Type 31 Frigate History

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.

Since then there has been very little by way of official detailed information but the back story to the GPFF, or Type 31, goes back much further than SDSR 2015.


Prior to SDSR 2015

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

In 2001, the MoD awarded a contract to Vosper Thorneycroft (VT) for three River Class offshore patrol vessels to replace the existing five Island Class vessels. The vessels were originally chartered for five years at a cost of £60 million.

HMS Tyne Launch

All were commissioned in 2004.

The ships will have the latest machinery control systems supplied by VT Controls and the latest navigation and communication systems. They will also carry two Halmatic Pacific 22 MkII boarding and rescue boats with dedicated single man operation davits and RIB tracking systems. A large working deck can accommodate up to seven containers, enabling the ship to carry elements such as additional stores, workshops, a diving recompression chamber or medical facilities.

The Future Surface Combatant (FSC) programme sought to define a replacement for the Royal Navy Type 22 and Type 23 Frigates.

By the end of 2004, the Royal Navy was seemingly no closer to finding a steady state design or even an agreed concept for FSC. Industry had been encouraged to create radical proposals and significant funds (for the time) had been spent exploring alternative hull-forms.

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DERA Future Surface Combatant Concepts (3)

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RV Triton (2)

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The Maritime Coherence Study was initiated to try and make sense of the confused and confusing situation.

Andrew Robathan; To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the purpose is of the Maritime Coherence Baseline concept; when it will be implemented; and if he will make a statement.

Adam Ingram; The Maritime Coherence Study Baseline is the core programme emerging from the Maritime Coherence Study. It will provide the basis on which further work and refinement is undertaken. The Maritime Coherence Study is intended to produce a balanced, coherent and more affordable programme to address our capability priorities and provide an industrial programme with stable and balanced loading, and will be implemented over the next two decades.

Err, crystal.

At the end of 2005, the Government published the Defence Industrial Strategy

It expected the industry to restructure itself around an analysis of skills and workload created within 6 months of publication. The key industrial partners were BAE, VT, DML, Babcock and Thales.

The requirement was stated thus;

We require a capability in UK industry to engineer complex surface ships at systems level, with enough familiarity with the manufacturing process to be able to fulfil that function. We have in recent years operated a system of competition in stages by project. However, again there is more capacity in the industry than will be required in a few years, and the systems engineering capability is likely to be duplicated and sub-optimised across several companies. Nor are potential synergies with support business being realised, despite largely the same companies being involved. The systems engineering capability needs, along with the rest of the industrial capability in this sector, to be refocused to maximise the relationship between in-service support and upgrade, and sized based on MOD’s future needs and a realistic assessment of military export potential, if it is to maximise productivity.

On FSC, it made clear that the current approach was based on a two platform solution.

A Future Surface Combatant (FSC) study is looking at how the capability currently provided by the Type 22 and Type 23 frigates might be met in the future. No decisions have been taken, but our current assumption for planning purposes is a two class platform solution. The Future Mine Counter Measures Capability is also being examined.

Whilst the Coherence Study was running, the working assumption was that those two platform solutions mentioned above would be called;

  • Versatile Surface Combatant (VSC), entering service in 2023
  • Medium Sized Vessel Derivative (MSVD), entering service in 2016.

The Coherence Study concluded that there was a need for another study, proposing the Sustained Surface Combatant Capability, or S2C2.

S2C2 was established in late 2006 and lasted for 18 months, with representatives from the MoD and industry.

It concluded that FSC should not be delivered by the two class (VSC and MSVD) solution at all, 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 choke point escort and protection of sea lines of communication (SLOC).
  • C3; ocean capable patrol vessel

This change in emphasis from a high end to a high-low mix was reportedly prompted by the then 1SL, Sir Jonathon Band.

Cue another round of speculation, design studies and proposals from industry, with much criticism from everyone else. Much like the British Army with FRES, it seemed the Royal Navy was having trouble deciding what it wanted, and calling each successive round of ideas something new only added to the mirth.

The Sustained Surface Combatant Capability project highlighted a need for up to ten C1’s and eight C2’s.

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.

Remember, 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.

