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The Royal Navy Type 31 General Purpose Frigate (GPFF) is a new class of vessel designed to provide a lower cost vessel in the capability space between the Batch 2 River Class OPV and Type 26 Frigate.

The official history of the General Purpose Frigate (GPFF) starts with the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015.

We will maintain one of the most capable anti-submarine fleets in the world with the introduction of eight advanced Type 26 Global Combat Ships, which will start to replace our current Type 23 frigates in their anti-submarine role. We will also launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of lighter, flexible general purpose frigates so that by the 2030s we can further increase the total number of frigates and destroyers. These general purpose frigates are also likely to offer increased export potential

Although it has origins going back several years before that.

Prior to SDSR 2015

Although there may not be a direct line between the late nineties Future Surface Combatant (FSC) programme and the Type 26, there are certainly echoes of a dotted line.

Click here for a description of the history prior to SDSR 2015

The Sustained Surface Combatant Capability study concluded in 2007 that in order to meet the Future Surface Combattant requirement (to replace Type 22 and Type 23) should not be delivered by the original two-class (VSC and MSVD) solution but a new two-class solution, with an additional vessel that would replace the hydrographic, mine countermeasures and patrol ships.

Two became three;

  • C1; Force Anti-Submarine Warfare Combatant, a large multi-mission combat vessel for ASW and land-attack missions.
  • C2; Stabilisation Combatant,  a less well-equipped vessel for chokepoint escort and protection of sea lines of communication (SLOC).
  • C3; ocean capable patrol vessel

C1 and C2 would use the same hull form but have different equipment levels. C1 would be built at one per year, followed by the C2’s. The C1 and C2 concept of having the same hull but different equipment fits was eventually taken into the Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

The original concept for Type 26 was 13 vessels (8x Type 26 with Sonar 2087 for ASW and 5 x Type 26 without Sonar 2087 for General Purpose)

Thales proposed a C3 vessel called the Modular General Purpose Frigate and VT, another concept based on their earlier Global Corvette for the C3 requirement, called the Ocean Capable Patrol Vessel (OCPV)

VT C3 Concept

The VT vessel was based on its design for the Royal Navy of Oman but with more equipment space, taking its displacement up to 3,000 tonnes. It could travel at a top speed of 25 knots, accommodate a crew of 76 and carry a number of ISO containers underneath the Merlin capable flight deck. This design would eventually feature in early concepts for the Type 31

BAE Surface Ships were awarded a four-year, £127m, contract in 2010 to design the Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

The baseline design suggests a 141m long vessel, displacing 6,850 tonnes equipped with a towed low frequency sonar array and two launchers for the Future Local Area Air Defence (Maritime) system firing the Common Anti Air Modular Missile. Other options include a vertical launch system for Tomahawk, SCALP or a modified GMLRS. Harpoon and a main gun also remain options, a choice of 127mm, 155mm or even a refurbished 114mm weapon. Aviation facilities include a Chinook flight deck and hangar for a Merlin and UAV, the UAV possibly housed in a supplementary ‘dog kennel’ hangar. Beneath the flight deck will be a large mission bay and stern dock to hold 4 9m RHIB’s, a torpedo system and a wide variety of mission modules. It is also anticipated that the Type 26 will have an either all electric or hybrid electric propulsion system providing a range of 7000nm at 18 knots. The ship’s complement is expected to be in the region of 150 plus an embarked force of over 30

The C1 and C2 variants of FSC had variously flip-flopped between completely different designs and identical base hulls with different equipment fits over the course of the elongated FSC programme but SDSR 2010 confirmed it would be met by a single acoustically quiet class of vessel, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

SDSR 2010 also described how Frigate numbers were to be reduced to 13, the Type 22’s being withdrawn. Eight Type 26 would be designated Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) variants and five, General Purpose (GP).

In various public appearances, 1SL and other Royal Navy Very Senior Officers would insist that only a one-for-one replacement of Type 23 with Type 26 would deliver the credibility and capability the UK needed. They were uniformly emphatic and anecdotally, any suggestion of a two-tier fleet or more OPV’s/Corvettes would be extremely unwelcome.

At the end of September 2015, Defense News reported a comment by Rear Admiral Alex Burton, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Ships);

Burton put a price tag of £12 billion on what is currently a 13 frigate program aimed at replacing the Royal Navy’s aging Type 23 anti-submarine/general purpose fleet starting 2023 when HMS Argyll is retired. The figure is not the exact cost for the program but was meant to give the audience a feel for the size of the program versus other projects, said a MoD source. The figure had been rounded up by Burton and the true cost was closer to £11.5 billion, they said. The source said the figure was an outturn price for a program expected to run into the 2030’s and not the cost at current prices

This, of course, set the hares and hounds running with extrapolations made to get unit cost. A financial consultancy services contract was advertised to provide additional support to the decision-making process.

