Does the UK need additional ASW ships?

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on how a contemporary version of the World War 2 Flower-Class corvette[1]could help the Royal Navy compensate for reduced ship numbers. What made this important, I emphasised, was the need to retain ASW capabilities at their current levels.

I was surprised and delighted by the response to the article, both positive and negative. All comments were thoughtful, interesting and well-expressed. Last week, Sir Humphrey added to the discussion on his blog[2]and therefore I thought I should provide a response not only to his thoughts, but also to other people who have commented on this topic.


01 Introduction
02  Is Russia a Genuine threat?
03  Are the UK’s current frigate plans sufficient to meet our anti-submarine needs?
04  Could more submarines be a better solution than more ASW frigates?
05  Can a low-cost corvette ever be an effective ASW ship?
06 The need to think outside the box
07 Summary

Type 26
Type 26 ASW Frigate

01 Introduction

A large number of people believe that the Royal Navy, like the Army and RAF, is under-resourced. They point to an acute shortage of surface combatants and contrast today’s fleet of 19 surface combatants to the 100-ship navy we had in 1981. But while most naval commentators share the view that the Navy has too few ships, there are some who reject the idea of a new ASW corvette. Their objections are based on the following beliefs:

  • The submarine threat is not that great and the prospect of a major conflict is unlikely
  • Our current mix of ASW assets is sufficient
  • The best way of hunting a submarine is to use another submarine, so what we really need is more submarines
  • ASW is scarily expensive, which means cheap ASW corvettes just won’t be capable of doing the job.
  • Any discussion about more ships is irrelevant, because the Navy barely has sufficient manpower to crew its existing warships.

In exploring these criticisms, the fundamental question that needs to be addressed is whether eight Type 26 ASW frigates will be sufficient to meet the Royal Navy’s anti-submarine warfare needs? Therefore, we need to start by looking at the threat.

02  Is Russia a genuine threat?

The UK believes Russia poses a serious risk to its national security. Sanctions placed on Russia as a result of its annexation of Ukraine territory angered President Vladimir Putin. His response was to initiate a range of hostile actions designed to damage and de-stabilise democratic Western governments. Hacking, media manipulation, political interference and assassinations are all hallmarks of hybrid warfare. Russia’s willingness to engage in such activities, e.g. the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal using a lethal nerve agent in 2018, underlines its serious intent.

In February 2018, a group of mercenaries belonging to the Russian private military contractor, Wagner Group, attempted to attack an American training and mentoring camp in Syria. A battalion-size force was identified as it moved into an assault position. After US forces on the ground in Syria tried to deconflict the situation, Russia disavowed the mercenaries believing they would prevail. Wagner Group mercenaries then decided to press home their attack, failing to anticipate an immediate response from USAF combat aircraft, which decimated the attacking force.[3]Had American air power not been available, then the US Special Forces team would have been annihilated. Using expendable forces to achieve your political and military goals is proxy warfare.

In October 2018, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) identified the GRU as being behind a range of coordinated and indiscriminate cyber attacks globally.[4]Cyber warfare was conducted in flagrant violation of international law, affected citizens in a large number of countries, and cost national economies millions of pounds. The UK investigation revealed that clandestine GRU activities had deliberately sought to undermine international law and compromise international institutions.

As Russia’s economy falters in the wake of sanctions, it is looking for new trading partners by expanding its spheres of influence wherever it can. It is also trying to secure access to key resources in Africa, South America and the Middle East. To facilitate this, it is propping-up despotic regimes, fuelling civil wars (first Syria and now Libya) and exporting arms. It has again employed Wagner Group mercenaries in the Central African Republic, while actively using underhand tactics to pursue opportunities in Algeria, Angola, Sudan and Egypt.

Russia also represents a threat to its former-Soviet Union neighbours. Attempts to subjugate Ukraine and Georgia, as well as Chechnya, speak for themselves. The build-up of military forces adjacent to the Baltic States has led to NATO to pre-emptively establish an enhanced forward presence (EFP) to deter further incursions.

Putin is an opportunist playing a game of brinksmanship. His audacity is attracting increasingly robust responses from NATO. He may wish to stop short of open warfare, but how often have we seen conflict result from miscalculation? Notwithstanding the threat that Russia posses to Europe, it has stifled all opposition and debate internally. The country is governed by an autocratic and oppressive regime. So, let us not be in any doubt, Russian hybrid warfare, proxy warfare and cyber warfare activities, together with direct aggression against neighbouring independent states, pose a direct and existential threat to UK interests and security. Russia has triggered a new East-West stand-off and while Cold War 2.0 may seem less innocuous than the original version, we underestimate Vladimir Putin at our peril.

A major conflict in Europe would immediately result in an air travel shutdown. Overnight, our island nation status would again make us dependent on seapower to ensure the delivery of essential supplies. Russia probably lacks the ability to prosecute a Fourth Battle of the Atlantic,[5]but, according to the IISS publication, The Military Balance 2019,[6]it has 58 submarines, of which 48 are tactical boats. Such a significant number of submarines could terrorise European and international waters. Transatlantic shipping would not necessarily need to run in convoys, but NATO would be forced to actively patrol UK approaches to counter submarine activity.

Akula Class Russian Submarine
Russian Akula Class nuclear attack submarine

If Russia were to conduct a sustained submarine campaign against merchant shipping approaching UK waters, it might not ultimately succeed; but, in the short-term it could terrorise Europe, causing widespread panic and disruption. Correspondingly, we might try to blockade Russia, to force its surrender. Our ability to blockade Russian approaches would depend on our ability to protect our own attacking forces. If such a scenario unfolded, the perceived effectiveness of our anti-submarine assets would be vital to achieve a deterrent effect. Attacks would be less likely if Russia anticipated a high cost in lost submarines.

As noted elsewhere, hunting for submarines is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Having multiple assets to hunt them is always better than having only a few. Since a ship can only be in one place at a time, absolute ship numbers are important if we are to achieve sufficient area coverage. Absolute ship numbers is also important to facilitate a controlled and appropriate response to Russian aggression. This would be necessary to avoid rapid escalation. Without having adequate anti-submarine assets, we risk being able to respond to submarine attacks only by using nuclear weapons.

While Russia is an obvious problem, China is steadily growing into an even more formidable threat. As it grows in economic power it seeks to achieve superpower status. It now has the second largest defence budget after the USA and is building military capabilities to rival it. China’s influence increasingly extends beyond Asia. Like Russia, China is active in Africa and South America. Closer to home, it is using its navy to to exercise control over the South China Seas, acting in contravention to international law by preventing vessels from transiting the area. This has resulted in clashes with the Royal Navy and US Navy.[7]Presently, China has 59 submarines, including 55 tactical boats.[8]China has an ambitious shipbuilding programme that could see its number of submarines (as well as surface ships) grow substantially over the next decade. If Russian aggression has re-ignited past tensions, the extent of China’s investment across all domains only intensifies it. Maintaining peace requires parity across multiple capabilities and a commitment to active deterrence.