The proposed C3 variant was seen by many as a way of replacing the existing, and relatively numerous mines countermeasures vessel, with a less specialised and more general purpose fighting vessel, hoping that this approach would both retain MCM capability whilst bolstering surface fleet numbers.

At the time, there was a great deal of speculation and discussion about what the C3 should look like, arguably more so than for C1/C2.

In 2003, BMT started to examine the requirements for an Auxiliary Surface Combatant, comparable to the C3, but one that sat astride the C3 and C2 boundaries. The MoD even funded a small-scale feasibility study that examined the potential to combine the smaller vessel with heavy lift ships for global deployments.

The naval design company BMT, self-funded the 2007 Project Venator in response to the Royal Navy’s Sustained Surface Combatant Capability (S2C2) ‘Pathfinder’ initiative. The study programme was intended to inform the design of the C3 Ocean Capable Patrol Vessel (OCPV) which was to be part of the S2C2’s projected three-tier Future Surface Combatant solution.

One of the principal design objectives of Project Venator was to demonstrate that role reconfiguration was possible. A balance between roles could be made, determined by current requirements. The resultant design was a globally deployable minor warship would be able to execute mine countermeasures (MCM) using the rapidly maturing off-board unmanned autonomous systems, MCM support, hydrographic survey, maritime security operations (MSO) and offshore patrol.

Venator had the following characteristics (from BMT);

  • Maximum speed of 25knots (to track and stop vessels)
  • Cruise speed of 18knots (task group operations)
  • Range of 5000nm at 18knots (task group operations) or 7000nm at 12knots (as a dispersed unit)
  • Sustain a transit in Sea State 6, and remain operational in Sea State 4/5
  • Accommodate a complement of at least 60 (stretch to 80)
  • A mission payload of up to 700tonnes including (as fixed systems) a medium calibre gun, an air/surface search radar, and a flight deck/shelter sized for a Lynx helicopter

Mission modules would be tailored to the specific tasking and included (again, directly from BMT);

  • MCM (Crew 59): largely based on off-board systems including minesweeping unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), reconnaissance unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), one-shot mine disposal vehicles, self-defence fit (air/surface search radar, guns, and obstacle avoidance sonar)
  • MCM Support (Crew 79): MCM Tasking Authority and (limited) Forward Support Capability with logistics office, planning space, spares, workshops, diver support, and recompression
  • MSO (Crew 78): two (manned) 11m Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs), USV, helicopter, EW/surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicle, self-defence fit (air/surface search radar, guns and obstacle avoidance sonar)
  • Survey (Crew 48 plus temporary personnel): survey UUVs, survey launches, laboratories/offices

The project concluded that standard ISO containers could be used for many of the mission modules but a much improved and flexible solution would use task specific sub ISO sized containers (Bicon’s, Tricon’s and Quadcon’s for example)

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The design study was submitted to the MoD, where it was promptly filed in the round filing cabinet.

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.

HMS Clyde, a modified River Class OPV was commissioned in January 2007.

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HMS Clyde

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HMS Clyde was the first evolution of the River Class design, specifically for use as the Falkland Islands patrol vessel and able to accommodate a Merlin helicopter. Lengthened to 81.5m, HMS Clyde has a displacement of approximately 2,000 tonnes.

In mid-2007, after completion of their study, the S2C2 IPT was stood down. The BMT Venator 90, Thales Modular General Purpose Frigate and Vosper Thorneycroft Global Corvette were all consigned to the dustbin although some reported that the working assumption had moved on from a single base vessel for C1 and C2.

In a 2008 submission to the Select Committee of Scottish Affairs, BAE were clear on the implications for workload and build location for FSC.

Indications are that there will be three different classes of FSC, ranging both in size and complexity, from complex warships through to simple patrol vessels. The business is currently anticipating an overall demand for FSC equivalent to a single Type 23 sized vessel every year. Such a rate is about a third of the current build rate of Type 45; ie a 3,500 tonne vessel every year compared to an 8,000 tonne vessel every nine months. This workload would be insufficient to maintain shipbuilding capacity at both Glasgow and Portsmouth. It should be noted that FSC will need to commence within the next two years if it is to sustain key industrial capabilities in design. Combat system engineering skills in particular are a critical resource that need careful management and which are not easy to sustain (eg by CVF or MARS). BAE SFS looks forward to exploring FSC opportunities with MoD as soon as possible.

