Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Type 26 and the modern european frigates

New generation frigates: different philosophies.

We are still waiting to know more about the Type 26 design concepts, as chosen last November during the Capability Decision Point process, but even without details we all know the general role and philosophy of the new frigate. It is interesting to take a look at the three current most-representative and peculiar frigate programmes in Europe, to see the points of contact and the differences. So, keeping in mind the little we know about the Type 26, I’ll take a look at the Danish Absalom class, the german F125 and the Franco-Italian FREMM.

Unique: the Absalom  

The roots of the Absalom go back to the Danish defence White Paper of 1997, which put at the core of the armed forces role the prevention and management of crisis at global scale, with the planning assumption of deploying force abroad, to stabilize and protect, by collaborating in or leading international efforts. The Navy was to be restructured accordingly, working far away from home and as part of multinational forces, providing a wide range of capabilities including command and control. This concept was incarnated by the idea of the “Large Standard Ships”, sea-control units with command and control capabilities and the space and design needed to carry units of the Army as well. This concept was at base of the planning work that followed. Note that the Absalom is considered a cross-breed of frigate and LPD. Its conception is unique to the Danish needs and it is unlikely that Britain would ever go this far with compromises on the design of an escort unit. If I have to find a british counterpart to the Absalom, I guess that the best pick would be the now defunct “C2” stabilization frigate, which saw its budget and role fused with that of the ASW “C1” when the Type 26 program was launched. As an extreme, the Absalom resembles more an American LPD-17 (fast and heavily armed LPD) than a conventional escort.

In 2004 the Danish parliament approved the Navy’s plan, developed on the indications of the White Paper, giving the green light to two new classes of vessels: the FS (Flexible Multirole Ships) and the PS (Patrol ships). The FS concept eventually took shape as Absalom class.

Two ships have been built, Absalom (L16) and Esbern Snare (L17), which entered service in 2004 and 2007 respectively. Three more hulls, based on the same design but without the mission-flexible deck typical of the Absalom, are being built per what started as PS project. In 2008, the PS class was expected to take on the name Peder Skram, but ultimately became the Iver Huitfeldt class instead, with three ships being built and destined to hit service between this year and 2013/14. The two designs are very similar, but the PS class is more focused on the fighting role, particually on Air Area Defence, and comes with 6 StanFlex wells (against 5 for Absalom) which are to be equipped with MK41 Strike Length (the Absalom can only take the short “Self Defence” MK41 cells because the silos aren’t deep enough) launchers firing ESSM and SM2 missiles for the area defence role: in practice, the SM2 is the long range weapon (like Aster 30 on the Type 45), with the rest of the mix made up by the short ranged ESSM for point defence (like Aster 15 on the Type 45). SM6 and SM3 and even Tomahawk are available for future adoption, the first giving improved extended area air defence with “fire and forget” capability (the SM6 is a modified SM2 incorporating a radar seeker derived from the one used on the AMRAAM), the second anti-ballistic missile capability and the third a powerful land attack capability. The Iver Huitfeldt also come with more powerful engines for increased speed (up to 28 knots) and performance. They will, however, have a 76 mm gun at build. Denmark will eventually finance for them a 127 mm gun later: space for the larger gun is provided.

The Absalom Class has a full load displacement of 6,300t. The hull is 137m long, has a 19.5m maximum beam and a 6.3m draught.
The ship design, with 16 watertight sections or compartments and two airtight bulkheads, incorporates survivability and damage limitation features including dual redundancy, automated damage control zones, damage detectors and smoke zones. The ship's on-board battle damage and control system continuously monitors the status of the ship and incorporates a closed circuit television observation system with more than 50 cameras, fire fighting installations, sensors and alarms, a load and stability computer.

The ship design incorporates stealth characteristics for low acoustic, radar, visual and infrared signatures. Most of the equipment on board of the Absalom is commercial in nature, but construction of the vessel followed Military rules and the vessel entirely meets NATO criteria: shock protection and isolation are to STANAG 4142, 4137 and 4549. Sensible parts of the ship were given armour protectection to STANAG 4569 standard. Manned areas are protected against nuclear biological and chemical warfare to STANAG 4447.

The most well known and characterizing feature of the Absalom is the “Flex Deck”, which is located under the Flight Deck and runs for almost 2/3 of the vessel (around 90 meters, which suggests a width of around 10), with a total surface of 915 square meters and a lane length of 250 meters. It is called “Flexible” because it can take a wide variety of loads, up to 1700 tons. The floor of the deck is reinforced and can bear with no issues the weight of main battle tanks (up to 7 Leopard 2 can be carried), or up to 55 light vehicles armored and not, or minelaying rails with up to 300 mines.
The Flex Deck can be used to embark up to 15 TEU containers, and 12 of the TEU spots are equipped with connection panels that allow the container to lock into the power, water and communications system of the ships: this allows, for example, to install a containerized hospital that can receive energy from the ship’s systems. The modular hospital can support up to 10 surgical operations per day and offers 30 to 40 beds for patients.
Containerized modules exist to provide, in alternative, up to 130 additional berths for the embarked force, and another possible load could be represented by modern mine countermeasure drones and containerized systems.
The Flex Deck can be accessed via a RoRo ramp installed at the stern of the ship, but loads can also be lowered inside with cranes through doors in the Flight Deck and on the Weapon Deck.  