HMS Sutherland – a Type 23 Frigate (Image: UK MoD)

03  Are the UK’s current frigate plans sufficient to meet our anti-submarine needs?

The submarine threat faced by Britain in WW1 and WW2, the fact that the Country’s survival was dependent on winning the Battle of the Atlantic, and the price paid in ships and sailors lost, means that we have since placed a high priority on our anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Britain’s post-WW2 investment in anti-submarine frigates has built world-class skills in this area.

Since 1990, when the Cold War ended, Britain has continued to maintain an extensive fleet of anti-submarine frigates. Despite reduced tensions, we built a total of 16 Type 23 frigates. Today, that number has been reduced to 13, but mid-life upgrades have substantially improved them. They already had powerful sensors, including bow-mounted sonars, towed arrays, and Merlin ASW helicopters, but the recent addition of Sea Ceptor / CAMM air defence VLS pods, plus Phalanx 20mm CIWS, has increased their ability to defend themselves. So, even before Type 26 arrives, the bar has been set high.

The City-Class Type 26 frigate (or Global Combat Ship) will continue to assert Britain’s leadership in anti-submarine warfare. The design is perceived to be so capable that both Australia and Canada have decided to acquire it. However, each ship expected to cost £1 billion. Part of the increase in cost is attributable to a delayed building approval. Even if the real figure is closer to £800 million, this represents a massive cost growth versus Type 23 and has trimmed the total number we can afford. The acquisition cost of the Type 23 frigate was around £130 million per ship, with a lifetime cost of around £400 million over 25-30 years.[9]The cost of Type 26 frigates explains why we will only acquire eight.

If you allocate two frigates to a carrier group and two to a Commando task force, that’s half your ASW force used-up. This leaves two frigates to patrol the North Atlantic, one for the GIUK gap and one for the South China Seas. Can this be sufficient?

To compensate for the shortage of frigates, a less expensive Type 31e light frigate has been proposed. This will increase the total number of escorts to 19; however, these are not ASW frigates, but rather General Purpose frigates to be used for non-ASW tasks. If the geopolitical situation had not materially changed since 2010, perhaps 8 ASW frigates plus 5 GP frigates would be enough, but given the threats outlined above, a strong case has emerged to support the acquisition of additional ant-submarine frigates.

I would be satisfied if the Royal Navy were allowed to increase the total number of Type 26 frigates  to 12, while adding 3-4 additional Batch 2 River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels for non-ASW roles, but this appears to be unaffordable. As things stand, the Type 31e may become be exact type of cheap warship that Sir Humphrey objects to. And he’s right. It’s pointless to spend £250 million per ship for a vessel that isn’t significantly better equipped than a River Class OPV and non-ASW capable.

If we do need additional ASW vessels, but cannot afford more Type 26 frigates, what are our options?

04 Could more submarines be a better solution than more ASW frigates?

Submarines have undoubtedly become a highly effective means of hunting other submarines. Military historian, John Keegan, one of the great Cold War strategic thinkers, suggested in his book, The Price of Admiralty,[10]that submarine warfare would take over from surface ship warfare. This view was shaped by the significant impact of anti-shipping missiles during the Falklands War of 1982, but remains relevant today as hypersonic cruise missiles loom on the horizon. If submarines are the future of the Royal Navy, then we should invest more in them.

Submarines are intrinsically quiet and the latest designs have powerful sonar equipment for detecting other submarines. Large nuclear submarines (SSNs) can perform an ASW role in deep water, while smaller diesel-electric boats (SSKs) can do so in littoral zones. While the UK’s focus has been blue water ASW in the Atlantic (and potentially in the South China Sea) we cannot ignore the littoral threat along our coastline and in the North Sea, which has an average depth of just 90 metres. However, the UK is also suffering from diminished submarine numbers. It will have just seven Astute-Class nuclear attack submarines and these are not ideally suited to shallow-water operations. Since we have no diesel-electric attack submarines, it is worth considering whether 4-5 less-expensive SSKs would be a useful addition to our submarine fleet? Some naval planners think so. Like corvettes, small SSKs are usefully cheaper than large SSNs and, in addition to littoral and North Sea duties, they are still capable enough to patrol the GIUK gap.

In the short-term, the UK’s only dedicated naval submarine shipyard, Barrow-in-Furness, is fully occupied building the final Astute-Class boats before construction of the Dreadnought-Class of nuclear ballistic missile submarine begins. If we decided to acquire new SSKs, we would probably need to purchase them abroad. Something like the German 212/ 214 Class of diesel-electric boats with Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems,could be suitable. This advanced design displaces 1,800 tonnes and uses hydrogen fuel cells, giving each submarine a 12-week endurance, including 3 weeks submerged. Its non-magnetic steel hull makes it especially difficult to detect using magnetic anomaly detectors. What also makes these boats attractive is their cost:£300 million – which is much less than a Type 26 frigate.

Type 212 submarine
German Type 212 Diesel-electric submarine. Fitted with an Air-independent Propulsion (AIP) system, this is a new type of submarine that offers excellent value for money.

If submarines are the most effective submarine hunters, it is perfectly reasonable to ask the question why bother with Type 26 frigates at all?

If a submarine and a frigate were both equipped with the same types of equipment, then the submarine would be the better ASW platform. In reality, ASW frigates tend to have more capable sonar systems and superior onboard processing power. They additionally have more extensive towed arrays and, crucially, they carry anti-submarine helicopters with dipping sonars. They can execute sustained searches at distance, drop sonar buoys and use onboard weapons to destroy any submarines they find. The advantage of an anti-submarine frigate is that its helicopter allows it to search a larger area than most submarines are capable of doing.

Again, this has been said elsewhere, but ASW is a team sport. So frigates work in partnership with other frigates, their own helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft, While additional submarines may be desirable, the networked effect of a group of frigates working together can be a force multiplier that provides greater coverage. It should also be remembered that frigates are highly flexible platforms that can perform a range of tasks in addition to ASW and switch easily between them. Surface ships are also less expensive to operate than submarines.

In addition to submarines and ASW frigates, the effectiveness of maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) for submarine hunting needs to be underlined. The UK will acquire up to 9 Boeing P-8 Poseidon (based on the Boeing 737-800 passenger airliner). These cost an estimated £250 million each, or a quarter of the cost of a frigate. These can respond quickly and search large areas. While useful, aircraft are not persistent, so need to be used in conjunction with ships. A new development is aerial ASW drones like the Northrop Grumman RQ-4N Triton UAV, which is a maritimepatrol version of the Global Hawk long-range surveillance UAV. ASW UAVs are designed to work with maritime patrol aircraft, which can control 2-3 at a time, to widen the area of search. They can remain on station for longer periods of time and cost around £150 million. This makes them an attractive ASW asset. So far, however, the UK has no plans to acquire such a system.

Fincantieri Multi-Role Corvette. 

