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Versatility is key for Royal Navy's new frigate

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has endorsed and unveiled the design of the new Type 26 warships. The Engineer spoke to prime contractor BAE Systems to find out what technology would be on board.

The Royal Navy’s new fleet of “global combat ships” will need to be able to cope with a huge range of tasks – from stopping enemy submarines to tackling pirates to humanitarian missions – if they are to cope with the uncertainty of modern warfare.

But as well as focusing on affordability and flexibility, BAE Systems is designing the vessel with an eye to continuing manufacture for export, according to BAE’s chief engineer on the Type 26 programme, Steve Lewis.

As part of this plan, many of the systems on the on the Type 26 will have already been proven by the time the ships come into service due to the capability upgrade programme being undertaken on the Navy’s predecessor frigate, the Type 23.

‘The real benefit is that this gives us an opportunity to derisk some of the key technologies before they come into the Type 26 environment,’ said Lewis. ‘When you can effectively spread that managing of risk it gives more of a guarantee of delivering against the target service dates.’

This means that the propulsion system, two-thirds of the combat systems and several other auxiliary systems will already have been proven when the first Type 26s are due to enter service at the start of the next decade.


Source: Ministry of Defence

The multi-mission Type 26 warship is due to come into service after 2020.

For propulsion, BAE has opted for a conventional but upgraded hybrid system combining gas turbines for top speeds and diesel generators for a fuel-efficient quiet mode, and these generators will provide significantly higher speeds than those of the Type 23.

But to further increase operating speeds, the company also aims to optimise the ship’s design to increase the threshold at which its movements become much noisier – and therefore easier to detect – due to the collapsing bubbles on the outside of the vessel. (This is known as the cavitation inception speed.)

‘If you don’t get the propeller and hull-form design right, the cavitation inception speed can be very low, which can negate all the benefits you’ve achieved through having bigger propulsion motors and putting more power through them,’ said Lewis.

When it comes to weapons, the Type 26 will make use of the Future Local Area Air Defence System (FLAADS), the advanced missile launcher the MoD is developing for both the Navy and the Army, loaded with MBDA Sea Ceptor missiles that will enable ships to hit multiple targets travelling at supersonic speeds.

For taking on submarines, there will be a torpedo launcher, a deployable helicopter with anti-sub capabilities and the Surface Ship Torpedo Defence system to launch countermeasure decoys if a submarine fires its own missiles, again based on derivative systems from the Type 23.

For greater flexibility of the combat systems, the ship will have an integrated mission bay and hangar, allowing the Navy to more easily deploy varying numbers of helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and boats according to the situation.

One of the most novel systems on board will also be one of the most important. BAE is developing what it calls a shared computing environment specifically for the Type 26 (although a version of it may also be de-risked on the Type 23).

This basically means having a single computer system that can support the multiple pieces of software used throughout the ship, rather than installing separate hardware systems and local area networks from each supplier.

Using blade server technology originally developed for the banking industry to provide reliable, high-power processing, the computing environment will be able to run different “virtual” operating systems to cope with the variety of programmes the ship will use, from navigation to combat management.

These systems themselves will also appear in upgraded forms, while the ship’s communication network will be another of the more novel technologies on board, again notable not for a huge advance in capability but for improved integration that will make it easier for BAE to maintain.

And it’s this approach that runs right through the design of the Type 26: though the ship will still feature numerous technologies provided by different suppliers, BAE wants to make it easier and cheaper to provide the support services and to repackage the design for other international customers.

‘We’re really driving to get the support cost down because we’re trying to minimise the whole life costs for the customers,’ said Lewis.

‘Through tailoring some of the design activity and looking at modularity… we’re trying to get more of a production line viewpoint set up, which is cost-efficient for us and obviously much more cost-efficient for the customer and potential overseas partners.’

Readers' comments (15)

  • "Using technology originally developed for the banking industry to provide reliable, high-power processing"
    Err... not much of a recommendation considering recent events.

    More seriously, I wonder how many are being planned for, and how many will actually be delivered to the Royal Navy. There will be a good export market for this class of vessel and the government should see it as an investment in British industry to ensure a good number are procured for the Royal Navy.

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  • 20 Cent - Blade servers and storage systems run by banks are extremely reliable and failsafe. What is not so reliable is the software.

    As an aside, I believe there was a decision made between 'long and thin' versus 'short and fat' for the hull design. 'Short and fat' was the most practical, with better economy, load carrying and weathering, but just didn't "look right" for a warship. Anyone know more on this?

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  • I understand that initial planning is for 13, but if exports mean that more money becomes available to build more, I hope that is the case. We desperately need to increase the size of our Navy.

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  • The Royal Navy's requirement is for eight ships equipped for ASW, and five for more general duties. Also, any profits from export will go to the manufacturers, not the Navy.

  • I understand the desire to obtain export orders but do not let that desire to override the Royal Navy's requirements. We are designing a warship for our own use not a camel for someone else. Also how often are requirements dictated by money!

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  • Governments (or Government servants or employees) proposing designs to be suitable to sell to other Governments' servants or employees?
    Sounds about as silly an argument as I heard suggesting it was essential that we have two massive carriers 'to project' our foreign policy?