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Clearly, all was not well in the Type 26 GCS Programme.

As covered in the Type 26 history and further up the page, the Royal Navy had implacably set its face against a two-tier frigate fleet, indeed, it was widely reported that Admiral Sir Gorge Zambellas would have an ‘allergic reaction’ to anyone mentioning the C-word, corvette.

In an interview for Jane’s in 2015, he said;

One of the siren calls I completely resist is to try and produce something that is not a credible platform, something that is smaller, cheaper, and less effective. The reason for that is that in the first world that I live in, credible capability could one day be doing counter-piracy operations, the next week it could be in a hot war in the Gulf, and the week after in a hot war somewhere else.

The 2015 SDSR was by now coming into view.

After SDSR 2015

The 2015 SDSR, published in November 2015 described a change of plan for Type 26.

We will maintain one of the most capable anti-submarine fleets in the world with the introduction of eight advanced Type 26 Global Combat Ships, which will start to replace our current Type 23 frigates in their anti-submarine role. We will also launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of lighter, flexible general purpose frigates so that by the 2030s we can further increase the total number of frigates and destroyers. These general purpose frigates are also likely to offer increased export potential.

No longer were there to be 13 Type 26 split between 8 ASW and 5 GP, the Type 26 programme would be truncated at the eight ASW variants. It also confirmed a further two River Class Batch II vessels would be purchased to fill in the widening gap between the end of the QE carriers build and the start of the Type 31/26 frigates. The SDSR also stated that there would be ‘up to six’ OPV’s in-service and subsequent speculation was that this would consist of the 5 new builds and the existing modified batch 1, HMS Clyde, with the original Batch 1 vessel withdrawn.

The first Google entry for Type 31 as a possible class name was none other than yours truly on November 27th 2015 :)

In July 2016, in a speech at Mansion House, 1SL, Admiral Sir Philip Jones referred to the GPFF as Type 31.

Meanwhile our current Type 23 frigates, the backbone of the Fleet, will be replaced with 8 Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates and “at least” 5 lighter Type 31 General Purpose frigates. The build programme for the Type 31, and subsequent classes of ship, will be determined by the National Shipbuilding Strategy which is being developed by Sir John Parker and is expected to report later in the year.

Within this Strategy is the opportunity to both strengthen our security overseas and also invest in Britain’s prosperity at home. Type 26 is a case in point. The hull may be built on the Clyde, but the benefits are shared across the country. It includes gearboxes from Huddersfield, stabilisers from Dunfermline and countermeasures from Bridgend: high-tech systems that demand high-skilled jobs and create new apprenticeships.

The Type 31 offers the same prospect; but with an additional potential for export orders for the UK from the international market. The National Shipbuilding Strategy therefore represents a historic opportunity to reverse the decades old decline in surface ship numbers, and to re-establish a sustainable and prosperous long term shipbuilding capability that sits above short term economic and political tides.

There will be challenging trade-offs to achieve in order to keep the price down, and the timescale is tight. But if we get this right, and I am determined that we will, then there is a real chance to grow the size of the Royal Navy’s fleet for the first time in decades.

This could enable a more frequent, or even a permanent, presence in parts of the world where we have admittedly been spread thin in recent decades. Together with the aforementioned naval base in Bahrain, the Royal Navy has also been working with the government of Oman to explore berthing options in the new commercial port of Duqm. Situated outside the Strait of Hormuz it provides immediate access to the Indian Ocean and capacity for aircraft carriers and nuclear powered submarines. Under the Five Powers Defence Agreement, the Royal Navy also retains berthing space in Singapore.

All of these facilities provide the government and defence with the option, should we wish, to project power and influence beyond the Atlantic. Given our long standing defence relationships in the Middle East, it is certain that a Royal Navy task group, centred on a Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, will regularly deploy East of Suez. And it will be perfectly possible, should we wish, for Type 31 frigates to permanently operate from the Gulf region or from Asia-Pacific in the decades ahead.

The same evidence session also saw 1SL confirm that the SDSR 2015 description of ‘up to six’ OPV’s actually meant five, with HMS Clyde replaced by one of the five new builds. HMS Forth, the first of the five River Class Batch 2 vessels was floated out in August 2016.

HMS Forth

The River Class has been somewhat of an unlikely success with 13 built (or about to be built) and a further 3 derivatives.