It is encouraging that in the case of FSC, MoD appears willing to consider adopting “export friendly” characteristics in the design. However, because the concept design will make use of a new Naval Design Partnership concept, in effect a UK wide industry design club, there is not yet clarity over whether the main UK contractors would have full design rights to exploit FSC in international markets.

In May 2008, QinetiQ announced an 11-month contract;

QinetiQ has signed an initial 11 month contract with the MOD as part of a £2m pilot study which will see a new joint MOD / industry naval ship design office established in Bristol, to be tasked with the design of complex naval ships for the Royal Navy, such as the Future Surface Combatant.

The Naval Design Partnership (NDP), with its ‘rainbow team’ of talent, which includes Thales, BAE Systems, VT Group, Babcock and BMT, will allow greater innovation and pull-though of new technology and will cost effectively manage the translation of maritime capability requirements into warship product specifications. It will also enable MOD to reinforce in house Naval Architecture and related specialisms through a collaborative design approach.

“We are delighted that our maritime team will be contributing to the future of naval ship design, which is fundamentally important to the future naval capability of this country,” stated Neville Salkeld, Managing Director of QinetiQ’s Consulting sector. “The Maritime Industrial Strategy (MIS) identified a need for the UK to sustain the ability to design complex naval vessels, from concept to the point of build, so in consultation with industry, the Frigates Integrated Project Team (FIPT), on behalf of DG Ships, has defined the requirements for the NDP.”

The NDP team will be collocated at QinetiQ’s Bristol office, close to MOD Abbey Wood, under the leadership of a MOD Chief Engineer. The dedicated facilities can accommodate up to 25 people, drawn from the best that UK industry and MOD currently have to offer.

The team will be initially tasked with a series of concept studies to develop the high level product specification for the Future Surface Combatant (FSC) C1 programme with the objective of ensuring that it successfully clears Initial Gate in late 2008. It is envisaged that this output may be further extended to address future MARS and other future FSC platforms and be adapted to provide appropriate designs for any future vessel classes that may be required.

Later in 2008, BAE and VT merged to form BVT Surface Fleet.

In 2009, BAE were awarded a design contract for the C1 and C2 element of FSC

The Terms of Business Agreement (TOBA) were finalised in 2009 which were to form the basis of a new industrial capability that was to be underpinned by commitments from both the MoD and industry. A new commercial entity was to be formed called BVT comprising BAE (65%) and VTG (55%).

Early in 2010, the C3 variant was dropped in favour of a new programme, the Mine Countermeasures Hydrographic and Patrol Capability (MHPC).

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago cancelled their order for three for three Port of Spain class vessels, launched a year earlier. These were modified River Class OPV’s.

In March 2010, the C1 progressed to Initial Gate, five or six years later than envisaged. Recognising the impending SDSR, no commitment was made to quantities, given that policy may be changed by the review, although the expectation was still for ten vessels.

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

Commenting on the award, 1SL, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope said;

These programme announcements are welcome news for the Royal Navy. You simply cannot have an effective Navy without capable frigates, and the Type 26 combat ship will form the future backbone of the Royal Navy’s surface combatant force, alongside the new Type 45 destroyers. These ships will be highly versatile, able to operate across the full spectrum of operations, from war-fighting to disaster relief. The Astute Class submarine gives us a real edge, exploiting stealth and covert presence to offer enormous utility across a wide range of military tasks, everything from anti-submarine warfare, through intelligence-gathering, to striking targets far inland.

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).

This was a change from the C1 and C2 concept being envisaged as different vessels, they would now be the same, but with different equipment fits, i.e. the ASW variant would have the Thales 2087 towed sonar array and the GP variant, would not.

The BAE/VT Khareef Class were launched between 2009 and 2011 for the Royal Navy of Oman. The three vessels share many systems with the River Class although officially, they are described as a ’99 metre Corvette’

HTMS Krabi of the Royal Thai Navy was launched in 2011, a locally produced variant of the River Class.

