Type 31 frigate
|Name:||Type 31 frigate|
|Preceded by:||Type 23 frigate|
|Cost:||£250M per ship (2017 est.)|
|In service:||2023 (planned)|
|Type:||General purpose frigate|
|Displacement:||2,500t - 4,500t|
|Troops:||Able to emabark around 75 Royal Marines|
|Aircraft carried:||1x helicopter|
The Type 31 frigate, also known as the Type 31e frigate or General Purpose Frigate (GPFF), is a planned class of frigate for the United Kingdom's Royal Navy intended to enter service in the 2020s alongside the more capable Type 26 frigate.
It is intended that the Type 31 frigate will replace some of the Type 23 frigates. The Type 31 is part of the government's "National Shipbuilding Strategy".
Global Combat Ship
The origins of the Type 31 frigate are found in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The review authorised a replacement programme, known as the Global Combat Ship (GCS), to replace the Royal Navy's thirteen Type 23 frigates. Earlier that year, BAE Systems was awarded a four-year, £127 million contract by the Ministry of Defence to design the new class. It was planned that two variants of the class would be built: five general purpose frigates and eight anti-submarine warfare frigates. There was to be little difference between the two variants, except for the Sonar 2087. Initial expectations were that all thirteen of the Global Combat Ships would be built starting in 2016, and gradually replace the Type 23 frigates one for one out to the mid-2030s. This planning assumption would not last, and during the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the then Prime minister David Cameron announced that only eight of the anti-submarine warfare version, the Type 26 frigate, would be ordered.
General Purpose Frigate
Although the 2015 defence review resulted in a cut in the planned number of Global Combat Ships to eight, it also announced that the five remaining Type 23 frigates would be replaced by a new programme; the General Purpose Frigate (GPFF). The new class is intended to be a lighter, flexible and more affordable general purpose frigate. According to the 2015 defence review, and then Prime Minister David Cameron, the lower cost of these frigates could lead to the Royal Navy acquiring more than five of them, thus increasing its overall numbers of frigates and destroyers. During a defence and security lecture in July 2016, GPFF was referred to as the Type 31 frigate by the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones. Admiral Jones further stated that Type 31 frigates could permanently operate East of Suez; from the Persian Gulf region to the Far East. During the same month, BAE Systems revealed two general purpose frigate designs, namely the Avenger-class (based on the "Amazonas-class/River-class Batch 2 offshore patrol vessel") and the Cutlass-class (described as a "significantly stretched and enhanced derivation of the Al Shamikh-class corvette design"). An August news article in The Sunday Times stated that Babcock International and BMT also submitted one design each.
Breaking BAE's hold on UK shipbuilding
An article in the Financial Times on 18 October 2017 quoted Francis Tusa, editor of Defence Analysis, saying that the competition appeared to be designed to break BAE's hold on naval shipbuilding. Many officials inside the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and Royal Navy have long resented the obligation, set a decade ago, to maintain skills and shipbuilding capacity at BAE's shipyards on the Clyde regardless of naval needs. “Were they to have bid as BAE Systems, they wouldn’t win,” he said. “That is absolutely obvious. The fact is that the Type 31 is slanted probably to exclude any bid that includes BAE.” MOD officials stated that the competition is designed to improve speed of delivery and reduce cost.
National Shipbuilding Strategy
In order to maintain national shipbuilding capacity the 2017 national shipbuilding strategy proposes ordering an initial batch of five Type 31 Frigates to be completed by 2023, intended for export with their cost limited to £250m each, to be followed by a second batch order of Type 31 for the Royal Navy. The Type 31 would be built in modular form as with the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers at several commercial shipyards, and assembled in one central yard.
Throughout 2017 several designs from different companies were suggested as contenders for the Type 31. BAE submitted two designs, "Avenger", essentially an improved Batch 3 River-class OPV, and "Cutlass", a significantly stretched and enhanced derivation of the Al Shamikh-class corvette. BMT submitted a design called "Venator 110", with Steller Systems putting forward project "Spartan"  and Babcock offered a design named "Arrowhead 120".
In October 2017, BAE Systems announced its intention to withdraw from the Type 31 competition as a main contractor, citing the capacity constraints of its shipyards on the Clyde, which are full with the work on the new River-class patrol vessels and Type 26 frigates. Instead, BAE announced a partnership with Cammell Laird, whereby BAE would provide its expertise in design and systems integration, while Cammell Laird would be the prime contractor and be responsible for the assembly of the ships at its yard at Birkenhead. The planned design has been named "Leander", a reference to three previous major classes of ship in the Royal Navy.
In November 2017, it was announced that BMT Defence Services and Babcock signed a co-operation agreement for the Type 31. They did not choose between their respective "Venator 110" or "Arrowhead 120" designs, but instead would explore their designs to determine the best possible option. In late May 2018, Babcock, partnered with BMT and Thales Group announced the "Arrowhead 140" design, based on the hull of the Danish Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates.
Competition Suspended and Restarted
An article in The Times on 25 July 2018 stated that the government competition for the Type 31 was suspended amid a funding crisis. Sources warned that the Type 31 frigate may never materialise. The next day, the UK Defence Journal reported that the program was to be restarted due to ‘insufficient compliant bids’ and the Ministry of Defence insisted the program ‘has not been cancelled’. As of November 2018[update], the plan was to award contracts by December 2019.
Competitive Design Phase selection
On 10 December 2018, three groups were selected for the competitive design phase:
- BAE Systems/Cammell Laird with their planned Leander design
- Babcock/BMT/Thales with their Arrowhead 140 design
- Atlas Elektronik UK/Thyssenkrup Marine Systems, which is likely to be based on the MEKO A-200 design
Both the BAE Systems and Babcock led entrants had already been put forward when the competition was temporarily suspended in July 2018. The third bid, led by Atlas Elektronik UK, is likely to use as its basis the MEKO A-200 platform currently in use with the Algerian and South African Navies. The ships would be constructed using Ferguson Marine on the Clyde and Harland & Wolff in Belfast.
During a July 2016 Defence Select Committee hearing, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones described the GPFF as "to be a much less high-end ship. It is still a complex warship, and it is still able to protect and defend and to exert influence around the world, but it is deliberately shaped with lessons from wider industry and off-the-shelf technology to make it... more appealing to operate at a slightly lower end of Royal Navy operations." IHS Janes described it as a "credible frigate" that will cover "maritime security, maritime counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations, escort duties, and naval fire support... [sitting] between the high-end capability delivered by the Type 26 and Type 45, and the constabulary-oriented outputs to be delivered by the five planned River-class Batch 2 OPVs." (which have a fixed price of £116 million).
A 7 September 2017 graphic released by the Royal Navy stressed modular adaptability and flexible construction of the design for export opportunities. Core requirements of the Type 31 frigate include 76mm or larger calibre gun, point defence systems, hangar and a flight deck for Wildcat or ten tonne helicopter operated by a crew of around 100 with space for 40 more personnel. The British government released a Request for information (RFI) in September 2017, detailing the desired characteristics of the Type 31.
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