LONDON --- The British government is finally moving ahead on the long-awaited Royal Navy Global Combat Ship program with the announcement that a deal for the first three warships has been reached with BAE Systems.
The deal, announced by Defense Secretary Michael Fallon on July 1, is worth around GBP3.7 billion ($4.8 billion) will cover the first batch of what will eventually be eight anti-submarine warfare (ASW) Type 26 frigates. The price tag includes money already sunk into long-lead items, ongoing development costs and infrastructure work paid for by the Ministry of Defense to update BAE Systems' two shipyards in Glasgow, Scotland, where the Type 26s will be built. One key element of the long-lead items already accounted for concerns the first of three MT30 gas turbines ordered from Rolls-Royce Marine and delivered to BAE Systems' Glasgow yards.
The Type 26 project dates back to January 2010 when it received the go-ahead from the Investment Approvals Board. Main Gate 1 (MG1) approval for the Type 26 project was granted by the Investment Approvals Committee on May 20, 2012, thus launching an 18-month detail-design phase.
On February 20, 2015, the government announced that with the Assessment Phase complete, a decision had been made to move on to the Demonstration Phase, awarding BAE Systems a GBP859 million contract in the process. The Demonstration Phase went into effect on April 1, 2015, beginning the effort by BAE Systems' naval architects to detail a mature ship design.
Initially the outline of the Type 26 program was initially to replace the Royal Navy's retired fleet of Type 22 Batch 3 and current fleet of Type 23 frigates with a new fleet of 13 surface combatants starting in 2021. An add-on benefit to the ship-build order would be the continuing workflow in British shipyards enabling the industry to retain workers and technical skills.
But the structure of the Type 26 project changed under the Conservative government's updated Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) unveiled in November 2015. Under a revised program outlook the Type 26 order was reduced from 13 to just eight ships to replace the eight ASW-mission Type 23s. In addition, the planned introduction of the Type 26s was delayed to the mid-2020s.
As a substitute for the reduced Type 26 procurement, the Conservative government sought to mitigate any reduction in the Royal Navy's surface combatant inventory by announcing in the 2015 SDSR that it would pursue a five-ship class of smaller, cheaper GP frigates that will be referred to as the Type 31.
The Conservative government hoped to begin cutting steel on the first of the new 6,900-ton warships in the summer of 2016, but prolonged negotiations between the Ministry of Defense and BAE Systems, plus the Brexit referendum and the recent general election all factored into delaying completion of a deal. Thus instead of the first new Type 26 frigate entering Royal Navy service by 2023 - when the first of the Type 23s, HMS Argyll, is slated for decommissioning - the delivery timeframe is expected to be pushed back by at least one year or more.
The new Type 26s are intended to serve as escorts for the Royal Navy's two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, the first of which started sea trials last week and is scheduled to begin operational duties in 2021. They will also be used to protect the nuclear submarine fleet as they enter and depart from Clyde naval base in Faslane, Scotland.
A follow-on order for the five additional Type 26s is not expected prior to entry of the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier into Royal Navy service in 2021. Meanwhile, the Type 31 general purpose ship remains little more than a white paper concept as the Ministry of Defense struggles under funding pressures to its long-term Equipment Plan.