The decision to award the contract to the Babcock and Thales team will be popular for a variety of reasons. It provides some competition for BAE Systems that has enjoyed something of a lucrative monopoly on RN warship construction. The Arrowhead 140 concept based on the Danish Iver Huitfeldt class frigate is relatively large and offers space for a balanced fit of weapons and sensors with the easiest path for future upgrades. (There is a deeper dive into the design in our earlier article here)
The project will employ up to 1,250 people in highly skilled roles around the UK and provide an opportunity for 150 new apprentices to learn technical and engineering skills. A further 1,250 jobs will be supported in the wider UK supply chain.
The Babcock-led “Team 31” proposal envisages using Rosyth as the central integration site with potentially some participation from other yards. In this scenario, 13 frigates will be built in Scotland, rather undermining the nationalist complaints of broken promises when the Type 26 order was reduced to 8 ships.
The first steel for the ships will be cut in 2021 and the lead ship of the class will be in the water by 2023. The exact delivery date is unknown by HMS Argyll, the first Type 23 frigate to be replaced will have to solider for at least a year past her original intended Out of Service date of 2023. By recent standards, this will be a lightning-fast procurement and construction project, Babcock will have to overcome many challenges to meet the taught schedule. They are backed by the design experience of OMT and Danish industry which will be extremely encouraged by this news.
To vindicate the decision, “Team 31” also now need to put the “e” in Type 31e and attempt to win export orders. Revitalising warship exports was a key part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy that gave birth to the Type 31 project.
Now that the baseline platform design has been settled, the next challenge will be to define the weapons and sensor fit. With a small increase in the defence budget, it is possible the RN may be able to equip these frigates beyond the bare minimum originally envisaged when the price cap was £250M per ship.