Friday, April 29, 2016

The Shipbuilding Strategy: beware of the "Pointless" class

The Shipbuilding Strategy document is expected in October this year. It is hard to say what we should expect: there are many very serious, very important questions waiting for answers, but all previous experience of MOD documents sadly suggest that the question marks are likely to continue floating even when the paper is published. Possibly, we'll have even more questions popping up. 

The largest question mark floats above the whole General Purpose Frigate (GPFF), also known by most as “Type 31”, even though this designation does not appear to be officially accepted. The many questions connected with this project begin with a massive: “what is it good for?” and continue through "how it fits in the wider Royal Navy situation and budget".

Type 26 and GPFF

The new favorite line of HMG is that “nothing has changed since the SDSR”, which is probably true (we don’t really know, since we were never given clear timeframes and details to start with), but conveniently ignores how everything has changed compared to what had been the earlier plan. We have gone from a plan for 13 Type 26, 8 kitted for ASW and 5 “without sonar tail” to just 8 in the ASW configuration; from a 2016 start of build to at least a 2017 date (and we are not sure that will be it, either, maybe it’ll slip further), from a 12 months drumbeat to 18 months or two years.

Assuming that the first Type 26 still enters service in 2023 (we don’t actually know if and how this has changed), delivering one every two years means that the last of 8 ships will be delivered possibly in 2037, one year later than earlier planned for delivery of the 13th and last ship in the original schedule.

We are told that the numbers will still add up, though, thanks to the “cheaper, simpler, exportable” General Purpose Frigate (GPFF, despite reports of the contrary, the “Type 31” designation does not seem to be official) which will be designed over the next X years for build “somewhere” in the timeframe Y. We have literally no idea yet what the GPFF will be like, and how, where and when it’ll be built. We are told that the Shipbuilding Strategy is “looking” at building the GPFF and the Type 26 “concurrently”. One would hope so, because otherwise 5 of the Type 23s will have to be stretched and dragged over several more years than currently planned (and already their originally intended service life has been stretched a lot as it is).

There is a potential political bomb in there, as buiding two classes concurrently looks likely to mean building the GPFF away from the Clyde. The MOD and BAE, in fact, are expected to invest some money to upgrade both the Govan and Scotstoun sites, but the uplift will still mean that the Type 26 is built across both sites, with the project for consolidation into a single "frigate factory" yard having been rejected.  
It is quite hard to imagine GPFF blocks being built between the Type 26 blocks, at the same time, unless the commonality between the two is so high that the same procedures and manpower can be employed. But this would mean reverting to building Type 26s for both roles.

The problem of building GPFF away from the Clyde (SNP bitching aside, and this unfortunately is a big issue in its own right) is that other british shipyards options are far from evident. Thanks to the closure of the BAE shipbuilding plant in Portsmouth, it might take a significant amount of money to restore/uplift infrastructure and manpower elsewhere, further eroding the supposed margin for cheapness of the new class.

Let’s spend a few words about the GPFF and the “General Purpose” frigate as a whole: who has been following this blog for a while has already read a sizeable two-parts article with my considerations on GP and alternatives to “frigates” for the role.
I hate the guts of the GP frigate idea, simply, because its effective usefulness is dubious at best. The current “GP frigates” are just mutilated Type 23s which did not receive the 2087 towed sonar array when the earlier sonar was replaced on the rest of the class. Tail-less, their ASW capability is immensely reduced. They are just less capable ships, with the saving grace of having been built originally as ASW frigates, keeping, in theory, the door open for a future retrofit of the towed array. I say in theory because it is extremely unlikely to expect the emergency regeneration of ASW capabilities on these ships: even assuming the sonars themselves can be sourced “quickly”, the specialized personnel cannot.
The Type 26 GP would have perpetuated this absurd situation. 

The run-down of ASW capability in the 90s was part of the “peace dividend” following the fall of the Soviet Union, which was seen as including a “holiday” in the submarine threat to UK interests. I find that assumption was always very, very, very debatable, since submarines are incredibly dangerous and even a small and weak flotilla of SSK in the hands of an enemy becomes an enormous risk factor around which operations have to be planned, and large forces have to be assigned to counter it. The ARA San Luis and ARA Santa Fe, during the Falklands war, were a major menace and it is very fortunate that Santa Fe was caught on the surface and thus easily dispatched. San Luis was never nailed, and the Royal Navy can be grateful for her unreliable torpedoes, because she launched a few attacks on british ships that could have been fatal.
The submarine threat is now growing quickly once more, and much of the threat is once more represented by Russia, which couples a resurgent, modernizing fleet to a muscular foreign policy which is causing tension at levels unseen for years.
In this scenario, it hardly make sense to have frigates that aren’t frigates. If they aren’t useful for ASW and they have just a basic local area air defence fit (CAMM / Sea Ceptor), what are they good for? What is their realistic wartime role and position? How do they solve the shortage of escort vessels in the Royal Navy?
Simply: they do nothing to solve that shortage.