Perhaps the most significant event in the history of Type 31 was the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy  (Independent Report) by Sir John Parker in November 2016. This was originally described as the national shipbuilding strategy but was later downgraded to an independent report that would inform the actual strategy.

Sir John made a number of observations and judgement statements about the woes and on Type 31, or General Purpose Frigate made four recommendations;

The new Type 31e should not set out to be a complex and sophisticated warship based on traditional design approaches. It should be a modern and innovative design on a standard platform which should provide a menu of choice to support exports and beat the competition. It should be termed Type 31e. The ‘e’ means that export flexibility is inbuilt, not a variant
The Type 31e should be prioritised, and act as a pathfinder project to pilot this new governance and Virtual Shipbuilding (VSb) industry approach (see recommendation 19 and Figure 4). It should be rapidly procured and placed into service as early as possible in the 2020s. If necessary, wider Government financial support should be provided to allow early build of the vessel. This will enable the new governance approach to be embedded in order to deliver medium to long-term savings in ship procurement
Type 31e should be designed so that the price/capability point is an attractive export proposition and then it should be delivered to a hard target cost
The MOD should determine the optimum economic service life for a naval ship and then replace ships with new vessels at that point, rather than operate longer and thus avoid expensive major refits. As a pathfinder, Type 31e should  also be procured as a RN asset that stimulates exports including via sales from the Fleet

An evidence session on the National Shipbuilding Strategy at the House of Commons on the 28th of February 2017 revealed the working assumption that Type 31 is being referred to as Type 31e, e for export, as in the report. It also became clear that the desire for Type 31 is that it is built in parallel with Type 26 in order to prevent a reduction in frigate numbers between 2023 and 2035.

The Defence Select Committee released their third report of the 2016/17 Session called Restoring the Fleet. It highlighted that the oldest Type 23 is due out of service in 2023 (HMS Argyle) with the rest following as Type 26 comes into service although the MoD has not published how this may be integrated with Type 31.

Ship Name Out of Service Date
HMS Argyll 2023
HMS Lancaster 2024
HMS Iron Duke 2025
HMS Monmouth 2026
HMS Montrose 2027
HMS Westminster 2028
HMS Northumberland 2029
HMS Richmond 2030
HMS Somerset 2031
HMS Sutherland 2032
HMS Kent 2033
HMS Portland 2034
HMS St Albans 2035

One of the significant issues with commenters understanding of Type 31 was its positioning. Clearly, this was a cost-based decision. Before cost negotiations had been finalised on Type 26, the MoD had decided that the cost of…


It was as simple as that.

It is worth a reminder of the MoD’s approach to defining the acquisition of major projects, CADMID (Concept, Assessment, Manufacture, In-Service and Disposal) Following this means that the CADM elements of Type 31 have to be less than the M element for 5 GP Type 26, as the diagram below shows.

Type 31 cost envelope1

In extrapolating the cost envelope for Type 31 GPFF many made the assumption that it was between £2.5 Billion and £5 billion, and if it is cheaper then it will satisfy the requirements that Type 31 GPFF was lower than the cost of Type 26 but having a better specification than a £130 odd million Batch II River Class OPV. Although some pre-concept work had been carried out by the Maritime Capability (MARCAP) inside Naval Command Headquarters (NCHQ) what made this difficult was the ongoing uncertainty on the Manufacture contract for Type 26 AND the National Shipbuilding Strategy, scheduled for publication in 2017.

Jane’s reported that the expected cost per vessel was £275 million to £375 million. Credibility is a nebulous concept, all we could say for certain at that point in time was that the Type 31 GPFF would exist on a point between the Batch II River Class OPV and the Type 26 Frigate.

Type 31 Spectrum

In the middle, trade-offs between capability, cost and quantity.

In a speech by Admiral Sir Philip Jones, First Sea Lord, on the 7th of September 2017, the entry into service date for Type 31 was linked to the withdrawal of HMS Argyll, one of the general-purpose Type 23’s.

Minister, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to speak to you today, in the midst of a hugely exciting few weeks for the Royal Navy and the UK’s maritime industrial sector.

As the minister mentioned, when HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Portsmouth last month, I described it as a triumph of strategic ambition and a lesson for the future, and I really meant it. Here was a project first initiated 20 years ago, in which time it outlasted 3 prime ministers, 8 defence secretaries and 7 First Sea Lords. It survived 5 general elections, 3 defence reviews and more planning rounds than I care to remember. But despite all these twists and turns, the project endured and, in doing so proved to the world, and to ourselves, that we still have what it takes to be a great maritime industrial nation.

Now, in the National Shipbuilding Strategy, we have an opportunity to maintain the momentum.

