Type 26, cost, delays, shipbuilding
There was a nasty stink in the air, with the River Batch 2 contract being ridiculously expensive and inclusive of a not better specified "suspension" of the TOBA agreements; with ministerial statements in the last while going in the wrong directions, and finally with the First Sea Lord being more than evasive on the subject. I had warned it was on the way, and as inexorable as taxes and death, here it comes: the Type 26 programme is struggling with costs and the Main Gate approval won't be within the planned timeline, but months late. Possibly, late enough that, in the meanwhile, the elections on May 7 and the 2015 SDSR could step in with full force and mess up the programme even worse, and slow it down further.
It is frankly depressing to see that there isn't the confidence of being able to deliver these ships on acceptable cost figures, because, it is worth remembering, the Type 26 is a triumph of "design to cost" approach. In the sense that innovation in the design will be very, very limited, and there is planned to be a recycling strategy of second-hand equipment like i've never before seen in a warship programme.
Type 26 is going to be built as little more than a hull with engines, to inherit straight from retiring Type 23s:
- The CAMM / Sea Ceptor missile system whole;
- The Artisan 3D
- The navigation radars, if the 2016 installation for the fleet-wide replacement is confirmed.
- The light gun turrets
- The torpedo system
- Countermeasures, since it seems that to contain cost they are still going for the old school fixed tubes (a huge disappointment, as pretty much everyone is moving on to adjustable, trainable decoy launchers, more flexible and capable)
- The sonars. Surely the towed one, and according to some sources even the bow one.
- Possibly more other internal systems, from waste treatment to WEDCIS.
- Possibly the Communications Electronic Support Measures due to be added on the Type 23
I don't remember a single warship in the world being built as a new hull for such a high quantity of re-used stuff. The combat equipment's only new parts will be the main gun and, if they are indeed fitted, something which isn't even certain yet, the Strike VLS. There's also a huge, huge question mark over whether there will be an anti-ship missile on board, and what it might be. The Phalanx i'm not even counting since it smells of Fitted For But Not With from a ligh year of distance.
To contain costs further, the project settled for a CODELOG propulsion solution (nothing wrong on this per se, but a little more ambition could have brought to a CODELAG solution giving the ship more sprint when necessary); a medium-class radar (as good as it might be, that's what Artisan is) and a simplified, lower-than-Aster 15 performance SAM (very smart; i love how CAMM works, but again, it is a cheaper and less ambitious system with somewhat reduced performances), and still BAE can't stick to a reasonable cost...?
Arguably all that could possibly be done to contain the cost in terms of role fit and high end equipment has been done, by pre-adopting everything via the Type 23 Capability Sustainment Programme, derisking the various pieces and literally acquiring them before the ship itself, to move them across later.
In a further internal effort, the Royal Navy is building up a common computer infrastructure for the combat system of all its vessels, under the SC4S (Surface Combatant Common Core Combat System); it is due to standardize navigation radars on a new, common type (apparently the Kelvin Hughes Sharpeye) fleet-wide and is proceeding with the Future Maritime Radar Electronic Surveillance (FMRES) with the adoption of the the digital radar ESM (RESM) on all surface warships.
Most, if not all of these systems will not only have been developed and de-risked and adopted by the time the first Type 26 is ready for fitting out, but will have actually already been in service for a while on the Type 23s and will be physically transfered from old to new hull. Since the passage from Type 23 to Type 26 is going to last for more than a decade (2022 to 2036, according to the plans seen so far), the equipment will be upgraded, no doubt, to some degree along the way, but in a quite common way over the two different hulls. No big revolution is expected, other than what could be afforded by the strike VLS and the new main gun.
Even so, BAE was given a generous 127 million pounds for 4-years of design and development work in the contract signed 25 March 2010. The amount of money and time is fully compatible with the task: indeed, it is about the amount of money it cost to design three FREMM variants (the french one and the two italian versions!), so it is arguably even too generous.