Abroad, the french are purchasing a cheaper "intermediate" frigate design to complement their own expensive new FREMM frigates, but they are showing greater wisdom with their FTI (Frégate de Taille Intermédiaire), which will have ASW capability.  
The US Navy, after its own ASW capability holiday, is now retrofitting towed arrays to all DDG-51 and all Ticonderoga cruisers, while fitting a powerful ASW sensors kit to some of the LCS and requiring a towed array as a permanent fit on the "Fast Frigate" LCS derivative. 
The UK, for unclear reasons, seems to be "copying", so to speak, the italian navy, which is building several ships in "GP" configuration, without towed sonar (including 6 out of 10 FREMM frigates and several of the incoming PPA "patrol frigates"). There are several good things that the italian navy is doing with its warship projects, but the UK, amazingly, seems determined to copy the one dumb thing.  

The latest reports suggest that GPFF designs being proposed are a modified Khareef, stretched by some 12 meters in length to gain a Merlin-capable flight deck and some space amidship; and the BMT Venator 110. Very modest ships, destined to be lightly armed, lightly crewed, with little to no mission spaces and with no ASW equipment. 
Supposedly, the idea is that Type 45s and Type 26s will be devoted to providing the escorts to the Task Group, while the GP ships will “cover a variety of other tasks”.
One has to wonder what those tasks are. Op Kipion? Not really, in the Persian Gulf, to keep an eye on Iran which would present a very sizeable air, missile and sub-surface threat, you’ll want, guess what, a Type 45 and an ASW frigate.
South Atlantic…? Yes and no. Yes mostly just because the Argies are unlikely to want to pick up a fight anyway.
NATO Standing naval groups…? Yes, they could be sent to SNMG-1 or 2, but would it make much sense to try and deter Russia with a 127mm and a small battery of CAMM missiles…? No. It would be a statement of political will, but not one of meaningful capability.
Caribbean? You don’t need CAMM and 127mm to chase drug smugglers, while you need space for carrying Disaster Relief supplies and personnel, so that for half the role the GPFF would be overkill and for the other half it would be too small and inadequate. Little better than a River, the currently deployed ship type.
Counter-piracy? Yes, but even here the effective usefulness depends on how many boats she’ll carry, how many embarked Marines, what helicopter / UAS options she’ll offer for surveillance and intervention.
Fleet Ready Escort? Yes and no. If she is suddenly needed to react to a crisis where submarines are part of the threat, she’s out unless escorted herself by ASW vessels. If it has to keep watch on peacetime passages of Russian task groups in the Channel, her equipment fit won’t make that much difference. River OPVs have done that before, and while it doesn't "look" right, it doesn't make too terribly much difference in practical terms. 

Venator 110 

And frankly, there is every chance that the GPFF will have no anti-ship missiles other than Sea Venom for the embarked Wildcat, so she won’t be of much help against large surface warships either. Remember that the Harpoon replacement is still an open question, and that whatever is chosen is highly likely to be vertical-launched, due to the Type 26 having 24 Strike Length VLS and no space for traditional over-deck launchers. A stretched Khareef or a Venator won’t have MK41 VLS, so the problem is pretty obvious. Problem that extends to Type 45 too: currently four ships are being retrofitted with over-deck Harpoon ramps, but the future of the SSM capability for the class is absolutely unclear. While missiles like NSM/JSM and LRASM are heading down a path which will see both tube and VL launch variants offered, recent history suggests that the RN will not put much money into solving the issue.
The Type 45, though, has room for 16 additional cells, MK41 Strike Lenght sized, which, while primarily considered these days as an "easy" path to anti-ballistic capability (via adoption of the US SM-3 missile), could also help solve the SSM problem if there ever were the will and the money to do so. 
The GPFF could end up being exceptionally lightly armed, and I don’t think anyone would be actually surprised. 

Khareef class corvette. The close relationship with the River Batch 2 is evident.  

The question is always the same: what is the GPFF actually good for?

Building a 3000 – 4000 tons lighter escort ship, and do so by re-activating a second shipbuilding site in the UK, is not at all a bad idea. If it can be done, it is actually an excellent thing. But an escort and a “GP frigate” can end up being very much different things. The Royal Navy is certainly short of hulls, but moreover it is short of escorts, and building “frigates” that haven’t a clear usefulness in a war scenario isn’t a good solution. The escort problem is only solved by escorts, the hulls problem can be solved in cheaper, alternative ways.

It should also be noted that, unlike what is apparently being suggested now, it would make more sense to use the smaller frigates to beef up the protection of the Task Group (where the presence of other ships and intimate helicopter and aviation support from the carrier better compensate the single ship’s weaknesses) rather than send them abroad on single-ship deployments.
Personally, I think that it makes a lot more sense to cover Op Kipion with a Type 26 rather than with a GPFF, even fitted with towed array for ASW: the Type 26 will have more Sea Ceptor rounds available; better aviation, small boats / Unmanned Vehicle capabilities and capacity; and, possibly, Tomahawk and/or land-attack capable anti-ship missiles in its Strike length cells.
If It has to be a single ship, doesn’t it make more sense to use the large, well armed one that is less dependent on intimate support and that can, via Tomahawk, give an immediate firepower option in the area without having to relay entirely on the SSN(T) positioned east of Suez or having to wait for the task group to arrive?
It will also be a far better fit in NATO Standing Maritime Groups, for obvious reasons.    

The “Pointless” class?