So my reason for being here today is two-fold. Firstly, to outline the Royal Navy’s requirement for the Type 31e by describing the kind of ship we’re looking for and it’s place in our future fleet. Secondly, to emphasise our commitment to working with you, our industry partners, to build on what we’ve achieved with the Queen Elizabeth class, and to bring about a stronger and more dynamic shipbuilding sector which can continue to prosper and grow in the years ahead. The Royal Navy’s requirement for a general purpose frigate is, in the first instance, driven by the government’s commitment to maintain our current force of 19 frigates and destroyers.

The 6 Type 45 destroyers are still new in service, but our 13 Type 23 frigates are already serving beyond their original design life. They remain capable, but to extend their lives any further is no longer viable from either an economic or an operational perspective. Eight of those Type 23s are specifically equipped for anti-submarine warfare and these will be replaced on a one-for-one basis by the new Type 26 frigate.

As such, we look to the Type 31e to replace the remaining 5 remaining general purpose variants.

This immediately gives you an idea of both the urgency with which we view this project, and how it fits within our future fleet. In order to continue meeting our current commitments, we need the Type 31e to fulfil routine tasks to free up the more complex Type 45 destroyers and Type 26 frigates for their specialist combat roles in support of the strategic nuclear deterrent and as part of the carrier strike group.

So although capable of handling itself in a fight, the Type 31e will be geared toward maritime security and defence engagement, including the fleet ready escort role at home, our fixed tasks in the South Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf, and our NATO commitments. These missions shape our requirements.

There is more detail in your handout but, broadly speaking, the Type 31e will need a hanger and flight deck for both a small helicopter and unmanned air vehicle, accommodation to augment the ship’s company with a variety of mission specialists as required, together with stowage for sea boats, disaster relief stores and other specialist equipment.

It will be operated by a core ships company of between 80-100 men and women and it needs to be sufficiently flexible to incorporate future developments in technology, including unmanned systems and novel weaponry as they come to the fore, so open architecture and modularity are a must.

All this points towards a credible, versatile frigate, capable of independent and sustained global operations. Now I want to be absolutely clear about what constitutes a frigate in the eyes of the Royal Navy.

In Nelson’s time, a first rate ship like HMS Victory was a relative scarcity compared with smaller, more lightly armed frigates. They wouldn’t take their place in the line of battle, but they were fast, manoeuvrable and flew the White Ensign in many of the far flung corners of the world where the UK had vital interests. More recently, the navy I joined still had general purpose frigates like the Leander, Rothesay and Tribal class and, later, the Type 21s, which picked up many of the routine patrol tasks and allowed the specialist ASW frigates to focus on their core NATO role.

It was only when defence reductions at the end of the Cold War brought difficult choices that we moved to an all high end force. So forgive the history lesson, but the point I’m making is the advent of a mixed force of Type 31 and Type 26 frigates is not a new departure for the Royal Navy, nor is it a ‘race to the bottom’; rather it marks a return to the concept of a balanced fleet.

And the Type 31e is not going to be a glorified patrol vessel or a cut price corvette. It’s going to be, as it needs to be, a credible frigate that reflects the time honoured standards and traditions of the Royal Navy. In order to maintain our current force levels, the first Type 31e must enter service as the as the first general purpose Type 23, HMS Argyll, leaves service in 2023.

Clearly that’s a demanding timescale, which means the development stage must be undertaken more quickly than for any comparable ship since the Second World War.

But while this programme may be initially focused on our requirements for the 2020s, we must also look to the 2030s and beyond. You know how busy the Royal Navy is and I won’t labour the point, suffice to say international security is becoming more challenging, threats are multiplying and demands on the navy are growing. Added to this is that, as we leave the European Union, the UK is looking to forge new trading partnerships around the world.

Put simply, Global Britain needs a global Navy to match.

It is therefore significant that the government has stated in its manifesto, and again through the National Shipbuilding Strategy, that it views the Type 31e as a means to grow the overall size of the Royal Navy by the 2030s. If we can deliver a larger fleet, then we can strengthen and potentially expand the Royal Navy’s reach to provide the kind of long term presence upon which military and trading alliances are built.

This is a hugely exciting prospect, but we must first master the basics. We can all think of examples of recent projects which have begun with the right intentions, only for timescales to slip, requirements to change and costs to soar. As Sir John Parker highlighted in his report last year, we end up with a vicious cycle where fewer, more expensive, ships enter service late, and older ships are retained well beyond their sell by date and become increasingly expensive to maintain. So we need to develop the Type 31e differently if we’re going to break out of that cycle.

We’ve said that the unit price must not exceed £250 million.

