Versatility is key for Royal Navy’s new frigate

Senior Reporter

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.

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.’