There are another two reasons why GPFF could become the “Pointless” class: they could be born old and obsolete; and much of their limited usefulness could end up being almost duplicated by another ship class the Shipbuilding Strategy will have to tell us about: the MCM and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) mothership.
They could be born old and obsolete because technology is evolving incredibly quickly and we are on the edge of a major revolution in naval warfare, brought about by several technologies which are maturing steadily and are likely to become an ever greater factor over the coming decade. These are, in no particular order:

-          Hypersonic missiles
-          Ballistic (including anti-ship) missiles
-          Rail gun
-          Laser
-          Unmanned vehicles

It is already concerning enough that the Type 26 herself is potentially going to struggle to adapt over the course of her life. It will introduce the 127mm gun with 40 years of delay, right while the rail gun enters the frame. It will use CAMM missiles right while hypersonic and ballistic anti-ship weapons become part of the picture. It will use Artisan, a single-face, rotating radar in the age of unblinking, fixed-multi plate radar coverage.
It will have a CODLOG propulsion arrangement that could make it complex to squeeze more power out of her to retrofit the new systems.
But at least she’ll have the mission bay and 24 MK41 cells, enabling carriage of new missiles and new systems. The GPFF might not have any of these saving graces due to the size apparently being considered and the need to save money.

Finally, MHC. This programme, earlier known as MHPC, with the P standing for “Patrol”, is meant to introduce a replacement capability for the current Hunt and Sandown MCM vessels and for the hydrographic vessels Echo and Enterprise.
The P has been provisionally dropped as a consequence of the order for 3 new River Batch 2 OPVs, followed by another 2 to be ordered. This has removed the “short-term” (the first MHC mothership isn’t expected before 2028!) patrol requirement represented by the need for a River Batch 1 replacement.  
The MOD is so far “keeping the options open”, not refusing the possibility that new build, “traditional” minesweepers could end up being required. But the direction of travel is completely different, with the money spent so far going all on creating a family of unmanned systems (Surface, Sub-Surface and potentially Air) destined, initially, for embarkation on suitably modified Hunt ships. A UK-only combined influence sweep package is in the development / prototyping phase, and a wider MCM family of systems prototype is due to be formally ordered, jointly with France, later this year.

If the unmanned systems keep the promises, the mothership will be built out of steel and will be pretty large (the only known, very generic indication is for a ship in the 3000 tons range). It will have long legs and good deployability plus, almost certainly, aviation spaces (at least an helicopter pad, probably also a hangar), all things that the current minesweepers do not have.
This makes the new ships useful across a wider range of roles. They will be a lot fewer than the MCM hulls they replace, but they will be more useable, not to mention that the unmanned systems could also be launched from vessels “of opportunity” or from the shore, giving new options for training and deployment.
France has given a few indications about their own plan, which would involve 8 system of drones and 5 motherships, two of which normally used to cover home waters needs, 2 expeditionary and 1 for training.

The Shipbuilding Strategy will have to tell us some more about the MHC direction of travel, especially if the 2028 ISD for the first new mothership is confirmed: that date would imply that the construction of the MHC vessels would overlap with that of Type 26 and GPFF.
Where does everything fit, in shipyard terms and in budget terms? Because it is unthinkable that MHC does not happen at some point: sooner rather than later, it will start eating into the GPFF and Type 26 plate. 

A particularly important question for the Royal Navy is: how many motherships should be built to replace the 15 (but soon enough 12) MCM ships and 2 hydrographic vessels? And again, even more key to the whole strategy: what usefulness can be squeezed out of the MHC mothership in addition to carrying MCM and hydrographic drones? How does adding capability to MHC impact the role / need for GPFF?
This question is of absolutely key importance.

In simple terms: GPFF, if it is built, should be about increasing the number of credible escorts. If it can’t, perhaps it is better to just built 2 more Type 26 ASW and cancel GPFF altogether and focus entirely on MHC to make it as useful and useable as possible.
Hulls and Standing Tasks should be an MHC and OPV concern and opportunity.
If GPFF ends up being good only gor “glorified constabulary tasks” with CAMM and a big gun, it will offer little additional value over OPV / MHC ships while still eating a considerable amount of money.

With 5 to 6 OPVs (depending on the fate of HMS Clyde) in the future fleet, the Royal Navy will have a healthy “second tier” flotilla. Assuming all 6 OPV remain, one should be forward based in the Caribbean and one possibly in Gibraltar. The Rivers, even the Batch 2, have the big defect of not having a hangar (a rather dumb trade-off on capability if there ever was one), but can do well enough against drug-smuggling and for presence / defence engagement in north and western Africa. The OPV forward based in Gibraltar could also take part in non-combat operations in the Mediterranean (where the current instability and migration crisis will probably last for a long time)and even move as far away as Somalia or Nigeria to take part in counter-piracy missions in the two areas. In these missions, it will do almost as well as the proposed “stretched Khareef” GPFF, at very little additional cost (they are being built anyway, let’s give them a meaning).

And then there will be MHC. What will MHC deliver? Back when it was MHPC, it was described as “an OPV mothership”, with a 30mm gun and River-like constabulary capabilities.
If the GPFF gets built, this is what most likely will be built, as there won’t be money for anything more, nor an easy case to be made in front of the treasury for fitting more.
That would give an oversized constabulary flotilla, since there are only so many things that an OPV can do.

