There were once 16 frigates…can we have 16 again please?

The former UK Coalition government and the present Conservative government has occasionally talked about how they will improve the Royal Navy by mentioning the Type 26 Global Combat Ship/Frigate project. It is stated in many media circles that there will be a “like for like” replacement, that is each of the current 13 Type 23 frigates will be replaced by 13 Type 26 frigates. (See for example this, this , this and this. What some people don’t remember or realise is that there once were 16, not 13 Type 23 frigates in the Royal Navy Fleet.

I’m talking about HMS Norfolk, Marlborough and Grafton, the first, third and twelve ships of the Duke-class frigates. These ships served the Royal Navy for 15, 14 and 9 years respectfully before they were (sadly) transferred to the Chilean Navy as a result of the 2003 Defence White Paper, “Delivering Security in a Changing World”. Norfolk served as part as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)’s Standing Naval Force Atlantic and visited areas such as the Falklands and South Africa. Marlborough was the first ship to be on scene to assist the USS Cole in the aftermath of the Al-Queda-led attack. Grafton, well, she serve in the areas as Type 23s would serve (I can’t find much information on HMS Grafton, anyone who is willing to contribute?)

My point is, these sold-off Type 23s can some use for the Royal Navy during their service. There of course is the debate or debates should they have been sold off and what they could have done if they were kept. Let’s however focus on the future. It is well stated that 13 Type 26 frgates will be insufficient to meet defence/Royal Navy operations or even sustain the Queen Eliabeth-class carrier-led task force. This can be seen in the former Defence Select Comittee’s report Re-thinking defence to meet new threats (particularly page 27). Since the harp is a “like for like” replacement for the Type 23s, why not have 16 Type 26 frigates instead?

This immediately sounds like a “fantasy fleet” idea but it in fact is a plausible plan for Future Force 2020. The extra 3 Type 26s need not be exactly the same as the 8 anti-submarine warfare variants or the 5 General Purpose (GP) variants. They could for example:

1) Have less Mk41 VLS cells and use the remainder stuff for storage space, electronic equipment etc

2) Be used to patrol benign areas like “Atlantic Patrol (North)” or the Caribbean. You don’t need 24 VLS strike cells to chase down smugglers. Nor do you really need 48 Sea Ceptor/CAMM-N missiles unless there is a massive aerial threat to the ship. So the 3 extra frigates could have a reduced displacement by cutting down the number of Sea Ceptor missiles by say a third of a half. This again would free up more space.

3) Having reduced the offensive capabilities does not really mean these extra frigates will be useless. They could be compensated with a larger mission bay so that more Royal Marines or Special Forces could be stored or more of their gear. The hangar could be enlarged so that a maritime Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and helicopter could be launched simultaneously or that these frigates could carry 2 Merlin helicopters–one for general duties; the other for anti-submairne warfare.

The extra Type 26s could mirror their sister ships. I’ve always wondered why the Royal Navy wished to have the 5-8 system and deny five frigates from having the excellent Sonar 2087. However, since that will unlike change, why not boost the GP variant with 3 extra ships? They could:

1) Again have the same layout as their GP sisters, thus giving the Royal Navy greater anti-surface warfare (ASuW) capability and land-attack options.

2) They could gain have a different or smaller layout and still be deployed as GP ships but for task like anti-mine operations or again, special forces deployment. The former could be a viable option with these extra Type 26 frigates used as “motherships” for the mine warfare vessels instead of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA)’s Bay-class ships. This would allow the Bay Landing Ship Dock (LSD)’s to be used for their primary roles.

There are many other possibilities that the extra thee ships could be used for but I’m sure you get the idea–16 is a number that should be the case, not evne just aimed for. Now of course, there are counter arguments to having more than 13. First, people would say that the Royal Navy personnel strength is not at or anywhere near 1005, as shown in the monthly statistics. So asking for more would be nice, but impractical. Second, as it is with the Conservatives and even some parts of Labour, it would be costly to build so many new warships. Third, people might say 13 is enough since by the thirteenth ship, Scotland might be independent and not allow rUK (rest of the UK) to use its construction yards.

I would say first, personnel strength is critical for all of the British armed forces but for the Type 26, it can be varied and even reduced, especially for three extra ships. Second, costs are relative and it may be the case that the cost could drop or that there could be some sensible funding of the defence budget. As for Scotland, well, the Type 26 is for the current UK and should be so. There are of course other counter arguments, but you get my idea.

So big wigs in the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces, can we please do a proper like for like replacement for the Type 23s?