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Future Frigates are Unveiled by the MOD

The latest design of the Royal Navy’s next generation of warships has been unveiled today by the MoD. Images show the basic specification of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship (T26 GCS), a significant milestone in the development of this programme, which will sustain thousands of jobs in the shipbuilding industry.

The multi-mission warship, which is due to come into service after 2020, will be used by the Royal Navy in combat and counter piracy operations and to support humanitarian and disaster relief work around the world. Since 2010, the MoD has been working with BAE Systems to determine the ship’s basic capabilities and baseline design. Now that has been endorsed, the programme can progress to the next part of the assessment phase, which will examine the detailed specifications of the vessel.

With a displacement of around 5,400 tonnes the T26 GCS will be around 148m in length (the equivalent of around 15 double decker buses), and one of the most advanced vessels in the Royal Navy’s fleet. It will also be very large for a frigate. It is bigger than the earlier Type 42 class of Destroyer and much larger than all previous classes of Frigate.

It is expected to feature:

  • vertical missile silos capable of housing a range of different weapons;
  • a Medium Calibre gun;
  • a hangar to accommodate a Merlin or Wildcat Helicopter and a Flexible Mission Space for Unmanned Air, Surface and Underwater Vehicles, or additional boats; and
  • the most advanced sensors available to the fleet.

The T26 GCS is one of several projects, including the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, which will see UK shipbuilding provide world class equipment for the Royal Navy. The assessment phase for the T26 GCS is expected to be completed around the middle of this decade when the main investment decision will be made. At this point the budget will be confirmed and orders placed. The MOD’s current planning assumption is for the construction of 13 vessels to replace the existing Type 23 class. However, the number of ships to be built will not be confirmed until after the main investment decision.

Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, said: “The Type 26 Global Combat Ship will be the backbone of the Royal Navy for decades to come. It is designed to be adaptable and easily upgraded, reacting to threats as they change. I am delighted the programme has been endorsed by the investment approvals committee. The build of these vessels will secure thousands of skilled jobs across the UK, helping to sustain an industrial surface warship capability.”

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, First Sea Lord, said: “TheT26 GCS will be a multi-mission warship designed for joint and multinational operations across the full spectrum of warfare, including complex combat operations, maritime security operations such as counter piracy, as well as humanitarian and disaster relief work around the world. It will be capable of operating independently for significant periods or as part of a task group and will play a major role in the defence of this country for many years.”

There is no doubt that this is an impressive looking piece of kit but it seems that the MOD and the Royal Navy are once again going for expensive quality over quantity. Ships can only be in one place at a time and the key to this class will be the number that can be afforded. With the Navy down to a mere 19 escorts now it is operating with no marginal capacity. There is a strong case to be made for a class of smaller utility frigates or corvettes which would be cheap to build and maintain. They would also have much greater export potential which would add to the jobs dividend. I fear that the Type 26 will be very expensive and very few in number. The promised jobs bonanza would therefore turn out to be a dream.

It should be remembered that the excellent Type 45 Destroyer was meant to be a class of 12 ships. This was cut to 8 and then just 6 – half the original number. There is no sign of any export orders as they are so sophisticated and expensive that only developed nations could afford them and these are the nations which have their own shipbuilding programme. A cheaper general purpose frigate class could have significant export potential to developing and smaller nations, as was the case with the Leander class frigate.

I would be amazed if as many as 13 Type 26 class ship are ordered. My guess would be that in a shrinking fleet we would do well to end up with 8!

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August 20, 2012 - Posted by | Defence

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