In this photo from the website NavalTechnology, a Leopard II battle tank can be seen entering the Flex Deck of Absalom.
The Absalom carries on its large Flex deck a couple of  insertion crafts. The 7.4t, 12m SRC-90E insertion craft are operated by a crew of two and can carry 1,800kg of equipment, up to ten passengers or four stretcher patients. The craft are launched from the port stern by a monorail and crane system and can be launched and recovered while the ship is underway.
Two RHIBs are provided in stealth garages in the sides of the superstructure.

The Weapon Deck, located in the mid section of the ship, between the funnels and the tall radar mast, offers a total of 5 StanFlex wells for the installation of weapon modules. A standard fit includes two Harpoon modules for a total of 16 missiles: each module has 2 x Quadruple launchers. The Harpoon employed is the Block II model, which offers secondary land-strike capability. 
The other three wells are normally fitted with 3 MK6 modules, each with 12 MK56 cells for ESSM. 36 missiles are carried, for Point Defence.

The Absalom also has two twin-torpedo tubes for MU90 anti-submarine light torpedoes (equal to the british Stingray) and as main gun it employs a BAE/United Defense MK45 Mod 4 127/54 gun. The 127 mm gun was specifically chosen to give the vessel enhanced capability to support troops ashore: initially, it had been planned to use one of the many Oto Melara Super Rapido 76/62 guns, which are installed in StanFlex modules and are in widespread use in the Danish navy. The 76 mm gun, however, is more suited to self defense than to naval gunfire support.
The Mod 4 is the latest variant of the MK45 gun, and was developed specifically to employ the then-in-development Extended-Range Guided Munitions (ERGM) such as the EX-171 ER which had to have a range of over 100km. Unfortunately, the US Navy later killed the ERGM effort when it failed to deliver, and Denmark will probably look at the Vulcano ammunition from Oto Melara if the requirement for the long range strike is reinstated.

Again from NavalTechnology, an image of the two Absalom-class vessels out at sea.

The Absalom is also fitted with 2 Close-In-Weapon Systems (CIWS), the Oerlikon Contraves Millenium, 35mm naval gun system (GDM-008), one to the front of the bridge and one on the roof of the hangar. Millenium can fire the 35mm Ahead Air Burst Munition, at 1,000 rounds a minute. Each round contains 152 3.3g sub-projectiles, fired at a velocity of 1,050m/sec. Millenium is effective at over 3.5km for aircraft / helicopters, 2km for guided missiles / cruise missiles and 1.2km for anti-radiation missiles.
Around 7 machine guns up to .50 are also employed for close defense.

In terms of Aviation, the Flight Deck is big enough to operate a Chinook or two Merlin helicopters. The ship’s normal aviation complement is made up by 2 AW101 Merlin helicopters which are carried and supported in a twin hangar. As mentioned earlier, elevator access between the Flight Deck and Flex Deck is provided, and renouncing to helicopter operations the Flight Deck can carry additional containers.

For its role as Command Vessel, the Absalom has a Terma C-Flex Combat management and Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence system (C4I). Systematic and Terma developed the software for the C-Flex and Maersk Data Defence was contracted for the development and supply of the hardware and system consoles. The C-Flex system uses the T-Core common operational environment configured with a layered architecture.
The ship has 22 multifunction consoles equipped with large screen displays and workstations. Digitised video imagery data from the radars and sensor suite is distributed on a TCP/IP network. The ship is fitted with a 1G Ethernet TCP/IP local area network for data transfer. The workstations are based on a Windows 2000 operating system and the servers are based on a Sun Solaris operating system.
The communications suite includes tactical data links Link 11, Link 16, civil and military satellite communications operating in EHF, SHF and UHF bands, voice communications in VHF and UHF bands, civil and commercial communications, and video teleconferencing. Antenna stations are installed for use by army, air force or special forces.

Electronic countermeasures for self defense include six Terma decoy launchers managed by a launch control computer. Four 12-barrelled Terma DL-12T 130mm launchers are installed on both sides of the bridge and the hangar. Two six-barrel DL-6T launchers are installed on the aft of the hangar.