The reported unexpected weight growth had apparently prompted BAE to revise the Global Combat Ship webpage to signal a speed reduced by at least two knots, from 28+ to 26+.
And the MOD, in front of the uncertainties on the costs, has awarded a 19 million (!!!) contract with McKinsey to provide an external audit about Type 26 between October 2014 and March 2015 (thanks to Tim Fisher, Shephard News, for the heads up).
Taking a pause to evaluate things is probably the right thing to do as the Navy does not need cost escalations later on, but i'm increasinly frustrated by the horrendous amount of money that the MOD spends in external audits, assessments, counter-assessments, and assorted power point slides. I wish someone looked into these expenses very very closely, because i don't think there's another ministry spending so much for these things, in the whole wide world.
The March 2015 date for the results of the external audit, anyway, looks like a tombstone on any hope to achieve a contract award before the elections.
Sincerely, there isn't much left to be attempted to contain the cost of building these warships, other than changing the design and making them smaller and less capable by straight out deleting some parts. Something which is not desirable at all, since the ship really hasn't any evident gold plating that can be done without. Quite the opposite: as it is now, the design really could do with some touch ups here and there, such as resurrecting the sunk elements of MIDAS (Maritime Integrated Defensive Aids Suite, the project for the modernisation of the Navy's decoys and countermeasures fit) to finally achieve parity with contemporary warship designs not just in terms of decoy rounds (thankfully, the Royal Navy is not lagging on these ones, and is working with France on new payloads such as ACCOLADE), but in terms of their deployment, via a modernized launcher.
Besides, it must be noted that big changes to what is an almost frozen design at this point are likely to cost quite a lot of money and time.
In front of the unexpected cost issues in a programme which uniquely separates the ship from most of its expensive combat system and high end equipment, it becomes unsurprising to see potential partners basically vanishing away. Australia, which for a short while looked like the most realistic possible partner on the Global Combat Ship, has already packed up and awarded a study contract for its next generation frigates to Navantia.
Again, i must ask the painful question of whether, and for how much longer, this destructive game can be continued. If BAE shipyards can't deliver to acceptable, at least somewhat competitive prices when compared to other european yards, something must be done. Is BAE the problem? Bring someone else in at the head of the yards. Deliver a shock to the system. Introduce actual competition. Do something radical. Building hulls abroad might be unpopular and hit shipyard's workforce and even have a political bomb in it due to the awkwardness of the Scotland situation, but not doing it if things don't change is just a way to delay the end by another short while, at the cost of the Navy.
Something has to change, period. If things continue to go south this way, both the navy and the shipyards will be destroyed, as the navy will get less and less warships year on year due to the high costs, and the yards will become even more unsustainable due to buidling less vessels, in a self-destructive circle in which things only get worse.
The Type 26 programme has been conceived and structured as a "rebirth" project, in which as much of the risk as possible is removed, in which the rate of innovation is "20% new to 80% old, compared to Type 45 which was the exact opposite", in which there is, at least in the words, a complete focus on affordability and even on exportability. If even this fails, it is likely to be game over, or close to it. The navy has no more hulls to lose, and the shipyard consolidation is going to leave a single building line in a few years time. One. After that, only the zero remains.
In the coming months, and ideally before the election, the Navy and BAE will have to make it work, in a way or another, because other big-ticket projects are being rushed to contract signature (Project Marshal signed reportedly 12 months early; FRES SV signed with the demonstration phase far from completed, and more expected to follow) and not having a signed piece of paper when the budget axe will be swinging is likely to be a very big issue.
The First Sea Lord in recent months has talked a few times, and he always delivered some quite interesting speeches, even though i feel he did maintain a very vague line when asked about the obvious vulnerabilities and issues on the horizon. I understand he has serious limits to what he can say, but hiding the problems under the carpet is not going to solve them, and one day there will have to be a far more open and honest discussion about what the United Kingdom intends to do going ahead.
For now, i'm going to focus on the concept of credibility, and its direct application to the Navy's escorts situation.