Another question arises, at this point: what if the GPFF and MHC were merged?
Before Type 26, the Royal Navy was considering a 3-tier fleet made up by C1 (10 high-end ASW escorts, 8 C2 (more or less what the current GPFF is supposed to be) and then a number (8?) of C3 patrol / MHPC vessels.
Type 26 ended up merging C1 and C2, in what turned out to be (predictably, for how I see it), a bad decision and one that the budget would not support.
The alternative to a return to C1 (Type 26), C2 (GPFF) and C3 (MHC) at much reduced numbers could be a two-tier approach in which C1 is ideally returned to 10 ships, supported by a C”23” which puts the “fighty” bits of a “cheap” GP frigate together with a sizeable work area in the stern for the needed MCM / Hydrographic (and one day, possibly and probably, ASW) unmanned systems. The DAMEN CrossOver would then become the obvious example to follow in designing such a vessel.
The LCS is the obvious example in terms of concept / philosophy, as it has merged the role of small combat ship with ASW and MCM. Just not in the happiest of ways, due in no small part to absurd speed requirements. Don’t copy the ship, but do copy the base idea.

The Royal Navy should not suddenly go from a “we want no 2nd Tier warships, no matter how much we struggle to put together a task group while wasting destroyers to chase pirates” to a “multi-layered constabulary flotilla with uncertain/no wartime usefulness at the cost of real escorts”.
The relationship between GPFF and MHC should be very carefully considered, because the wrong choices in this area will completely screw up the shipbuilding strategy as a whole. And the Royal Navy too as a consequence.

Make GPFF a light but capable escort by including ASW capability, or don't bother with it, because there are probably better ways to spend that finite, precious money and obtain greater overall capability.

MARS FSS: Fleet Solid Support Ship

The SDSR finally gave the go ahead to the much delayed programme for building three replacement ships for the current Fort class (Fort Austin, Fort Rosalie, Fort Victoria) “around the middle of the 2020s”, but we don’t yet really know what design will be chosen and, moreover, we have no clue about where these massive (we are probably talking of 40.000 tons ships at full load) vessels will be built. Is there a place in the UK that can handle this project? Will they be built abroad?
The assumption, years ago, was that the complex and sensible nature of these replenishment vessels destined to carry ammunition, stores and spare parts would require building them in the UK. Now, it is hard to guess what the thinking might be. If built in blocks around the UK, these ships could probably give quite a bit of work to several shipyards. But what would be the cost implications?

Will this be the FSS, or will the budget dictate a drop in ambitions compared to this proposed design? 

In terms of timeframes, it seems likely that there will be a slide to the right, as current OSDs for the Forts (2023, 2024, 2025) would require the replacements to enter service before, not after, 2025. It seems this will change.

Argus and Diligence?

RFA Argus has a 2024 OSD, and Diligence’s own OSD has been pushed to the right again and again. We’ll see if the Strategy document will make any mention of them and provide any indication for a replacement. These two vessels provide invaluable capability, and losing them without replacement would be a major blow.

Long term shipyard sustainability

If the GPFF (or my proposed “C23”, for that matter) resurrects a british yards down south, how can it then be sustained in the longer term? Answering to this question might prove pretty complex, to say the least.
The Clyde shipyards have an answer at easier reach: by 2037, when work on the Type 26 should be over, the Type 45s will have more than exhausted their intended 25 years service life. HMS Daring will have already been in commission for 28 rather than 25 years.
Of course, we all expect to see the Type 45 service life stretched, as always happens, but it seems reasonable to assume that its replacement will keep the Clyde going almost without interruption, if things are done well.

But the first Type 26 won’t reach the end of an assumed 25 years service life before 2048, and the first GPFF / C23 will hit hers later still, meaning that two “escort yards” continue to look unsustainable in the long term. Export cannot be counted upon as the savior: even assuming GPFF turned out being an export success (something I sincerely think will not happen, in a market which already offers tons of well established options from GOWIND to MEKO designs), the chances that export ships would be built in the UK are pretty low. The design might gain the interest of some customers, but the building is very likely to take place in the customer’s country. 

On the large ship front, sometimes in the 2030s the LPDs could do with replacement via LHDs, and building two large LHDs would be a blessing for, potentially, more than one shipbuilder. 


  1. Do you know if the type 26's and 45's have or will have the necessary power requirements to be upgraded with rail guns and lasers in the future?
    from where I am it looks like whoever mount's those weapon systems on their ships first could make all other ships obsolete overnight.

    1. The Type 45 in theory has the best possible power architecture for increasing output and distribute it. In theory. In practice, some questionable decisions were made which now need fixing, as we know, by installing more powerful diesel gensets. Hopefully, this does not preclude the advantages that integrated electric propulsion brings. The Type 26 power configuration, extremely conservative, looks less promising by far, but maybe something can be done.

  2. I always thought the Royal Navy needed more hulls so that she can train more good captains. But I always felt this should come from having more cheap OPVs that perform constabulary duties. This oversized corvette seems to be the absolute worst and most expensive way of going about it.

    What are the chances that these vessels will be designed for, but not fitted with sonar equipment for an ASW package? Not fitted with seems to be the Royal Navy's favourite way of saving costs, while claiming capability.

