Flexible and offering significantly enhanced levels of operational tasking ability over that of the Type 23 frigate that the new ships will eventually replace development of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship for the Royal Navy is nearing the completion stage. A vitally important element of future Royal Navy capability the need to move the Type 26 programme forward from demonstration to build phase as quickly as possible cannot be underestimated.
Conceived originally as a future requirement in the 1997 Strategic Defence Review what is now the Type 26 Global Combat Ship should in terms of future capability requirement be regarded as being the most crucial and important of the Royal Navy’s future asset requirements.
Very credible and because of the considerable amount of work that has gone into the design, absolutely affordable, Type 26 not only widens the scope of capability delivery and effect for the Royal Navy but may also be described as providing the most extensive range of mission capability that it has probably ever had.
While the essential Type 26 Global Combat Ship design reflects the importance of ASW (anti-submarine warfare) remaining the primary mission requirement the design also recognises that the overall mission requirement has changed significantly since the Type 23 frigates, designed 30 years ago to have an intended eighteen year life span and yet, by the time they are decommissioned, will have achieved double that, had been commissioned into Royal Navy service.
Type 23’s have done a fantastic job of work and will continue to do that for many years yet. It has been a very specific job of work based almost nut not entirely on the ASW role. The new Type 26 Global Combat Ship that will replace the Type 23’s has from the outset been designed to be highly flexible. It will for instance have the ability to move from high-end warfighting and crisis operations through SF/CT, Counter Piracy and constabulary operations to NEO and HADR (High Availability and Disaster Recovery) combined with Defence Engagement and Diplomacy requirements. Indeed, Type 26 is also designed to operate in the joint environment, influencing and effecting the land environment and for hosting joint capabilities.
Type 26 Global Combat Ship is very much a ship for the future that is required now. It is also to be regarded as a warship that will not only maintain the importance of the specialist anti-submarine warfare (ASW) role providing as it does anti-submarine protection for Carrier and other important ‘Task Groups’ but it is a step-change in that is also presents the opportunity to have dedicated facilities to tailor individual missions and for instance, to support a wide range of future payloads such as unmanned aerial vehicles ((UAV’s), unmanned underwater vehicles, (UUV’s) Off-board Mine Countermeasure systems and larger boats that may be required for general maritime security. Having active and passive bow sonar, ASW Merlin helicopter capability which is itself equipped with sonar and torpedoes and the ship having the Thales Sonar 2087 system on board and the ability to embark a Chinook Helicopter if required add up to making the Type 26 Global Combat Ship a very different surface capability to the ships that they will replace.
Spread over a 12 year concept phase the Type 26 Global Combat Ship evolved from what had originally been known as the Future Surface Combatant (FSC) of which two design variants were merged into a single, common, acoustically quiet hull. The design process has of necessity been long at it recognises the importance of ensuring that ships that will still be sailing in the 2060’s should have an enduring level of operational and mission capability.
Crucially important to the maintenance of strong UK defence capability and for the ability to continue providing all necessary surface ship commitment to NATO, allowing continuation of protection to our dependent territories and to the wider policing and humanitarian role requirement the Type 26 Global Combat Ship programme is based on there being an eventual 13 ships that will over a decade and more replace a similar number of Type 23 frigates. My current understanding is that the first eight ships are intended to be high-end ASW warships and that incrementally based decisions in relation to the remaining five warships can be taken on an incremental basis later.
With the SDSR 2015 defence and security review the results of which are due to be announced in late November expected to clarify final intentions for the Type 26 Global Combat Ship programme requirement the hope will be that contracts with BAE Systems for the manufacturing of the first of these ships might be signed during the early part of 2016. This in turn would allow the ‘first steel’ to be cut later in the year. On current planning intentions my understanding is that the first Type 26 Global Combat Ship would be due to be commissioned some time during in 2021 and that the first of the 13 Type 23 Frigates, in this case presumably HMS Argyll which was commissioned in 1991, would be decommissioned some time during 2023.
The Type 26 Global Combat Ship programme is inextricably linked to the UK’s renewed national shipbuilding strategy and that has at its central aim the intention to revitalise and redefine the ability to design and deliver world-beating warships and also to maximise the potential for exportability. When built Type 26 frigates will not only be seen as being an extremely innovative and flexible warship design but also a programme that demonstrates a real focus having been placed on design credibility and through life support and maintenance factors. Indeed, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship should in my view be seen from an engineering, efficiency and low cost of operation aspect as being not only cutting edge technology but also real exportability potential. On that score there are several nations internationally that are currently investigating replacement opportunities for frigate/escort fleets and I may be allowed to conclude those seeking a flexible platform solution would do well to look at the Type 26 Global Combat Ship design.
The current UK procurement strategy for Type 26 Global Combat Ship is that the design project having already completed the ‘Assessment Phase’ has from April this year operated on the basis of being a ‘Demonstration Phase’ (DP) contract. My understanding is that DP contract remains in operation for a year from April and that this is designed to maintain momentum on design, shore testing and the supply chain. I believe that this arrangement also allows BAE Systems to commit for three ships-sets of key equipment.
The planned ‘Demonstration phase’ will allow the MOD to secure the right level of capability for the Royal Navy and that is considered best value for the taxpayer. My understanding is that this is also intended to capture key potential programme risks and to ensure that the appropriate commercial construct is in place to support manufacture of the ships to begin. Proceeding on an incremental basis is no doubt to be considered a prudent course of action to take.
Naturally, BAE Systems has invested very heavily on design and production facilities and in terms of engineering to ensure that the Type 26 Global Combat Ship represents excellent value for money. The company plans to do a lot more in terms of investment and having myself seen the computer generated visualisation design concepts together with how by using virtual reality engineers are now able to walk through and move around the whole warship construction design process and look specifically at each concept of the individual design engineering process and structure before construction begins I believe that what has already been achieved is quite remarkable.
CHW (London – 13th October 2015)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Tel: 07710 779785