The Type 26 frigate mission bay. Part 2 – configuration and contents

In the previous article we considered the design and development of the Type 26 frigate mission bay. Here we take a more speculative look at how this flexible space could be used.

Given the timeframe, there has understandably been minimal official comment about what may be carried within the mission bay. In addition to the stated intention to embark various Maritime Autonomous Systems (MAS), the baseline specification does mention two possible configurations; either 4 x 12 meter “Maritime Interdiction Boats” and the 9.5m Sea Boat (carried in a separate bay) or up to 10 x 20 ft ISO containers and two 9.5m boats (ie. one in the mission bay, one in the boat bay).

RN mine warfare and hydrographic vessels have been deploying UUVs for some time but introducing operational MAS into combat vessels is still an aspiration. The RN is clearly making some effort to exploit MAS with the Unmanned Warrior exercises, the creation of 700X Naval Air Squadron and the work of the Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials and Training (MASTT) Unit. But for all the development work that has been done, there is not a great deal show for it on the frontline. Budget limitations and institutional inertia appear to have held the RN back from embracing MAS with the same speed they are being developed in the commercial world or by many potential adversaries. (More on this in a future article.) It is possible there are a few systems in service that are classified and undeclared. The smaller size and lower cost of unmanned systems, particularly UUVs, make it far easier to conceal their presence than many conventional assets.

The first mission-bay equipped Type 31e should be at sea in 2023 and the first Type 26 by 2027. There is still time to evaluate and purchase a suite of MAS to properly equip them and systems continue to evolve rapidly. The configurations and the equipment discussed below are far from an exhaustive or definitive, rather a starting point for discussion. Included are some items already in service with the RN as well as other potential purchases. To fit the space and the lifting capacity of the MBHS, items must be no more than about 13m in length and less than 15 tonnes.


Manned boats

Manned small boats deployed from the frigate could have three main roles – patrol and policing, transport of personnel ashore and light logistic support. At the more warlike end of the spectrum, Royal Marine ORCs or hovercraft could be used to support amphibious operations or mount small raids. For patrol work in coastal or riverine environments, there are several manufacturers who offer small boats that have been upgraded to military standards with weapons mounts and ballistic protection. Of particular note are Irish company, Safehaven Marine who recently built HMS Magpie for the RN. They build small craft with exceptional sea keeping qualities and are rumoured to be building replacement patrol boats for the Gibraltar Squadron. There are also several UK companies with potential products such as CTruk, BAE Systems Halmatic and Holyhead Marine. The smaller of the SEA class workboats being procured for RN could be used for survey, diving support and general logistic duties. All of the examples below would fit in the mission bay and could be handled fully loaded by the MBHS.

  • Offshore Raiding Craft

    The Royal Marines Offshore Raiding Craft (ORC) were built by Holyhead Marine. Capable of carrying 12 Marines at making 32 knots fully loaded. There are two variants – the basic troop carrier (top) and the gunship (bottom) which incorporates 3 gun positions and Dynema ballistic protection.

  • The standard RN Sea Boat carried by most ships in the fleet. The Pacific 24 RIB class 950 currently being upgraded to Mk4 standard. A Type 26 frigate will carry at least one at all times.

  • The Interceptor made by Metal Craft Marine in the US is a good example of the powerful RIBs available on the market. Interceptor has Shoxs 2G suspension seats that can be set in various configurations, a top speed of 55 knots and is stealthy and quiet. This is an approximate equivalent of the Arctic 28 RIB used by UK special forces.

  • Savehaven-Marine-Barracuda

    The Safehaven Marine Barracuda is designed as an interceptor with a very low radar signature and is optimised military and law enforcement roles. It has very good sea keeping qualities for a high level of crew comfort good endurance. Can carry up to 10 passengers and a crew of 4 with a range of 200nm. It can be fitted with propellor or waterjet propulsion giving up to 40Kn, having a total weight at full load up to 14.5 tonnes.

  • Savehaven Marine Piranah

    The Safehaven Marine Piranha concept is another 40-knot, 11-metre craft optimised for riverine and coastal operations and incorporates good ballistic protection for up to 17 troops. Fully loaded weighing 12 tonnes, it features a semi-enclosed console for the helmsman and navigator. Fitted with a bow ramp, it would represent an upgrade on the exiting ORC.