05  Can a low-cost corvette ever be an effective ASW ship?

With attack submarines, ASW frigates and maritime patrol aircraft, the UK will have a mixed portfolio of ASW assets. While submarines and MPA are highly focused resources, the extra flexibility of a ship platform when the overall fleet size has been reduced makes additional ASW vessels desirable. For this reason, my original article proposed a credible low-cost anti-submarine ship,[11]not a souped-up patrol vessel. To be credible, any ASW corvette has to deliver the following baseline requirements:

  • A hull with a low acoustic signature
  • Sufficient size to have good sea-keeping abilities, ensuring mission integrity in all weathers, which suggests a displacement of 3,500+ tonnes
  • Organic ASW sensors, so an integral bow-mounted sonar
  • Able to defend itself against aircraft and missiles, so something like Sea Ceptor (CAMM) linked to a robust air defence radar
  • Able to defend itself against other ships, so Harpoon anti-shipping missiles linked to a surface radar system
  • Sufficient onboard deck and hangar space to support an organic shipboard ASW helicopter, like Merlin
  • A 30-day / 7,000 nautical miles endurance

This list isn’t totally divorced from what a Type 26 frigate will offer, but we might need to make trade-offs in sensor quality (precision and effective range) to ensure affordability. The key question is what reduction in capability relative to a Type 26 would be acceptable? Is an 80% capability acceptable? The risk here is that we may be insisting on a Mercedes-Benz C-Class when a Volkswagen Golf does the job at a substantial discount. Of course, the opposite is also true: if a budget ship cannot fundamentally do the job for which it is designed, it is not worth the cost at any price.

So are inexpensive corvettes a fundamentally compromised concept? At the moment, we seem to be saying that Type 26 is the minimum acceptable standard for our ASW needs. It is certainly a good benchmark, but we must question the cost versus utility of every component system to see if we can achieve a comparable capability at a lesser cost. This exercise is not simply about trying to acquire a smaller, cheaper ship and fitting low cost sensors, and second-rate equipment. Such an approach would produce an inferior ship. This is Sir Humphrey’s point.

However, some of the newer light frigate and corvette designs that have emerged in recent years are compelling:

  • Atlas / Thyssen-Krupp Meko A-200 corvette (also being considered for Type 31e)
  • Fincantieri Multi-role corvette
  • Damen Sigma Class corvette

While each vessel has been designed with ASW in mind, what differentiates them from other corvettes is the weapons and sensors that they accommodate. Displacing 3,000-3,500 tonnes, they are not much smaller than many existing frigates. Specifications for other customers include capable bow sonars, generous helicopter facilities, and Sea Ceptor VLS pods for air defence. They are less expensive than a Type 26 frigate, but they are not cheap. They typically cost around £400 million, not £250 million. But even £400 million is still half the cost of a Type 26 frigate.

The Type 31e light frigate cost has been capped at £250 million. This is definitely a less expensive and less capable ship. The question is whether five ASW corvettes for £2 billion is money better spent than five non-ASW light frigates for £1.25 billion or £2 billion spent on two additional Type 26 frigates? A £400 million ASW corvette may not be as capable as a £1 billion ASW frigate, but it is likely to be superior to a non-ASW general-purpose patrol vessel.

As things stand, the Type 31e project was halted during 2018. Although no reason was provided, it appears that none of the bidders could meet the required specification for the budget. If Type 31e vessels need to cost closer to £300 million, or be reduced in specification to hit the target price – again to produce a ship without an ASW capability, this makes an even stronger case for more Type 26 frigates or a new type of less expensive ASW corvette.

The challenge is to think outside the box.

In a world where billion-pound ships can be destroyed by million-pound hypersonic missiles, our naval ship-building strategy may have become unsustainable. A low-cost approach may be our only option. This article proposes a reduction in cost from £1 billion to £400 million; but, if all surface ships become sitting ducks, we may need to start building large numbers of very low cost vessels.

We also need to re-think how we hunt submarines. Designing and building ships with hulls that have low acoustic signatures is expensive. Towed arrays are expensive. Sophisticated helicopters are expensive. Unmanned underwater vehicles could provide a fresh approach.

  • If a mother ship could launch, recover and control a number of drone-like unmanned vessels, each with its own sonar system, then having a super-quiet hull would be less important.
  • A group of networked drone vessels working together could potentially sweep a larger area of sea than a single frigate, reducing the number of high-end ASW ships needed.
  • Basic unmanned vehicles could be used to recover sonar buoys dropped by ASW helicopters, saving further money and resources.
  • Ship-launched aerial drones could operate as mini-MPAs.
  • Alternatively, we could explore the potential of smaller unmanned frigates operated remotely from the UK.

Any one of these options could create less expensive ships; they could also result in more effective ones.

Autonomous unmanned surface vessel
Autonomous unmanned surface vessels could potentially be equipped with sophisticated sonar equipment to provide low-cost ASW capabilities.

Adopting a modular approach to capability also helps. When a ship is fitted for, but not necessarily with a certain system, this provides mission flexibility – so long as the cost of fitting optional equipment is not prohibitive and can be done easily and quickly.

We also need to fix the helicopter problem.

When it comes to specifying key sub-system types, the UK has a tendency to gold-plate its requirements. Merlin is relevant to this discussion. It’s a great helicopter, possibly the most capable ASW platform in service with any navy, but such performance comes at a price. We originally bought 44 HM Mk 1 Merlins at £39 million each. We upgraded 30 of them to the Mark 2 standard from 2014 at a further cost of £38 million per airframe. Through-life support over a 30-year lifespan adds another £90 million of cost to each helicopter, and annual operating costs (150 flying hours per annum per airframe) adds £12 million. This means the lifetime cost of each Merlin is an estimated £179 million or £6 million per helicopter per annum.[12]In contrast, the US Navy’s SH-60 Seahawk cost around $30 million per aircraft to acquire with a $50 million mid-life upgrade cost and with further total lifetime costs adding-up to around $120 million per helicopter.[13]The SH-60 may not ultimately be as good as Merlin, but it is still a respectable ASW helicopter used by 15 different navies, including the US Navy and Royal Australian Navy.

The lesson here is that we can not longer specify bespoke platforms that only we use. This includes the mission fit as well as the basic airframe. We have to acquire new capabilities in partnership with our allies. And we have to focus scarce resources on the elements of the package that most deliver effect in combat.

The other problem with Merlin is that we don’t have enough of them. Of the original 44 Merlin HM Mk 1s that were acquired, only 30 were upgraded to Mark 2 status. These are all needed for Type 23 frigates (and later Type 26), Type 45 destroyers and the Queen Elizabeth-Class carriers. If we acquire additional ASW vessels, we will need to use an alternative helicopter. A Wildcat or NH90 Sea Lion equipped with a dipping sonar could be options.

NH-90 Sea Lion helicopter currently under development for the German Navy.