    1. Get real. RN2030 will have at most 30 roles for real captain's. 20% will be subs, 20% will be linked to CV and the rest will be support. Start again and plan for the real world which is being a medium sized European navy not the world's third superpower!

  3. Even with the gutted capability of this GPFF, you raise a fair point about shipyards. Where is it even going to be built with how busy Clyde is to be. Is it entirely possible that this project's main purpose is the creation of an expanded ship building capability?
    It seems like a really expensive way of going about it.

  4. Excellent article, thank you. This confirms my own opinion that there is little point in bothering with corvettes/light frigates that are devoid of serious capabilities just to make up the numbers. I would say cancel T31, build 2 extra T26 and keep all the Rivers for constabulary duties.

  5. Guys, where's the budget. The carriers and the nukes equal 60% of the manpower and operational budgets. We are never going to sent a CV group anywhere if there is event a 2G air or SSM threat. One or two escorts couldn't defend the CV group No one is going to fund anything like the fleet you are talking about. Let's try mission first then let form follow.

  6. gerry harkin

    Would the RN not be working as part of a coalition, with partner nations providing additional escorts? I don't think the RN deploying a CV group unilaterally is a likely scenario or planning assumption, after all it last happened 34 years ago and is unlikely to be repeated. If the UK is going to be working alongside European NATO navies, the carriers and SSNs are going to be critical assets as most of the partner nations do not possess them. As far as starting again is concerned, it's 10 years too late. What the RN has now will be there for the next 30-40 years, for better or worse.

  7. Interesting post as always.

    The temptation is always there to take the obvious need the Royal Navy has for more ships (specifically escorts) and get carried away with whatever idea for a cheap corvette or light frigate is doing the rounds.

    I tend to agree with you though Gab that it's fine to go back to the C1/C2 force mix, but that only works if the new design offers the level of capability required to slot into the future carrier group or act as a self-contained platform on more than flying the flag and chasing drug-runners or pirates.

    If the end result is anything less then it's not fit for purpose and won't be much more effective than the 5 enhanced River's.

    The mid sized, reasonably priced, yet sufficiently capable surface combat vessel is arguably a fallacy because what you actually end up with most of the time is something that's overkill for simple, bread and butter tasks but not capable enough to go up against a first rate enemy.

    It seems to me that in cutting T26 numbers the mistakes that we saw in slashing the T45 order are being repeated and i do wonder whether the obvious expense of developing a whole new class or significantly altering a foreign design to the RN's needs means that it would actually be better if instead this time the MoD and BAE collectively held their nerve and keep building them beyond the initial 8.

    Keep a Venator shaped design for replacing the Hunt's, Sandown's and Echo's from 2028 and eventually the River's from the later 2030's onward's.

    Whatever the outcome i really think a couple of key points need answering in this shipbuilding strategy before things move forwards....

    1. How and why a determined effort to produce an affordable, low risk, exportable frigate has failed so dramatically. We need to understand the failures of the past otherwise we're doomed to keep making the same mistakes.

    2. How can we effectively reconcile the need to sustain a steady drumbeat of work and keep the associated skills base stable with the requirements of the RN. It can't be that hard to find a synergy that produces a minimum amount of ships and an optimum build-rate/service life that keeps everyone happy. For instance, 24 complex warships built on the Clyde and at either Appledore or Cammell Laird at a rate of 1 per year sounds reasonable.

  8. Ms Sturgeon has stated she expects another referendum whilst she is 1st minister.

    GPFF being built in England may be an effort to ensure if Scotland leaves - some capability and skills remain.

  9. A sensible appraisal of the problem at hand.

    One thing you don't cover in this article is the amount of assets the RN/RFA have that are not common (i.e. different hull types)

    Maintenance accounts for circa 60% of the RN budget so any drive to standardisation will have a massive impact on this cost if done correctly.

    For me we should build 40 T26 hulls over 25 years and then fit them out with whatever is needed (GCS complement is 118) so this is a very efficient design. If we must have a lighter frigate then the split would be 15 T26 and 25 T31. This would require circa 4800 personnel. These 40 ships and the Carriers would make up the bulk of our surface fleet.

    For all other large ships I would standardise on the Aegir Hull used for the Tides and create a fleet of joint support ships like the Karel Doorman. These are very capable ships and give maximum bang for our buck. I would do 8 Tides and 6 Karel Doormans to replace all current amphibious and solid support ships. The Karel Doorman has facilities for 6 merlins or 2 chinooks and has excellent storage facilities and I am sure could be tweaked as necessary to become a mothership type vessel.

    As for the RN's non existent asymmetrical and littoral capabilities I would buy a large fleet of CB90's and give these to the RM as well as create a inshore fleet of 50 Safeboats Mk6 or similar.

    By standardising the RN and RFA on a few hull types with the same engines and components and rigorously keeping to a lifecycle instead of wasting valuable money on sustainability programmes - the RN/RFA can have more of what it needs for no increase in cost.

    The poor planning of the MOD and Govt (remember the carriers incurred a £1.5bn hit due to govt pushing dates back) is killing these budgets. suppliers need a stable pipeline in order to build a future and the current fleet is so old and small with many vessels already out of service before replacements are in place that an opportunity to totally rebalance is available.