  • CTruk are a British manufacturer that builds a range of high-speed marine craft. Their 11m THOR design is a composite twin hull capable of over 40 knots and can be configured for force protection, riverine patrol or troop carrying.

  • Work boat

    AEUK is currently building the SEA Class series of general purpose workboats for the RN. This is the 11m version – various cabin modules can be added such as the survey module shown here.

  • SRC90E

    The Swedish designed SRC90E is a light 10.8 metre, 42-knot vessel ideal for amphibious raiding, especially in extreme climates with an enclosed cabin for 10 fully equipped troops. Seen here on the hoist aboard Danish Combat Support ship HDMS Absalon. With a range of 200nm and weighing just 7 tonnes, this kind of vessel could be accommodated by the Type 26.

  • Royal Marine LCAC Hovercraft

    Two Royal Marine LCAC Griffon 2000TDX Hovercraft could just be fitted in the mission bay. With a range of over 450nm and the ability to carry 18 fully equipped troops beyond the beach, they offer a useful niche capability. The RMs currently only posses 4 of these versatile craft.

  • The 6.5 metre MK III Rigid Raider is in service with the Army and Special Forces has a top speed of 38 knots light and 33 knots laden. It can carry a payload of 8 troops, 2 crew and 680 kg of equipment. (The Royal Marines’ MK 1 and II Rigid Raiders have been replaced by the much heavier ORC). Relatively cheap, robust, at least 12 of these could be fitted into the mission bay, a means to deliver 96 troops over a short distance.

Unmanned Surface Vehicles

There has been a little progress with the procurement of USV for the RN, the ARCIMS minehunting system was accepted by RN MASTT for evaluation in 2018. Thales UK also established a centre of excellence at Turnchapel Wharf in Plymouth last year for the development of MAS. It is unlikely the Type 26 will be deployed solely in the mine countermeasures role, a job better done by other cheaper vessels. Off-board systems would, however, give the frigate its own emergency or small-scale MCMV capability for when there are no dedicated mine warfare vessels available.

For use in force protection and surveillance, The Protector USV (or an equivalent) would be a very attractive prospect for the RN and for deployment by the Type 26. A fleet of these deployed around from the frigate could offer defence for a task group against suicide craft or boat swarms.

  • Rafael Protector USV

    The Israeli Rafael Protector a mature USV design already in service with several navies. Besides sophisticated sensors, it has a stabilized Weapon Station for up to 0.5”calibre guns or a high-pressure Water Cannon. It has an endurance of 48 hours and a top speed of 40 knots. Ideal for force protection in littoral or confined waters. Available in 9m or 11m versions, there is also an electronic warfare variant fitted with ESM/ECM systems for tactical deception, jamming and ESM/ELINT missions.

  • BAE Systems Pacific Class 950 Unmanned Rigid

    The BAE Systems Pacific Class 950 unmanned RIB is capable of up to 47 kts for up to 12 hours at a time. This is primarily an experimental unarmed demonstrator but will have a useful surveillance capability, able to relay imagery back to the ship. The autonomous control system can be fitted to any of the RN’s existing RIBs.

  • AEUK/Thales ARCMIS offers a variety of different modules that can be configured for mine hunting, sweeping or disposal. Some of these capabilities will ultimately be delivered in future by the RN’s MMCM programme. The anti-submarine sonar version has already been sold to two undisclosed navies. The ASW-USV concept has considerable potential to assist the Type 26 to safely hunt submarines, especially in the littorals at distance from the ship. (Images: AEUK)

  • The ASV/DTSL Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (MAST) on the Thames in 2016. Designed to explore autonomous capabilities and support non-lethal surveillance and reconnaissance roles.

  • L3- ASV C Enduro

    The RN took delivery of its first long-endurance USV, the L3 ASV C-Enduro in early 2019. The C-Enduro extends its range using power from solar panels and a wind turbine. The 4.8-metre vessel is equipped with 10 sensors combining scientific and hydrographic survey and will be used for data gathering trials by the Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) programme.

Unmanned Underwater Vehicles

UUVs have proven valuable in survey and mine warfare but their deployment in combat roles is still at an early stage. The US is leading the way with its XLUUV and LDUUV programmes but they are still some way from being useful ASW assets or able to launch weapons of their own. For the Type 26 designed primarily for anti-submarine warfare, realising the full potential of UUV in hunting and even destroying submarines should be a priority for the future. For the Type 31e frigates that will have very limited ASW capability, off-board systems could help offset this deficiency. The challenge of transmitting data underwater has been an obstacle in developing UUVs potential but the science of underwater wireless communication is now rapidly advancing.