In his interview with Vago Muradian at DefenseNews.com, the First Sea Lord reinstated his vision of the navy's credibility, to which he has stuck with admirable coherence ever since he got in charge:
Q. What are the priorities you want to come out of the upcoming strategic defense and security review for the Navy?
A. The Navy has to be both credible and [have] balance. If you lose either of those qualities, you’re not in the first division and a very large-potted investment doesn’t make sense. The credibility is not judged by some pundit in a newspaper or magazine on warships. It’s judged by those who operate on those ships, and it’s judged by our potential enemies. So the quality of build, the quality of war-fighting equipment, the quality of the output effect from those platforms — subsurface, surface and air — has to be critical and the balanced force to keep part of that. If you have got the enabling elements of the construct as a whole, then you’re going to have a machine that works and gets respected. So my job is very simple: Stay credible and stay balanced, and that’s a very expensive bill for the nation to pay. But for a nation that has that ambition, and if you have ambition, you have to pay for it.
The general concept is hardly questionable. You can only agree with it. But, even being a pundit, and not even a newspaper one, but a blog one, i must ask how the concept translates into reality. The following question goes into Type 26 range, and the answer is the one which caused the FREMM speculation, since admiral Zambellas does not restrict the solution to one delivered by british yards.
Q. Tell us how you’re maintaining affordability for the Type 26 frigate program?
A. It has to be a credible platform. We’ve set that condition, as the people who operate them, by setting a requirement we think is appropriate for these platforms. When you have a limited number of frigates to deploy worldwide, you have to be certain that you get huge utility out of them. You’ve got to be able to get the range. You have a flexibility. So if, for example, a brand new Type 26 is off the Somali coast doing counterpiracy, a relatively modest policing capability. The next thing is required to move to a hotter, more dangerous environment, you’re not in the position to say, “Oh, hang on; I’ll just change the crew. I’ll reconfigure this or that.”
You’ve got to be there. You’ve got to be able to do the job properly. So our starting point in this requirement is about credible platforms. We then place that requirement into the machine, and the acquisition process looks for a solution with the proper support to be able to give us what we need. The affordability question that comes from that depends on the best that industry can deliver. You’ll notice, I haven’t necessarily said that that’s the British industry, because the decision has not been made as to exactly what that solution to the requirement will be, and we wait to see what comes of it. But the Navy knows what it wants. It wants a credible platform with global reach and the sort of quality, particularly in ASW [anti-submarine warfare], to keep us right up there for the bigger and more important platforms.
I absolutely agree on the fact that Type 26 has got to be credible. And the design that we have seen so far has much good about it, and on paper is more than credible. The evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach is appreciable as well, as it contains risks and, supposedly, costs.
However, closer examination brings questions still searching for answers. On the equipment front, one big question is the Type 26's capability against enemy surface combatants, and its usefulness in influencing events ashore, even many miles inland. In equipment terms: is the strike VLS system going in, this time around, or will it be descoped, as it already happened with the Type 45? And what, if anything, will replace the old Harpoon, which itself hangs in the balance of things between a capability sustainment investment to stretch its life, or a speedy demise in 2018, potentially leaving the Royal Navy completely without a heavy anti-ship missile?
These are two huge questions which directly affect the credibility of the Type 26. What will the ship actually be able to do to be credible and, moreover, to be useful in a "hotter, more dangerous area"? She can't do air area defence due to the limits of CAMM. Can she confidently engage enemy ships without depending solely by the light Sea Venom (FASGW(H)) missile carried by its embarked helicopter, or is it without an ASM weapon? Can it deliver usefulness against targets inshore by delivering some sort of deep strike?
The ship is expected to have a 127 mm main gun which will deliver greater effect in Naval Gunfire Support, but we don't know if and when it will have modern guided, long range ammunition to deliver precision effect beyond the very coastal area. Will it have missiles on board to provide effects ashore? Again, no one knows.
