costs nearly as much as a T26 or, to keep costs down, it has as as little utility as the Rivers. The most we can hope for is a design similar to the Venator light frigate concept providing it comes in decently far below a T26

March 19, 2016 7:14 pm

@MickP: The Albions will be 30yrs old in the early 2030s, so the RN focusing building on 8 T26s and 6 extended Rivers (including the 2 in the SDSR) to then would give the time needed.

March 20, 2016 12:58 am

I can’t be the only one who is still frankly baffled by the huge costs of the T26 program! With the phased costs and cross-decking of Artisan, CAMM and Type 2087 where has this huge inflation come from? Even factoring in alleged weight distribution, hull integrity and noise reduction issues, as well as money pumped into the Clyde and lifetime costs etc the £11.5 billion price-tag is scandalous.

The question of what size and shape vessel should fit this Type 31 requirement is a very tricky one. The River’s and their derivatives are just too small and under-armed to be useful in anything but benign, constabulary operations. Same goes for the idea of ‘up-gunned’ (whatever that means) or stretched variations of things like the Samuel Beckett class being built at Appledore. The Black Swan and Venator concepts could be great force multipliers when filling the C3/MHPC role but also can’t be reasonably expected to offer anything like the capability currently provided by the T23’s they’d be replacing. At the end of the day OPV’s just can’t bring anything to the party when the shooting starts.

That’s one end of the spectrum and it’s clear that the RN wants and needs surface vessels that can offer at least some degree of AAW/ASW capability to augment it’s 6x T45 and 8x T26. The problem is whilst picking a frigate off the shelf would undoubtedly be cheaper than the T26 the truth that can’t be avoided is that in order to have the size, speed, firepower, resilience etc to provide worth to a carrier/amphibious group the chosen design isn’t going to be cheap as chips.

If the T26 comes in at a ridiculous £700 million a pop, and a largish OPV at around £100 million then in order to provide the right balance of survivability/utility/flexibility with affordability then the lucky winner could well have a unit price of £350-500 million.

The questions are then 1. Can the RN afford more than 5 such vessels if they cost roughly this much and more importantly 2. With their proven track-record how can we prevent spiraling prices on this crucial program once the MoD & BAE get involved?

Seems to me whatever design they choose, be it off the shelf or from scratch we HAVE to first work out why UK ship design and construction seems incapable of producing something within budget and make the necessary changes to prevent this happening again and again, gradually eroding the RN until eventually they’ll be nothing left to save.

March 20, 2016 1:37 am


The problem with that comparison is that a GP frigate is actually capable of doing its core role well! (Or at least it is supposed to).

If you are being forced to “hybridize” ships to cover all the roles you need to, the problem isn’t the ships or even the cost. The problem is with tax and budget allocations.

If you don’t want to pay for a navy, is it any surprise that you have to end up penny pinching?

shark bait
March 20, 2016 10:30 am

@observer, is that really the case though? The performance demands from a general purpose frigate really aren’t that great, it’s at the stage where something thing like the Holland class would fill the gap an do it much more efficiently.

If we are creating a hybrid and still making it affordable to fit witin the modest budget there will be some compromises. With a traditional AAW or ASW surface combatant those compromises may not be acceptable because the performance demands from those platforms are extremely high. However with the lower performance demands of the general purpose surface combatant those compromises become acceptable, and we can get a big flexible general purpose frigate that still facilities an increase in numbers.

That the Absalom for example are big, flexible and affordable. The Danish frigates have stealth features to reduce their acoustic, radar, visual, and infrared signatures, and they are fully shock hardened and tested and incorporate separate gas-tight citadels with external wash systems for CBR defense. The compromise they make is reduced lethality, I think for a general purpose frigate that is reasonable. In our instance we would pass off the lethality requiremt onto the off board systems, which already exist and are already leathal.

(Side note, I am not advocating we settle for a Holland class type, that would be horrible, I am saying we change the demands of a GP frigate)

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 20, 2016 11:30 am

It’s all very well folks discussing what they want to see in the Type 31; but, as T31 is a financially inspired concept, shouldn’t we really be asking what a minister would be prepared to publicly pass off as a “frigate” or “light frigate” whilst further reducing the numbers of actual frigates?

March 20, 2016 11:45 am




” The Danish frigates have stealth features to reduce their acoustic, radar, visual, and infrared signatures, and they are fully shock hardened and tested and incorporate separate gas-tight citadels with external wash systems for CBR defense. The compromise they make is reduced lethality”

I thought those features were supposed to be standard? You make it sound like the “reduced lethality” was necessary for these features. They are not. They could easily have increased the “lethality” while still retaining all these standard features, there was never a need for compromise to get these. The primary driver was never “limited capability slots”, it was their threat assessment of their region and the budget. There is simply no need to be more “lethal” in European waters, at least for the current time period. If you were to compare, you could even say that the Royal Navy is overarmed with respect to a lot of the other European navies. It is just that the Royal Navy still retains somewhat of an “expeditionary” character and usually deploy in conflicts beyond Europe that necessitates it being more well armed than the “normal” European navy.

shark bait
March 20, 2016 12:11 pm


Brian Black is correct the “T31 is a financially inspired concept”. I think on of the key points of the concept it is has to be more affordable that the T26. If we try to have it all from the T31, but do it on a shoe string, we will end up with a little corvette that will be next to no use to the Royal Navy required to protect carriers and Amphibs around the globe.

I think we can be more intelligent with the compromises we make which is exactly what the Danes have done.

