Home » Budget Industry » U.K. Next-Generation Type 31e Frigate Program Runs Aground

U.K. Next-Generation Type 31e Frigate Program Runs Aground

Arrowhead frigate design for Royal Navy Type 31E competition. Babcock Photo

LONDON — Plans to build five Type 31e frigates for the Royal Navy have been thrown into disarray after Britain’s defense chiefs decided to pause the procurement competition.

At least three industry teams are vying to build the new maritime security-focused platforms, the first of which was supposed to enter service when the late 1980s-era Type 23 frigates start to leave the fleet in 2023.

With a fast-track acquisition contest heating up this summer, the Ministry of Defence has now abruptly halted the $1.64 billion effort due to what officials described as “inadequate competition” in the design phase.

The acquisition process was initiated last year as part of the U.K.’s new National Shipbuilding Strategy, which was intended to put the R.N.’s vessel procurement plans on a long-term sustainable footing and support the export of British warship designs.

With the cash-strapped MoD insisting it would spend no more than $328 million per ship, an industry team led by Babcock proposed its 140m-long Arrowhead design for the Type 31e program while rivals Cammell Laird/BAE Systems offered their 117m Leander hull. A third team was also in the running, understood to consist of Atlas Elektronik U.K. and Thyssenkrup Marine Systems.

The MoD said in a statement: “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 program can continue at pace.”

A spokesman for Cammell Laird said the company remained “fully committed” to the frigate competition and to the U.K.’s wider defense shipbuilding strategy. Its partner BAE Systems was recently selected as preferred bidder for Australia’s SEA 5000 future frigates program.

“Cammell Laird have continued to develop the exciting Leander proposal with BAE Systems for the Royal Navy T 31e frigate competition. We are particularly encouraged by the emerging BAE Systems export prospects in the international market”, the spokesman said.

“The National Shipbuilding Strategy required a new approach from the Ministry of Defence and industry. Cammell Laird remains fully committed to achieving those aims by bringing forward its entrepreneurship and commercial shipyard capabilities. Cammell Laird will deliver a world-class frigate if we win the T 31e competition in due course.”

Expert commentators responded quickly to news of the pause, with some suggesting it is a delaying tactic by an MoD that has yet to secure the required $1.65 billion from the U.K. Treasury.

The Save The Royal Navy website argued that “building a credible warship for [$328] million to a very tight timeframe was always going to be difficult”, especially as the bidding teams “had to agree on complex divisions of work and financing between multiple contractors.”

An article published Monday by Jane’s stated that at least two of the potential bidders regarded the terms and conditions set by the MoD as unworkable, citing both commercial aspects and intellectual property rights.

Even if the MoD achieves its stated intention of ‘delivering’ the Type 31e lead ship in 2023, the subsequent sea trials, crew training and work-up could see entry into operational service slipping a year or two.

It is also worth pointing out that the MoD’s claim that the Type 31e frigates will ‘grow’ the Royal Navy is patently false, as the ships will merely replace five existing Type 23 frigates on a one-for-one basis.

Eight higher-specification Type 23s equipped with comprehensive anti-submarine warfare suites are due to be replaced by BAE Systems’ new City class (Type 26) Global Combat Ship, which will be a larger and much more expensive platform than the Type 31e.

  • Desplanes

    Really ? – They can’t buy 5 ships….

    • DaSaint

      Apparently not at less than $340M…

      Capable ships are expensive:
      The USCG FRC is approx. $65M.
      US OPC armed only with 1-57mm gun is approx. $400M.
      US NSC is north of $700M.
      US FFG(X) budgeted cost is between $850M and $950M.
      fully-equipped multi-role Type-26 Frigate is at least $1.2B.

      • Rocco

        How about some of our used LCS??? It’d have to be approved by Duane eeeeeee though!! Lol

        • DaSaint

          Lend Lease 2.0

        • PolicyWonk

          I’d love to see some other nation get some LCS, just do long as we don’t have to rely on them for mutual defense!

          • Rocco

            Some support is better than no support even if the other countries ship distracts or plays decoy??

          • PolicyWonk

            I was being sarcastic – the general idea was that LCS should be sold to our enemies as we’d likely be better off.

          • Rocco

            Ahhh……….Me too !! Lol🤔🤥

      • USNVO

        It all depends on how you count the dollars (or pounds in this case). The Danes said the Ivar Huitfeldt only cost $325m. Sure they don’t count GFM in that price, but how much can things like the VLS system, Radars, Sonars, or combat systems cost anyway? They did reuse the guns, some of the missile launchers, and other systems. By that Enronesqe accounting, the last DDGs were “only” $700m so. Problem solved.

