The Ministry of Defence may arm futuristic triple-hulled trimaran naval frigates with land-attack cruise missiles.
This will be the first time UK surface warships have been identified as potential platforms for US Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The MoD is looking at the idea as part of its trimaran research for future craft. Plans took a step forward this month with the first cutting of steel for the trimaran research vessel Triton at shipbuilder Vosper Thorny-croft in Southampton.
Besides the Tomahawk missiles, made by US company Lockheed Martin, Triton would also be armed with a main surface bombardment gun and air defence missiles.
Triton’s sea trials will start after its delivery to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (Dera) in September 2000. Dera may then decide whether to chose the trimaran design for the MoD’s Future Surface Combatant (FSC) project.
Dr David Andrews, head of the procurement executive’s frigates and mine countermeasures directorate, said the trimaran’s hull form probably gives better seakeeping stability for high-mounted weaponry and sensors.
The MoD is considering building a 5,000 6,000 tonne trimaran FSC, 150m long and 30m wide.
The US will play a big part in the project. Triton will visit US waters for six months of trials in 2000 2001 to see if the trimaran concept is suitable for US warships.
Three companies will be awarded further competitive design projects this autumn. These will last until 2003, when a contract will be let for the carriers’ construction.