Type 31 Frigate Capabilities
From the history of the Type 31 Frigate page, it’s capabilities can be guessed at, but until designs and finalised and vessels commissioned we can only guess.
Positioning Type 31 GPFF
There is one reason and one reason only the Royal Navy and Ministry of Defence have changed from five Non TAS General Purpose Type 26 to five Type 31.
Before cost negotiations have finalised on Type 26 the MoD has decided that the cost of;
FIVE GP TYPE 26 is greater than FIVE TYPE 31
It is as simple as that.
Now this might be somewhat of a simplistic view and accepting running costs may be a significant part of the equation the logical conclusion is that the five Type 31 has to fit inside the cost envelope of five production GP Type 26 or what is the point?
There is also the potential for one drivers being a potential reduction in total frigate numbers due to a slow build rate on the T26 programme.
It is worth a reminder of the MoD’s approach to defining the acquisition of major projects, CADMID
- In Service
Following this means that the CADM elements of Type 31 has to be less than the M element for 5 GP Type 26, as the diagram below shows.
Because the type 26 Manufacture phase costs are subject to much
arguing discussion between BAE and the MOD, they are not known publicly, despite speculation in the media. There have been some clues in MoD Annual Accounts and the odd unguarded comment from officials that lead to an assumption that it lies somewhere between £500m and £1,000m per vessel but these have so much spread they are meaningless.
In extrapolating the cost envelope for Type 31 GPFF we can make an assumption that it is between £2.5 Billion and £5 billion, and if it is cheaper then it will satisfy the party line that Type 31 GPFF is lower than the cost of a Type 26 but having a better specification than a £130 odd million Batch II River Class OPV.
Although some pre-concept work has been carried out by the Maritime Capability (MARCAP) inside Naval Command Headquarters (NCHQ) what makes this doubly difficult is the ongoing uncertainty on the Manufacture contract for Type 26 AND the National Shipbuilding Strategy, scheduled for publication in 2017.
Jane’s have reported that the expected cost per vessel is £275 million to £375 million, funnily enough, about the same as some of the initial Type 26 figures bandied around in the media.
As covered in the first part of this series, 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, he said;
Credibility is a nebulous concept, all we can say for certain is that the Type 31 GPFF will exist on a point between the Batch II River Class OPV and the Type 26 Frigate
In the middle, will be trade-offs between capability, cost and quantity.
Despite the undoubted export success of the River Class, the Type 31 is the ‘Great White Hope’ of naval vessel exporting. Despite serious interest in Type 26 from Canada, Australia and Germany, it is assumed Type 26 is not a viable export prospect, but Type 31 will be.
Personally, I think this is fantasy, but time will tell and I may well have to eat/delete my words.
Weight versus Cost
Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it seems that many in the MoD, Treasury and even the Royal Navy assume a relationship between weight and cost.
This has manifested in a number of comments about Type 31 GPFF being referred to as smaller, lighter and more flexible than Type 26, and therefore cheaper.
This inability to understand, wilful ignorance of, the cost drivers for complex warships is worrying.
After many decades of acquisition transformation the MoD is apparently no closer to being an ‘intelligent customer’ that can challenge our monopoly manufacturer, BAE Systems.
A more flexible and cheaper design may well actually be larger than a Type 26 but evidently, it won’t be.
Mind the Gap
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.
The youngest Type 23 has an out of service date of 2035 so changes to those dates accepted, the Type 26 will be a long programme and for many years, the Royal Navy will operate with a mixed type 23 and Type 26/31 fleet.
|Ship||Out of Service Date|
|HMS Iron Duke||2025|
|HMS St Albans||2035|
It is now assumed that the First Type 26 will not enter service until 2025, three years after the first planned Type 23 OSD.
Unless Type 31 can make up the pace, or those two Type 23’s can be life extended, a fleet reduction seems difficult to avoid.
Again, this seems to be one of the drivers for T31e.
The National Shipbuilding Strategy will also have to address what comes after Type 31 and Type 26, especially if Type 31 involves construction and investment in English yards.
Given the announcement that the SNP is to seek a second independence referendum, this added complication is unwanted by the Royal Navy.
Early Design Concepts
Early indications are that the Type 31 GPFF will focus on above water capability in a low to medium threat environment meaning only a basic ASW and self defence capability.
i.e. a Two Tier Fleet
One thing is certain, it will not have the combat capabilities and survivability of Type 26.
This would suggest;
- A flight deck for Merlin and hangar for Wildcat
- Medium calibre gun
- Self defence anti air missiles
- Small calibre automatic weapons
- Basic sensors
- Small craft and UUV/USV handling capability
- Embarked personnel accommodation
- Communications interoperability
The River Class Batch II OPV
Type 26 Frigate
Whilst the MoD is still engaged with pre-concept work, a few manufacturers have been conducting general positioning activity.
Derived from the Project Khareef Corvette, the Cutlass design is 117m long.
The image shows 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.
At a lower price/capability point than Cutlass, the Avenger is more or less and stretched and improved Batch II River Class
The 111m Avenger is longer and wider than a Batch II River Class OPV that allows for a small hangar and space/launch and recovery systems for a number of small and unmanned craft. The image would also seem to indicate ARTISAN radar and a Mk 45 Mod 4 5″ main gun for naval gunfire support.
BMT Venator 110
The MT Venator concept has been evolving for some time, the latest iteration is the Venator 110.
Whilst the BAE offerings are clearly derived from existing designs, the Venator 110 seems to be a clean sheet design, or a C3 PLUS, to coin a phrase.
Vital stats include
- Length (overall) 117m
- Draught 4.3m
- Displacement 4,000 tonnes
- Maximum beam 18m
- Top speed >25 knots
- Range >7,000 Nautical Miles at 15 knots
- Crew size 85 personnel
- Total accommodation provision 106+18 personnel
- Side launched RHIBs, with a third large RHIB within a stern ramp facility
- Flexible mission bay
- Flight deck and hangar
Steller Systems Project Spartan
A small design house, Steller Systems, have also proposed a design call Project Spartan.
The Nodal Modular Physical Architecture approach to the design allows for configurable options. Each node has the ability to accept different systems; for example a customer may wish to have a simple 30 mm Small Calibre Gun system in place of the forward Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS), or place a SeaRAM or Phalanx in this position.
Table of Contents
|Type 31 History|
|Type 31 Capabilities|