For the Royal Navy, this means taking a hard-headed, approach in setting our requirements to keep costs down, while maintaining a credible capability, and then having the discipline to stick to those requirements to allow the project to proceed at pace. It also means playing our part to help win work for the UK shipbuilding sector from overseas. So the challenge is to produce a design which is credible, affordable and exportable.

Adaptability is key, we need a design based on common standards, but which offers different customers the ability to specify different configurations and capabilities without the need for significant revisions. So while it may be necessary to make trade offs in the name of competitiveness, export success means longer production runs, greater economies of scale and lower unit costs, and therein lies the opportunity to increase the size of the Royal Navy.

With a growing fleet it would be perfectly possible for the Royal Navy to forward deploy Type 31e frigates to places like Bahrain Singapore and the South Atlantic, just as we do with some of our smaller vessels today.

If our partners in these regions were to buy or build their own variants, then we could further reduce costs through shared support solutions and common training. And because of the Royal Navy’s own reputation as a trusted supplier of second hand warships, we could look to sell our own Type 31’s at the midpoint of their lives and reinvest the savings into follow-on batches. So by bringing the Royal Navy’s requirements in line with the demands of the export market, we have the opportunity to replace the vicious circle with a virtuous one.

And beyond the Type 31e, the benefits could apply to the Royal Navy’s longer term requirements, beginning with the fleet solid support ship but also including our future amphibious shipping and eventually the replacement for the Type 45 destroyers as well as other projects that may emerge. Ultimately, the prize is a more competitive and resilient industrial capacity: one that is better able to withstand short term political and economic tides and can serve the Royal Navy’s long term needs.

So, in drawing to a close, I believe we have a precious opportunity before us.

My father worked at the Cammell Laird shipyard for over 40 years. It was visiting him there as a schoolboy and seeing new ships and submarines taking shape that provided one of the key inspirations for me to join the Royal Navy, nearly 40 years ago. And yet, for most of my career, the fleet has become progressively smaller while the UK shipbuilding sector contracted to such an extent that it reached the margins of sustainability. But with the Queen Elizabeth class carriers, and the 6 yards involved in their build, we demonstrated that shipbuilding has the potential to be a great British success story once again. Far beyond Rosyth, we’ve seen green shoots emerging in shipbuilding across the country, and throughout the supply chain, driven by a new entrepreneurial ambition.

Now the National Shipbuilding Strategy has charted a bold and ambitious plan to capitalise on that and reverse the decline. And in the Type 31e, we have the chance to develop a ship that can support our national security and our economic prosperity in the decades to come.

The navy is ready and willing. Now we look to you, our partners in industry, to bring your expertise, your innovation and your ambition to bear in this endeavour.

The MoD published a request for information on the 15th of September 2017 for Type 31e, describing the timelines to service entry in 2023.

A number of initial concepts were released by bidders towards the end of 2017

BAE Cutlass

Derived from the Project Khareef Corvette, the Cutlass design was 117m long.

BAE Type 31 Cutlass

The image showed an ARTISAN radar and 5″ main gun, with covered spaces for small craft. Additional improvements include much-improved survivability, greater endurance and an ability to be replenished at sea.

BAE Avenger

At a lower price/capability point than Cutlass, the Avenger was more or less and stretched and improved Batch II River Class

BAE Type 31 Avenger

The 111m Avenger was longer and wider than a Batch II River Class OPV that allowed for a small hangar and space/launch and recovery systems for a number of small and unmanned craft. The image also seemed to show ARTISAN radar and a Mk 45 Mod 4 5″ main gun for naval gunfire support.

BMT Venator 110

The MT Venator concept had been evolving for some time, the latest at that point being Venator 110.

BMT Venator 110 Image 1

Ventator 110, was 117m long, displaced 4,000 tonnes, had a top speed of >25 knots and featured a large flexible mission bay.


BMT also released a video.

Steller Systems Project Spartan

A small design house, Steller Systems, proposed a design called Project Spartan.

The Nodal Modular Physical Architecture approach to the design allowed for configurable options.

Babcock Arrowhead 120

The last of the publically marketed concepts was from Babcock, for their Arrowhead 120 design.

The Arrowhead 120 and Spartan seemed like similar concepts.

At an industry event, the MoD outlined a set of broad requirements.

20170901 T31e Launch Folder Line Diagram V4 1

Timelines were additionally described in a written answer in October 2017

Pre-procurement activity with industry has begun and will continue into early 2018 when we plan to formally start the competitive process. We plan to award a single design and build contract in 2019, allowing us to trial and accept the first ship into service in 2023.

A follow-up question confirmed the £250m price limit and after the receipt of 22 expressions of interest, again confirmed the £250m price limit.

