Can the Royal Navy afford a multi billion $ program to build new generation frigates ?
The Brits have a good history of building warships . But lately a string of budget cuts and some poor planning have left them with a powerful navy which doesn’t have the operational readiness or the global presence it had earlier. Their pride and joy is the Type-45 Daring class destroyers which are limited to Anti-Air warfare. Their Type-23 is being reportedly deployed with a fraction of its armament to save costs. Their carriers have been delayed and their frigates are nearing the end of their useful lives .Their helicopter-carrier HMS Ocean will be prematurely retired by 2018 as well. So the question remains . Can the Royal Navy afford a multi billion $ program to build frigates ? The answer is probably yes. But the situation will become increasingly challenging in the face of new budget cuts.
The British have attempted to create a next generation frigate for their navy to replace the Type-23 Frigate and the few remaining Type-22 frigates. The Type-23 is a multipurpose frigate with air , surface search radar , powerful sonar and a hangar to operate a multi role helicopter like the Merlin. It’s armament consists of :
- 114 mm Dual Purpose Gun
- 8 Harpoon Anti Ship Missiles
- 32 Short range Seawolf Surface to Air missiles
- 324 mm Torpedo Tubes
It’s successor, the Type-26, dubbed as Global Combat Ship must carry sensors more advanced than the existing ones on the Type-23 , better armament and be able to perform a variety of roles using mission modules in its mission bays. The final armament and design of the ship hasn’t been finalized yet , but I’ll talk about the current designs which have been unveiled. It’s main feature would be the ability to perform land attack missions, a feature which other Royal Navy ships lack. It will be 148 m long and displace 6400 tons.
CGI showing weapons on the deck
The one thing that must be kept in mind is that the Type-26 will be the secondary surface combatants of the Royal Navy, as the Type-45 will be their answer to any major crisis. Also, they would be the largest class of ships numerically in the Royal Navy. So what role does the Type-26 has to perform ? The answer would be
■ Anti-Submarine Warfare
■ Anti-Surface Warfare
■ Convoy Escort
■ Piracy Control
■ Special Operations Missions
■ Humanitarian Relief
■ Local Air Defence
■ Land attack
CGI showing the huge helicopter deck
Many of the mentioned roles cannot be performed by the Type-45 as it is mainly dedicated to Anti-Air Warfare . To support SpecOps, the ship would need good aviation facilities, mission bays to carry the equipment of the special forces and mission modules to deploy additional weapons to suit a particular operation. It’s large flight deck can support a large helicopter like the Chinook. Even humanitarian relief missions need large storage space which comes in the form of mission bays. The mission bay can house additional light helicopters, Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Unmaned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and additional Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) which can support a variety of special missons. The only ideal ship to perform all these would be the Type-26 which has been designed with all the above mentioned features .
The special propellers
The Type-26 also gives special importance to Anti Submarine warfare and will be the only ship capable of significant ASW operations. It will have special propellers designed to reduce underwater noise. It’s bow sonar will be powerful enough to detect enemy submarines before it can itself be detected and thereby providing it with good ASW capability. It will also have a towed array sonar, recycled from the upgraded Type-23. It is speculated that around 4-6 ships will be designed with additional ASW features compared to the first batch of 6-8 general purpose frigates.
Sensors and Weapons on the Type-26
The armament of the Type-26 consists of :
■ 48 CAMM Sea Ceptor Surface to Air missiles (25+ km range )
■ 8 Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles
■ 16 Strike length VLS for Tomahawk cruise missiles
■ 2 Remote controlled 30 mm guns
■ 324 mm torpedo tubes
■ 127 mm Dual Purpose gun
■ 20 mm Phalanx CIWS
■ Machine guns and Miniguns
The sensors suite will include
- Artisan long range 3D radar (Air and Surface search)
- Navigational radars
- Bow mounted active sonar
- Active Towed Array Sonar
- Electro-optical sensors
This is certainly a powerful sensor suite, but it puts it way behind future Russian, Indian and Chinese frigates which will have AESA radars and secondary 3D radars and a heavier armament. But the one place where the Type-26 would beat every other warship is in the crew requirement. It requires just 118 crew compared to 200+ crew required by other future frigates.
Sea Ceptor being fired. Note the quad packing
One of the more likely designs with a BAE Mk45 Mod 4 127 mm gun
But there’s always the doubt as to how far can the Royal Navy go with this program. Their ambitious Type-45 was supposed to be a class of 12 to replace 12 Type-42 destroyers . But budget cuts brought the number down to just 6. The Type-26 is supposed to replace 13 Type-23 frigates, but I feel budget cuts will ensure that only 6-8 Type-26 ships are built as a replacement. Even though they are far more capable than their predecessors, and displace an additional 1000 tons, numbers always help in maintaining a good operational readiness and ensure a wider deployment horizon. But whatever happens, these new frigates will form the core of the Royal Navy combat fleet due to the large number of missions they can perform.
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Note: Images are sourced from the Internet. Copyright – BAE Systems , Royal Navy