  10. Thanks for the article. I always appreciate the effort.

    I think you’re taking a line lots of people are looking at. And this if fine.

    However I’d like to look at it form a slightly different point of view.

    Type 26 is phenomenally expensive for a frigate. I think we will be looking at half a billion pounds per frigate. And the RN \ MOD are busy making it as hard as possible to determine the cost per ship right now.

    Undoubtedly cutting the class has just made them 5/8ths more expensive in terms of the design cost, which will be significant.

    The truth is, and many of us have watched this happen over the last few years, it was obvious T26 was being designed NOT to be the expendable \ cheap frigate with the “eye to export” that the government wanted.

    The thing is almost as big as a Daring, and is bound to tip the scales past 7000 tonnes at full load.

    I think this is a rap on the wrist for BAE and the RN.

    And am very much hoping for a de-mission bayed “light” type 26 perhaps clocking 5000 tonnes, With half the VLS, reduced fit and about half the cost. 5 off. I suspect the government are trying to “encourage” this.

    The Idea of designing a whole new frigate is not a cheap alternative, its simply busy work to keep our designers in work. The development work nowadays takes a very high percentage of the overall cost. Hence that annoying phrase about the cost of steal and air. ( Tut. )

    RN designs have never gained much grip in terms of sales globally, they are always high spec. The hope that we will somehow break the mould here with the Type 31 is wishful thinking, and idiotic to bank our national defence on.


  11. thanks for the article...

    I find myself in part depressed and in part extremely angry at how the spin of the political class will be the ruin of the Royal Navy.

    Someone should be made accountable for this mess. Where are the politicians, and indeed admirals, who repeatedly quoted to the masses that we would be producing a 'Global Combat Ship, de-risked as the sonar [and other parts] would be pulled through from the Type 23, with excellent export potential' ... it is scandalous... and if the last of type isn't built until the mid-2030's please explain to me how anyone can be certain that this 'pulled-through technology will not be obsolete ... it is a disgrace...

    I am not a naval architect, but clearlythe Type 26 should have been an escort focused simply on ASW, no banks of main strike VLS, no landing for chinooks, no room for large numbers of embarked troops...

  12. Gabriele

    I know this is not the place to vent and fantasy fleets are frowned upon... but I really dont understand why a government can not commit to a build programme for the Royal Navy that is within budget [we keep being quoted 'the £178 billion equipment programme over the net decade'], and maintains a steady flow of work for the [too few] remaining shipyards... I truly hope this latest study/review/job for a lord actually amounts to something...but I'm not holding my breath...

  13. Gabriele-san

    On the Pointless-class, I do have some question.


    Here, I assume MHC is very lightly armed, as light as River OPV, which I think is the way to go. No CAMM, no 5in gun, maybe a Phalanx, surely a 30mm gun(s). 20kt or less. (cheap, cheap, cheap = number, number, number)

    Here I define a patrol frigate of "3000t FL, 25kt, long endurance/range, 5in gun, Merlin capable, 2x 30mm, and a Phalax. No sonar, limited ESM/chaff/flare, and with "so-so stealthy" hull. +FFBNW 12 CAMM". The ship can do FRE, APT-S (with current Argentina air-force status) and APT-N. No TAPS, poor at Kipion.

    But, this ship in real war can do
    - a plane guard attached to CVF
    - FRE, APT-S and Kipion (with allies' help)
    if you think these standing operation shall not be gapped.

    In this case, the patrol frigate, or glorified OPV as you say, is really useless/pointless?

    If you
    - are happy to gap standing tasks while in real war
    - OR, wan the MHC to be more fightly, with CAMM and 5in
    I guess you do not need the patrol frigate. Is this your intention?

    Donald of Tokyo

    1. The ship you describe to me is not just pointless, but damaging: it can't do anything significant, yet will cost considerable money. The Fleet Ready Escort is not a task for a ship like that anyway, if it is to be taken seriously.

      Rather than sending a pointless ship on APT-S, i'd prefer gapping the standing task. Put better kit on MHC, and use that where possible, and put the OPVs on the way to good use.
      The Pointless class is just a waste of money.

    2. Thanks for quick response!

      Then what do you need for FRE? This is my point of question. A "25kt Floreal-like" patrol frigate can chase Russian carrier. She can also go for Siera Leone. What else are FRE going to handle?

      My proposed "patrol frigate" is just a glorified OPV, yes, but it will not be so expensive. Just adding a hangar and a 5in gun to the River, with 10-12m extended hull, and "borrow" a Phalanx from elsewhere. The cost shall be similar to Holland and BAM. I am still not clear 5-6 of these vessel is "just a waste of money."

      MHC? I rather want it to be PSV-like, similar to B2M added with a helicopter deck. This will be a cheap solution.

      Note that I personally prefer light-frigates (properly equipped), not glorified OPV. (Thus I'm comparing, 8 T26s and 5 light frigates vs 9 T26 AND 5-6 glorified OPV.).

      But "prefer A" is not "reject B" for me.

      May be I want to quantify your comment of "waste" and "pointless", which in itself contains no information. Curious to "understand" what you really mean by those "offensive words". For me, still the standing tasks remains as a candidate for their "tasks".