Babcock, BMT and Thales announced in November 2017 they would partner to meet the Type 31 requirements which by May, would lead them to conclude an evolved version of the Danish Iver Huitfeldt class frigate would be best placed.

Thales press release confirming the Arrowhead 140;

Babcock Team 31 has today unveiled Arrowhead 140 as its design for the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) new £1.25 billion Type 31e general purpose light frigate programme.

Launching the new platform, ‘Team 31’ – led by Babcock and including fellow industry experts Thales, OMT, BMT, Harland and Wolff and Ferguson Marine – underlined the vessel’s established, ‘at sea’ design baseline which can be developed to meet global requirements.

With UK engineering at its core, and developing OMT’s Iver Huitfeldt hull form currently in-service for the Royal Danish Navy, Arrowhead 140 will lower programme risks through its tried and tested baseline design and is engineered to minimise through-life costs whilst delivering a truly leading edge frigate. Craig Lockhart, Babcock’s Managing Director, Naval Marine said: “Arrowhead 140 is a proven, capable, and adaptable general purpose frigate design that, if selected, will meet the UK Royal Navy’s and global customers’ expectations both now and in the future.”

At almost 140m the platform will optimise operational flexibility. This ‘wide beam’ ship is easier to design, easier to build and easier to maintain due to its slightly larger size. And with embedded iFrigate™ technology able to deliver digitally enabled through life support, it offers extensive value for money – all within the same budget. Craig Lockhart said: “Arrowhead 140 will provide increased survivability, operability and capability – compared to a standard 120m design. When you consider that this ship can be delivered at no extra cost and that it will support improved radar performance, increase platform stability and facilitate better helicopter operations in bad weather, whilst enhancing crew comfort – we believe it will bring a significant edge to modern naval capability.”

Arrowhead 140’s distributed build and assembly approach, comprising Babcock Appledore in North Devon, Ferguson Marine on the Clyde, Harland and Wolff in Belfast with integration at Babcock Rosyth, Fife, optimises the partners’ first-class UK facilities, innovation and skills whilst cleverly ensuring capacity for parallel programmes remains. All of which is geared to generate a genuine resurgence in shipbuilding across the UK and when coupled with the virtual design alliance between Babcock, OMT and BMT it squarely supports the intent of the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

Craig Lockhart continued: “More than just building a ship, Babcock Team 31 offers a unique opportunity for global navies to tap into the complete design, build and support capability for the T31e frigate. Individually all of the Babcock Team 31 members have exceptionally strong portfolios of activity and collectively we are able to introduce to the market Arrowhead 140; a general purpose light frigate package that we believe is second to none.”

Incorporating the latest iteration of Thales’ TACTICOS combat management system with fully open architecture sets Arrowhead 140 combat systems apart. Currently in service for 25 years and exported to 24 navies globally, this system and equipment in-service support package is flexible to customers’ needs over the lifetime of the platform and will maximise the combat system capability for customers. It is a system that has time and time again proven to be a leading edge solution for navies fighting tomorrow’s war.

And with extensive procurement required throughout the lifetime of the project, opportunities predominantly for UK based small to medium sized enterprises will be available to help to meet time, costs and quality standards. Interest is already strong in Team 31’s bid with more than 100 supply companies meeting Team 31 representatives at a Society of Maritime Industries facilitated suppliers’ conference in Fife.

Based on Arrowhead 140, Team 31 can build modern platforms that navies can use to tailor to their own specifications and when you add world leading experience in naval platform in-service support with a deep understanding of support cost drivers, Babcock Team 31 offers a glimpse into an exciting new world of UK and international ship build delivery and intelligent ship support with Arrowhead 140.

The MoD confirmed the estimated addressable market for Type 31e in early 2018

With reference to the National Shipbuilding Strategy no Departmental objective has been set for the export of 40 Type 31e frigates. The Government has assessed that there is a potential light frigate market of around 40 ships over the next 10 years.

The MoD suspended the Type 31 bid process on the 24th of July 2018 due to ‘inadequate competition’ but restarted it three weeks later, issuing a contract notice on the 14th of August 2018

Short description of the contract: As announced in the National Shipbuilding Strategy (“NSbS”) the Ministry of Defence (“MOD”) is seeking to procure five (5) new General Purpose Frigates for the Royal Navy (“RN”) for a total cost not to exceed £1.25 billion inclusive of Government Furnished Equipment (GFE). These General Purpose Frigates have been denoted the Type 31e (T31e).