The other elephant in the room is manpower constraints. All talk of more ships is futile when we barely have the manpower needed to crew our existing ones. The need for additional personnel is a pre-requisite to facilitate any increase in Royal Navy ship numbers. In fact, the need to increase the headcount cap is something that applies to all three services. The Royal Navy and RAF each need an extra 5,000 personnel. The Army needs 10,000 additional soldiers. Nothing short of a major conflict is likely to result in headcount caps being lifted, but as other NATO Alliance members increase defence spending, we can only hope the UK recognises the need for additional manpower. Without increasing numbers now, in an emergency we might be forced to reintroduce conscription.

07 Summary

With more than 100 Russian and Chinese submarines roaming the world’s oceans, Britain’s 7 attack submarines, 8 ASW frigates, and 9 maritime patrol aircraft may not be sufficient.

If the Type 31e concept is flawed, because it lacks ASW capabilities, alternatives solutions could be:

  • Two additional Type 26 ASW frigates at £1 billion each = £2.0 billion
  • Four or five ASW corvettes at £400 million each = £1.6-£2.0 billion
  • Four or five diesel-electric submarines (SSKs) at £300 million each = £1.2-£1.5 billion
  • Four or five additional P-8 Poseidon (MPAs) at £250 million each = £1.0-£1.25 billion
  • Nine or ten Northrop Grumman RQ-4N Triton UAVs at £150 million each = £1.35- £1.5 billion
Northrop Grumman RQ-4A ASW UAV.

If five Type 31e frigates cost £300 million each instead of £250 million, any one of the above options would be usefully better. What the Type 31e programme can be is an opportunity to re-think future frigate needs. Reconciling costs with credible specifications will be vital.

We can compare the concept of a dual-ship fleet comprised of ASW frigate and ASW corvettes to the Army’s two tier approach to armoured vehicles. At the high level, the Army will have the Boxer 8×8 APC. This offers superb mobility and protection, but at an estimated £4 million per vehicle, it cannot be a universal platform. Instead, an additional platform is being acquired, the 4×4 MRV-P. This will also equip infantry battalions. To some soldiers, the idea of travelling around the battlefield in a lesser vehicle than the Boxer 8×8 will be unacceptable. For others, it is better than not having any kind of protected vehicle.


Notes / Sources:



[3]How a 4-Hour Battle Between Russian Mercenaries and U.S. Commandos Unfolded in Syria, by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, New York Times, 24 May 2018.


[5]The first Battle of the Atlantic was during WW1, the second was during WW2 and the third was the Cold War stand-off.

[6]International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2019, an annual assessment of global military capabilities and defence economics. Page 198


[8]International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2019, an annual assessment of global military capabilities and defence economics. Page 258


[10]John Keegan, The Price of Admiralty, Hutchison Books, 1988, ISBN 0-09-173771-0

[11]I have used the word “ship” so that we do not get hung-up on terminology. The term“corvette”is interchangeable with “light frigate,” but I have preferred the term corvette to differentiate it from a frigate on price.

[12]Based on Ministry of Defence data, FOI Request, April 2017 and Francis Tusa, Defence Analysis data.

[13]Estimate based on Sikorsky figures


  1. I have long held that the development of a ‘quiet standard merchant ship’ hull of varying tonnage that could be built as speedily as possible in an emergency would be of value.


  2. I’m not a defence expert, but it seems to me that patrolling the GIUK gap and the North Atlantic calls for a ship capable of operating multiple ASW helicopters. I believe this was the original concept behind the Invincible-class ships, before they were adapted to be full-blown aircraft carriers.

    A modern version need not be the size of the Invincible, though – just look at the Italian Navy’s San Giorgio LPDs. Those are 133m long – the same as a T23 frigate – but have a flat top and can operate Merlins. I don’t know how much one of those would cost to build, but I believe the Italians are looking to replace them with new LPDs, so if money is an issue, maybe the RN could offer to buy them and re-purpose them as ASW helicopter carriers? You would probably still need more Merlins, of course.


  3. Nicholas I believe that the RN does need additional ASW capability.
    As you correctly point out, the manning issue hangs above all of this. Believe it or not the Type 31 should help address this. A manning level of around 100 is almost half of the Type 23’s 180. The same with the Type 26 approx. 120 as opposed to 180 (I assume the ASW T23 needs more crew that the GP, but couldn’t find a figure). So 5 T31 in theory free up around 400 crew. The final replacement of ASW T23 with T26 will free up over 500.
    As you say the T23 sets a high bar for ASW and will be in service for a significant number of years yet. I think that the current production timescales are set for the current batch of 3 T26. However I suggest it would be possible to speed up the production time for the Type 26 from eight years to six when ordering the second batch. If that batch were seven or nine ships I suggest that the price could driven much harder than a further batch of 3 which is what I expect to be ordered (from a subsystem perspective placing orders for 21 or 29 mk41 VLS sets from LM will be cheaper per unit than the 9 that have already been ordered). The US keeps ordering Arleigh Burke destroyers and improving them over time, should we not aim for that with the Type 26. Note the headcount to man the additional ships is available from those freed up by the T31 and early T26 builds.
    The T31 is not meant to be an ASW ship, if it were then we would already be building 13 or 16 T26’s. Therefore what is it for? Showing the flag? Patrol duties? if that’s the case build more OPV’s. My suggestion for water born ASW is above and that is more T26 with the price driven hard by ordering more ships. So in a peer conflict what do these ships do, what roles will they be cable to take on? What if the design path was to take the T31 in the direction of AAW frigate. Not initially, but as a goal to work at, where a cooperative engagement capability was worked up between the T45’s, these and the QEC carriers. These would increase the magazine depth of the T45, would help cover the far side of the carrier from the T45. In a real conflict I would expect to see the T45 and T31 deploy in pairs.
    The National Ship Building Strategy envisaged, not mid-life refits to the T31, but for them to be sold on as new ships were built. The evolution of the class over time is possible if the NSBS is followed.
    To those that say we can’t afford this, all of the above is long term, the budget for all the T26s are not in the 10 year budget forecast, if we can plan for Dreadnought to be build over such a long period then we can do the same for T26. I worry that the build – use – sell cycle proposed in the NSBS and signed up to by the government will be abandoned before it is even tried by refitting the ships and adding to the long term costs, in order to save money by not ordering replacements.

    Long rambling post, but I hope you get what I am driving at.


  4. Ultimately, ASW benefits from having assets in the right place. It might be a case of looking at Wildcats with an ASW fit to augment the Merlins (Generating more work for AgustaWestland, a win) – Especially as Crowsnest is coming online making them a premium asset for protecting carriers. We can then look at a corvette spec that is big enough for a Wildcat rather than a merlin, reducing size and cost. In addition, with rumours that RN has put out a tender for unmanned long-range submersibles, they could act as BARCAP, with corvettes hosting Wildcats accompanying Type 26es for a composite ‘wolfpack’ approach to sub hunting within the barrier?
    Additionally, with some modern SSKs like the French Scorpene being quite large, or the emerging revelations of the Swedish SSKs shaming the Americans, it seems madness that we keep on insisting on an all Nuclear sub fleet, with the cost not just to build and operate, but the huge backlog we already have in rusting hulls to be disassembled and safely disposed of. With modern AIP systems and biodiesel, etc, we have surely got smarter options for lower cost and better operational availability for medium and long-range SSKs to meet political and operational needs – Isn’t it better to have 4 hulls than 1? and to spread the manpower across 3 or 4 hulls so that, should the worst happen, we don’t lose as many people?


