After an almost unseemly wait, the Royal Navy can breathe again having held its breath waiting for the announcement of one of its vital, neigh critical new classes of surface warship to begin. In early July, the Defence Secretary announced that the first batch of three Type 26 frigates would begin construction at BAE Systems yards on the River Clyde in a deal worth £3.7 billion.
The announcement, whilst praised in some quarters, was also queried in others. Why were only three frigates announced and not the full eight that were detailed in the last defence review? Will ordering in batches actual give a future government the option to curtail the construction prior to the full number being ordered? Will they be delivered before the fi rst of the old Type 23 frigates are phased out of service and if not will they have to be expensively refi tted for further service? There was also some degree of confusion as to when the fi rst steel plates would be laid down on a construction slipway, but the Royal Navy seems confi dent that the first of the three new frigates would be delivered when asked for, around the mid 2020’s. The current timetable for the withdrawal of Type 23’s starts with HMS Argyll, planned for decommissioning in 2023.
The troubled Type 26 programme has suffered serious inflationary pressures which some suggest is the main reason behind the scaling down of the requirement from a like for like with the Type 23’s of 13 vessels. In the 2015 strategic defence and security review, fi ve of the class were culled to make way for a ‘cheaper’ option, the still in design form Type 31. The whole of this latter program is still very unclear at present and government coffers are being kept quite tightly shut regarding funding for this project at present.
Since the last edition of Naval Focus, the Russians have launched the lead ship of the Project 20385 Gremyashschy class corvette which boasts extensive stealth characteristics including a special radar absorbing coating on the ship’s hull. The vessel is expected to join the Pacific Fleet by the end of next year.
This growth, however, shows no signs of stopping with new additions added almost monthly to the fleet. In early July, a new 10,000 ton Type 055 guided missile destroyer (unnamed) was launched at Shanghai’s Jiangnon-Changxing shipyard. This new vessel is seen as a powerful threat to the US Navy in the South China Sea and the Pentagon rates its capabilities not as a destroyer, but as a cruiser.
The design will allow the ship to remain on station for up to 40 days at a time and also features a hanger and landing deck for a Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk helicopter.