Type 26 GP variant: Back to the drawing board
Guest blog from @ForcesReviewUK
The 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) provided more questions than relief for the Royal Navy’s surface fleet. Instead of the minimum 13 Type 26 frigates, the review pledged:
‘eight advanced Type 26 Global Combat Ships, which will start to replace our current Type 23 frigates in their anti-submarine role. We will maintain our fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers. We will also launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of lighter, flexible general purpose frigates so that by the 2030s we can further increase the total number of frigates and destroyers. These general purpose frigates are also likely to offer increased export potential.’
At first glance, some military analysts would scream betrayal since only eight frigates will be ordered and the remainder will not appear until an unknown period of time later. Other analysts have cheered that this review proposed a larger number of warships but it is back to the drawing board for the shipbuilders.
There will be lots of ideas about what this ‘new’ frigate could look like and there are a lot of details yet to be released, however, here are some speculative options.
The quote in the SDSR stated the need for a lighter and more flexible warship. Flexible is quite dubious a word so let’s start with lighter. The Type 26 is supposed weigh around 6,500t to 8,000t at full displacement. Making it lighter would mean ripping away some systems and structure.
A first possible area is the hangar/flight deck. The existing design will have a helicopter deck large enough for Chinook to land and embark troops alongside a hangar bay large enough for two Wildcats or one Merlin. Decrease that flight deck and hangar a little and you may get a lighter ship. But the disadvantage is you won’t really get a ship with full-spectrum capabilities.
In this General Purpose variant could instead reduce the size of the mission bay. This might not be as detrimental as a smaller hangar and flight deck, but it will still mean less capability, especially during combat-centred operations. A lighter frigate also suggests a smaller ship with reduced length and beam, which also means smaller compartments and well, less comfort.
In terms of sensors and systems a GP variant might also see fewer of these compared to the existing Type 26 design. Let’s start with the VLS strike cells. Current plans call for 24 Mk 41 cells. These 24 plus whatever missile is inserted into them equals a heavy load.
Therefore the GP variant could have fewer VLS cells, maybe 16 or as low as eight. Or instead of VLS cells, they could be switched to a system using launchers, such as the Naval Strike Missile from Kongsberg. This might fit into the standard required, but some capability would be lost. Therefore the burden of any long-range naval or land-attack mission would still fall on the eight ASW variants.
Altering the main gun from the proposed BAE 5 inch Mark 45 gun might lighten the displacement and could be replaced with something like Oto Melera’s 76mm gun, which has been in service with other navies and is quite an effective gun. The range is would be less and so would the impact of the calibre. It may still be worth a switch, provided that the Royal Navy has finances for two different guns.
You could also reduce the number of Sea Ceptor cells, say 24 instead of 48. This reduction might not drastically reduce the load, but could free up space for other uses. But again it still means that in a task group situation, secondary air defence would fall to the eight ASW variants.
See ThinkDefence for a full description of the Type 26 sensors and systems and you can compare that to get a lighter and cheaper frigate, some of these might be reduced or even removed, in a cost/weight/capability trade-off for the final design.
The picture is clear: This proposed GP variant would likely see a reduced size with fewer systems. It might even push the variant into the ‘corvette’ category or ‘sloop’ for warship and impact the prestige of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet, even though it could mean more ships overall.
A new design has been proposed to suggest the probability of an increase in the size of the surface fleet. This variant, whatever it comprises of, has to appear quickly and be launched along side the original variant. This would ensure that the Royal Navy maintains its ‘at least 19 ships’ numbers. All eyes are now on those working on this new design.