The Royal Navy has projected British power since the 16th century and is responsible for sending hundreds, if not thousands of ships to the sea floor. Yesterday, the UK Ministry of Defence unveiled plans and specifications for the latest weapon in the Royal Navy’s arsenal. Designated the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, the 485.5 foot, 5,314 ton frigate will replace the Royal Navy’s aging Type 23 frigates which began entering service in 1990.
Noted defense contractor BAE Systems designed the ship and incorporated numerous innovations into its plans. A rear helicopter hangar, vertical missile silos, “a flexible mission space for unmanned air, surface and underwater vehicles, or additional boats” and a medium caliber deck gun give the Type 26 a potent punch. What is most remarkable about the ship is not its armament, but rather its sensor systems and radar silhouette. Even though the ship will be 485.5 feet, its radar silhouette will be akin to that of a small fishing boat. The Type 26’s armament, sensors suite and design give it the ability to perform both power projection and humanitarian duties. Current cost estimates peg the construction of the frigates at approximately $393 – 500 million each and the Royal Navy aims to purchase 13 of the vessels. If the cost troubles of the UK’s two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers are a guide for the Type 26s, though, then expect costs to be significantly more than $393 – 500 million.
In a separate twist to the procurement story of the Type 26 frigates, the award of the shipyard contracts will take place after Scotland’s 2014 referendum on independence and a vote for independence would most likely keep Scottish shipyards from competing for the contract. Irregardless of where the ships are built, they will give the Royal Navy a formidable tool to ensure freedom of the seas and locales such as the Falkland and South Georgia Islands.