Much of the capability available to the ship will also depend on what helicopter it has on board when it gets the call to action. Merlin HM2 delivers excellent ASW capability, but only four helicopters at a time have an EO/IR turret and a DAS fit enabling them to venture in dangerous skies and survey surface targets.
To this day, none of the Merlins has the ability to employ Sea Skua, nor is planned to receive the Sea Venom and / or LMM capability. So, a Type 26 embarking a Merlin HM2, without future improvements to the helicopter, would be severely limited in ASuW and in any use of the helicopter ashore, unless the embarked helicopter was, luckily, one of the four fitted with the DAS and EO/IR turret.
If it had Wildcat, it could be well placed for ASuW (even though i don't think Sea Venom is a replacement for an heavy, hard-hitting ship-mounted ASM missile which is available for launch without depending from the helicopter being available and ready for take off), but the Wildcat is not going to have sonar and sonobuoys, so if the need of the moment was ASW, the ship would not really achieve credibility without doing some changes to what is on board.
Notably, the Type 26, like the Type 23, is planned to be an ASW hunter first and foremost. That is what is driving the design: the need for an acoustically quiet, long-endurance ASW vessel.
Even so, only 8 of a planned 13 ships are due to have the 2087 towed sonar which is the most important detection tool. So, if the mission was ASW but the closest frigate was one of the "tail-less" ones, credibility would once more be seriously reduced.
Maximum ASW credibility could only be achieved by a frigate with the 2087 and a Merlin HM2 on board.
Considering all these factors, what is credibility about, at the end of the day? And how can it ever be realistically expected that a ship deployed on a standing task will have all it needs, in equipment and training, to be able to respond to a "hot" crisis popping up, without having to properly prepare?
Again, i might be a pundit, but to me, here is the problem. I don't consider this a realistic approach, at least not for the Royal Navy that is taking shape, because too many of the capabilities are held by one specific platform alone. There is no Arleigh Burke here.
The complete dualism between Wildcat HMA2 and Merlin HM2 is, to me, foolish, and is an image of the problems in the force structure.
I can see why Wildcat would not have a dipping sonar and sonobuoys, which are expensive, complex, would take up all the space in the cabin and cost a lot in money and human resources to fill a role which, while all-important, is relatively less likely to be exercised out of the blue. A major crisis against an enemy with a credible submarine force, in other words, should only happen with a reasonable warning time, one would expect, and it would anyway require an answer much better thought out than the movement of a lone frigate from a standing task to the frontline.
Much less acceptable is the fact that even after the HM2 upgrade, Merlin is so limited in anything other than chasing subs, save for the UOR-fitted 4 Merlins used in the Gulf.
Credibility is achieved by the fleet as a whole construct, more than by a single ship. Being classed a frigate and weighting several thousand tons does not equate to credibility if the actual pieces of the puzzle are missing.
Especially if the few frigates available are scattered far and wide, forever taken up by standing tasks which often could be covered just as well by lower end ships.
I don't believe in the credibility of the ship just because it is classed a "frigate" just like i do not believe in the credibility of defence diplomacy only if done by brigadiers, admirals and air marshals (one justification often heard when the huge number of top brass is questioned). I don't think the countries the UK engages with are actually so dumb and primitive to be enchanted by the mere rank on the uniform without looking beyond it to take a look at the actual capability output that the officer represents.
It is not so much the the lone ship, it is the task force that the Royal Navy could deploy and sustain far from home that gives the Navy its rank and its credibility.
Before Type 26 became the programme it now is, the Royal Navy had been following a different path which had, in my opinion, a lot of merit. While unaffordable in the numbers it had been conceived with, i believe the concept recognized some base truths.
That concept was one of a two-tiered fleet, supported by a third tier, of patrol-capable MCM and hydrographic vessels. It was about building 10 "C1" high end combat ships, with ASW focus; supported by 8 "C2" ships, capable but oriented to more "general purpose" tasking, and then C3, the multi-mission replacement for current MCM, survey and patrol ships, which kind of survives still under the MHPC name.
