Steel for the British Royal Navy’s first new Type 31 frigate was cut on September 24, raising hopes that the service could secure a larger fleet of frontline warships in the long term.
With the decline in the total number of frigates and destroyers in service in the Royal Navy, service is expected to hit a record low of 16-17 hulls by the mid-late 2020s. The five Type 31 frigates of the “Inspiration Class” are part of the effort to push the total to more than 19.
The first ship to be named HMS Venturer, is to be put into service by 2023, the next four will be put into service at a rate of one per year from 2024. Deliveries of all five ships are expected to be completed by 2028. Primary contractor Babcock is building the ships at its plant in Rosyth, Scotland.
During the steel cutting event, Second Sea Lord tweeted Vice Adm. Nick Hine optimistically: “They said we couldn’t – together with Babcock, conceived as part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, which was signed in 2019, Steel Cut 2021 and so on 5 delivered in less than a decade.”
Given that most defense procurement programs experience some sort of cost increase and deadline delays, it may not be possible to meet the planned schedule. However, the Type 31 has made good progress over the past two years given the difficult start to the project – its first attempt in July 2018 failed when no bidder was able to hit the $ 336 million unit price.
The Type 31 was conceived as part of the Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) in 2015 when the UK Department of Defense realized it could not afford to replace all 13 of its Type 23 Duke-class frigates with the new special submarine warfare type 26 City to replace -class. Instead, it split the purchase and ordered only eight Type 26 ships, with the five Type 31 designated as multi-purpose frigates.
The National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) that Hine was referring to is an attempt by the UK Department of Defense to break away from dependency on a single shipbuilding company in BAE Systems. BAE Systems builds the Type 26 and has supplied most of the Royal Navy’s existing inventory, but the rising cost of the Type 26 and the earlier Daring-class destroyer, the Type 45, caused the Department of Defense to diversify its industrial base.
The 1.25 billion pound contract with Babcock for the Type 31 was awarded in November 2019. The contract is still priced at $ 336 million each, but without the more costly equipment requirements. The actual price per ship is likely to be significantly higher.
The company builds the class according to their Arrowhead 140 design, which is based on the Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate of the Royal Danish Navy from Odense Maritime Technology. Other Babcock team members include Harland and Wolff, Ferguson Marine, Thales and BMT, who are distributing the utility grid across the country to meet the NSS demands for more local industry share.
There is some risk in doing this, however, as a new naval shipbuilder will need to gain experience building complex ships such as frigates. Babcock has built a large new assembly hall and is able to accommodate two Type 31 frigates for parallel construction and assembly work.
The second ship is scheduled to begin construction next year. The names of the next four ships are HMS active, HMS Bulldog, HMS Campbeltown, HMS Impressive. The Royal Navy hopes their NSS is working as intended and the ships are delivered on time.
Pressure is mounting on the Royal Navy after the UK government’s integrated defense reform review published in March announced that two of the Type 23 frigates would be retired early. The former HMS Monmouth (F235) the overhaul was canceled and the ship decommissioned in June. The Royal Navy plans to decommission the HMS Argyll (F231) in 2023. This will reduce the number of ships available to the Royal Navy as problems with the availability of the Type 45 destroyers persist.
For the benefit of the program, the design of the Type 31 Arrowhead 140 was selected by the Indonesian Navy to be built under license from Jakarta’s state shipbuilder PT Pal. It is also offered as one of the design options for the Polish Miecznik (swordfish) frigate program.
More importantly, Babcock is likely to receive a follow-up order for five new announced Type 32 frigates. These ships will host an unmanned replacement for the Hunt and Sandown-class mine sweepers and the Royal Navy anti-mine ships, which will retire from service by the end of the decade.
To keep costs down and keep the hot production line up after the Type 31 is completed, the Type 32 will likely be a modified design similar to the Type 31. As the UK Royal Navy works towards a larger fleet, it will endeavor to ensure its frigate programs deliver as planned.