December 2012 saw the Brazilian government confirm the sale of the three River class vessels previously ordered by Trinidad and Tobago. The £183 million contract resulted in the vessels being renamed the Amazonas Class; BNS Amazonas, BNS Apa and BNS Araguari (shown below)

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HTMS Krabi

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Joint Concept Note 1/12 ‘Black Swan’ was published in 2012.

The aim of this Joint Concept Note is to act as a catalyst for a conceptually led change to both the procurement and the employment of future maritime capabilities with investment in systems not platforms.

The future ‘Black Swan’ class sloop-of-war is a manned ship that will act as the core for a group of manned and unmanned platforms which, as an integrated system, will provide the units of power required by those surface assets tasked with the protection of Sea Lines of Communication and sea control. At an acceptable financial cost, operating in groups, the sloops will provide both the quantity of platforms and the quality of systems that will be demanded of the Royal Navy in the future operating environment. In operations other than war, the increased hull numbers will provide the capabilities required to fulfil the maritime security tasks demanded by a maritime nation as well as the global presence required to engage with the international community.

The name of the concept is drawn from the ‘Black Swan’ and modified ‘Black Swan’ class sloop-of-war, which were built during World War II to protect shipping and gain sea control. Like this concept, the key to the tactical proficiency of the sloops was not the single ship but rather the ‘group system’ with capability measured collectively in groups rather than individually in single platforms. The most famous of these being Captain Johnnie Walker’s 2nd Support Group, which – comprising of six ‘Black Swan’ class sloops – was the most successful anti-submarine group of the war.

It must be said that the Black Swan Concept drew much criticism from many.

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Black Swan

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Nothing came of Black Swan, apart from ridicule, but looking at Type 31 today, it might have been somewhat prescient.

After much speculation, BAE released the results of their shipbuilding study in November 2013, click here to read;

BAE Systems has reached agreement in principle with HM Government on measures to enable the implementation of a restructuring of its UK naval ships business.

The agreement will result in:

  • Restructuring of the contract for the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carrier programme.
  • Provision of additional shipbuilding work prior to the start of the Type 26 Global Combat Ships programme.
  • Rationalisation of the UK naval ship business to match future capacity requirements.

In 2009, BAE Systems entered into a Terms of Business Agreement (ToBA) with the Ministry of Defence that provided an overarching framework for significant naval shipbuilding efficiency improvements in exchange for commitments to fund rationalisation and sustainment of capability in the sector.  The agreements announced today, together with an anticipated contract for the design and manufacture of the Type 26 Global Combat Ships programme, will progressively replace that ToBA.

Interim shipbuilding workload

A significant reduction in workload will follow the peak of activity on the Aircraft Carrier programme, the six Type 45 destroyers and two export contracts.  The anticipated Type 26 programme will, in future years, address some of that workload reduction.  In the interim period, a proposed contract for the manufacture of three Offshore Patrol Vessels, announced today, will provide additional capability for the Royal Navy and sustain key shipbuilding skills.

Restructuring of the Naval Shipbuilding business

Following detailed discussions about how best to sustain the long-term capability to deliver complex warships, BAE Systems has agreed with the UK Ministry of Defence that Glasgow would be the most effective location for the manufacture of the future Type 26 ships. Consequently, and subject to consultation with trade union representatives, the Company proposes to consolidate its shipbuilding operations in Glasgow with investments in facilities to create a world-class capability, positioning it to deliver an affordable Type 26 programme for the Royal Navy.

Under these proposals, shipbuilding operations at Portsmouth will cease in the second half of 2014.  Subject to consultation, Lower Block 05 and Upper Blocks 07 and 14 of the second Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carrier will be allocated to Glasgow.

The Company remains committed to continued investment in the Portsmouth area as the centre of its Maritime Services and high-end naval equipment and combat systems business.

Consultation will commence on a total employee reduction of 1,775 that is expected to result from these restructuring proposals, including 940 in Portsmouth in 2014 and 835 across Filton, Glasgow and Rosyth, progressively through to 2016.

The cost of the restructuring will be borne by the Ministry of Defence.

