Good news for the Royal Navy and UK Plc – Type 26 frigate design wins in Canada

Hot on the heels of the Type 26 winning the Australian SEA 5000 frigate competition in June, the Canadian government has announced they have selected the Type 26 for their Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) competition.

The $45 Billion CSC project is the largest, most complex defence procurement ever undertaken in Canada. The contract has not yet been formally signed and it is not quite a done deal as there are further negotiations and a due diligence process to go through. Lockheed Martin is the lead contractor, partnering with BAE Systems and other local companies. The CSC will include the LM Canada-developed combat management system CMS 330 building on the legacy of the CMS the company already provides the RCN.

Canada has run failed naval procurement programmes in the past and there is a determination to get this one right so it would be very surprising if the decision was reversed. The CSC is critical to the future of the RCN as their Halifax class frigate were delivered between 1992-96 and need replacements. Like the RN’s Type 23s, are they are having expensive life extension refits to so they can be run on well past their intended design life until replaced by the CSC in the 2030s.

The Canadian project is running several years behind the UK and Australia and construction is unlikely to begin until 2022. While the RN has suffered many years of delay and prevarication awaiting replacement frigates, the timing has hit a ’sweet spot’ whereby the first RN Type 26 will be the prototype ship for the Australian and Canadian ships following a few years behind. The UK is effectively partially de-risking the programme but reaping the financial benefits of licensing the design overseas. This week this author was fortunate enough to go on board one of the lower hull blocks that will eventually become part of HMS Glasgow. In the build hall at the Govan shipyard, there are already sections that are recognisable pieces of warship hull and Type 26 is on track.

There is a certain irony that the Type 26 has proved to be a great export success, while the Type 31e was conceived because the UK was having such little success with warship exports. The two concepts are, however, very different in nature. The intention is that Type 31e ordered for export will be constructed in the UK and is aimed at nations with lower budgets and limited domestic warship building capacity. The Type 26 is a high-end product that only a few nations can afford, those that can have the capacity and would only consider such a big investment if they can construct the ships themselves. In effect, the GCS-A and CSC are licensing deals, although there will be a considerable amount of UK-manufactured equipment on all the ships. There is a further irony that repeated UK attempts to design warships with geographically-close Europeans have all failed, in the era of Brexit a successful partnership with distant Commonwealth nations has been a success.

In crude terms, the hull of the Type 26 will have great commonality across the ships of all 3 nations with the same engines and propulsion systems. The upper half of the ships will be more bespoke with different weapon, sensor and combat management systems fitted.

Canada CSC Type 26 Frigate

The precise value of the contacts to the British economy cannot be defined this point because supply chain negations are still at a very early stage. Sources say that the 9 Australian frigates alone are worth at least £1Bn to UK industry, the Canadian project would be potentially even larger. Beyond the initial procurement, there is also the attractive possibility of significant economies of scale when negotiating with suppliers for through-life support contracts.

The Canadians are planning build up to 15 of these vessels. There is some cynicism that as many as 15 will eventually be built, but the RCN wants a minimum of 12. Combined with 8 Royal Navy Type 26 and 9 Royal Australian Navy Hunter class, the Type 26 would potentially be a fleet of 32 ships. This would represent the largest single class of surface combatants in the world, except for the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and the possibly the ever-growing number of Chinese Type 054A frigates.

The 3 nations involved are already party to the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing agreement and have broadly aligned interests, cultures and navies. Besides the industrial and financial benefits, the programme offers significant operational opportunities to share experience, training, doctrine and sensitive anti-submarine warfare skills and technology. Seeing these ships at sea together is many years off but something all three nations can look forward to as a major enhancement of their naval capabilities.