  • DaSaint

    They’re expecting a frigate-sized combatant for less than the cost of our new OPCs. That was always going to be a challenge.

    The export marketplace for this sized corvette/frigate is full of mature offerings, from the MEKO series, to the SIGMA series from DAMEN, to France’s Gowind and newer players from Navantia and even Turkey. I’m wondering if this is an effort by the RN to pressure the Treasury to just commit to 2 or 3 more Type 26s, especially now that they’ve secured a major export order from Australia for 9 Type 26 variants. That should spread the design costs, and make some of the components of the class more affordable. Should Canada likewise select the Type 26 for it’s 15-frigate requirement, I think that the UK will scrap the Type-31e concept completely.

  • Duane

    Reality intruded. The Type 31 is in kind of a no man’s land in terms of capability. It is about the size of an LCS, but is not configured as an LCS. And even then, if configured as an LCS to today’s spec sheets, it would still exceed $328M a hull …with the equivalent of an LCS with ASW MM and/or SuW MM the total cost would be around $390-$400M a hull, and that only from a hot production line, not a brand new class. But a true multi mission frigate sized vessel will cost at least $800M-$1B, as the US Navy has already figured out.

  • Lazarus

    The “Save the Royal Navy” comment said it all. You just cannot get even a modest frigate design for such a low price. The Danes achieved theirs by subcontracting elements of their Iver Huitfeldt class to cheaper builders in the Baltic States and absorbed costs to the point that the subsidiary builder of that class closed after the last ship was completed.

  • Ser Arthur Dayne

    I wonder if they’re interested in some nearly-new ships focused on littoral combat made of space-age aluminum and very fast? I’d offer them a good deal lol.

    • James Walter Legate Jr

      Can you help me with that and regular earth sea land ships and equiptment and armor each foot part fit for with the best combat boots with flap with wholes on front I’m Lord James my e – mail [email protected] I’m The Royal Navy my personal cellular phone 1(210)974-4129

      • Rocco

        You can’t be serious!!!??? Putting your personal information on here!!

    • proudrino

      Our relations with the UK are strained enough as it is. Offloading our mistake on them would not be productive.

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        I’ll take, “Sarcasm” for $1,000, Alex …. Daily Double!!!

  • muzzleloader

    This news certainly does no good for the moral of the RN. As one official recently said, it will be the height of irony if the Australian Navy gets thier British built new frigate before the British get thier British biult new frigate.

  • OldSaltUSNR

    What on earth do they plan to use this “Frigate” for? What mission could it support, independently, or in concert with a task group (which the Brits can’t support in any case).

    This is simply a propaganda piece to convince British citizens that in a pinch, there’s a Royal Navy there to protect them. Unfortunately, Britain’s enemies will not be so convinced, and that guarantees war.

    • Murgatroyd

      It is an attempt to cover up the fact that the RN is shrinking by building 5 low cost ships to make up hull numbers because the required number of T26 frigates is unaffordable. Supposedly intended mainly for patrol duties and routine deployments where high-end capabilities are considered overkill but the end result looks like massive underkill.

      If it does not have some degree of credibility then this is money down the drain to keep the shipyards going. There will not be any any export orders for this dud as potential customers can get more for less money elsewhere, e.g. S, Korea.

      • Bubblehead

        Are you talking about the RN here or the USN LCS?

    • USNVO

      Maritime Security operations. Most Navies around the world are more concerned with illegal immigration, fisheries protection, counter-piracy, counter-terrorism, counter-drugs, pollution prevention, etc. Does it take a CG or DDG to do counter-piracy patrols? Train an African Navy in fisheries enforcement? In the US many, if not all of these roles, fall to the USCG, but that is the exception not the norm. Even then, the USN supports the USCG doing those missions. What did you think the FFG-7s were doing the last 15yrs of their life?

      The purpose of LCS is to relieve expensive DDGs and CGs from doing just these types of missions. I mean really, was a DDG really required to free a merchant ship from pirates? LCS is supposed to be flexible enough to cover some other, seldom used missions like MIW when required that previously required dedicated forces that couldn’t do other roles.

      Even without modules, these ships could do MIO, counter-terrorism, surface patrol, infrastructure defense, port security, etc. in a high end conflict. Besides shooting tomahawks, that is all most USN ships have done in the last 3 decades. Hey, someone has to do it, might as well be as cheap as possible.

      • OldSaltUSNR

        Understood. I served on a Frigate. I understand the role of a Frigate. What you are saying is that these ships aren’t engineered to replace the FF’s that are retiring. It would be like building a day care center but naming it a “Naval Air Station”. The British could count many such “defensive installations” for military (and NATO) planning, but at the time of need, those preschool pilots may have trouble getting off the ground.