      So, maybe understanding of FRE and importance of "not-gapping" other standing tasks is the main difference?

      Donald of Tokyo

    3. A ship with no wartime usefulness and more expensive than an OPV is a waste. It is actually really simple. Either you need to be an escort ship, or you don't.

      The Fleet Ready Escort should be exactly that: an escort ship ready to deploy if a crisis of any kind pops up. Escorting russian ships in the Channel in peacetime is no "crisis".
      The FRE requirement has been in the past paired or has been unified with the more specific requirement for a ready ASW vessel in home waters, too.

      It is rather pointless to build MHC disarmed and incapable to do anything on its own, while burning money for "patrol frigates" or whatever you want to call them.
      They are all ships which would need real escorts around during a shooting crisis, and the real escorts will not be there if the money has been thrown away for ships of dubious usefulness.

      If you want an OPV with CAMM. hangar and a gun, use MHC. That way it can self-protect (to a degree) when doing its wartime role of MCM for the task force. On the way out, it can contribute to task force protection. In peacetime, it can help covering the "non-warlike" standing tasks. With two big bonuses:

      - It has a clear role which brings with itself a requirement for mission space in the back. Space is a good part of future-proofing. Develop offboard ASW or other payloads, and its usefulness over life suddenly grows.
      In peacetime, the mission space can carry a lot more supplies for disaster relief than a Floreal ever will.

      - Second big advantage: it removes the expense of designing, building, running and crewing a third class of vessels.

  14. Thanks I think it is not more clear.

    > A ship with no wartime usefulness and more expensive than an OPV is a waste. It is actually really simple. Either you need to be an escort ship, or you don't.

    I disagree here. So called glorified OPV "can do" many (if not all) of the standing tasks "even in war time", if the location is "not in the war zone". (not only me, but many others will insist saying this way, and you will forced to say again and again and again, I'm afraid)...


    I found our main difference is that you assume MHC will be heavily armed, as armed as a light light-frigate (CAMM and 5in). In this case, I totally agree there is "no place left" for a glorified OPV (equivalent to a MHC without mission bay) to live.

    No objection here.

    How to arm MHC (without "P") will be another topic, so may be not here/now to discuss.

    Thanks a lot. At least for me, it is much clear now.

    Donald of Tokyo

    1. > Thanks I think it is not more clear.

      Horrible mistake!!

      Thanks I think it is NOW more clear.

  15. Clearly one of the key questions is how to protect the MHC while it is doing its mine hunting job in hostile waters. Current MCMV have very little self defence capabilities and would require a FF/DD escort. To avoid this a free up limited FF/DD assets for other work would require MHC with a suitable sensor and weapons fit. Probably something like 12 CAMM, a 76mm main gun, a Wildcat (flight deck and hanger), a Phalanx, two 30mm guns plus a number of mini guns. Coupled with the required sensors and combat systems, the MHC looks like quite an expensive mine hunting corvette and could clearly be used for quite a number of other roles. But, if the MHC is not going to spend most of its time in hostile waters, would it be better to keep it lightly armed and provide it with a light frigate escort when it needs one?

  16. My belief is that the only way the type 31 works is if it has as much in common with the Type 26 as feasible. In other words the basic hull would probably be almost identical but shorter but with the same machinery. The cost benefits are obvious.
    The ultimate fitted For but not With!

  17. Gabriele-san

    I was thinking of your comment on GPFF and Venator110 light frigate.

    Venator has a mission bay beneath the flight deck and also a space astern. I also think it can be slightly modified to something like Crossover class. Following your comment, I try to "modify" its armament.

    1: On SSM. Because RN is to operate T23 frigate up to 2036 or so, I think you will have some sets of canistered LRASM or NSM. If needed, you can retrofit it to GPFF and T45. --> room for 8 canistered SSM. It has.
    2: Op, Kipion. What if 2 of the 5-6 GPFF fitted with CAPTAS-2, and well-trained for shallow water ASW? It can replace ASW escort there? I think 24 CAMM and 5in gun have no problem. --> modify the stern door region to either handle RHIB/OSC ramp OR CAPTAS-2.
    3: NATO standing and FRE. I'm sorry but I could find no problem with "a light frigate with 24 CAMM, 5in gun and a smallish hull sonar" there. If FRE is T45, the ASW kit is the same. As an escort, its arment is average, can do good contribution to both.
    4: Caribbean and counter piracy. River B2/3 can do it. Not GPFF's task. Agreed.

    I'm sorry this kind of counter argument is not fair, but I think what I am talking is not "far away". I can find some risk of, "how noisy the hull will be, ASW-wise for item-2 ?" and "keep enough margin".