The implementation of these restructuring activities will sustain BAE Systems’ capability to deliver complex warships for the Royal Navy and secure the employment of thousands of highly skilled employees across the UK.

Three Offshore Patrol Vessels OPV’s were to be built to cover the gap between the end of QE Class construction and commencement of Type 26 work.

There was a great deal of commentary at the time that the Royal Navy did not really want these ‘make work’ ships, directly because of delays in Type 26 but this is immaterial, the TOBA was designed to retain shipbuilding skills and if the Royal Navy and MoD had decided what it wanted from a Type 22/23 replacement sooner, construction would have immediately followed QE work.

A month later, in August 2014, the contract for the River Batch III Offshore Patrol Vessels was announced.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate (a) the total cost of the contract for the three offshore patrol vessels, (b) the unit cost of the vessels and (c) when each vessel will enter service. [175045]

Mr Dunne: Based on a firm price offer, and subject to main gate approval and contractual agreement, the cost of the contract for the three offshore patrol vessels, including initial spares and support, is expected to be £348 million. A unit cost for these vessels has not yet been calculated. On current plans, the contract will be signed in 2014, with the three vessels entering service between 2017 and 2018.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether ocean patrol vessels will be equipped with (a) Scanter 4100 air search radar and (b) a hanger capable of housing a Merlin helicopter. [175046]

Mr Dunne: As the Secretary of State for Defence announced in the House on 6 November 2013, Official Report, column 252, the Ministry of Defence has signed an Agreement in Principle with BAE Systems to order three new Offshore Patrol Vessels for the Royal Navy, based on a more capable variant of the River Class, including a landing deck able to take a Merlin helicopter. This project will be subject to Main Gate approval in the coming months and, as is the standard practice with equipment projects, the final design, equipment fit and build programme will not finally be set until this main investment decision has been taken.

A few months later, BAE released the first imagery for the River Batch II Offshore Patrol Vessels.

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River Class Batch 2

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The design was the lowest risk and quickest into production, the entire point of the order.

They were to be named HMS Forth, HMS Medway and HMS Trent (in build order). Details on whether these would replace or supplement the existing Batch I vessels was unclear at the time and questions tabled in the House of Commons declared that this question would be considered in the 2015 SDSR. The Royal Navy, BAE and Ministry of Defence embarked upon a public relations effort to try and convince everyone the ships were both needed and wanted by the Royal Navy, and not simply a means to satisfy the obligations of the Terms of Business Agreement (TOBA) to prevent skills fade.

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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.

A 2015 Freedom of Information (FOI) release confirmed a change in the MHPC programme

The Mine countermeasures, Hydrographic and Patrol Capability Programme (MHPC) has now been renamed the Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC). The  name was changed following the announcement of the Maritime Composite Option (MCO)  deal between MoD and BAE on 6 November 2013, which included the purchase of 3 new  Offshore Patrol Vessels and therefore delivered the ‘Patrol’ solution.

Work undertaken during the Concept Phase produced compelling evidence that unmanned,  off-board systems (OBS), deployed from low-value steel ships, or from ashore, could deliver  most elements of the capability. However, a solution based on like-for-like replacement of the current, low-signature Mine Countermeasures Vessels (MCMVs) and Survey Vessels (SVHOs) cannot yet be discounted.

The Programme passed ‘Initial Gate’ in July 2014 and was approved to proceed to the Assessment Phase with the associated funding. MHC has been designed as a transformational and incremental programme that will update and subsequently replace the  full existing MCM and Hydrographic capabilities to provide assured maritime freedom of manoeuvre, delivering minehunting, minesweeping and hydrographic mission systems (including remote controlled OBS) to legacy and future platforms.

Marine OBS are widely used in the commercial sector, but are not yet fully proven for naval operations. The Assessment Phase will aim to reduce the risks associated with the naval use of OBS and determine the cost-effectiveness through:

  • Three advanced technology demonstrators.
  • A controlled trials programme.
  • Technical studies and programme analysis.

The Assessment Phase is now underway, albeit in its early stages.

The delays in FSC and Type 26 which had resulted in the Batch II River OPV’s had de-facto covered the P in MHPC.