The main sensor available to the ship is the SMART-S mk2 3D S-band multi-beam surveillance and target designation radar, with a range of 250km and up to 70° elevation, and a Saab Systems Ceros 200 mk3 fire control radar, operating in I to J band. A Terma Scanter 2001 X-band radar provides surface surveillance. The ship is fitted with four Flexfire radar and electro-optical trackers, while a ES 3701 tactical radar Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and surveillance system intercepts enemy radar transmissions. A passive IR sensor Safire III is mounted on the radar mast, while underwater surveillance is provided by the hull-mounted Atlas Elektronik ASO 94-01 sonar.

Propulsion is on CODOD (Combined Diesel Or Diesel) architecture and is given by two diesel generators MTU 8000, each providing 8,31 MW. The power system includes four auxiliary Caterpillar 3508B diesel engines each rated at 920kW and Van Kaick DSG 74 generators. The machinery spaces are insulated to maintain a low thermal signature and the machinery is installed on vibration isolation elastomeric mounts. Two shafts drive controllable pitch propellers. Maximum range is 9000 naval miles between replenishments (equating to over 11000 naval miles at 15 knots) and the maximum sustained speed is 23 knots. Thanks to the Integrated Control System, only 18 crew members are tasked with support to the propulsion plant. Endurance is 28 days.

The ship is fitted with port and starboard, receive and transfer, replenishment-at-sea stations, making the vessel capable to refuel other ships.

Normally the crew numbers just 100 men. Accommodation of the seamen is good, with rooms with 2 berths each and annexed services. The rooms come with two additional folding berths, giving the ship 100 + 70 beds. As seen earlier, a further 130 berths can be provided with containerized accommodation on the Flex Deck.
Galley and personnel facilities are sized for up to 300 men.

Frigate European Multi Mission: FREMM

Conceived in 2002, officially launched in 2004, the FREMM programme saw the Italian and French contracts handed to OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Cooperation en matiere d’Armement) in 2005, with the Armaris consortium (a Joint Venture of DCNS and Thales) responsible for the French units and to Orizzonte Sistemi Navali (51% Fincantieri and 49% Finmeccanica) for the Italian vessels.

The French order was for 17 vessels, the Italian one for 10, but this went down and by 2010 France had reduced its FREMM ambitions to 11 hulls, of which 9 ASW and 2 in FREDA (Frègates de Dèfence Aèrienne) configuration for anti-air role, since the Horizon AAW destroyer program was also downsized from 4 to 2.
Italy itself in 2010 announced that its own order would stop at 6, with the last batch of 4 vessels not being ordered. This is, however, a semi-official announcement to this day, and a rethink might still happen, even in this period of cuts, because the shipyards are in crisis and because the Navy would be in serious trouble with just 6 major frigates in force.
10 ships were planned, in order to replace 8 Maestrale frigates and 4 Lupo, the last ones having been sold to Peru. To start with, 10 ships would have had to replace 12: more than acceptable due to the much greater capabilities of the FREMM, but the story changes dramatically if only 6 hulls are acquired.

Besides, differently from France, Italy is still building and acquiring its frigates in two configurations: ASW (4) and General Purpose (2), which further erodes the capability of the overall force by making each kind of vessel (and capability) available in too small numbers to be sustainable. If just 6 ships are acquired, they should definitely be built to the same standard and to full multi-mission capability.
At the moment, it appears more and more likely that the last 4 ships will never be ordered, but there is no sign of a rethink on their design and capabilities. The defence cuts and reforms in Italy are only at their start, however, so much is yet to be seen.  

Substantial differences exist between Italian and French FREMMs, again. In terms of weapon systems and propulsion and onboard machinery, the commonality is as low as 25%, despite the common base project. It is quite striking, and it makes me wonder if it is a good point (you can configure a FREMM design on your own needs, changing a lot from the basic paper design) or an issue.

France began building its vessels at Lorient in 2007, and the first FREMM, the Aquitaine, was launched in 2010. She should hit service this year, and the Marine Nationale hoped to receive one FREMM per year from 2012 to 2022. This schedule is due to change, since the second French FREMM, Normandie, was sold to Morocco, which wanted an ASW FREMM for fast delivery. The ship so became the Mohammed VI, and the French slot was moved to the end of the build tail.

At Riva Trigoso Italy builds its own frigates: the GP Carlo Bergamini was the first, followed by the ASW frigates Virgilio Fasan, Carlo Margottini and Luigi Rizzo, which saw its first steel cut on 6 April 2011.  The pennant numbers for Italy will be F590 onwards, while France, curiously, considers the FREMM destroyers, and gives them the pennants D650 onwards.