The T31e will provide an enduring and continuous worldwide maritime security presence in forward operating areas and releasing other, more complex warships to their primary roles. The T31e will carry out maritime security and interdiction tasks, such as security patrols, escort duties, counter drugs and counter piracy. It will also carry out defence engagement activities, such as port visits and official entertainment, demonstrations of military capability and participation in allied training exercises. It must be ready to respond to emergent events, such as natural disasters or evacuation of non-combatants and will routinely carry specialist emergency relief stores in certain operating areas.

The T31e design will need to be adaptable, providing evolution paths for future capability insertion to enable growth of the destroyer and frigate numbers into the 2030s, and to address export customers’ needs. The Authority previously commenced a competition for this requirement in February 2018 with the publication of Contract Notice reference TKR-2018222-DCB-11953582. Subsequently the Authority elected to stop this procurement due to inadequate competition prior to awarding Competitive Design Phase (CDP) contracts.

The purpose of this Prior Information Notice (PIN) is to invite potential suppliers to a short period of early market engagement prior to the commencement of a new competition for the T31e requirement (“the New Procurement”). The New Procurement is planned to consist of:

1. A Pre-Qualification Questionnaire;
2. CDP Contracts for the supply of specific design deliverables during the Design & Build (D&B) competition; and
3. A single D&B Contract to build five T31e frigates for the Royal Navy.

Type 31e requirement

The Authority’s high level requirement for Type 31e, in accordance with the NSbS, is for:

five (5) Type 31e ships with a target of the first ship entering into service in 2023 and the fifth ship entering into service in 2028;

a cost to the Authority (inclusive of GFE) of £1.25BN;

an open and adaptable whole ship and combat system design;

a UK focused Design and Build strategy which maximises UK prosperity and is built in a UK shipyard; and

a ship design with export potential to the global market.

Suppliers should only respond if they are (themselves or as part of a consortium with other suppliers) in a position to undertake the full Type 31e programme, meeting its full requirement including a £1.25bn cost and building the T31e in a UK shipyard.

By the end of 2018, three bids had been submitted to the MoD, each having been supported by the MoD with their bid costs.

Team Leander, a joint BAE/Cammel Laird design based on an evolved Khareef design

Atlas Electronik/Thyssen Krupp with a design based on the Meko 200 in service with the South African Navy

BMT, with their Arrowhead 140 design, based on the Danish Iver Huitfeldt class frigate

The role for Type 31e was confirmed in a March 2019 Written Answer

The Type 31e Frigates will be tailored toward maritime security and defence engagement, including the Fleet Ready Escort role at home, our commitments in the South Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf, and to NATO. These ships will fulfil routine tasks to free up the more complex Type 45 Destroyers and Type 26 Frigates for their specialist combat roles in support of the strategic nuclear deterrent and as part of the carrier strike group.

The Government again confirmed a £250 price ceiling.

Three bids were received by the MoD by the end of June 2019 after a 7 month Competetive Design Phase bid process.

The Government confirmed the Preferred Bidder for Type 31e in September 2019, it was to be Babcock.

Babcock Team 31 has been selected by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) as the preferred bidder to deliver its new warships. Led by Babcock, the Aerospace and Defence company, and in partnership with the Thales Group, the T31 general purpose frigate programme will provide the UK Government with a fleet of five ships, at an average production cost of £250 million per ship.

Following a comprehensive competitive process, Arrowhead 140, a capable, adaptable and technology-enabled global frigate will be the UK Royal Navy’s newest class of warships, with the first ship scheduled for launch in 2023. At its height the programme will maximise a workforce of around 1250 highly- skilled roles in multiple locations throughout the UK, with around 150 new technical apprenticeships likely to be developed.  The work is expected to support an additional 1250 roles within the wider UK supply chain.

With Babcock’s Rosyth facility as the central integration site, the solution provides value for money and squarely supports the principles of the National Shipbuilding Strategy. It builds on the knowledge and expertise developed during the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier modular build programme. The announcement follows a competitive design phase where Babcock Team 31 was chosen alongside two other consortia to respond to the UK MOD’s requirements.    

Work on the fleet of five ships will begin immediately following formal contract award later this financial year, with detailed design work to start now and manufacture commencing in 2021 and concluding in 2027.

Archie Bethel, CEO Babcock said:

 “It has been a tough competition and we are absolutely delighted that Arrowhead 140 has been recognised as offering the best design, build and delivery solution for the UK’s Royal Navy Type 31 frigates. “Driven by innovation and backed by experience and heritage, Arrowhead 140 is a modern warship that will meet the maritime threats of today and tomorrow, with British ingenuity and engineering at its core. It provides a flexible, adaptable platform that delivers value for money and supports the UK’s National Shipbuilding Strategy.”