        Even my 1950’s designed bastardized forefather of the future FFG7 glass could outfight these new British “Frigates”, and we considered our “McNamara class” jokes to be the first ships gone in any fight. I doubt the Brit’s would be able to fight off modern day pirates, let alone a modern Destroyer or larger class ship.

        The new British FF, as well as the US LCS look more like a political solution, a “show the flag” vehicle, than a viable fighting ship of war. The Brit’s are swapping a half dozen barely capable FF’s with a half dozen smaller, less capable FF’s and calling it “fleet growth”. The problem with inserting an undersized FF (or more properly, a coastal cutter) in the roles you cited is that when the balloon goes up, the only ships viable at those stations will be DDG’s, not “lite” FF’s. It’ll be tough to produce the DDG’s that no longer exist, much less quickly reposition them to replace or support the lite, and seriously vulnerable frigates.

        DDG’s are design margin in a world that still requires Navy’s to guarantee the freedom of navigation and seaborne national defense. Lite FF’s are false hope and political slight of hand. This plan is symbolic of how little regard British politicians have for national sovereignty and defense of British citizens.

        • USNVO

          The UK doesn’t have a Coast Guard like the US does. The planned Type 31e was basically filling a role similar to the NSC in the US. Since the UK already planned to only update 8 Type 23s (the ones being replaced with Type 26s) and to use the 5 remaining Type 23s as general purpose patrol ships (similar to the FFxG-7s in the USN), the Type 31e is very similar in capability to the ship it is replacing,

          You get the Navy you can afford, not the one you want. The UK seems to think 6 Type 45s and 8 Type 23/26s are the top end surface combatants they can afford but they have additional maritime security missions they need to perform, hence the River Class OPVs and the 5 Type 31es.

          The fallacy of your logic is that no one thinks the Type 31e is going to be a high end combatant. Sure, they may call it a frigate but they are very clear that it will fill a role more akin to a National Security Cutter. If anything considering 5 Type 31es are planned to cost the same as 1 Type 26, the RN seems to have a much better appreciation of how to make compromises on the low end combatants than the USN does.

          • ompus

            I like your argument. Most navies have and use ships which wouldn’t survive 10 hours in a contested conflict. I’m not sold on the 31e but it’s no great shame for a country to have vessels whose primary missions are to ‘show the flag’, patrol economic zones and fight piracy. (Does it really matter whether you send an Arleigh Burke or an LCS 2 miles off a China controlled ‘island’ to assert freedom of navigation? One would last 60 seconds in a fight. the other 600. They’re both sacrificial lambs).

            The above isn’t an argument for the 31e in particular. You could go with something even smaller or cheaper. You could go with a foreign offering already being built. You could also go with fewer, more capable 26s. But (setting aside the foreign option), perhaps the 31e is intended to be a show the flag patrol boat which which can be up-armed fairly easily *if subsequently deemed necessary and mew threats emerge.* In that sense the extra money is buying experience with a hull big enough to grow and support upgrades down the line. You can’t turn a corvette sized ship into a multi-mission frigate at any cost. You *can* add such capabilities to a frigate size ship in subsequent runs if you’re willing to pay the price. It’s not exactly a fair comparison, but I’ll point again to the Burkes. Begun in the 80s, they’ve grown in capability through multiple flights and are still being built today. It’s a ship built with an entirely different purpose, yes, but I reference it to highlight the ability to mature a platform and grow it beyond anything thought capable when conceived.

      • PolicyWonk

        True LCS should be able to support presence missions, and perform anti-piracy patrols, among other missions that shouldn’t require a high-end warship such as a Burke.

        But after 10 years since first commissioning, not a single presence mission has yet to be accomplished. And given the incredibly high cost per sea-frame (over $900M after post-delivery modifications, and mission module), they are only cheaper in terms of relative cost, while offering precious little return on investment.

        • Retired

          But, you simply don’t understand, you’re too old, blah blah, sheesh! Don’t you know it takes 20 years to bring an LCS on line, because it’s so sophisticated, and it’s weapons are so advanced you know Fleet Admiral Daiuneey

          • PolicyWonk

            Besides, if you’ve followed the bizarre statements coming from the Grand Admiral Of The Fleet, those of us who despise these floating corporate welfare programs dish scorn onto the LCS because we simply “hate ships”.

            However he’s missing the point: the vast majority of us just hate monstrously expensive, BADLY designed, INFERIOR, and UNRELIABLE ships. These are what are known as LIABILITIES as opposed to ASSETS.