In naval design there is something of an iron triangle between endurance, lethality and survivability. For a fixed budget (area) an increase in one capability (sides) means the other two capabilities must be reduced to maintain the same budget (area). Conversely for a reduced budget (area) either all the capabilities (sides) must be reduced, or intelligently pick one capabilities to make a comprise on, and keep the others the same.

The Danes have a small budget, but have still managed a modern capable vessel. They have kept survivability high, kept endurance high, but reduced lethality which has allowed them to reduce the costs considerably. The Danes could have increased lethality, but it would have cost them more, and likely overflowed their small budget. I think that is exactly the model we should follow to make the T31 cheaper, which should hopefully facilitate an increase in platform numbers. Of course we don’t want a tootles frigate, so instead it gains its lethality from off-board systems that are already in service.

March 20, 2016 1:37 pm


You keep tossing about the words “offboard systems” but that is simply a buzzword concept, there is currently no “offboard system” that can deliver the required effectiveness in a battlefield in existence yet. No, not even the overhyped Reapers and Predators. Their enemies until now are ragtag rebel groups and militia, even a simple helicopter is capable of shooting them down. What they are capability wise is the equivalent of WWII propeller planes in a ground support role.

There is no such thing as a war capable “offboard lethality system” in existence currently, at least not to my casual recollection.

March 20, 2016 5:09 pm

I sort of wonder whether you are all missing the point. It’s the offboard systems that both require large hulls to “host” and lots of expensive manpower to run (mission bays, helicopters and crews, etc). Moreover, without at least local defence from air, sea and subsurface threats, a “cheap” Type 31 is nothing other than a hull that needs escorts and a manpower sink. Leave the offboard systems to the bigger hulls and keep the 31 as a cheap VLS silo with 80% radar and sonar, good for CVF or amphib escort. Leave the independent operations to the 45’s and 26’s.

March 20, 2016 7:34 pm

First, you have to qualify what is an “offboard system”. Is a F-35 an offboard system? A mine? A Challenger 2 (considering that it can be “offboard” of a LHD)? Is the CEC an “offboard” system? Link 16?

That is the problem, people use the term “offboard systems” but different people can use the term for different things.

March 21, 2016 9:02 am

Semantics – arrgh. I think offboard systems are generally understood as unmanned remotely piloted, autonomous or semi-autonomous systems that engage the enemy without putting the ship or crew in immediate danger from the threat, but return to the ship (i.e. are not one-shot munitions such as missiles). One could argue that aircraft are offboard systems, although that’s replacing one word with two, never a good idea. In MCM terms, they represent systems that do not require the ship to enter the minefield.

Rocket Banana
March 21, 2016 8:06 pm


3 x Invincible + 1 x Ocean + 2 x Albion = 6 x Capital Ships >>> 6 x T45 escorts

2 x Wave + 2 x Rover + Victoria + 2 x Rosalie + 4 x Bay + Argus + Diligence = 13 x RFA >>> 13 x T23 escorts


2 x Queen Elizabeth + 2 x Albion = 4 x Capital Ships >>> 4 x “greater” T45

2 x Wave + 4 x Tide + 3 x Bay + PCRS = 10 x RFA >>> 8 x T26 + 2 x “lesser” T45

Just sayin’ :-)

Could T31 just be an intellectual exercise?

March 22, 2016 10:46 am

Not quite up there with the gravitas this debate requires but


March 22, 2016 2:26 pm

@ twecky – I’ve just submitted my idea to NERC – RRS Sea View (traditional British name for temporary accomodation – including breakfast – for scientists, overlooking the maritime environment) and belatedly thanked NERC for financing my M.Sc. many years ago.

shark bait
March 24, 2016 8:16 am

, I would say off-board systems include unmanned vehicles, but is not exclusively limited to them. The Merlin is an excellent example of an off-board system, as is a CB90.

I would qualify the term as a system that can preform its mission, independently from the host platform for an extended period (~1 hour+). That is admittedly a broad term, but that is intentional.

@Observer, it a buzzword, but it is not only a buzzword, it exists and is operational today. You could call the F35 an “offboard lethality system”, but at present there is not an “offboard lethality system” capable of operating from a frigate. Instead the off-board systems are part of a bigger system that enables lethality, for example a drone collects data a range, which is fed back to the frigate, acted upon by a human, who then chooses weather to launch a long range missile to act upon the data. That requires no revolutionary technology, and creates a lethal system of systems that has a much greater sphere of influence than any system that preceeds its.

I think it is important to note not all of this operational yet, but neither is the T31.

Even if this concept was brought into service today it would be highly useful as a general purpose surface combatant, operating existing manned off-board vehicles. Once the concept is in service it will build upon its inherent flexibility, adding new off-board systems, and it can be developed into a credible escort capable surface combatant.

The mid range air defence has been fulfilled by the T45
The mid range anti submarine has been fulfilled by the T26
Acting as the central node in a system of systems the T31 could fulfill the long range data collection role.

April 25, 2016 12:23 am

If I had to Venture a Guess, something more like a Vietnam-era HA(L) or Helicopter Attack (Light). Or even a British Version of the T-ESB-3, USNS, Chesty Puller (Prepositioned, Transfer Expeditionary Mobile Base Vessel). Equiped with Martine Crew, A Caretaker Crew, and a Reinforced Battalion of Marines and Equipment, Including Helicopters and Tanks)…

April 28, 2016 2:01 pm

@TD, looks like at least one Very High Net Worth Individual is a fan of MSS concept, not sure if RN accommodation standards are being applied?

andy reeves
andy reeves
November 22, 2016 6:49 pm


andy reeves
andy reeves
November 22, 2016 7:00 pm


Would love your thoughts, please comment.x