Britain's future frigate: A look at the Type 26 Global Combat Ship
The shake up of the armed forces is well underway, with the UK moving forward with plans for its future of defence and security. This has seen numerous projects announced and completed for use on the land, in the air, and sea.
One of the biggest recent procurement projects going through the system is the replacement of the Royal Navy's Type 23 frigates. The al-new replacement Type 26 will also have a primary role as a specialist anti-submarine warfare ship, but it will be expected to be inherently flexible in capability and able to carry out a wide range of roles.
"The Type 26 will be a world-beating 'best of technology' naval ship capable of a whole range of joint operations," says Brian Johnson, UK business development manager for prime contractor BAE Systems Naval Ship. "Its primary role will be to enable maritime manoeuvres by providing anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare protection to task groups and carrier strike forces. But it will also be able to undertake a broad range of other military tasks, from maritime security and stabilisation roles through to disaster relief and humanitarian operations.
"The Type 26 will be able to support troops ashore with surveillance, gunnery and helicopters and will be as capable in anti-submarine warfare as it will securing against pirate attack off the East Coast of Africa or drug smuggling in the Caribbean."
Designing a warship
The ship has been designed using the latest in 3D CAD and virtual reality software. This has allowed design engineers to project in full size the size and layout of rooms and compartments and walk through the ship in full 3D. This has proven invaluable on previous programmes, including the Astute Class of Submarines and the Type 45 Destroyers.
"The use of 3D visualisation can make sure the layout is as effective as possible, and give engineers a dynamic and collaborative environment in which to work," says Johnson. "We also use this to produce virtual prototypes, so the shipbuilders can look at it and plan the most efficient way to build it."
The Type 26 is being designed to operate as part of a large task group as well as on independent manoeuvres. The vessel will be slightly larger than the Type 23, having a basic displacement of around 6,000 tonnes and length of 150m, but will require fewer crew, expected to be around 115. It will also have a similar range at around 7,000 nautical miles.
A key feature of the ship, and what makes it stand apart from other surface warships around the world, is its mission bay. This flexible space can be used for a wide range of roles and payloads and is at the heart of the Type 26's multi-mission and flexible operational capability.
"The mission bay can carry a range of payloads, from small boats for maritime security to unmanned underwater, surface and air vehicles," says Johnson. "The wide range of modular mission loads include medical facilities for disaster relief, operation control rooms for unmanned vehicles and a wide range of other potential loads. It is a capable space that we can adapt to the future needs of modern warfare as we need."
The ship also features a specially-designed acoustically-optimised hull that produces a low wake by cutting a smooth and quiet path through the water. The hull form and the propeller design were fundamental to the capability of the ship in its anti-submarine role.
"As this is an anti-submarine vessel, we want the hull to produce the minimum amount of noise that we can," says Johnson. "So the shape of the hull will ensure a very smooth flow of water around it and minimise turbulent water in the ship's wake. There has been extensive work to optimise it both virtually and using physical prototypes and models."
The shape of the ship is also characterised by clean flat lines that minimise its radar signature. In addition, the ship is able to run its engines in electric mode for near-silent operation. However, it avoids the use of batteries and instead opts for two diesel generators to operate the propellers on the induced electrical power.
"You can isolate the noise the diesel generators produce by putting them on acoustic mounts, in enclosures and so on," says Mark Dannatt, the director of GE Power Conversion's Naval Business.
Two Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbine engines are used as the primary power plant. These turbines, when engaged, drive two propellers, with each gas turbine going through a splitting gearbox and then into a secondary reduction gearbox to then drive the two separate propeller shafts. These are isolated from each other to avoid single point failure. Fully engaged, the ship is expected to reach a speed of 28 knots.
The vessels will be also be equipped with a flight deck capable of operating a Chinook helicopter if necessary. The corresponding hangar isn't quite that large but will be able to accommodate both Wildcat and Merlin helicopters. The flight deck also includes an additional hangar door, and space, to accommodate the expected increase in the deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).
As a specialist anti-submarine warfare ship the primary sensor to be used will be the powerful Thales 2087 towed array sonar, which has proven its performance on the existing Type 23's. However, each Type 26 will be fitted with an additional Type 2050 bow sonar underwater systems, also built by Thales.
At present the Type 26 is four years in to development, taken up predominantly by the honing of capability and designing the ships systems. Prime contractor BAE Systems is now finalising proposals, putting more parts of the ship out to tender, and announcing primary partners and suppliers.
"We are in to the second phase and the team has built up a huge amount of momentum on the programme," says Johnson. "We are increasing the maturity of the design and getting more confidence.
"We are currently in the process of finalising our proposals to the MoD for the programme, with investment decisions to take place at the end of this year, where we'll secure the manufacturing contract of the Type 26 [13 are expected to be ordered].
"There will be in the region of £7 billion of contracts in the supply chain so it's a very significant programme for the UK."
BAE Systems is intending to invest in a new world class manufacturing facility in its Scotstoun shipyard in Glasgow to fulfil the type 26 build programme. Production of the first ship is earmarked to begin in May 2016 with the first ship to enter service in 2021, with the next 12 ships to follow on a 12-month build and repeat schedule. The ships will be in service until 2060.
Geoff Searle, Type 26 global combat ship programme director at BAE Systems, says: "By the 2030's, the Type 26 will be the backbone of UK's surface fleet and a strong industrial base is essential to sustaining this naval capability.
"UK suppliers are expected to account for around 80% of this significant programme."
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