Type 31e - 2018 False Start
Recent projects had begun with the right intentions, only for timescales to slip, requirements to change and costs to soar. The Royal Navy ended up with a vicious cycle where fewer, more expensive, ships enter service late, and older ships are retained well beyond their sell by date and become increasingly expensive to maintain.
The intent was to develop the Type 31e differently to break out of that cycle. Government said that the unit price must not exceed £250 million. For the Royal Navy, this means taking a hard-headed, approach in setting requirements to keep costs down, while maintaining a credible capability, and then having the discipline to stick to those requirements to allow the project to proceed at pace.
The purpose of the Prior Information Notice (PIN) GB-Bristol: SHIPACQ182 of 14 August 2018 was to invite potential suppliers to a short period of early market engagement prior to the commencement of a new competition for the T31e requirement (“the New Procurement”). The Ministry of Defence (“MOD”) was again seeking to procure five (5) new General Purpose Frigates for the Royal Navy (“RN”) for a total cost not to exceed £1.25 billion inclusive of Government Furnished Equipment (GFE). It had always been the intention that some equipment would be transferred from the Type 23s to the Type 26 and Type 31 next generation frigates, including the Sea Ceptor missile system and the Artisan Radar. Weapons, sensors and combat management systems are a large cost component of warships.
Following a short period of early market engagement, the Authority anticipates launching the New Procurement with a Contract Notice and a PQQ. PQQ responses would be used to select suitable Suppliers to tender for a CDP Contract. Those Suppliers who are selected would be invited to tender for the D&B Contract by responding to a D&B Invitation to Negotiate (ITN). The D&B Contract would be awarded to the Supplier with the most economically advantageous tender response as evaluated against the Authority’s published evaluation criteria in the D&B ITN.
The Ministry of Defence commenced a competition for this requirement in February 2018 with the publication of Contract Notice reference TKR-2018222-DCB-11953582. Subsequently the Authority elected to stop this procurement due to inadequate competition prior to awarding Competitive Design Phase (CDP) contracts.
On 26 July 2018 the Ministry of Defence suspended the procurement process for this new generation of Frigates. The announcement the program had been halted came from the Defence Equipment and Support service. The statement said: “There have been no changes in our plans to procure a first batch of five new Type 31e frigates to grow our Royal Navy. We still want the first ship delivered by 2023 and are confident that industry will meet the challenge of providing them for the price tag we’ve set. This is an early contract in a wider procurement process, and we will incorporate the lessons learned and begin again as soon as possible so the programme can continue at pace.”
The Ministry of Defence insisted the bids had not been compliant with the government’s requirements for the new class of ship. The government said that a “streamlined” program would soon be restarted with the hope of attracting better bids — but this would significantly delay the procurement process and make the projected entry into service date of 2023 difficult to meet.
The BMT Venator-110 design was widely perceived as the leading candidate but Venator was dispensed with and BMT focused on developing the Arrowhead concept with Babcock. The two known contenders for the Type 31 project were a team of Cammell Laird and BAE Systems with a design proposal known as the Leander General Purpose Frigate (GPFF), and Babcock and Thales led partners BMT, Harland & Wolff and Ferguson Marine to form ‘Team 31’.
BAES were initially only semi-interested the Type 31 and even described the project as “a race to the bottom”. The BAE Avenger design built on the Amazonas-class/River-class Batch 2 offshore patrol vessel, and plots onto the lower end of the solution space. The Avenger, is a 111 m design that built on the pedigree of the existing 90 m Amazonas-class/River-class Batch 2 (RCB2) offshore patrol vessel (OPV) and very much on the lower end of the solution space. The Cutlass design was a significantly stretched and enhanced derivation of the Al Shamikh-class corvette design, at the higher end of the cost/capability curve. The rather crude ‘Avenger’ design that was hastily produced by BAES in 2016 was ultimately dispensed with. The ‘Cutlass’ concept, a stretched version of the Khareef corvettes built for Oman (2009-2013) was refined and re-named as ‘Leander’ as the basis for the joint bid.
With a proposed top speed in excess of 25 knots and a range of more than 7,500 miles, BAE Systems’ design was equipped with some of the most modern and effective weapons systems available, and had been designed to operate in international waters, including the Gulf. It was capable of operating both independently for significant periods and as part of a task group, offering enormous value in bringing together allied maritime nations. The Type 31e design proposed for the UK Royal Navy also featured an enhanced BAE Systems combat system. Building on the pedigree of the systems installed across the UK Royal Navy’s fleet this combat system add enhanced features through its open, secure, flexible and extensive architecture, ensuring it can be upgraded as new technology develops, adapting to ever-evolving threats.
A Babcock-led team pitched the Arrowhead 140 design, based on the Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates OMT designed for the Royal Danish Navy. Babcock and Thales led partners BMT, Harland & Wolff and Ferguson Marine to form ‘Team 31’. Babcock took on the role of program lead, with Thales having overall responsibility for the development of the Mission System solution. Babcock and BMT would work on the development of designs for both naval and commercial vessels. It was envisaged that the link up would enable the economic benefits of the program to be shared across the UK, with Ferguson Marine on the Clyde, Harland & Wolff in Belfast and the Babcock facilities in Fife and Devon all having key roles to play.
MOD set a maximum £250 million per ship price for the Type 31e, as it was judged that the capabilities that the UK required can be accommodated within this limit and that beyond this price the ships would not be attractive to the sector of the export market MOD was targeting. Industry was challenged to propose a design and build strategy that can meet the funding requirements and the timetable for build, whiled ensuring the vessel would be equipped to undertake its critical patrol and presence functions as a key component of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet. If Industry proved unable to meet the challenge, MOD would revise these plans.
Exportability was to be driven into the ship through a competitive price and a capability that meets already identified potential customer requirements. Work has been undertaken with overseas navies to understand their future requirements and this input would be built into the specification from the outset. It is envisaged that, regardless of customer, the Type 31e would be sufficiently adaptable to fulfil a variety of roles. As such the approach to procuring the ship has been developed to ensure the basic design is conducive to open architecture, future modifications and the choice to add weapons and/or sensors.
MOD assessed that there was a potential light frigate export market of around 40 ships over the ten 10 years 2015-2025. The majority of this market was for the purchase of a light frigate design for construction “in country” overseas, with potential support from UK Companies and the UK supply chain. Competition from other countries in this potential market is stiff with at least 14 other ship manufacturers and designers providing a light frigate option in the 2000-4000 tons market place.
Spain's long-range F100 Alvaro de Bazan class frigate from Navantia at 6,000 tons had a price tag of US$835 million per unit. The Germans offer a similar vessel - the F125 Baden-Württemberg class frigate - for around US$650 million, but it lacks sonar systems. In France, DCNS – now called Naval Group – offers a basic frigate (derived from the FREMM class) for around US$450 million, as it has done to Morocco. German shipyard Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems builds the Sa’ar 6 corvette, which at only 2,000 tons are available at around US$250 million. Korea’s FFX / F2000 / Incheon class, for around US$230 million, is a 3,000 ton, 30 knot ship. Russia’s new Project 22350 (Admiral Gorshkov class) frigate, at a reported US$250 million per unit, are among the most potent warfighting surface ships at sea [if the Russians ever manage to de-bug the thing]. China's Type 054A frigate has an estimated US$300 million per unit.
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