France, when its order was reduced, abandoned the plan for a “Land Attack” and one ASW variants, and unified the design features into a single type. In practice, each ASW FREMM of the Marine Nationale is getting 2 VLS Sylver A-43 systems, for a total of 16 cells for Aster 15 missiles for point defense; plus 2 Sylver A70 systems for 16 Scalp Navale cruise missiles.
Each frigate also gets 2 quadruple launchers for Exocet Block 3 anti-ship missiles with land-attack capability; 2x 324 mm torpedo tubes for MU90 light torpedoes, 2 remotely-operated light guns in 20 mm caliber and 2 to 4 .50 machine guns for self defence.
The French FREMM have the 76/62 mm gun from Oto Melara, in the Strales variant fully ready for Davide guided ammunition, acting as CIWS, not just as main gun. However, after the experiences with naval gunfire support in Libya, France is reportedly considering adoption of the Oto Melara 127/64 gun at least for a share of the ships, if not for all of the 9 ASW vessels. The 2 FREDA will still get the Strales, almost certainly.

 The FREDA replaces the 16 A70 cells with 16 cells A50, for the Aster 30 missile, while retaining the shorter A43 launchers for 16 shorter range Aster 15. Another option being considered is the replacement of the A43 launcher with the A50, making the ship capable to embark more Aster 30 missiles, up to 32 of them. The ship won't have a long range radar, because in order to fit it, an expensive ship redesign would be needed, and since the FREDA is meant to be an economic solution, the plan is of course to keep modifications to the bare minimum. The ship will have to rely only on a multifunctional Herakles radar, which should give a detection range of 150 km. More powerful ECM and ESM will probably be installed, while the 76 mm Strales gun, small calibre guns and Exocet missiles will all remain, as with normal FREMMs. In 2007, the prestigious publication Mer et Marine said that the expected price would be around 550 million euro per vessel.  

The Italian FREMM have used a different approach to tackle the need for air defence for the fleet. There won't be a specialized frigate variant, but all the italian vessels are being fitted with the SAAM-ESD (Extended Self Defence). The SAAM system, standard, is based on the Sylver A43 launcher and can only employ the short range Aster 15 missile. SAAM systems are operational on the french FREMMs alongside A70 launchers with Scalp Navale, they are installed on the Saudi Al Riyadh ships and on Singapore's Formidable class, and are also found on the carriers Charles de Gaulle and Italy's Cavour. SAAM was scheduled for adoption on italian FREMMs as well, but the decision was taken to fit the ships with the ESD variant, that uses the deeper A50 launcher, enabling each frigate to embark and use Aster 30 missiles, even though the radar and combat systems aren't optimized for long range engagements and AAW. The french FREDA will use the SAAM-ESD system with the Herakles radar, while the italian ships are fitted with the EMPAR radar instead. Italy is spending at least 20 million euro for fitting SAAM-ESD to all six its FREMM ships on order. 
Perhaps in exchange for these costs, the frigates are being built with just 16 VLS cells effectively fitted, and future option for addition of other 16. 

The FREMM promises an availability of some 3700 hours per year.
In terms of helicopter facilities, the FREMMs come with a flight deck 26.5 meters long and 18.5 meters wide, compatible with an AW101 Merlin. The hangar, is separated in two different areas, one of which is larger than the other and can take the AW101 Merlin. Normally, the FREMM will work with 2 NH90 helicopters, even though France is considering replacing, at some point, one of the helicopters with 1 or 2 drones. Italy will be able to embark either 2 NH90s or 1 NH90 and 1 AW101. 
In future, the Italian navy could also adopt drones. 

Installed on
Missiles used
Horizon Destroyers (Forbin and Doria classes)
- S1850M
Sylver A50
Aster 15
Aster 30
Type 45
- S1850M
Sylver A50
Aster 15
Aster 30
- Charles de Gaulle
- French FREMM
- Al Riyadh
- Formidable   
- Arabel
- Herakles (on FREMM and Formidable)
Sylver A43
Aster 15
- Cavour
Sylver A43
Aster 15
- Italian FREMM
- Herakles
Sylver A50
Aster 15
Aster 30

The table above shows the various systems of the Aster missile family.

Probably the most evident difference between the French and Italian frigates is in the radar choice, since the different approaches have generated very different masts and given the two sister-classes two quite different faces. Italy selected for its ships the 3D radar MM/SPY-790 EMPAR, giving its ships a tall mast with a spherical radome on top, while the french Herakles 3D radar comes in a lower, flatter, pyramidal mast. The EMPAR is considerably more powerful and effective a radar, tracking over 300 contacts against 100+ for the Herakles, and at greater range.

The differences between french and italian FREMMs go all the way down to the propulsion. France decided to adopt a CODLOG system (COmbined Diesel eLectric Or Gas) while Italy opted for an architecture CODLAG (COmbined Diesel eLectric And Gas).
The gas turbine is the same for both countries, a General Electric-Avio LM2500+G4, while the diesel generators are different: Italian FREMMs have 4 Isotta Fraschini VL 1716 C2ME, while France selected 4 MTU 16V 4000 M63L generators.
With the diesels, the FREMMs can cruise at 16 knots, while using the gas turbine the ships can reach 27 knots of maximum speed. The Italian FREMMs can use the diesels in addition to the gas turbine, so they can reach 29 knots, faster than their french counterparts which can only use one or the other.
There is also an unconfirmed rumor of the machinery space on Italian FREMMs configured so to make it possible the future adoption of a second LM2500 gas turbine, which would give a speed of 33 knots to enable more effective cooperation with the Doria (Horizon) destroyers and the carrier Cavour. 