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.

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

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 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 vessels withdrawn.

On 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.

So there you go, Type 31 it is!

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.

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HMS Forth

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

In the first half of 2016, a number of manufacturers reportedly revealed their GPFF type 31 concepts, will cover these in the next part of the series.

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Perhaps the most significant event in the history of the Type 31 was the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy  (Independent Report) by Sir John Parker.

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 the 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.
A cynic might be tempted to characterise this as anyone but BAE and export sales will save the day.

An evidence session on the National Shipbuilding Strategy at the House of Commons on the 28th 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.

Table of Contents

BAE Type 31 Cutlass - Copy Introduction
HMS Tyne Type 31 History 
 BMT Venator 110 Image 2 Type 31 Capabilities


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August 28, 2016 1:57 am

Great history my friend.

August 28, 2016 2:41 am

“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 Type 21 needs to be mentioned.
More than 40 years ago, exact same idea: Add a cheaper yet superficially well-equipped GP FFG to the RN.

August 28, 2016 8:49 pm

Re: Black Swan concept. What sort of ridicule and from what quarter? Links if possible.

August 28, 2016 10:24 pm

The only questions I have are what’s the anti ship/ anti air and anti sub armaments? If none then the type 31 will be useless against anything more advanced than a Chinese fishing boat. C’mon our top naval and defence brass must have more brains?

August 29, 2016 6:18 am

@Richard, the USN are going for the Norwegian NSM missile for their Littoral Warships, would be a bad move for the T31. If my MHPC preference comes off, I’d like to see all capable of mounting them, but only half actually fitted (in heavy config).

August 29, 2016 6:45 am

Not a big ask as with the canister launchers all you need is an area where the efflux does not do damage. As the CAMM requirement is even less exacting (see excerpt from its early days, below) there is “hope” of finding space for both on relatively small vessels (smaller than T31, but commonality is always a good thing):
“• Potential for reduced acquisition and through life costs.
“• Longer maximum range (for a given mass when compared with hard VL).
“• Army/Navy commonality.
“• No efflux management requirements thereby improving the modularity and evolution potential.
“• Can be a simple, lightweight construction and be placed in restricted spaces.
“• No unwanted launch debris.
“• Capable of reduced launch ejection loads.
“• Improved minimum range capability due to a more direct turnover trajectory that can enable earlier target
acquisition by the missile seeker.
“• Reduced probability of disclosure of launch position due to reduced smoke trails and launcher heating.
“• More benign environment for other platform mounted subsystems.

August 30, 2016 6:57 am

@ThinkDefence and others,

Another major factor I think is the sale of 3 Type 23s to South American countries in the 1990s. That factored in to Type 26 numbers and thus Type 31 numbers.

August 30, 2016 7:16 am

That sale in the 90’s was part of the peace dividend and reorientation of RN capabilities (from all ASW into more expeditionary, evidenced by the build programme for the amphibs that we now have).
– as for constabulary duties, the need for hulls has gone up with the changing of RoE (sinking pirates and drug runners at sight used to be the formula that actually worked wonders)

Paul Padley
Paul Padley
September 1, 2016 4:40 pm

My layman’s two pennyworth for Type 31. Stretch the Camm equipped BMT Venator 90 to 110m to give room for a Merlin hanger; swap the 76mm gun for a 5in, retain the stern slipway and provide a towed sonar; use River batch 2 radars and systems.

September 1, 2016 8:59 pm

Just having a read through of the TOBA* – some people have been suggesting that the MOD should get some other shipbuilder (i.e. not BAE) to build it. I’m not sure that is possible under the TOBA. The definitions are not clear cut but I think it would be pretty hard to argue that T31, as a frigate, is not caught by the exclusivity provisions which require the MOD to appoint BAE as lead contractor on all future complex warship programmes while the contract is in force.

I started looking at the agreement because I wanted to check what the default payment requirement is if the MOD doesn’t make any orders. Of course, the agreement only provides the mechanism for calculation and, although the default payment is capped but the relevant provision is (of course!) redacted – so no joy. Really just wanted to check how the cost of the Batch II’s compared to the amount of the default payment when annualised. Not sure if I’ve seen a figure for that on this site before and, anyway, how reliable any figures for that in the public domain are.