  5. Have always thought it would be madness to build the Type 31 without a hull mounted sonar, even if ported over from the Type 23’s, however we will probably have to accept that a towed array rig (TAS) such as CAPTAS is probably just too expensive. What about sonar bouys however, cheap and readily available, we could use the same ones that we will deploy on our P8’s. No one is suggesting that the P8 can’t hunt submarines and it certainly doesn’t have a TAS , so if their good enough for that role why not for a Frigate or Corvette? With a simple rotary launcher fitted port and starboard under the flight deck you could lay a quick matrix active or passive in no time at all and using today’s GPS tech and a locator beacon pick them up after with the ships helo or even a sea boat perhaps. Could even fit them on a River B2 ?


  6. Great article that raises loads of points for discussion.

    Perhaps if T31 could launch and recover several of the proposed XLUUV and was capable of setting their missions this would give them a role in ASW without having to go to all the expense of low acoustic signature hulls. This capability would need to be designed in now though.


  7. This is an excellent article. Ocean trade is a world wide enterprise that we all depend upon. Effective ASW is crucial to its success.


  8. Two things.

    Type 31e’s £250 million is without equipment. That will come from type 23.

    The raf are looking at equipping the new uav’s For asw with sonobuoys.


  9. Some thoughts on this ongoing discussion Nicholas – caveat that I while I spent years on ASW frigates, and actively hunted Soviet subs off the west coast of Scotland, most of my time on frigates was spent in the gulf and I was not a sonar specialist.

    1. Corvette – what is in a name? Well not much really, but what your describing is bigger than the frigates I served on, so why not just call them that? The T31 and the NSBS being a point in case here – designed to fill a militarily niche role of having more “fighty” ships than the Rivers, they are also the output of a bizarre strategy to change our fortunes on the worlds military shipbuilding market. Yet the T31e – e for export remember – is marketed as a Frigate. Oh, and what have we actually gained success with, us yes, the big expensive “gold plated” T26 with Canada and Australia……..

    2. Hull mounted sonar: hull mounted passive is not as good as towed passive array. Hull mounted active, even low frequency is much shorter ranged, and more suited to literals or should we just say less suited to deep open ocean – so where is this ASW orvette supposed to be plying it’s trade ? Not all towed array / variable depth sonars are super expensive, We could purchase cheaper (less capable) sets that still offer more flexibility of tactical employment. The tech chage here is bi-static sonar operations, and I cannot find a better primer than the Wikipedia page –

    Multi-transmitter, multi-receiver bi-static maybe where both unmmmaned surface vessels and cheaper frigates bring utility. Sonobouy’s are a tool aircraft, not for deployment by surface units: too small, too little power density for both active sonar, on-board pre-processing and radio/ datalink

    3. Helicopters – why on earth would we introduce an H60 variant into use? Old hat, old tech, stretch the logistics and training budgets blah blah blah. Spend money here on upgrading additional Merlin airframes and buy a bloody V22 for carrier borne AEW&C rather relying on a helicopter to still undertake this important role. Meanwhile augment Merlin’s with unmanned assets, be it Leonardo’s new offering or US MQ8 – but it needs to be big enough to vary a light weight dipping sonar. Meanswhile a VL Rocket delivered torpedo would relieve the dipper from carrying on or two of its own, giving better range / time on station.

    By the way, Global Hawk – not an ASW asset – but potentially a maritime surveillance (surface search) asset that frees up P8 to concentrate on sub-hunting.

    4. Unmanned Ops – the real innovation here is going to be unmanned surface and sub-surface vessels, both for open ocean multi-static sonar, and for littoral / shallow water active pinging. So if you want more surface fleet hulls, and you want ships which can be used world wide to show the flag, do maritime security, maybe even some humanitarian / disaster response roles we should be looking at big cheap motherships for unmanned air, surface and sub-surface vehicles. A bit extreme but HNLMS Karel Doorman, the Royal Dutch Navy “multi-role support ship” cost 365 (ish) million Euros – so less than 400 million GBP. At 23,000 tones she is a bit big perhaps, but steel is cheap and air is free, so a big “ship which is not a Frigate” (TM – @thinkdefence 2015) that can be truly multi-role because the focus on the payloads, not the platform, would be the truly innovative way to go………..

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Just as a follow up to my previous comment and my reference to an old concept – the “ship which is not a Frigate” – take a look at the original articles:

    It’s not really an ASW oriented discussion but does include some excellent information on modularity and off board systems.

    As I have noted on Nicholas’ original article about an ASW Corvette – my money would be on the BMT Venator 110 design – quite the effective looking “modern Leander” and with capability to do ASW too:

    Click to access VENATOR-110%20Technical%20Brief.pdf

    However as noted above, how about a big (but pretty cheap) “mothership” for off board assets ? I give you the Damen Crossover design. Intended as crossover between warship and amphibious transport, the modularity and capacity for off board craft could make this design, or something similar, the best option:

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah the Crossover…. one of my favorite designs. Would love to see both the US and UK adopt T26 and Crossover classes of FFGs for the ASW and multi-mission roles…. Alas most likely will remain just a dream but I honestly believe the Crossover would be a game changer for any navy that that decided to make her a reality.


  11. Given the rather purple nature of recent UK Land Power articles, perhaps it’s time now to change the name of the site to something that better reflects its coverage of all three UK armed services.