A digital rendering of the italian General Purpose FREMM variant, with the 127/64 LW main gun.

The Italian ASW variant comes with 2 Strales guns, one on the bow and one on top of the helicopter hangar, for improved coverage. The Strales (Davide in Italian service) is the standard CIWS system of the Italian navy, which never adopted Phalanx and did not consider a RAM solution of any other alternative to the domestically developed 76 mm with guided ammunition.
The General Purpose variant replaces the bow gun with a 127/64 gun, compatible with Vulcano long range ammunitions and excellent for naval gunfire support. However, despite the ships being readily convertible to Sylver A70 launchers, Italy is not giving its frigates any kind of cruise missile capability. Nor TLAM nor Scalp Navale are envisioned. Both the ASW and GP variants employ two manned 25 mm guns for self defence.
Italy's frigates will be armed with the national TESEO anti-ship missile. The same launcher can also employ the MILAS missile, which is an italian answer to the US ASROC: it carries an anti-submarine torpedo up to 35 km away from the ship to hit submarine contacts detected at great distance. The MILAS will normally be carried by the ASW variant in a mix with TESEO anti-surface weapons. 

A wonderful profile of the italian ASW FREMM. The two 76 mm guns are evident, and the profile shows the TESEO and, beneath it, the MILAS missiles, plus the Aster 15 and 30 over the silo. On the flight deck is parked a Merlin: this helicopter can operate from the FREMM's deck, but cannot fit the hangar. The FREMMs are meant to use 1 or 2 smaller NH90 helicopters instead. The towed sonar array is shown as it is deployed. The profile is a collaborative work of MConrads, Enrr and Little Bird.
The italian FREMM General Purpose variant, showing the 127 mm gun and the RHIB replacing the towed sonar array. Again, the profile is a collaborative work of MConrads, Enrr and Little Bird.
This photo of the french ship Acquitanie shows the very evident differences between the italian and french FREMM designs, due in particular to the completely different radar choice, which has shaped very different masts.

Different choices have been made also in regard to crewing, with the French navy working with automation to reduce to the minimum the number of men to embark, while Italy prefers to maintain a slightly larger crew for damage control considerations. A battle-ready italian FREMM, complete with helicopters wing, will have a total crew of some 145 men, with accommodations for 165.
The Italian General Purpose FREMMs, finally, do not have a towed sonar, but replace it with a compartment aft for the launch and recovery of an 11 meters RHIB. 

A Finmeccanica model of the GP variant of the italian FREMM design shows the details of the installation of the SCLAR-H rocket launchers (aft), the two quadruple TESEO missile launchers, the two SLAT systems and the manually operated 25 mm light gun, under the towering mass of the imposing mast topped by the EMPAR radar.

In terms of countermeasures, the two countries have once more made some different choices. All FREMM have the SLAT anti-torpedo system, based on two launchers each with 12 cells for countermeasures. In addition, Italian frigates use 2 SCLAR-H systems: this rocket launcher has 15 barrels in 105 mm caliber and 4 barrels in 118 mm caliber. It can launch Chaff, bengala, IR decoys and even explosives: in particular the 118 mm barrels can employ a coastal bombardment rocket, even though this is, to say the very least, extremely rare, if considered at all these days.
The french ships do not use the SCLAR-H, instead employing 2 EADS NDS launchers, each with 12 cells for countermeasures.