Arrowhead 140 will offer the Royal Navy a new class of ship with a proven ability to deliver a range of peacekeeping, humanitarian and warfighting capabilities whilst offering communities and supply chains throughout the UK a wide range of economic and employment opportunities. A key element of the Type31 programme is to supply a design with the potential to secure a range of export orders thereby supporting the UK economy and UK jobs. Arrowhead 140 will offer export customers an unrivalled blend of price, capability and flexibility backed by the Royal Navy’s world-class experience and Babcock looks forward to working closely with DIT and MOD in this regard.

Arrowhead 140 is a multi-role frigate equipping today’s mariner with real-time data to support immediate and complex decision-making. The frigate is engineered to minimise through-life costs whilst delivering a truly leading-edge ship, featuring an established, proven and exportable combat management system provided by Thales.  

Victor Chavez, Chief Executive of Thales in the UK said:

“Thales is delighted to be part of the successful Team 31 working with Babcock and has been at the forefront of innovation with the Royal Navy for over 100 years. “With the announcement today that Arrowhead 140 has been selected as the preferred bidder for the new Type 31e frigate, the Royal Navy will join the global community of 26 navies utilising the Thales Tacticos combat management system. Thales already provides the eyes and ears of the Royal Navy and will now provide the digital heart of the UK’s next generation frigates.”

Babcock will now enter a period of detailed discussions with the MOD and supply chain prior to formal contract award expected later this year.


Initial Operating Capability is planned to be 2027. The build for Type 31 will take place at a new covered facility at Rosyth.

Babcock released subcontract, systems and progress updates throughout 2020.

Babcock produced an update video in October 2020

In May 2021, it was announced Type 31 would be named the Inspiration Class, comprising HMS Active, HMS Bulldog, HMS Campbeltown, HMS Formidable and HMS Venturer.

HMS Active: Named after the Type 21 frigate HMS Active which served the Royal Navy from the late 1970s until the mid-1990s. As well as taking part in the operation to liberate the Falklands, supporting the final battles for Port Stanley, Active spent her career deployed in support of Britain’s Overseas Territories and global interests, from tackling drug traffickers to enforcing UN embargos and providing humanitarian aid in the aftermath of natural disasters.

HMS Bulldog: Named after the destroyer which helped turn the tables in the Battle of the Atlantic thanks to the bravery of her boarding party. They searched stricken U-boat U110 in May 1941 and recovered the Germans’ ‘unbreakable’ coding machine, Enigma, plus codebooks. It gave Britain a vital intelligence lead at a key stage in the struggle to keep its Atlantic lifelines open.

HMS Campbeltown: Named after the wartime destroyer which led the ‘greatest commando raid of all’: St Nazaire in France. In March 1942, the ship rammed the dock gates and hidden explosives aboard blew up, wreaking havoc in the port and denying its use to major German warships for the rest of WW2. The action epitomises the raiding ethos driving the Royal Marines’ Future Commando Force.

HMS Formidable: Named after the WW2 carrier which epitomised carrier strike operations from Norway, through the Mediterranean to the Pacific. She survived kamikaze strikes and took the war to the Japanese mainland with Lieutenant Commander Robert Hampton Gray earning the last naval VC of the war for his daring sinking of a Japanese destroyer just six days before Tokyo surrendered.

HMS Venturer: Named after the WW2 submarine which sank German U-boat U864 northwest of Bergen, Norway, on February 9 1945 – while both vessels were submerged. Venturer enjoyed a technological and intelligence advantage over her foe thanks to decoded messages indicating the enemy’s location and a superbly-trained crew who located and destroyed the U-boat. It was the first time one submarine had deliberately sunk another while submerged.

Currently, expected timescales are that the first ship will enter service in 2027 (the same year as the first Type 26) with the final ship in service by the end of 2030. This is a slippage of 4 years from that originally described.

The Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) was excluded from the bid process after an adverse reaction from the bidders and so the total cost (as of 2021) for each vessel will be £268 million.

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Type 31 Frigate Capabilities

Type 31 will have capabilities and capacities as described in the image below

Crew size is particularly notable, 105 compared to approximately 185 for Type 23, a significant saving for a cash tight organisation. The ‘i-Frigate’ capability as described by Babcock is claimed to offer significant costs savings through predictive maintenance as well. 

The 57mm main armament will be new to the Royal Navy, as will the 40mm

Type 31 will also use the Tacticos Combat Management System from Thales

Air defence missile system will be the MBDA Sea Ceptor .

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Change Status

Change Date Change Record
 08/09/2016 Initial issue
 24/07/2021 Update and content refresh 

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Arrowhead 140 Website


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