  12. TYPE 31 versus TYPE 26 Lite.

    The only reason for the Type 31s instead of more Type 26s is cost. As the Type 31 is to be cheaper than the Type 26 it will obviously be expected to be less capable than the Type 26. But cost savings could also be made by adopting the Type 26 Lite. That is a Type 26 with some equipments left out, but leaving enough to match the capability of the smaller Type31 and being much cheaper than a standard T26. Indeed there are reasons to believe that the larger Type 26 Lite could cost less than the smaller Type 31.
    Items which could be left out of the T26 in order to bring the costs down are:- Type 2087 Towed Sonar Array, the 3 x 8 cell Mk42 VLS, the 2 x Phalanx CIWS, the Merlin Helicopter and the two Rolls Royce MT30 gas turbines. The maximum speed would be that obtained from Diesel Electric propulsion alone, probably a bit faster than the offshore Patrol Vessels. I assume the Type 31 would be no faster. Removing these items will result in the Lite version being much cheaper than a standard T26.
    Items which would be left in the T26Lite are:- the Type 997 Artisan Radar, Scot-5 Satcoms, EW systems and Decoys, eight x 6 cell Seaceptor VLS, 1 x BAE 5inch Mk45 gun, 2 x DS30Mk2 30mm guns, Miniguns and GPMGs, a Wildcat helicopter, Sea Venom air to surface missiles, the Type 2050 or later Bow Sonar, and Stingray torpedoes launched from either STWS or MTLS or by the Wildcat helicopter using a Match type system. So defence against surface threats would be met by the SeaVenom missile armed Wildcat, and the 5” and 30mm guns. Defence against air threats would be met by Seaceptor missiles, 30mm guns and soft kill decoys. Defence against underwater threats would be by Stingray torpedoes launched from STWS (or MTLS) or the Wildcat. This would give a satisfactory weapon and sensor outfit for a ‘flexible general purpose frigate’, (a latter day Leander, but much more effective.) I doubt if the Type 31 would have any more, and I doubt if the Naval Staff would want any less.
    If the costs of the Type 26 Lite are less than the Type 31 this would do no harm to foreign sales, particularly as the RN would be seen to be operating the Type 26 Lite which would be a more imposing vessel than the Type 31.
    The Type 26 Lite should be provided with “For But Not With” (FBNW) facilities on build, for all the equipments omitted. That is deck seatings, power supplies, wiring and cabling up to the appropriate compartment JBs, etc. so that the equipments could be installed readily at a future date if required. In the meanwhile the trim of the Type 26 Lite would be maintained by fitting ballast in the form of mild steel slabs designed to fit on the FBNW seatings.

    Now let’s consider the costs under the following headings.
    A. Concept Studies would have to include both the T31 and the Type26 Lite in order to satisfy the politicians that all options had been considered. A DRAW
    B. Design Costs. For the Type 31 a full ship design would be required. An expensive undertaking. For the Type 26 Lite most of the design has already been done. All that would be required are calculations and drawings for the ballasting to allow for the equipments omitted. TYPE 26 LITE WINS HANDS DOWN.
    C. The Shipyard Setting Up Costs. These one off costs would be required for the Type 31, but have already been met for the Type26 and hence the Type26 Lite. TYPE 26 LITE WINS.
    D. The Platform or Hull Construction Costs. The costs for a smaller lighter Type 31 hull would no doubt be less than for the Type 26 Lite IF they both started from scratch. But for the Type 26 Lite the order would be for a second batch of similar hulls, hopefully the next 8 ships of a 16 ship programme. These are bound to be cheaper than the first 8, partly because the shipyard management and workers will have learnt short cuts and introduced innovative and more efficient working, and partly through spreading the fixed costs over a larger number of hulls. This effect is known as ‘Caquots Law’. Under these circumstances the Type 26 Lite hull costs could approach that of the smaller Type 31 and should be cheaper than the first 8 Type 26s. Bear in mind that the hull is only about a tenth of a warship’s cost. POSSIBLE DRAW.
    E. The Equipment Costs. I have assumed that both the Type31 and Type26 Lite would have roughly the same weapons, sensors, and machinery etc. and hence the same costs. ( But the T26 Lite will be much cheaper than the standard T26) DRAW.
    F. The Equipment Installation Costs. Same equipment, same costs. (But of course again the T26 Lite costs would be less than the T26). DRAW.
    G. The First of Class Acceptance Trials. There would be lengthy ‘First of Class Trials’ for the Type 31, but these would have already been carried out for the Type 26 which would cover the Type 26 Lite. TYPE26 LITE WINS.
    H. The Integrated Logistic Support Set Up Costs. Start up costs for training aids, handbooks, spares and other logistic support, such as dockyard support facilities, would be required for the Type 31, but these costs would have already been met for the Type 26 which covers the T26Lite. TYPE 26 LITE WINS.
    Summarising: Paragraphs B, C, G and H above show where the T26Lite would be cheaper than a Type 31; paragraphs A, E and F show where the costs would be about the same; and paragraph D indicates where the Type 31 might be cheaper.
    Paragraphs D, E and F show where the T26Lite would be cheaper than the Type 26.

    There is a strong possibility therefore that the T26 Lite costs would be less than the smaller T31, and with enough savings over the Type 26 to replace all 13 Type 23s and maybe more.

    The advantages of the Type 26 Lite over the Type 31, assuming the latter is smaller are:-
    A. Seakeeping. A good big one will always beat a good little one. As the sea state increases the Type 31 will have to slow down earlier than the Type 26 Lite, also the efficiency of a crew deteriorates as the sea state increases. So the Type 26 Lite will remain faster and more efficient than the Type 31 as the sea state worsens.T26 LITE WINS.
    B. Speed. For the same installed horse power a longer hull, ie Type 26 Lite will be faster than a shorter hull ie Type 31. T26 LITE WINS
    B. Accommodation. The ship’s company of the T26 is 118, but there is accommodation for 208. If the ship’s company of the Type 26 Lite can be reduced to 108 there will be spare capacity of 100 billets available for troops, refugees, evacuated ex-pats, or additions to the crew, etc., probably very much more than the smaller Type31. Type 26 LITE WINS
    C. Flexibility. The Type 26 Lites could be brought up to the standard of the Type 26s by utilizing the FBNW facilities. This may not suit this government at this time, but some future government during the life of the ships may be very relieved to be able to do so. This assumes that the equipment suppliers have retained all the jigs, tools, drawings etc, to restart manufacturing; but as most of them will probably have logistic support contracts for the life of the Type26, this may not be a problem. T26 Lite WINS.
    D. Appearances are important to reassure allies and deter enemies. 8 x T26 and 8 x similar looking Type 26 Lite frigates are going to look more impressive than 8 x Type26 and 8 smaller Type 31s. T26 LITE WINS.
    E. The MOD will be able to claim that they have replaced all 13 Type 23s with Type 26s. They may even be able to add 2 or 3 more. (They just won’t mention that significant bits have been left off half of them.)

    It is my opinion that the Type 26 Lite would be less costly and more effective than the Type 31, and just as likely to make foreign sales.
    Bear in mind that Ship Designers and the MOD Constructors will probably oppose the Type 26 Lite because they make their living out of designing new ships, so a pinch of salt is required here.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Interesting idea regarding t26 lite but my understanding was the main cost is the acoustically quiet hull? Plus most of the t31e designs are mature to a certain extent already so redesign of t26 would most likely at least equal t31.

    The major flaw with t26 is the crew requirements, also if you are changing propulsion redesign would be required. The arrowhead utilises ifrigate and other technology to bring manning down. I think that the redesign requirements would be more costly (especially with bae running the show) and you would still have the cost of the hull. Production may be problematic as I believe that BAE will be busy with type 26 heavy, although this could be licensed to camel laird.

    Also most people realise that the BAE monopoly has contributed to ship costs and if competition exists then this could bring future acquisition cost down. Therefore T31 may have huge benefits passed this programme. Unless we want to continue to pay vast sums for ships with little weaponry (remember a lot of the kit for our billion pound frigates are coming from t31) or paying £300 million for a patrol vessel (never mind a frigate).
    The mod are finally realising they are getting rinsed. Which is why they have gone for a lower end vessel that BAE have less interest in.