“You use UUVs for work that is dull, dangerous, dirty and dodgy.” (Rr Adm Chris Parry). UUVs have the potential for many other missions that could formerly only be done at considerable risk by naval or special forces divers. Minelaying and covert underwater surveillance of ports and ships in harbour are obvious examples.

  • Boeing ORCA XLUUV

    Boeing has just been awarded a contract to build 4 ORCA Extra Large UUV. (XLUUV) for the US Navy. Its capabilities will eventually include MCM, ASW, ASuW, EW and strike missions. With a range of 6,500nm it will probably be launched from shore more frequently than a warship. Orca is slightly too large for the Type 26 mission bay but similar large multi-purpose UUVs will be undoubtedly be developed in future and might be deployed from warships for long-range missions.

  • Snakehead LDUUV

    The US Navy expects to take delivery of its first ‘Snakehead’ Large Diameter UUV (LDUUV) in 2021. This is specifically designed to be launched from ships for intelligence gathering and will eventually carry a variety of payloads, including potentially being weaponised for ASW and ASuW. Pictured is the dummy trials version first tested in 2015. (Photo: US Navy)

  • Not an autonomous system, but the RN is buying three US-made Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV) MK 11 Shallow Water Combat Submersibles (SWCS) for use with the Dry Deck Shelter fitted to the Astute class submarines. They can carry special forces divers a distance of about 18nm for insertion on covert missions. They could potentially be launched from the frigate’s mission bay if a submarine is not available. (Representative image only)

  • Proteus-Dual-Mode-LDUUV

    The US Navy’s Proteus is a dual-mode UUV that and can either act as a Swimmer Delivery Vehicle running at 9 knots down to depths of 150 ft (manned) or 200 ft (unmanned). When running autonomously it can carry a payload of 1.6 tonnes or sit on the sea bed and act as an underwater WiFi node with a range of 1,000 Km.

  • AUV62-AT

    Saab have recently developed the AUV62-AT, an acoustic target that replicates the active and passive signature of a submarine. This could serve as a useful decoy as well as a highly realistic training target for ASW forces. (Image: Saab)

  • Recovering a REMUS 600 UUV during exercise Unmanned Warrior 2016. Hydroid REMUS 100 and 600 series UUVs have been in RN hands since 2007 and are equipped with side-scan sonar for MCMV and Hydrography missions. (Note the standard RN Gemini dinghy With Mariner 40hp outboard)

  • IVER3

    IVER3 AUV seen onboard the RNMB Hazzard leaving Portsmouth for trials with MASTT. IVER3 is a commercially developed family of low-cost Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) used for general survey work, sub-surface security, research and environmental monitoring.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Scan Eagle is the only UAV to be used (briefly) on operations by the RN. Fixed wing UAVs generally have longer endurance but the unwieldy launch and recovery system would suggest that rotary-wing UAVs would be a better solution for smaller warships. The RN is well used to operating helicopters from small decks and there are several mid-size RUAV options available. In the surveillance role, these aircraft provide very useful capability at a fraction of the cost per hour of deploying a manned helicopter. They can be sent into much higher risk areas and typically have almost 3 times the endurance of the Wildcat. The ability to maintain persistent watch over waters well beyond the horizon would be very useful in the maritime security duties the RN undertakes on a daily basis right now. It is difficult to understand why RUAVs have not been embraced more quickly. The desire to maintain the design capability and workforce in Yeovil is probably the reason the Leonardo ‘develop from scratch’ RWUAS is preferred by the MoD over simple off-the-shelf purchases of Fire Scout, V-200, S-100 or similar.

  • The Rotary Wing Unmanned Air System Capability Concept Demonstrator (RWUAS CCD) phase 2 was supposed to be trialled on a Type 23 frigate in 2018 but no public information is available. (Photo: Leonardo. Pictured is the SW-4 Solo – the RWUAS trial at sea was planned to use the smaller SD-150 Hero)

  • Scan Eagle Royal Navy

    The Boeing Insitu ScanEagle was leased to the RN on a contractor-owned and operated basis from 2013 to 2017. Seen here being readied by contractors for deployment from RFA Cardigan Bay, 2014. Scan Eagle provides surveillance capability with 20 hrs endurance. The launcher and the skyhook recovery method do not make it ideal for us on board smaller combatants.

