Type 31e Light General Purpose Frigate Export
The Type 31e builds upon the already successful Iver Huitfeldt Global Frigate design, incorporating changes to provide a compliant and adaptable modern platform. Thousands of jobs in the British shipping industry would be created over the next decade, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced 12 September 2019, as he pledged to bring shipbuilding back to the UK and strengthen the Royal Navy. During a visit to a ship in the Thames for London International Shipping Week the Prime Minister announced the Arrowhead design of Babcock + Thales had been selected for new Type 31 warships. The UK Government had committed to buying at least five of these cutting edge vessels for the Royal Navy, with more expected to be exported to governments around the world. The first British Type 31 ship would be in the water by 2023.
The Type 31 program, also known as the Type 31e to emphasize the export potential, would support over 2,500 jobs across the UK, with different elements of the frigates being assembled and built at British shipyards. At least 150 of these jobs would be for new technical apprenticeships. The ships would be built exclusively in the UK. Today’s announcement formed part of the Prime Minister’s commitment to reinvigorate the British shipbuilding industry, ensuring British design and building expertise, in military and commercial shipping, is once again at the heart of this important international market. The new Type 31 ships would build on the exporting success of the Type 26 frigates, which were designed in the UK and would soon be sailing as part of the British, Australian and Canadian navies.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "These mighty ships will from the next generation of the Royal Navy fleet. The Type 31 frigates will be a fast, agile and versatile warship, projecting power and influence across the globe. The ships will be vital to the Royal Navy’s mission to keeping peace, providing life-saving humanitarian aid and safeguarding the economy across the world from the North Atlantic, to the Gulf, and in the Asia Pacific."
Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, said: "We will make the Type 31 frigate an export success. Like the Type 26 before it, there has been significant interest in the design and capabilities of the Type 31 from around the world. Countries are modernising their fleets to safeguard against 21st century naval threats and British-built vessels and maritime technology are in high demand. An outward looking United Kingdom will seize this opportunity as we leave the EU."
The Government has pledged to maintain a surface fleet of at least 19 frigates and destroyers and to grow this fleet in the 2030s. The first batch of five Type 31 frigates will help achieve this, by replacing Type 23 frigates. At a time where the challenges across the world’s seas are increasing, the Type 31 frigates would enable the UK to undertake more missions such as the interception and disruption of those breaching international maritime law, intelligence collection and protecting commercial shipping.
The General Purpose Frigate [GPFF] has the potential to provide the Royal Navy with a modern, flexible frigate. It also offers the UK the opportunity to re-enter the highly valuable export market for warships. However, there is a balance to be struck between these two ambitions. On the one hand, the GPFF must be designed to provide the Royal Navy with the capabilities it requires. Yet, on the other hand, it may be that modular design of a “template” warship, would enable a greater number of basic hulls to enter service, with additional “plug and play” capacity being added incrementally at later stages.
The UK Ministry of Defence acknowledged that it won't be able to receive new budget export-oriented frigates, Type 31e for a set price tag of £250m per vessel, The Telegraph reported 08 May 2019. The newspaper noted that prior to that some naval experts had expressed concern that such an inexpensive ship may become more of liability than an asset for any navy. At the same time, the ministry didn't scrap the idea of the warship for good. The price tag would remain the same, but now the winning bidder would bear fewer costs due to "government-furnished equipment". The term suggests that the state would provide the contractor with some of the ship's equipment, such as sophisticated software and even weaponry.
The Save The Royal Navy website suggested that London can use parts of the Type 23 frigate, which are now being decommissioned. However, according to the media outlet, the adaptation of the old ship's systems may take time and the government can't decommission the Type 23 rapidly without replacing them with something else. According to The Telegraph, Type 31e was designed to be a lucrative option for military exports with the first one expected to be ready in 2023. The original tender for the ship's construction was halted in summer 2018 due to lack of competition.