            LCS sailors aren’t stupid: they are all acutely aware that other navies ships of similar (let alone half the) tonnage are vastly better armed/protected than LCS will ever be.

  • Ed L

    The British should stick with the type 26 frigate and build 10or 20 more of them. That type 31 could turn into another Flower while successful were cramp and rough riding. My Uncle served on the American Action-class patrol gunboats

    • Bubblehead

      Or join the US FFGX program. It would be a perfect marriage.

      The Royal Navy is building too many capital ships to project power when they are unable to even protect their homeland. The aircraft carriers are killing their budget to the point they can’t even afford the ships to sufficiently protect it. Instead of the carriers, they should have built several more 26’s and 45’s. They can’t even afford ASCM for petes sake. How are they going to protect their homeland, which is an island, when they do not even have any ASCM’s?

      Then you look at their SSN’s. They only have a few of those and those kill their remaining budget. Maybe England would be better off with some SS’s. forgo the nuclear.

      And I am not even going to bring up their ballistic missile subs. You could build 2 26’s and a 45 for the price of one of those puppies.

      The UK is stuck on their global power days. They need to realize those days are over. They need to put more resources into protecting Western Europe and their island instead of trying to project power around the world. Type 26’s and 45’s are more than capable ships to protect Europe. But they need more than a few.

      • DaSaint

        With your theory, Great Britain. A nuclear power with a veto at the UN, would forgo their Carriers, their SSNs, and their SSBNs. In essence, stop being a nuclear power.

        That’s just not happening. What they need to do is find a way to grow their economy and increase the defense budget so they can afford what they need. Marketing the importance of a Navy is part of it, to drive recruitment as well as missions.

        What they’re doing is trying to preserve shipyards, which in reality is probably not possible. Moat Western European nations only have 1 or 2 primary naval shipyards. The UK population has to come to terms with this, but it hasn’t as yet.

        Even here, we have only 7 primary shipyards and we have a much larger fleet, and that too may have to constrict. It’s a difficult situation to balance industrial capacity and capability, with manning levels, missions, and budget.

        IMHO they should just find a way to build 2 or 4 more Type 26s. Easier said than done.

      • Duane

        You discount all of the Brits most lethal platforms and weapons while advocating for easily sunk low capability frigates.

        Your proposals make zero sense.

        The UK has the very best ASW vessel afloat in their 7 SSNs … which combined with France’s SSNs makes them equals with Russia’s current SSN threat, actually better than Russia, since Russia bases most of its SSNs out of Vladivostok in the Pacific. The RN boomers are their best strategic nuke platform, in the process of being updated in parallel with our Colombia SSBN … and their soon to be two carriers loaded with F-35Bs give them more lethality than a Nimitz loaded with Super Hornets. 24:1 kill ratio and proven by the Israelis as a sure fire Russian SAM killer in Syria.

        As I wrote, your proposals make no sense whatsoever.

        • Dean687

          What a second here. Q: how many times have you said that the LCS is the premier AsW vessel anywhere? A: about a million times. So how could a Brit sub be better than the all mighty LCS, that’s not possible!

          • Duane

            Easy peasy … just about any SSN is superior to any surface ship in ASW. The LCS ASW mission module is the newest and most advanced in the US surface fleet.

  • Murgatroyd

    It is not possible to build a credible light frigate for £250 million in UK yards. Just scrap the whole project and push for 2 extra T26 built at a reduced price. T31 attempts to answer a question no one is asking.

    • Anoid

      The question was never about military capability but sustainability. There’s a chronic manpower shortage. Type 31 is supposed to run on a crew of about 100-120, which represents a huge saving. It’s also supposed to be cheaper to run (even the USN is sweating to fund the fuel bill of all those GT-equipped Arleigh Burkes).

      Note: the image above is actually of the Spartan concept design, not the Arrowhead 140, which is the one based on the Danish Iver Huitfeldt and is the favourite among armchair admirals.

      • Murgatroyd

        I am well aware of the chronic manpower shortage but T31 is not the answer. T26 has a crew of ~120 so about the same for the T31 is shocking. My impression was that it is actually ~80 for the T31 which still represents poor value for money.

        Tying up manpower and a significant chunk of the operating budget on ships that have next to no military value is money down the drain. The real reason they are being built is to pay lip service to the NSS and pretend T23 hulls are being replaced on a 1:1 basis.

        There will not be any export orders for the T31 so the NSS will fall at the first hurdle. Only the T26 will find overseas customers but of course these will not be built in the UK.

        If it goes ahead the entire T31 class will probably be sold off for peanuts without replacement after less than a decade in service. Every pound spent on these is a pound wasted and the project should be given the mercy bullet it deserves without delay.

