DSEI 2017

UK frigate is on the starting line [DSEI17D2]

13 September 2017

Shipyards and design houses at DSEI 2017 are positioning themselves to compete for the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) Type 31e frigate programme.

An industry engagement briefing in London last Thursday − a day after the announcement of the new National Shipbuilding Strategy − revealed plans for the fast-track acquisition of a globally deployable vessel geared towards maritime security and defence engagement operations. A ceiling price of no more than £250 million has been set for each for the first batch of five frigates, which will replace a similar number of general-purpose Type 23 frigates.

As part of a revamped surface fleet, the Type 31e will be tasked for routine security and presence missions. This will free up Type 45 destroyers and Type 26 frigates for task group operations or, in the case of Type 26, support of the strategic deterrent.

Addressing last week’s industry day, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sir Philip Jones said the RN must take ‘‘a hardheaded approach in setting our 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.

‘‘Adaptability is key; we need a design based on common standards, but which offers different customers the ability to specify different configurations and capabilities without the need for significant revisions,’’ he said.

The Type 31e design philosophy outlined is for a standard ‘core’ platform offered with a matrix of ‘adaptable’ options to meet potential export requirements. According to Jones, the first Type 31e must enter service in 2023 to maintain current force levels.

“‘‘Clearly that’s a demanding timescale,’’ he said, ‘‘which means the development stage must be undertaken more quickly than for any comparable ship since the Second World War.’’

Formal Type 31e procurement activity will begin in the first quarter of 2018, with a competitive design phase commencing in the second quarter. Main gate approval is planned before the end of 2018, with the start of manufacture following in early 2019.

Outline requirements for the Type 31e frigate include a hangar and flight deck big enough for a helicopter and unmanned air vehicles, enough accommodation to support the standard ship’s company with mission specialists as required, and stowage for sea boats, disaster relief stores and other equipment. The ship will have a crew of between 80-100.

Type 31e is central to a new warship acquisition model, which could see modular block construction activity shared across yards around the UK, with blocks then assembled at a central hub.

According to Tony Douglas, chief executive officer of Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the programme and cost constraints attached to the programme will drive the change through the entire system. ‘‘The collective challenge for DE&S and industry is to deliver Type 31e in a different, more innovative way than has gone before,’’ he said. ‘‘I want this to be a transformation in the way we do business.’’

The design of the Type 31e general purpose frigate will be ‘‘UK-owned’’ and the procurement will be competitive between UK shipyards.

However, international partners, provided they satisfy national security requirements, are being encouraged to work with UK shipyards and other providers to produce the best possible commercial solution.

(538 words)