Italian GP
Italian ASW
French FREMM
Ship Crew
- 32 cells Sylver A50 for Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles [only 16 cells actually fitted]
- 2x4 TESEO MK2A Block IV anti-ship missiles
- 1x 127/64 Oto Melara LW gun
- 1x 76/62 Oto Melara Strales gun
- 2x Oto Melara KBA 25/80 light guns, manned
- 2x single 324 mm torpedo tube for Eurotorp MU90
- 32 cells Sylver A50 for Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles [only 16 cells actually fitted]
- 2x4 TESEO MK2A Block IV anti-ship missiles and/or MILAS missiles
- 2x 76/62 Oto Melara Strales gun
- 2x Oto Melara KBA 25/80 light guns, manned
- 2x single 324 mm torpedo tube for Eurotorp MU90
- 16 cells Sylver A43 for Aster 15 missiles
- 16 cells Sylver A70 for Scalp Navale cruise missiles
-2x4 Exocet Block 3 missiles
- 2x 20/90 Nexter light guns, remote control
- 1x 76/62 Oto Melara Strales gun
- 2x single 324 mm torpedo tube for Eurotorp MU90
- 32 cells Sylver A50 for Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles
-2x4 Exocet Block 3 missiles
- 2x 20/90 Nexter light guns, remote control
- 1x 76/62 Oto Melara Strales gun
- 2x single 324 mm torpedo tube for Eurotorp MU90
2x SLAT systems
2x SCLAR-H systems
2x SLAT systems
2x SCLAR-H systems
2x SLAT systems
2x EADS NDS countermeasure launchers
2x SLAT systems
2x EADS NDS countermeasure launchers
2 NH90
2 NH90
2 NH90
2 NH90
- MM/SPY-790 EMPAR radar
- TUS 4110 CL bow sonar
- TUS 4110 CL bow sonar
- UMS 4249 CAP-TAS towed sonar
- Thales Herakles radar
- TUS 4110 CL bow sonar
- UMS 4249 CAP-TAS towed sonar
- Thales Herakles radar
- TUS 4110 CL bow sonar
- Towed sonar?
Cruise 16 knots
Max 29 knots
Cruise 16 knots
Max 29 knots
Cruise 16 knots
Max 27 knots
Cruise 16 knots
Max 27 knots

The FREMM project is due to deliver very good ships, but many choices, changes and rethinks in the program have generated a series of highly questionable results. The french ASW variant is almost certainly the best variant all-around, but the gun being a mere 76 mm is a severe drawback, and France is said to be evaluating a change of heart, towards the larger, much more powerful 127/64 mm gun, which would improve the naval gunfire support capability of the vessel in a dramatic way. The "ideal" FREMM, in my humble opinion, would be a balanced all-rounded with 16 A50 cells for Aster missiles and 16 A70 cells for cruise missiles (a more "extreme" and even better option would be to install 32 cells all in A70 length, giving the ship complete flexibility in the choice of weapons mix, as the A70 can take all of the missiles. The space reservation is there, so it comes down, as always, to money); 127 mm gun for naval gunfire support, 76 mm on top of the hangar for self defence, EMPAR radar, CODLAG propulsion.
This proposed configuration is entirely and readily feasible, but cost, thinking and re-thinking and indecision have ruled out, at least for the moment, the appearance of such a variant.   

Germany and overseas operations: the F125 frigate

The F125 frigate is the very special German answer to the need for deploying and supporting presence at sea for long periods, at great distances, for maritime security.
The F125 is a "stabilization frigate", meant for areas where fighting is enduring, but at relatively low intensity: perfect for contrasting piracy, for example. It is, we could almost say, a "COIN of the sea" asset.

It is a quite unique ship concept, even though some of the innovations it originally promised to bring into service have since been abandoned. In particular, the F125 was to have a 155 mm gun derived from that of the Army's PZH2000 self propelled howitzer (i did already see this one somewhere else...) and even a navalized GMLRS launcher (again, i've already heard this) for improving the ship's capability to support troops ashore. Both these options were abandoned: there won't be rocket launchers aboard, and the MONARCH 155 mm effort was abandoned and Oto Melara 127/64 guns were ordered instead.

In the end, the ship will come into service armed with the 127 mm main gun, 2 remotely-operated 27 mm Mauser guns for close-range self defence and 5 remotely-operated HITROLE turrets, each with a 12.7 mm machine gun. At least two more manually operated 12.7 machine guns will be present. Water cannons and searchlights contribute to complete the defence and make further evident how the F125 considers swarms of small, fast boats and suicide attacks the most pressing menace, reinforcing the "COIN of the sea" feel.
There will however also be 8 Harpoon missiles, which should then be replaced by newer RBS15 MK4 missiles with land attack capability, and two RAM launchers, each with 21 short range air defence missiles for shooting down incoming threats. 

One naval HITROLE turret from Oto Melara. Fully enclosed, and armed with a 12.7 heavy machine gun

The ship will have a core crew of around 110 men, plus 20 more for manning the 2 embarked NH90 helicopters. There will be space for an embarked force of 50/60 soldiers, and 4 10-meter RHIBs on davits. The F125 has no Flex Deck nor a mission bay aft, but there is still space for a couple of 20' containers for carrying additional equipment.

Surprisingly, and, in my opinion, in contradiction to the very concept behind the ship, the F125 will have short legs (4000 naval miles at 18 knots) and, worse, very low endurance without replenishment (just 21 days

At one point, the F125 was to weight well over 7000 tons, have a 155 mm gun and a navalized GMLRS. Now it is a much less ambitious vessel with a range of some 4000 naval miles at 18 knots, a maximum speed of 26 kts and a logistical endurance without replenishment of just 21 days.