*what lawyers get up to in their spare time!

Keith Campbell
Keith Campbell
September 5, 2016 10:14 am

Dear TD,

I’ve finally been able to read this & I think it is an excellent review. The problem is, we know so little! As you point out, the only thing we do know is the the Type 31 has to be cheaper than the Type 26 GP version. (But how much cheaper? A lot? A bit? Cheaper in acquisition or operation or both?) We can’t even be certain that the new May administration might not change course again, although keeping Fallon as Defence Secretary does signal a desire to ensure stability at the MoD and with major programmes.

Just a couple of points: first, a reminder: the CAMM/Sea Ceptor is a local area air defence missile not a point defence missile. A Type 31 equipped with Artisan radar and Sea Ceptors, plus countermeasures and decoys, would have a very credible ability to defend itself from air attack. Second, smaller ships are more manoeuvrable than larger ships and more suitable for operation in restricted and confined waters, including coastal/littoral waters. Could the Type 31 turn out to be a more affordable, more practical, more useful, UK counterpart to the USN’s Littoral Combat Ships?

shark bait
September 5, 2016 12:03 pm

“more affordable, more practical, more useful, UK counterpart to the USN’s Littoral Combat Ships?”

A bunch of these?
comment image

In the back of these?

Stephen Duckworth
Stephen Duckworth
September 5, 2016 12:12 pm

What a T31 could do easily is what the £1 Billion HMS Diamond is off to do today in the Med , rescuing migrants.

shark bait
September 5, 2016 12:44 pm

@stephen duckworth, yep, so could a bay class, or PSV or a ferry. Not a job we should be designing complex warships for.

There is defiantly many roles for “a ship that is not a frigate”, that would perform equally as well as a complex warship at a fraction of a cost. Do we need a complex T31? or would we get better value with a more novel approach?

Stephen Duckworth
Stephen Duckworth
September 5, 2016 2:20 pm

I too am in favour of the UK having “ships that are not a frigate” manned by civilians for most shipboard tasks with specialist uniformed teams embarked for specific tasks such as drug interdiction. APATS has pointed out in the past many other training exercises are performed on these non- war fighting missions honing other skills other than pulling people out of the drink like a giant RNLI Lifeboat but still a glaring misuse of a very very expensive asset to Joe Public in my eyes at least. Yes showing grey painted objects providing aid or detection of misdeeds is ‘good press’ but the most cost effective method?

Fluffy Thoughts
September 10, 2016 5:14 pm

C1: High-end fleet escorts.

Can someone explain why a carrier escort-needs TLAM but a SLOC stand-alone does not?

September 10, 2016 10:04 pm

14 Type 42 replaced by 6 Type 45
16 Type 23 replaced by 8 Type 26
13 Swiftsure/Trafagar replaced by 7 Astute

Numbers suggest savage cuts in hull numbers !!

Type 31 the big hope to make up shortfall.

SSN numbers to drop to 6 for a period . Let’s hope no more have accidents! Or numbers would be at level to leave very few at sea.

HMS Ocean cut with Prince of Wales modified taking on part of OCEAN’s Role. Queen Elizabeth to have modifications at e refit later to take on Ocean’s role . Gaping again !

More ships/ subs please !

September 11, 2016 7:00 am

@Don: I cannot argue with the argument the RN needs more, but I wonder what were the drivers behind the cuts.

Sure it’s money, but I’d also speculate (rightly or wrongly) that the following had a role to play also:
– The RN wanted to focus solely on playing at the same technical level as the US to remain relevant, so each unit costed more.
– The build cycle was poorly planned and build was not matched to funds. Even now with the T26 it is quite possible we will make the same mistakes.
– Equal to this the supporting functions (design knowledge etc) hadn’t been kept to match requirements costing money to fix.
– Short term money saving delays and indecision (especially on the CVFs) wasted a lot of money overall.

So, IMO, “more money” is part of it but in parallel the above topics need to be reviewed and addressed.

September 11, 2016 8:48 am

I would say your speculation is very right.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x