    I don’t understand where a sonar less t31 has come from in this article? a a capability for fitting a sonar is in the core specification and it is planned the 31 will be an asw picture contributor – the equipment will come from t23 so the cost would be minimal? So i cant see the transfer being cancelled? The optional spec also asks the design to be able to integrate towed sonar either for export or as potential option for rn.

    If hopefully the arrowhead or a200 (both capable of the above) are selected then most concerns should be addresses they maybe noisier but arrowhead has the option to add dampening which may assist and I don’t think a200 is too bad.

    I personally believe the government is doing the correct thing and I hope this will lead to a larger fleet rather than paying over the odds for underarmed vessels and patrol vessels with more defects that you can shake a stick at!


  14. Ben Lyon,
    I believe Simon M and I are talking at cross purposes. I obviously haven’t made myself very clear, so I will try to explain my thinking in answer to his paragraphs.
    My suggestion is to use the T26 design but leave some of the more expensive equipments off it.
    The T26 already has an acoustically quiet hull, so omitting some equipment to make a T26 Lite won’t need any changes.
    As Bae will have made 8 hulls before starting on T26 Lite, Caquots Law dictates that the next 8 hulls should be less costly than the first 8.
    Some of the T31 designs may be mature, but the MOD hasn’t paid for those designs yet, and they won’t be cheap. But they will have already paid for the T26 design and hence the T26Lite, except for some calculations and drawings for ballast arrangements, to replace the equipments omitted.
    As for crewing, I made no suggestion that the propulsion would be redesigned, just that the gas turbines would be omitted leaving only the diesel electric propulsion.
    I accept that the T31 will be using technology to bring crew numbers down, but can’t believe that the MOD haven’t done exactly the same for the T26.
    I can’t argue that competition wouldn’t bring the costs down, but can argue that the MOD should get the most value out of the money already spent on the T26, instead of spending large sums on a totally new design.
    Simon’s third paragraph seems to have strayed into questioning the value for money for the offshore patrol vessel. This is another subject altogether and has nothing to do with the comparison between the T31 and the T26 Lite.
    I made no suggestion that the T31 should be sonarless. I would expect the T31 to have the same bow mounted sonar as the T26Lite. If the MOD have a towed array sonar to spare it could be fitted to a T26Lite which is fitted FBNW.
    I hope I have made my suggestions a bit clearer.
    I’m sorry you don’t like BAE, but after 24 years in the RN and another 24 years as a defence contractor my experience is that the MOD usually get a fair deal.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. For the boaties on here. If we do get an unmanned underwater vehicle for submarine hunting, can data be sent to and from it in real time underwater, or will it need to surface so that it can use a radio datalink?
    The reason for this is obvious. To make an effective anti-submarine asset it needs to feed acoustic data back for analysis so will be required to operate some distance from the mothership. But also crucially, if it’s armed it would need the authority to fire its weapon.
    I do like the idea of a Type 26 lite, that has been fitted out so that it can be given the full gold solution if required. It would be useful for when a T26 goes in to long term maintenance and we could therefore maintain the full complement of ASW assets. It would also be beneficial as it gives a bit of depth in case we lose one of the T26s for some reason.


  16. It isn’t that I don’t like BAE nor necessarily i dislike or disagree with your idea.

    I just don’t believe the BAE monopoly always offers the best deal to the taxpayer and that a monopoly is never a great way to get either the best value for money or the advantage of different approaches of working.

    The other cost benefit is that the new bidders are keeping costs to a minimum to get their foot in the door ( I do hope this is being done responsibly)

    I also think we need a cheaper vessel and as the t31 process is underway with and an agreed cost envelope to now rip this up would not be great.

    I am not a shipbuilder but my understanding was the hull design production and dampening etc. In order to make the t26 the best asw platform was a significant cost…. otherwise I would have thought the rn/mod would’ve already go down the route you have suggested?

    It also has to be take in to account that BAE were invited to tender for t31 and they didn’t submit a cut down t26 and stated at the time they didn’t want to enter a race to the bottom of capability (or something along those lines). Instead cutlass and avenger designs were submitted and eventually leander with cammell laird. Indeed I don’t think there is anything stopping BAE offering a cut down t26 as a design now? and to me this gives a clear indication they themselves don’t think t26 or redesign could meet the cost envelope or that they are willing to supply an inferior version that would? BAE also seem to have indicated they have their hands full with submarines, t26 etc. & don’t have capacity for t31 in the time period to replace what now seem to be very tired t23. I wonder if cammell laird

    I personally would like to see more t26 and look to give them a more sophisticated weapons fit than potential hand me downs from t23.
    It would be nice to be churning out both t26 and arrowhead 140 in large numbers and that BAE get more orders for astute, dreadnought etc.


  17. Sorry got tired regarding cammel laird I wonder if BAE are unsure about the site’s ability to produce a sophisticated ASW ship/hull?


  18. One last comment isd for t31 is 2023 not sure BAE saw this as achievable? Would they stop heavy to do light or make first of class a light and speed up? Then there is potentially the government would cut the programme before any heavy t26 were produced?


    1. Interesting comments. Yes, dumbing down Type-26 could have been an own goal, especially if Type-31e delivers for a reduced budget. Why reduce your own income? If Type-31e is to succeed, it must actually become the next generation of frigate. For it to be credible, we will need to re-think ASW to see how we can do it cheaper. I believe that autonomous underwater vehicles with sonar capability could be the answer.


      1. I’m not sure how the use of unmanned underwater vehicles can be used in an active submarine hunting task. Especially if they need to be controlled by the mothership to analysis acoustic data. A roving UUV is feasible where it pops to the surface every now and then and then uses a data link to transmit its stored mission data.
        But for a T31 or T26 that is actively engaged in hunting a sub, how does it control them or more importantly get the data back to the ship. Radio does not work through water unless we’re talking extra low frequencies. Even then the broadcasts are of limited value due to the incredibly small bandwidth. If you use acoustics, you will give away your position and the number of UUVs you are operating.
        Perhaps it would be a similar method as used on torpedoes, where a fibre optic cable is used. Would this be adequate to operate a number of UUVs some k’s away from the mothership without the cables fouling? It seems the obvious answer as you could then use bistatic sonar principles to hunt the sub.


  19. Some other solutions could be actually equipping wildcat for proper asw, purchase of triton uavs. The potential use of systems such as wave gliders to give persistent presence. There is no reason once t31 is in place that dampening and a towed sonar cannot be added. Vertical take off and landing uavs could be fitted with sonar and sonobuoys as could usvs . Also crowsnest should be removed from crowsnest and boost asw. Other solutions could be purchase of ssks for use in both in uk shores and further a field. I wonder as long as there is more than one they could be useful if part of a carrier or task group to give 24hr protection could replenish whilst another provides protection this could free up ssn for covert surveillance and other tasks away from the task group.