The real innovation brought by the 4 frigates will be one affecting training and employment of the hulls. The F125 are designed to be hard worked. The germans aim to have each hull at sea for 5000 hours per year, and they want to deploy an F125 for a period of 24 months before the ship has to return home for minor maintenance. Major maintenance is to happen every 60 months at the earliest.
The ship will sail from Germany, reach the operating area, and stay there for two years before going back. In the meanwhile, Germany plans to rotate crews onto the ship every 4 months, with the swap taking just 48 hours in port.   

Rotation of crews with the ship staying forward deployed in the area of operations for a long period is seen as very attractive by the German navy, which is warming up more and more to the idea. The F125 is designed specifically to following this working pattern, but the dual-crew approach is being rolled into being even in the submarine fleet, following the early demise, announced in late 2010, of the last 5 U206A submarines of the fleet. The crews will stay, be retrained, and use to form additional crews for the fleet of 4 newer U212A. Each vessel will thus have two crews, which will be rotated on deployment during a stop in port, or even at sea.

There are obvious advantages in cutting back on long transfer travels of ships, and availability for tasking of each vessel is improved by the deletion of many days and thousands of miles of transit.
The UK keeps at least one frigate in the Gulf from several years, and is likely to do so for a long time still. These deployments last between the 6 and, recently, 7 months. A ship sails from the UK, travels to the gulf, operates in there for a few months, and then returns, with the same crew throughout. Back at home there will be a ship idle for a while, recovering after returning from the long deployment as the crew enjoys a leave, and another vessel will be training to continue the cycle and deploy later.
The advantages of having the same one frigate deployed on site for up to two years, with the crews coming and going by air to take over the ship for their period of service in the nearer friendly port are, i think, very evident.

And to a degree, this is done by the UK as well: the 4 minesweepers enduringly based in Bahrain under Operation Kipion spend years on station, with the crews rotated periodically. The Bay class vessel that supports them also spends up to two years away from the UK, receiving replacement crews by air at regular intervals. The Survey vessels such as Echo and Enterprise also sail years-long cruises, with crews flown to and from the ships, and the principle is applied also to the RFA tankers such as Wave Ruler.
But this method is not used for fighting vessels, because for a vessel as complex as a modern frigate, a ship which is meant to fight and go in harm's way, it is considered much more effective and safe to train the crew whole, on the vessel on which they are to deploy, pass the combination of ship and crew through FOST and ensure the maximum efficiency of the package.

There is no denying that this is the most perfect and desirable model. The vessels and crews coming out of FOST are probably the best prepared in the world, and i won't dare saying that such great standards would be attainable in another way.
Still, i believe that the point must be made that perfect is enemy of good enough. Are we sure that modern technology, simulators, training ashore, and other techniques of preparation cannot produce crews prepared enough to rise successfully to the challenges of a deployment?
In order to keep one frigate sailing around the Falklands, for example, the RN will have 2/3 vessels committed over a 12 months period. For a small fleet, this is a big impact, and the solution cannot be, sadly, building more ships, since funding for them simply is not there. Keeping a frigate based in Mare Harbor for 2 years, with the crews brought in by air, would greatly ease the pressure on the fleet while giving roughly the same coverage, if the vessel was able to generate as many hours as the F125.

The Germans are approaching the problem with seriousness. They recognize that high-fidelity training is a must if the crew swapping has to work, and they are literally building a fifth F125, ashore. The crews for the frigate will be trained on land, in six bases, which will contain and replicate to the detail the systems of the vessel, so much so that the Germans have ordered a fifth 127/64 gun tower and HITROLE gun turrets and other systems for use in the land training facilities.

In the UK, at HMS Raleigh naval base, a Replenishment at Sea training facility is being built with working RAS systems and simulacres of RAS stations of Type 45 and Type 23 both. No doubt one day there will be a Type 26 simulacre. We also know well of the integrated training and simulation centre in Portsmouth replicating the CIC of the Type 45s.
It is worth some thought the idea of perhaps building a true "Type 26 on land" building, complete with all systems, where to train the crews, to try and follow, at least partially, the german model of action, particularly if the F125 proves successful in service.
I'm not suggesting running the whole Type 26 fleet on such a schedule, but having a few spare crews and even just two vessels based at any one time abroad for a long-term deployment (say, one in the Falklands, one in Bahrain) would mean having more ship days available from the same fleet size, and freeing up some more hulls by removing the Train, Deploy, Recover cycle at least from two of the main standing commitments.

It is only a suggestion, of course. But i think it is something to reflect upon. A Type 26 training facility ashore (ideally, it would be a purposefully-built, ship-shaped building either in HMS Raleigh or in Portsmouth, built to train the whole crew together and at once, giving them as much of a ship feeling as possible) and a passage on a FOST assigned frigate prior to being airlifted to the port for taking ownership of the deployed vessel, would be enough?
If the answer is yes, the sizeable investment for building a complex land training simulator is entirely justified by the long-term savings and by the greater ship availability that results from the process.