    Last time I looked I did not see a single aircraft carrier with a German or Japanese flag patrolling the North Sea. I did notice that at least 3 out of 5 of the cars, fridges, cameras, PCs, washing machines, TVs do I need to go on... that are in every home, business, theme park, hospital... have a German, Japanese or clone name on them. If anyone in a position of power wishes to ask which Nations actually has economic and hence political power -manifest in foreign policy....look no further.
    Is everyone out of step except me?
    Mike B

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  • As an Engineer I am supposed to be completely illiterate as regards arts subjects! But unlike my many arty friends, who know and care little or nothing for our profession and activities, I have always taken a great interest in theirs. Particularly History. [Bless the OU]
    Unless I am mistaken, the most successful city state in the Mediterranean throughout the period when it was the major element to the commerce of the known(then) world was Venice. The city took a simple view: we will bribe the pirates who might plunder our cargoes so that they will concentrate their efforts elsewhere. De Bono suggested in 1967 (as it was costing the US at least $1,000,000 to remove each VC from the battlefield) that simple bribery -$50,000 would have bribed anyone in Asia then, was much more cost effective. I agree with him, and the good burgers of Venice. Quite where that leaves a navy which doesn't actually carry anything anywhere I am unclear.
    Any ideas?
    Mike B

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  • The most worrying thing about a fully integrated system is its robustness and reliability - especially once it has had some battle damage.
    I thought the way to deal with this was to create redundancy within the systems which doesnt sound like a great cost saver! I wonder which principle will win? I hope it doesnt take a war to highlight any inadequacies like has been the case too often in the past!

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  • From article: "... (Type-26s will be fitted with) MBDA Sea Ceptor missiles... (that) will enable ships to hit multiple targets travelling at supersonic speeds for the first time..."

    So... all the claims being made by the MoD/UK govt for over 7-years re the brand new Type-45 Destroyers' 'Sea Viper' AAW missile system's capabilities were false??

    Has the billions of pounds- and research time/resources- expended developing Sea Viper's high-tech, high-capacity AESA/APAR radars, CMS and Aster-15/30 missiles been wasted??

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  • Actually this was a mistake. The Type 45 does have similar capabilities. The Type 26 will be the first ship to use a 'soft' or 'cold' vertical missile launch system. See our article on the technology for details:


    As currently 'planned', Type-26 Frigates will be much too small to generate sufficient power to run the capable, high-tech radars, sensors, weapons and ship self-defence systems required by today's- and expected-in-the-near-term-future- threat environments...

    In particular, Type-26's will not be large enough to accommodate new and reaching operational status Anti Air Warfare (AAW) weapons systems such as Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) and Shipboard Lasers (SSLs)...

    Long standing consensus among both US and Royal Navy planners has been that DEWs (SSLs and variants) are required to effectively counter today's most challenging Anti-ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs)****, Anti-ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBMs) and fast-attack boats under to-be-expected low, medium and high intensity naval warfare scenarios...

    The US is about to begin preliminary design work (in mid-2012) on a significantly upgraded version of the "Flight IIA" DDG 51 Burke class Destroyer. Currently, Flight IIA DDG 51s are the US Navy's most capable model of Destroyer/Frigate...

    The upgraded Burkes are to be designated "Flight III" DDG 51s* ...

    The main objective of improving on (the current) Flight IIA Burkes' Anti-air Warfare (AAW) capabilities is to meet today's well known and anticipated in-the-near-future airborne threats**...

    * "US Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for (US) Congress", August 10-2012:

    ** "(DDG 51 Flight III) Burke Destroyers- the (US) Navy’s Future Surface Combatant Plans", January-2012: or

    "Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issues for (US) Congress", August 10, 2012

    Flight III Burkes when built, are intended to be fitted with a substantially more capable set of radars*** than Flight IIA Burkes along with an improved CMS..

    Flight III Burkes are also intended to have exponentially increased power generation capacities- required to operate shipboard lasers and high-tech AESA radars...

    The first Flight III Burkes are projected to begin construction in FY 2016- 2017...


    1) the 2- 3 years required to build + complete the weapons/sensors fit (and sea trials) of each Flight III Burke (whether in US or UK yards); AND

    2) the vastly superior naval warfare, fleet self-defence + ship self-defence capabilities of Flight III Burkes compared to the dangerously dumbed-down Type-26s- as currently planned; AND

    3) recognizing the UK MoD's/ RN's stated needs of Type-23 Frigate replacements starting to enter service in 2020, why couldn't the UK join the US's Burke Flight III design/build programme as an equal partner??

    Surely the UK procuring 'authentic' 21st century fighting ships- IE: built-in-the-UK "UK-ized" Flight III Burkes- makes more sense than continuing with the unconcionably under-armed, grievously lacking in sensor and weapons system capabilities 'make-work-project' Type-26 programme as it is currently structured??

    Shouldn't the UK's Parliamentary committees- such as Defence and Public Accounts- be discussing and taking evidence regarding the UK's and the US's naval ship building programmes so as to establish which (Destroyer/Frigate) programme- the Type-26 or Flight III Burke- is most able to provide the Royal Navy with legitimate value for money and required capabilities 2020- 2060??

    Roderick V. Louis
    Vancouver, BC, Canada


    "(US) Navy... Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress", August 10-2012:

    June 23-2011 version:
    **** "Soviet/Russian Cruise Missiles":

    DDG 51 "Flight III":

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  • Roderick - you're crazy!

    I hope these ships will come on budget, as the RN really needs these hulls just to meets its requirements.

    Fingers crossed the the combat system(s) develop smoothly, biggest element of risk in this project.

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