The MOD National Shipbuilding Strategy included the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers; next generation Dreadnought submarines; Type 45 destroyers; and a phalanx of new frigates - not just Type 26 Global Combat Ships but a flexible and adaptable general purpose light frigate - the Type 31e. These new frigates, the T26 and T31e detailed in this strategy, represented a significant proportion of the billions to be spent on the procurement of surface ships over the coming decade. In 2015 the Government committed to sustaining at least 19 destroyers and frigates and then growing this force by the 2030s.
The National Shipbuilding Strategy stated “To win increased exports sales, ships must instead be designed with exports in mind from the outset… We have set a maximum £250 million per ship price for the Type 31e, as we judge that the capabilities that the UK requires can be accommodated within this limit and that beyond this price the ships would not be attractive to the sector of the export market we are targeting.”
The fine folks over at Save the Royal Navy noted that "No Western nation has built a credible frigate even close to this price. The modular Danish Iver Huitfeld frigates (built 2008-12) at around £300M are closest, but their hulls were built in cheap East European yards and re-used equipment from old ships. The average cost of light frigates in the 3,500 tonne range built in the last decade is around £350M. Germany’s new Braunschweig class corvettes cost approximately £400m each and are certainly not frigates. The successful French warship exporters DCNS are building 5 FTI frigates for the Marine Nationale which are priced in the region of £580m."
The Royal Navy’s requirement for a general purpose frigate is, in the first instance, driven by the government’s commitment to maintain current force of 19 frigates and destroyers. The 6 Type 45 destroyers are still new in service, but the 13 Type 23 frigates are already serving beyond their original design life. They remain capable, but to extend their lives any further is no longer viable from either an economic or an operational perspective. Eight of those Type 23s are specifically equipped for anti-submarine warfare and these would be replaced on a one-for-one basis by the new Type 26 frigate. As such, the Royal Navy looked to the Type 31e to replace the remaining 5 remaining general purpose variants.
To continue meeting current commitments, the Royal Navy needed the Type 31e to fulfil routine tasks to free up the more complex Type 45 destroyers and Type 26 frigates for their specialist combat roles in support of the strategic nuclear deterrent and as part of the carrier strike group. So although capable of handling itself in a fight, the Type 31e would be geared toward maritime security and defence engagement, including the fleet ready escort role at home, fixed tasks in the South Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf, and NATO commitments.
In Nelson’s time, a first rate ship like HMS Victory was a relative scarcity compared with smaller, more lightly armed frigates. They wouldn’t take their place in the line of battle, but they were fast, manoeuvrable and flew the White Ensign in many of the far flung corners of the world where the UK had vital interests. More recently, the Navy still had general purpose frigates like the Leander, Rothesay and Tribal class and, later, the Type 21s, which picked up many of the routine patrol tasks and allowed the specialist ASW frigates to focus on their core NATO role.
It was only when defense reductions at the end of the Cold War brought difficult choices that the Royal Navy moved to an all high end force. So the advent of a mixed force of Type 31 and Type 26 frigates is not a new departure for the Royal Navy, nor is it a ‘race to the bottom’; rather it marks a return to the concept of a balanced fleet. And the Type 31e is not going to be a glorified patrol vessel or a cut price corvette. It’s going to be, as it needs to be, a credible frigate that reflects the time honoured standards and traditions of the Royal Navy.
Type 31e would be marketed to export customers at the same time as the UK would be seeking to export from the wider naval ships portfolio; this would include variants of new build Type 26. Type 26 would not impact on the export potential of Type 31e as they offer different capabilities at different costs. Studies have indicated that large platform sales are invariably tied to wider political and economic factors; these in turn inform procurement decisions as much as product specification does.
MOD expected Industry to make a compelling case for Type 31e export sales. This includes the design, systems, equipment, support and training, as well as “whole” ship sales. Noting the primary objective of growing the Royal Navy by the 2030s, MOD aimed to manage the production line of Type 31e to ensure the needs of the Royal Navy and the export market are carefully balanced. The expected economic service life of a new ship, yard capacity to enable concurrent build and timing of overseas orders would determine when the export demand signal may require the UK delivery schedule to be adjusted or where the Type 31e second hand market may play a more prominent part in managing the supply of ships. Additionally, opportunities for UK companies to export ship designs and systems to overseas markets may generate additional build capacity and supply chain advantages.
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