One last observation: four months are too little for a crew to work really well in the deployment. The change of crews would still happen every six months, i believe: still an improvement over now, over deployments that easily last 7 months due to overstretch.   

Type 26: the british take on the modern day frigate concept

My considerations on the Type 26 are of course hampered by the fact that not all of the ship's concepts, systems and design is known. Indeed, i hoped that by this date we'd have more complete information available in the public domain, but for the moment we do effectively know that the ships will be 148 meters long and 19 wide (length apparently went up from 141 during the November 2011 Decision Point analysis) and displace around 5400 tons with a 60 days endurance at sea before needing replenishment, a 130 men crew (according to some BAE documents, the actual ship crew would be around 110/115, plus 15/20 men for the embarked Ship Flight) and an Embarked Force of 36. Speed is expected superior to 28 knots.

The large flight deck will be able to take a Chinook, and it seems that currently the design seems to have abandoned the 'dog kennel' mini-hangar for UAVs in favor of a single, larger hangar on the model of that of the Type 45. This means that it can comfortably take a Merlin helicopter plus drones, (possibly a pair, but it of course depends on which drone the RN will eventually procure) or a couple of Wildcat helicopters.

There is also going to be a large Flexible Mission Bay under the flight deck, and probably a lift will connect the helicopters hangar to the Flex Bay. This reconfigurable mission space, of which we don't yet know the size, has been described as able to take any one of the following payloads:

- 11 TEU 20'containers (apparently all with connections to the ship’s systems)
- four 12-meter RHIBs or ship boats
- 84 additional berths for embarked force
- One modular, containerized hospital

This is a lot of capability. 11 containers can host a whole lot of stuff, including an effective small hospital or a Mine Counter Measure suite of systems, with surface and sub-surface drones.
The Flexible Mission bay aft is clearly influenced by the Absalom experience, and by the american LCS concept.
United with the excellent helicopter facilities and flight deck, there is enough to make of the Type 26 a very flexible vessel, capable to tackle many different roles with success.

And it all comes in a hull with great performance. A 28 knots speed is very good and more than in line with modern european trends. Range is indicated in 11.000 naval miles at 15 knots, with 7000 naval miles at 15 knots between replanishments being the expected normal running pattern.
Logistical endurance of the vessel is indicated in no less than 60 days, which is a very high value. The fusion of C1 and C2 requirements (the first was for an high-end combatant vessel with great ASW focus, the second was for a "cheap" second-line vessel for stabilization ops and marittime security) meant that the Navy asked for a frigate capable to stay at sea, unsupported throughout, for a lot of time.  

In terms of armament and sensors, the Type 26 will have CAMM missiles for air defence, which are slightly less ambitious than the SAAM Aster 15 system, but promise to be an excellent solution nonetheless, and a cheaper one, importantly, which also apparently comes, according to MBDA, with a secondary surface-strike capability. We do not yet know if there will be deep silos and Tomahawk missiles on board, but it is almost certain that there will be, at the very least, the space reserved for a future adoption of them.
A 127/64 Oto Melara LW gun is a true possibility, with the only competitors being, in fact, the already-in-service MK8 Mod 1 or the BAE/United Defense MK45 Mod 4 127 mm gun. The first is imposing itself as a leader on the international market, and is in quite widespread use. Babcock and Oto Melara have joined forces to offer the gun for adoption by the Royal Navy, and it would make for an excellent choice.

The Type 26 has been visibly influenced by both the FREMM and the Absalom. The RN and BAE have tried to cherry-pick the best features of both vessels, but as always, money will dictate how much can effectively be obtained. Another point of contact with the FREMM is that the RN plans to have 8 "ASW" Type 26 and 5 "GP" frigates: for the UK, this is however a peculiar remain of the C1 and C2 approach, which are going down, essentially, to kitting 8 hulls with all high-tech pieces, while building 5 more hulls fitted for but not with some of the most expensive kit, such as the 2087 towed sonar. 
Effectively, the Type 23 fleet is already a C1 and C2 fleet on two tiers, since only 8 out of 13 are getting the super-sonar, the 2087.

Moreover, if money was secured, we could very well see, in the future, a Type 26 with 16 Tomahawk, as many as 64 CAMM missiles quad-packed in 16 cells, a 127/64 gun, anti-ship missiles (what will replace the obsolescent Harpoons, and when?), Stingray torpedoes and Merlin HM2 helicopter, with the excellent Type 2087 towed sonar in the back and further kit stowed in the mission bay aft.

As heavily armed as a FREMM, if not even better equipped, and almost as flexible as an Absalom.
And, who knows, perhaps one day operated with double crews and deployed abroad for years at a time, like an F125.

Evolution at play.