Today the MoD announced it has agreed to fund three bids for Competitive Design Phase of the Type 31e Frigate competition.
The designs from two of the candidates are already well known; the Babcock-led ‘Team 31’ consortium with the Arrowhead 140 and the BAE Systems / Cammel Laird consortium with their Leander design. The Atlas Elektronik UK / Thyssenkrup Marine Systems bid is a new entrant to the competition, although the company says their bid has been quietly in development for some time. Each of the competitors will receive around £5 Million to fund detailed design work.
Due to the very demanding schedule, the MoD has taken the unusual step of inviting each competitor to negotiate for the combined design and build contract concurrently with the award of the Competitive Design Phase contracts. The winner will be selected and the contract awarded at the end of 2019. Defence Minister Stuart Andrew said “This is the first frigate competition the UK has run in a generation, and today we are funding three shipbuilding teams with extremely exciting concepts to continue developing their plans”
The AEUK/TKMS bid is likely to be based on the MEKO A-200 which is already in service with the South African and Algerian navies. The modular MEKO (Mehrzweck-Kombination – multi-purpose combination) warship concept was developed in the 1970s and has a strong export heritage, many MEKO variants have been sold to a variety of navies. At this stage, there are no specific details of the design or even a name for the proposed Royal Navy version. The latest A-200 sold to Algeria is a general purpose 3,700-tonne vessel featuring Combined Diesel and Gas Turbine (CODAG) engines with water-jets propulsion making it a quiet ASW platform, something neither of the other Type 31 candidates offer. The hull and superstructure feature an X-form shell design which gives the vessel very low radar cross-section. There is no funnel and engines exhaust horizontally below the waterline for an exceptionally low infrared (heat) signature. We can look forward to more details of the UK armament and sensor fit emerging soon.
AEUK and TKMS are both German-owned companies. AEUK has recently been partnering with the Royal Navy developing unmanned systems but has no history of warship building. Parent company Atlas Elektronik is a global business which supplies mission systems, sonars, torpedoes and mine warfare equipment to navies across the world. TKMS is a large warship building company but has had a troubled recent history and is undergoing a major restructure after financial problems and serious issues with the F-125 class frigates they constructed for the German Navy. The Atlas/TKMS bid proposes to use Ferguson on the Clyde and Harland & Wolff in Belfast to construct the ships. This demonstrates a certain pragmatism amongst the shipbuilders as both Ferguson and H&W are also partners in the Babcock ‘Team 31’ consortium.
There was a considerable over-reaction to the temporary suspension of the Type 31e tendering process in the Summer, with many predicting the end of the programme. The suspension lasted just 3 weeks, the process was restarted in August and today’s announcement confirms the intention to deliver the first ship in 2023 remains on its very tight schedule.
Main image: MEKO A- 200 the El Radii, built for the Algerian Navy 2015.