Type 26 is born out of the fusion of C1 and C2 into a single class of 13 hulls, 8 of which fully kitted, and 5 of which missing, basically, the towed sonar. A repeat of the current Type 23 fleet, in other words.
This approach has a few advantages: it avoids the costs of two separate designs and programmes, and builds on the fact that, the late ships in a series build are always less expensive than the first, giving a bit of a downward slope in costs. Crucially, having a single programme removes the challenges of having a second one approved and funded, and removes the risk of the two programmes entering in direct conflict in the budgetary battle.
The problem with this approach is that there will only be 8 Type 26 fully equipped, too few to meet the requirement, while the five others (if they ever get built, which is far from a certainty...) will have all the cost and complexity of an ASW high end frigate but an handicapped equipment. They will still require a "large" (Type 26 is actually expected to be very lean manned, but a less ambitious ship could do with less personnel and, critically, with less highly technical rates) crew with the expense that this entail, and their credibility will always be only partial.
Modern wars, in fact, tend to be "come as you are" situations, and it is quite complex to envisage a scenario which requires the additional ASW hulls but gives you the time to procure, fit and commission the mission sonars and pieces.
We have to ask ourselves if this is actually helpful.
The First Sea Lord has substantially said he opposes the idea of building a second tier flottilla. In August this year, while speaking in the US, he said:
“You aim for high end and you accept the risk your footprint’s reduced globally… I absolutely reject the idea of an ostensibly [larger] number of smaller platforms that might have a wider footprint.”
Yes, the Sea Lord said, the UK could invest in what’s called a high-low mix, buying many cheap ships suited to “constabulary” operations off Somalia and a few expensive ships in case of major war. “The danger with that is when you are needed to perform a high end — and therefore a strategically valuable — task alongside a partner, you find that your low-end capability doesn’t get through the gate,” Zambellas said. “You lose out on the flexibility and authority associated with credible platforms.”
Quote from BreakingDefense.com article on the conference
It is, again, a concept with merit. But, when looking at the details, many questions pop up. Several questions we have already covered. Another key question is how credible it is to have a navy which has its precious, high end warships spread all over the world on standing tasks which are fundamental to the country but techinically not suited for the high end combat vessels. My opinion is that the credibility of the platform might be good, but the credibility of the navy is badly hurt, because it has to respond to Libya by using ships about to be decommissioned, and because in years it hasn't been able to exercise a proper complete task group for lack of escorts, all busy elsewhere.
When you can't attach a frigate, an air defence destroyer and the proper logistic ships to your primary war tool, the Response Force Task Group, your credibility sinks. Cougar 14 has been the lowest point in history, in this sense.
I agree that attempting to start a specific programme for a "lower end" frigate is not going to work, in the UK. In France and Italy, where the fleet is already two-tiered, it is relatively straightforward to make separate cases for supporting the modernisation of both tiers. In the UK, where only the High Tier remains, reintroducing a secondary fleet would go entirely to the detriment of the first class ships. A resurrection of C2, in other words, is highly likely to be impossible.
It must also be remembered that a second tier ship would be, of course, limited in the range of tasks it can cover when things get hot. However, a balanced fleet can’t be made of sole high-end warships. If we take a look at the Royal Navy’s daily tasks, there are several which do not require the presence of a Type 45 or a frigate. The Atlantic Patrol Tasking North, in the Caribbean, would be best served with a cheaper OPV, ideally forward based in Bermuda. This would at one stroke remove quite a bit of stress from the rest of the fleet. Operation ATALANTA is another task that does not really require a full sized frigate. Gibraltar could be the base of another OPV / second tier vessel which would deliver much wished for political reassurance, while being available to restore a more visible british presence in the Mediterranean and along the western coast of Africa, an area which has been growing in importance and an area which could get progressively hotter if the piracy in the gulf of Nigeria escalates further.
