Type 26:Britain’s New Frigate
From the UK Ministry of Defence comes this:
The MOD has signed a contract for the Assessment Phase of the Royal Navy’s next generation of warships – the Type 26 combat ship.
A team led by BAE Systems Surface Ships, working with the MOD, will consider design proposals for the Type 26 combat ship, named in recognition of its planned multiple roles.
The Type 26 will replace the Type 22 and 23 frigates, which are to begin leaving service at the end of the decade. The ship will provide support for land operations as well as undertaking other key tasks such as anti-submarine warfare…
The key design aims for the Type 26 are for a ship that is:
• Versatile – able to undertake a number of roles;
• Flexible – to adapt to the changing needs of defence;
• Affordable – both in build and support through its service life;
• Exportable – designed with the international market in mind.
Defense Industry Daily provides further details:
Type 26 is actually the 1st of 2 classes of ships to be built under the Royal Navy’s Future Surface Combatant program. The first ships of the Type 26 class are due to enter service in the early 2020s, and by the 2030s around half of frontline Royal Navy personnel are expected to operate on a either a Type 26 or the the 2nd FSC variant.
The Type 26 appears to be the high end of the Navy’s escort forces along with the Type 45 AAW destroyers. These vessels are especially geared for surface strike and anti-submarine warfare, as noted by the MoD post above. Think Defence posts some observations on the armament:
A quick look at the artists impressions shows 3 Phalanx, a 155mm main gun, Harpoon, large hangar and flight deck with a vertical launch cell installation after of the main gun.
It appears they will be very similar to the preceding Type 23 Duke class, with some notable differences:
At present, there is no real design or equipment set for the Type 26, though DESi 2009 did feature some initial models that included an aft “mission bay” for swappable payloads. Key design criteria include multi-role versatility, flexibility in adapting to future needs, affordability in both construction and through-life support costs, and exportability.
Modular payloads apparently being the future of such large, multimission frigates, which New Wars has dubbed “sloops“. In many respects, it reminds us of the American LCS program, suffering through enormous cost overruns. Here is DID again on the perceived price of the vessels:
Initial reports indicate an imagined cost of about GBP 400 million per ship (about $600 million USD), but the Royal Navy is no better than the American Navy at shipbuilding cost estimates.
This is an understandable followup to the Type 23, and since it basically keeps the Type 45 hull (apparently), is at least a proven, uncomplicated design. After very expensive programs such as the Astute subs, new carriers, and the Darings, more large multimission ships will dig deep into the Royal Navy’s budget. As Save the Royal Navy points out:
These latest orders may prove be not worth the paper they are written on because none of the political parties have the courage to ‘ring-fence’ defence spending…
I question whether the Type 22, Type 23 replacement should be a like-vessel or something more radical. Consider the caliber of enemies the RN frigates are having to face, such as pirates, drugs and arms smugglers, and these increasingly numerous compared to the over-stretched and shrinking fleet. Lewis Page at The Register points out the problems of using high end warships against low tech enemies:
Everyday tasks for navies today include such things as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (“HA/DR”, as it is apparently known in the US Navy) or “maritime domain awareness and interdiction operations” – that is, detecting and stopping such activities as piracy and smuggling of weapons, drugs, sanctions-busting cargoes etc.
But normal warships are ill-suited for such jobs, being designed for high-intensity warfare against high tech enemies. They can make a useful effort at disaster relief, and a less useful one against pirates or blockade-runners, but they are so expensive and thus so scarce it’s difficult to get much done with them.
If the planners were to skip the Type 26 altogether and proceed directly to the lower end version of the Future Surface Combatant design, they might possess a vessel more relevant for future threats. Rather than hundreds of millions, vessels costing in the tens of million pounds seem the right answer for today’s threats. Most importantly, you could build a whole squadron of such vessels for the price of a single Type 26.
A small cadre of very high end warships, the Type 45, perhaps updated with Exocet, Harpoons, or ideally Tomahawks for the surface strike mission, would be complemented by these Global Corvettes. Such small patrol craft would be perfect for modern nautical foes, as we have seen their use patrolling the Falklands, protecting the North Sea, and potentially battling pirates in the Gulf or smugglers in the Caribbean, than traditional Blue Water battleship types. The continued demise of general purpose flotilla vessels, as opposed to ongoing all-purpose warship construction at the expense of operating forces within Western navies is both intriguing and baffling.