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Royal Navy Type 31e General Purpose Frigate Moves Forward with Export Potential By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.




Based on the well-proven Huitfeldt Class frigate design in-service with the Danish Navy, the Arrowhead 140 frigate class design that will form the basis of Type 31e ‘General Purpose Frigate’ class vessels for the Royal Navy is a further important enhancement in terms of operational capability of what has for the past few years been considered to be a well proven and very capable frigate design.

Highly capable and adaptable, Type 31e will be a multi-role frigate equipped to meet a wide range of Royal Navy maritime threats and requirements including peacekeeping, humanitarian, warfighting and policing roles. With high levels of survivability, durability, operability and responsiveness together with embedded technology that will allow informed rapid decision, Type 31e has been designed to offer exceptional value for money and through life support for the Royal Navy.

For the UK MOD Type 31e provides a low risk ship design and build solution that requires implementation of, as opposed to further invention, of technical, programme control solutions and equipment technology. Although few specific details have been announced in respect of what if any anti-ship missiles will be fitted to Type 31e ships for the Royal Navy at this stage, as has also been planned in respect of the larger Anti-Ship Submarine Type 26 vessels, some of the existing weapons capability carried on the Type 23 vessels that both Type 26 and Type 31e will replace are likely to be transferred. 

However, Type 31e frigates will have as standard a flight deck capable of landing a CH-47 Chinook, Hangar and maintenance facilities to support Royal Navy Merlin and Wildcat rotary capability together with the possibility of carrying Sea Ceptor, Anti-Ship Missiles, TLAM land strike and ASROC Torpedoes. As already mentioned, final decisions appertaining to weapon and defensive capability that will be carried by Type 31e ships in the Royal Navy service is yet to be confirmed.

Importantly, given the ships are an upgrade of an already proven design and also that they will also have ample space available for future weapons carrying and additional capability upgrades, no one should be under any illusion in regard of the overall mission capability that these frigates will offer.

BMT have played a major part in enhancing the Arrowhead 140 design and with Thales involved much thought will have been put in to the combat management system that the company will provide on Type 31e and also on ships sensors, radar and other systems requirements. They along with Babcock International and Frazer Nash are to be congratulated for having achieved preferred bidder status. While the programme timetable is tight particularly given the additional infrastructure requirements, all are committed to achieve success.        

Of modular construction meaning the e vessels will be built in blocs, the five Type 31e ‘General Purpose Frigates’ for the Royal Navy will be assembled at the central integration site of Babcock International at Rosyth near Edinburgh. This site is where the company has, as part of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, been significantly involved with partners including BAE Systems, Thales and the MOD, in the final construction of the two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy.

Although none of the construction element plans has yet been announced, we can expect that building Type 31e ‘General Purpose Frigates’ will involve a variety of work being given to main land shipyards and involve a supply chain right across the UK. The project has been anticipated to form the probability of direct employment for around 1,250 highly skilled personnel with a similar number spread across the supply chain.

Type 31e had always been planned to be ship that could have large scale export potential and to that end my understanding is that the government is pushing hard to support such possibilities. Babcock is itself planning major infrastructure investment at the Rosyth shipyard not only to accommodate final Type 31e ship assembly for the Royal Navy but also in thinking longer term in respect of the ship forming a large and interesting potential export programme.

As of now, steel for the first Type 31e ‘General Purpose Frigates’ is likely to be cut some time in 2021 and the lead ship of the class anticipated to be in the water some time during 2023. The five Type 31e frigates for the Royal Navy will, along with first of eight Type 26 Anti-Submarine Warfare frigates that are now under construction at BAE Systems Glasgow shipyards, replace the current fleet of 13 Type 23 vessels over time.

However, unlike earlier Navy programmes such as replacements of Type 42 Destroyers with that of Type 45 class and Trafalgar Class submarines with those of the Astute class, I would not anticipate this being done on a one in one out basis. Indeed, although there has been no confirmation of this by HMG, I suspect that it is quite likely that two oldest Type 23’s could well be decommissioned before their replacements have been built. Currently, the first Type 23 is not scheduled to be decommissioned before 2023, the same year that the first Type 31e is due to replace it. 

By any standards of imagination Type 31e can be regarded as being a lightning-fast procurement and construction requirement. In the process, the Babcock team will have to overcome many challenges in order to meet what is a tight schedule. That said and as someone recently pointed out, they are backed by the design experience of BMT and indeed, OMT. Having Thales working alongside will provide enormous support to the Babcock Team 31 partnership as well.

Just as BAE Systems superb Type 26 design has been rewarded with success in Australia and Canada so to could Type 31e become similarly successful for the Babcock Team 31 Partnership in the years to come. Revitalising warship exports has been a major part of the governments ‘National Shipbuilding Strategy’ and it is this that had essentially given birth to the Type 31e project. As to IP, I suspect that while OMT are owners of the Danish Huitfeldt class ship design it is probably suffice to say that the Arrowhead 140 design that forms the basis of Type 31e has moved on a very long way from the original OMT design. As an existing member of Babcock Team 31, OMT will be able to share in the potential export benefit of the much-advanced Arrowhead 140 frigate design, one that has already attracted international interest. 

CHW (London – 15th October 2019)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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