    1. Trouble is that the non-recurring costs of an additional type of helicopter would run into the £ hundreds of millions. Far better to make best use of what we’ve got and then plan for maximum utilisation of any future replacement.


  20. I would considerate it a very worthy investment there is the possibility either type I suggested (Btw neither are helicopters but tilt rotors) could be leased either gov to gov or private lease or maybe lease to buy.

    This may reduce the impact of immediate cost and give a known annual cost. Also I am not suggesting the sensors from crowsnest be dumped but transferred.

    This is not only good for asw as more merlins in the role, but the higher the AEW sensor the bigger the increase in detection and the better protection for billions of pounds of jets and aircraft not to mention other ships in the task group, the options will most likely will increase endurance meaning more cover . AEW&C is recognised as a force multiplier so more investment surely the bigger impact from investment.

    Balancing cost versus benefit it seems a no brainer to me especially bearing in mind the current possible state of the e3d fleet and smaller number of e7s being procured the raf maybe even more unlikely to be able to provide proper aew cover.

    AEW helicopters are a massive compromise for this role not only in ceiling but in speed to deploy sensors to a different location quickly and also to potentially avoid threats e.g. anti radiation missiles. The quicker speed would also mean less time for transit to replace the aircraft on station and for the aircraft to return from station again increasing coverage.

    Helicopters are fine for asw – subs move slow missiles, aircraft move fast.

    If it were up to me this would be a number one priority for carrier task force protection above short range SAMs (which are less likely to be needed with better Aew) that a lot wish for on here.

    Hundreds of millions is a large amount but not unsurmountable may equal an f35 and it’s operating costs.


  21. This is a fascinating subject. I have a few points to note but I am no expert on this subject and any comments or corrections to my train of thought are welcome.

    Having read Sir Humphry’s blog post I found it well written as always but it seems he assumes the concept of operations for a low end ASW vessel would be the exact same as that of the Type 26. Of course you cannot replicate the capabilities of a Type 26 for a fraction of the price. For me that is not the point of the small ASW vessel. The point is to support the other ASW assets. As this blog has pointed out ASW is a team sport. The small ASW vessel is there to enhance the capabilities of the other assets by for example refuelling Merlin, extending the range and increasing flight time and contributing to the ASW picture or even collecting water column data.

    I do not believe Type 26 has been built to the minimum credible capability. This is an assumption on my part but it seems logical then that there is cheaper equipment that has a credible capability. A cheap vessel would require cheaper ASW equipment. This would have to be a compromise. It would be a less capable vessel but its sensors would surely still have some utility. Even if such a vessel was optimised for the littoral zone with a more limited open ocean capability surely this would still be useful as part of the ASW team. Also the AAW and ASuW team.

    I am curious about the opinion some have that less capable systems would be acceptable on an unmanned vessel but not on a manned one. Small unmanned vessels would be little more than glorified sonar buoys. They would be unable to keep up with a task force and would require vessels or more likely a helicopter to pick them up and relocate them. As noted helicopters are in short supply. These small systems would have a use but it would be limited. Larger unmanned vessels would not come cheap and to quote Sir Humphry ”These vessels would either be so cheap as to lack capacity to do the job (and thus making them essentially floating targets like the Type 14), or they would grow in cost to the point where they became highly capable and thus vastly more expensive…” At this point in time I do not believe an unmanned vessel could take the role without being hugely expensive and incredibly vulnerable. It also would not be able to contribute to AAW or ASuW, refuel Merlin or carry out battle damage repairs. Long story short I believe that an unmanned vessel with a comparable ASW capability to a small ASW vessel would be more expensive and over all less capable.

    We seem to be blessed at the moment with the off the shelf equipment available to make a small credible ASW vessel. Equipment with maximum commonality with the rest of the armed forces is available. For example for self defence Sea Ceptor is available. The CTA 40mm gun which equips the Ajax fleet is used in the Thales RAPIDfire naval could be an effective CIWS. It also has the possibility of integrating Starstreak.


    For ASW systems like the Krait TAS or CAPTAS-1 exist. Lower cost options than are currently used for our high end fleet.

    Admiral Sir Philip Jones described the Type 31 as “to be a much less high-end ship. It is still a complex warship, and it is still able to protect and defend and to exert influence around the world, but it is deliberately shaped with lessons from wider industry and off-the-shelf technology to make it… more appealing to operate at a slightly lower end of Royal Navy operations.”

    To increase fleet numbers a less high end ASW vessel still seems practical despite Sir Humphry’s argument. Using off the shelf equipment and technology a vessel which would not be a super ship taking on SSNs single handed but a ship with enough capability to contribute to the team in wartime and handle peace time roles the rest of the time. I would rather that than an oversized OPV with a 4.5” gun and an empty mission bay/hanger.


  22. I cannot speak much on ships, but here’s my 2bob. what the heck happened to the common gun tube program? surely that would save swathes of money for the MOD?


  23. Of course he same argument could be made for more AAW ships. As an option rather than more AAW destroyers and more ASW frigates why not have a smaller number of larger FF/DD that have both area AAW and ASW capabilities, similar to the old Type 82 destroyer? I’m certainly not saying it’s the answer, but it’s something to think about.


  24. Ben Lyon
    Well the original plan was for 12 Type 45s, then it was reduced to 8, then down to 6, to replace 14 Type 42s so I presume on that basis we are short of AAW ships. On the other hand the SeaCeptor missile has about the same range as the old medium range Mk2 Sea Slug and Mod 0 Seadart missiles. As SeaCeptor is being fitted in the Type 23s, Type 26s and presumably the Type 31es, I guess we aren’t doing too badly.


  25. The UK can afford more ships, it can afford to spend more on Defence. but the government of today chooses not afford it. And yes we need more ASW ships, we need a lot more for all 3 Armed Services. Defence spending shud at least be 3% of GNP. Today it is less than 2%. With the UK economy growing it is below 2% thus not complying with Nato requirement. And George Osbourne fiddled the books a few years back. In real terms I would not be surprised if Defence spending is around 1.7%.
    Again I would support £6B transferred from the Foreign Aid Budget and the the 0.7% GNP to be reduced to 0.35% GNP as per major western countries. I also support an annual increase of 3% into the Defence budget.
    I would also support borrowing money to pay (one off payments) for capital projects in all 3 Services. This the perfect time to borrow sensible as there the lowest interest rates in history. EU guide lines are not spend more 3% of GNP, UK Conservative Policy is to keep borrowing below 2%GNP. today the rate is just over 1.2% and its worth mentioning that the UK Government is in the last 2 months has borrowed more money compared to 2018 which is against the grain. UK government was borrowing less this year so far than 2018 by £24B. It is also worth mentioning the the then chancellor Mr Hammond said he could have up to £28B to “give away” in the Budget. I believe the figure is now greater close to £34B so yes we can afford to spend more on defence but this Government may choose not to. Boris has said the RN shud have more ships, and i think the gulf episode will show the gaps in surface ships availability.


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