    By the way, unifying GPFF and MHC is not a bad idea, in general. But, since I think GPFF will be 4000-5000t FL vessel, it is rather large for a MHC. But, lest's assume 4000t large MHC. I propose as follows:
    - propulstion; For GPFF, CODLAD = 2-diesels for 2-shafts + 2 moters and 1 additional diesel on the raft for "DL" (sprint 26kts, DL=15kts), and for MHC, only 2-diesels for 2-shafts (18kts). With the 2nd generator room empty, make the missiona bay or cargo space larger.
    - flight-deck/mission-bay/hangar: For GPFF, enclosed. Slope or TASS on stern, a modest mission bay below hangar (similar to Crossover, but in smaller scale), for MHC large unified mission bay from stern to mid hull, open space around the stern, and flight deck shifted from astern, with retractable small Wildcat hangar attached.
    - armament: GPFF = 5in gun, 24 CAMM, 8 SSM, a Wildcat (some with CAPTAS-2). For MHC, may buid 6 of them, 4 lightly armed = 1-3 30mm gun(s) with LMM options. 2 heavily armed, with 30mm gun and 24 CAMM.

    Not bad, actually. But, after GPFF, RN shall "re-think" MHC. If the 4000t FL MHC based on GPFF is good, then proceed. If not, go for PSV-like ship or heavily armed MHC-frigate.

    Donald of tokyo

    1. You are trying to take a "GP frigate" and desperately trying to modify, select, constrain the requirements in order to show it being useful for something. Yes, you can find some uses for a ship. A ship is never entirely useless. But the ships should fit the requirements, not the other way around...

    2. You are right. And because the requirements are determined by RN/MOD/HMG, we shall wait for it. Now we are discussing on the "assumed" requirements. But, I think it is not meaningless, actually.

      My point is see what a GPFF "can do". Your point is the same, from the other side round, i.e. "cannot do". I think ultimately the same thing we are doing.

      Again, I am not offending your idea, (although I agree you may not feel that way...sorry for that). Say, what I was trying is to clarify the limit. If the requirement exceed the limit a GPFF can provide, GPFF is not good. If it is within the limit, GPFF is the right thing to go.

      After these analyses, when RN/MOD/HMG states something, we shall be ready to judge it, i.e. the GPFF specification is within or exceeding the requirement.



  18. I have put my own thoughts on an Ocean Patrol ship or medium sized General Purpose Frigate in a four page pdf file,

    It seems to me that only way to keep the costs down is to go for a CODAD arrangement using as much off the shelf equipment as possible, and of course avoiding BAE.


  19. Why dont join very similar projects with French or Italians for GPF, or just take Absalon of the shelf and make use of it?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Just been reading about the new Atago ships the japanese have formally began the construction of cant help but look at their weapons fit point-defense lasers and electromagnetic railgun as well as the usual array of more conventional missiles, I have been looking at the proposed weapons fits for the above ship and cant help wondering if it wont be obsolete by the time its built the world is changing very rapidly and we are behind the curve.

  21. Surely any likely light frigate or pointless class design would be better served by an SSK?

    Most of the discussions regarding a light frigate's usefulness come down to vulnerability in wartime to SSMs or submarines.

    Best way to hunt a sub is with another sub though it does seem to me that every SSN we have ever built appears to have run aground at one point or another..

    Building SSKs would hopefully free our SSN fleet for blue water ops as their current training and tasking does appear to bring them rather too close to the shore!

    Other than obsolete Harpoons the only anti surface weapons our fleet possesses are medium calibre guns and Spearfish. All of the various bit and bobs of equipment needed for an SSK are currently in production.

  22. A tour de force of an article Gabriele.
    I remember reading somewhere a RN office saying "air is free and steel is cheap"
    I've never had a convincing argument put to me justifying itty bitty ships. The cost of a frigate is nearly going to be the cost of a destroyer. Why buy half a loaf for 70p when you could get a whole loaf for £1.00.
    I see the Type 45 and its future offspring a the UKs Arleigh Burkes. Build more of them not half hearted mini-me's.
    The Black Swan study had it right in the first place.
    A big spacious commercial hull that could be designed and in the water quickly with space for future upgrades.

    I would use the type 26 open plan mission bay that can be expanded to additional hangar space if needed. Open plan mission bay opens up (literally) all sorts of flexibility possibilities.As for mission space there is no law which says a ship shall have only one mission deck. A lower mission deck for storing vehicles and launching manned/unmanned boats working in parallel with the hangar deck level mission space would make this vessel a world class flexibility champion.
    Looking at the USN's distributed lethality ideas it would not hurt to put a few VLS with land/sea Tomahawks and space for some marines for short notice counterterrorism/recon/antipiracy missions. The mission spaces would be useful in migrant rescue work in the Med similar to what the Italians are working on for their new vessel.
    Antisubmarine cpability should be seen as a basic offshore patrolling requirement given Russia's actions and these should have a sensor fit to act as tripwires when they are in UK waters. How much actual ASW gear is another argument as it is a potent cost driver.
    The ship concept Should be seen as a replacement for the River Class which is in reality a fisheries patrol vessel which is not enough given Russian aggression in home waters which need to be patrolled and kept under surveillance and not enough for the global tasks the UK inevitably gets call upon for.
    The River class needs Type 26 hangar and mission bay facilities at a minimum for global constabulary work.
    I would name the proposed class the Lake class as rivers flow naturally into lakes which are bigger and you can do more things on a lake than you can on a river.
    In summary go cheap, go expensive or don't go at all.

    Geordieland Trini

  23. Here's a new design proposal from Steller Systems called Project Spartan as reported by Save The Royal Navy.Org:

    I'm looking forward to seeing more detailed specifications for the Project Spartan and it adds another credible and promising option for the Type 31.


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