A number of other presence and defence engagement tasks could be covered by less ambitious warships, if they were available. Relieving the high end warships of some of these tasks would help frigates and destroyers being available for commitments of greater importance. The high end warships should still have a lot to cover, so any pressure removed from their duties is a big gain:
- Operation Kipion in the Gulf; here, the risk is always high, and arguably the Royal Navy should maintain one Type 45 and one ASW frigate in the area enduringly. To achieve this aim, the Royal Navy is now extending to 9 months the duration of deployment in the area, with a mid-deployment crew rest and ship maintenance “break” in Bahrain.
- South Atlantic Patrol Tasking; an ASW frigate, with its all-around capability is excellent reassurance. The Royal Navy is extending South Atlantic deployments to 9 months as well, on the same model used in the Gulf.
- Towed Array Patrol Ship; an ASW frigate with 2087 “tail” kept at readiness in home waters to support the deterrent and the effort against sneaky Russian subs probing the waters around the UK. A task rarely mentioned, but one that should have gotten a lot more important with the (inexcusable) loss of the maritime patrol aircraft
- Fleet Ready Escort; one warship at high readiness for deployment worldwide
- Standing NATO RF Maritime Groups; which in the new cold climate with Russia are returning to the fore. The Royal Navy has been unable to do much for the groups since 2012, but now they are again in the top slots in the list.
The extension of deployments to Kipion and South Atlantic help in covering more ground with limited resources by reducing the number of ship rotations, and cutting down on transfer times as the same vessel stays in the area for longer.
However, even with a break in the middle, it is still a 9 months stint for the same crew. It is probably the time for testing again the practice of sea-swapping the crew of major warships, because if it could be made to work, the same ship could stay deployed at least one year, while the crew would rotate to keep the pressure on personnel more bearable.
The germans are notoriously building presence warships, the F-125 frigates, which are designed specifically to deploy abroad for a whole 2 years, while the crews are rotated every four to six months.
The Royal Navy’s warships haven’t been designed for such use, but it might be possible to achieve a 12 month time on station, with the right approach. Going ahead, it might become unavoidable to try again: the RN made a first try back in 2007, swapping the crews of two Type 42 destroyers: HMS Exeter’s crew was flown from Britain to the Falklands to relived in place the crew of HMS Edinburgh which was to spend 10 months in South Atlantic. In the same period, the US Navy made its own trials, but at the time it was assessed that difficulties with maintenance and the impact on morale of detaching crews from their very own ship were too serious to go ahead with the concept.
However, the US Navy has signaled last year that Sea Swap might make a return, and the 9 months deployment for the Royal Navy might be a step in the same direction. Newer ships, new infrastructure in Bahrain and a ever growing use of training in land-based “warship simulators” might make times mature for a new attempt, successful this time.
After all, Sea Swap is not new per se: the MCM crews rotate onto deployed ships regularly. The OPV crews, including of course HMS Clyde’s, do the same. The RFA vessels spend years deployed abroad, rotating crews, and so do the survey vessels. Clearly, a complex high end warship is a different story, but I highly doubt it can’t be made to work.
The other way to ease the problem, is the second tier fleet. The first chance the RN gets to adopt a small second-tier flotilla is connected to the incoming River Batch 2 class of OPVs, of which i've already talked at length. Here, the optimist in me is hoping that the incoming deployment of HMS Severn to the Caribbean is not just a desperation move of a navy terribly stretched in manpower and hulls, but a way to plan for a future in which the new OPVs are put in service to cover some of the constabulary tasks that are the navy's everyday job. These ships are being built regardless of any other consideration, and I firmly believe that a serious effort must be expended to get the best operational value out of them and of the still young Batch 1s already in service.
|The incoming River Batch 2|
The second opportunity, in the longer term, is the C3 / MHPC.