  • Murray

    I suspect that the Type 31e frigate programme will be cancelled and a further five River II class patrol vessels will be ordered instead. These are likely to be more capable versions than the five already ordered with a basic ASW capability and a hangar capable of operating a Merlin helicopter. These would very much be “anti-submarine utility” escorts somewhat similar to the former Type 14 Blackwood class frigates.

    • River-class OPVs do not have hangars and only have 30mms.

    • USNVO

      Absent an ASW function that is largely not required, that is what a Type 31e appears to be. A somewhat better armed, air capable, OPV. The designs appear to most closely resemble a USCG NSC

  • The RN should team with the USN and arrive at a common design. There would be cost savings all around. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

    • Beomoose

      It’s a good thought, but the USN and RN are looking in two pretty different directions just now. The RN wants a general purpose light frigate with a sailaway cost less than $400m. The USN is looking at a multirole heavy frigate with a sailaway cost up near (but please not over) $1bn. Even if the US bought into the T26 program like Australia (and likely Canada), the RN’s still not got the budget to continue buying them and would still need something lighter.

      • I agree but I hope the USN’s answere is not the Saudi Freedom class, crap on crap. aate good news is the Res Sox’s are in first place. Really the USN should build super frigates, i.e. Constitution and her sister shups and stop farting around with so-so modular LCS’s. If the US, RN, RAN,and maybe a couple of other NATO partners could agree on a hull and propulsion system – each navy could fit the combat and weapon systems according to individual budgets. I would suggest LM 2500’s with a propulsion system (up gunned) like the USCG’s NSC’s. Thrity knot speed is enough you can not out run a shell or a missile. Worth looking into but L/M and others have a grip on the US Navy’s procurement program for this frigate. Knox clas firgated with gas propulsion vs. their complex and expensive 1200# steam would be an exellent starting point. They had three engineering spaces, Boiler Room (two boilers) Engineroom (steam turbine propulsion system), and forward of the boiler room a turbine generator space with three steam turbine 750KW generators. This space could hold gas turbine/diesel generators with enough power to run the newer systems.

        • PolicyWonk

          Well, the idea of LCS isn’t what’s wrong: it’s the execution of the program itself that even the USN refers to as “the program that broke naval acquisition”.

          The original “street fighter” concept (ONR, 2001) was sound – but the PEO LCS itself was manned by fools (I prefer to consider them fools, because I don’t want to believe they are traitors). They took the original concept and created two appallingly complex, ill-conceived, and monstrously expensive “Franken-Ship” classes of which the only thing that remains of the original concept, is the “littoral combat” part of its designation.

          New ships should be built to be easy as possible to modify/upgrade as new weapons, etc., are developed, with as much commonality of parts, etc., as possible.

          • Rocco

            Well Congress just approved 19 big ones for 3 more ships!!

  • Duane

    No, dumbshit. Stick to translating your own stupid comments, and maybe some day someone will figure out what is going on in your own head.

    The Type 31s are trying to be a small multi mission frigate that can be bought for $328M a hull. No such critter exists. The Brits can decide to either go with a small single role but reconfigurable, like an LCS, surface combatant for somewhere around $400M … or they can build a necessarily larger multi mission frigate for $800-1B a copy.

    See now, old guy … I bet even the GEICO cave man can understand that, if not you … and it requires no translating.

    • Bob256

      We’re all so happy you got your “sailor foul-mouth” PQS signed off. Now you can continue using those big words, carry on commander delta sierra

  • johnbull

    The once-proud Royal Navy can’t scrape up the pounds to build frigates. At a certain point they have to decide if they need/want to have a navy. The number of hulls they actually have is embarrassing. They only have six destroyers and thirteen frigates actually in commission and the Type 31s were going to be the el cheapo hulls to enable them to “on paper” maintain their current number of frigates when the Type 23s retire. You know it’s bad when the Aussies contract for more of your capable new frigates (the 26s) than you do.

    • Ed Unger

      Its the civilian government that WON”T scrape up the cash for some real warships. Yet they give 14 billion pounds, about 20 billion dollars, for aid to countries like India and Pakistan, both spending huge amounts on nuclear weapons.

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      They have the cash…. but defence is the last thing they want to spend it on.

      There are only 5 & 12 -45’s & -23’s in service
      One hull of each are permanently moored because the RN can’t find 200 souls to crew them.

      • muzzleloader

        You hit the nail on the head. The UK government simply does not place defense of the realm higher than supporting the ever growing costs of the NHS.
        It would take a massive grass roots movement to change that, which seems unlikely.