The first MHPC vessel is planned to be procured in 2028, and this is interesting because, with the plan for 13 Type 26 stretching well into the 2030s, it would imply simultaneous work on two quite large programmes. Possibly the explanation is that MHPC as currently envisaged, while having a patrol capability, will have such a limited “combat” element to it that it won’t rate between the “complex warships” which require the single “frigate factory” plant planned on the Clyde. In fact, it would be nice to know more about how the future of shipbuilding is seen at the MOD: while plans never survive the impact with the enemy (budget), it is interesting to think that, in theory, the building of MARS FSS should start quite soon (since the Forts are supposed to leave service by the middle of the 2020s). Simultaneously, Type 26 should be ongoing. At some point in the 2020s, Argus and Diligence will need replacement, and in 2028 the replacement of the MCM ships should begin with the MHPC.
How all these tassels fit into the british shipbuilding situation isn’t clear, as of today, and the feeling is that, for the logistic vessels at least, building the hulls abroad will be the choice of the day, as has happened with MARS FT.
In theory, in the early 2030s the LPDs Albion and Bulwark will also be in need of a replacement, while the complex combat ship of the late 2030s, after the ending of the Type 26 build, would probably be a replacement for the Type 45.
My proposal for credibility and affordability is to cap Type 26 at 10 hulls, like the once planned C1. All ten of these hulls will have to be properly equipped as ASW frigates, inclusive of 2087. This is because where the Navy needs credible combat ships, an handicapped frigate won’t really do. These frigates are built to be ASW and ASuW vessels: let them be what they must be.
After that, put a greater focus on MHPC. A separate C2 programme is not realistic, but the mistake in my opinion was to mix C1 and C2 into the same class by merely handicapping some of the vessels in it. There is another programme which is going to happen for sure, because of the specialized roles it goes to cover: C2 should have been merged with C3. MHPC is expected to be a decently sized ship (at least 3000 tons) which will have large cargo and work space in the stern for carrying modular MCM and Survey payloads. It will have a flight deck and, differently from the Rivers, a good hangar. The ship is planned to have good sea legs and be globally deployable, but so far it has been described as having very light armament, probably just a 30 mm gun in OPV fashion.
This self-inflicted limiting factor, however, is relatively easily corrected: one only has to look to ships like the Khareef, built in Britain, to see that it is possible, at low cost, to uplift the potential of a modest hull and give it firepower adequate to be credible in a far larger range of circumstances. The UK, besides, has the advantage of CAMM, a very, very clever missile system which can be installed with minimum effort pretty much on any ship. A MHPC with a 76mm gun and a small battery of CAMM won’t make a frigate, but it will become credible for a much wider range of tasks. And it will have greater usefulness in keeping the yards busy and in preserving skills between the end of Type 26 and the beginning of the next major surface combatant project which, history suggests, will be late as the Type 45s will have their life stretched again and again for lack of cash.
The conclusion to my reasoning is that when having more high end warships is not a viable option because there’s no budget and no manpower for them, the only way to cover more ground with less frigates is to make sure that the few hulls available are truly capable and only employed in the tasks they are meant for.
The credibility of the Navy is the task group, with its full range of capabilities, not the frigate hurriedly stolen from a standing task to be sent at speed towards a crisis.
The high end warships must be there for the task group, for the “hotter” standing tasks, for training for their actual, very demaning roles, and for showing the flag in NATO groups, so that they can actually respond to a developing crisis.
There are other ways to cover less demanding standing tasks.
When people thinks back to the “want of frigates” of admiral Lord Nelson, they should realize that, back in his days, the Ships of the Line were today’s Type 45 and 23/26, and the frigates were the second tier flottilla.
He did not ask for more Ships of the Line.
He asked for more workhorses to act as forward presence, as eyes and ears for the fleet, so that he could survey many places, and lead the Ships of the Line timely into decisive actions only where they could achieve the actual victory.
It is still a valid concept today, as it was back then.
And i'm hoping that the First Sea Lord, in his experience, realizes this. I like to believe that he is showing us his best poker face, talking in a way that protects the Type 26, but with his mind planning ahead to give it some helping hands.