  • MQ B Fire Scout

    An MQ-8B Fire Scout on the flight deck of USS Coronado in the South China Sea. The US Navy has been using this RWUAV since 2006 and will eventually have 96 of the B (and larger C) models in service. It has an endurance of about 8 hrs and can carry various payloads. (Photo: US Navy)

  • The Swiss-Swedish made UMS Skeldar V-200B has been selected by the German Navy. It has about 6 hrs endurance and can take-off and land autonomously from a small 15x15m deck. (Photo UMS Skeldar)

  • The Schiebel Camcopter S-100 has been in development since 2003 and has been adopted by navies around the world (including China and a licensed Russian version). It is capable of up to 120 knots and has a 6-hour endurance. It can carry a payload of radars, EO cameras or be weaponised with two Lightweight Multi-Role Missiles (LMM) which the RN is purchasing for its Wildcat helicopters.

ISO Containers

The humble ISO shipping container is the cornerstone of global trade. A standard size and shape that can be used to transport goods but can also be adapted to convey all kinds of industrial, logistic and military equipment. The Type 26 Mission bay is designed to hold up to ten 20 ft containers. There are also half-size (Bicon) and one-third size (Tricon) containers that can be lashed together to form a standard 20ft container.

In support of disaster relief or small military operations, containerised logistics could be delivered from the frigate. This concept has been around for some time, speaking in 2012, Rear Admiral Alex Burton said: “A Type 26 mission load of containerised cargo including field hospitals, modular accommodation, or disaster-relief stores can be flown out to wherever the ship is, embarked within 24 hours and then be off and undertaking that task”. The frigate is not the best way to deliver bulk food stores (better to use a much larger capacity auxiliary or merchant ship) but its 10 containers could hold a small field hospital, water purification plant, workshops, electrical generators or other specialist equipment.

The RN has stated that containerised accommodation could be used for troops or to house captured personnel. Up to 8 people could sleep in a container ‘mess’, although not in great comfort and HVAC would need to be supplied from the ship. Personnel living in the mission bay would be reliant on the ship for recreation space, catering, laundry, toilets and showers, although there are even containerised options for these available. With limited space in the mission bay, the placement of containers intended to be accessed at sea would need careful consideration. It may be more important to have good access than pack the bay to its maximum capacity.

  • recompression chamber

    13-tonne Submarine Escape Rescue and Survival (SMERAS) recompression chamber embarked on the flight deck of HMS Dauntless as a trial in 2016. The chamber is designed to prevent decompression sickness and tissue damage in submariners who have undertaken an emergency departure from their boat and who have surfaced too quickly.

  • Containerised mobile decompression chambers for supporting divers are commercially available. (Image: Subsea Partners). A two-man decompression chamber is installed on the RN’s Hunt and Sandown Class MCMVs.

  • During Exercise unmanned warrior the Autonomous Control Exploitation Realisation (ACER) system was deployed in a container aboard SD Northern River. ACER is designed to integrate the command and control of unmanned systems of different types and provide a single command system at sea. ACER has been tried in conjunction with the Army’s Watchkeeper UAV and a variety of naval USV and UUVs. Containerised ‘mission modules’ of this kind could be deployed aboard the Type 26 although hopefully ACER, or its successor, will be a standard part of the Type 26 combat system by the time they are operational.

  • Containerised workshop

    Open-sided 20ft containerised workshop (Photo and concept: MrBox)

  • Hybrid Containerised Power supply

    Containerised generator, battery and solar panel – hybrid power supply solution (Photo and concept: Out of the Box Energy Solutions).

  • Containerised reverse osmosis water purification unit (ROWPU) for producing drinking water from sea water or contaminated sources. (Design and image: Nectar Water Technologies).

  • Austere sleeping accommodation for up to 8 personnel could be provided in a 20ft ISO container. (Image:

A surprising amount can be fitted into the space available in these new vessels. In the next few years, there is work to be done to develop the concept of operations and procure appropriate equipment. The Forces Minister recently reiterated that the “Type 31e Frigates will be tailored toward maritime security & defence engagement, including Fleet Ready Escort, South Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf, & NATO… to free up Type 45s and Type 26s to support nuclear deterrent & carrier strike group”. But it is important to stress that warships are inherently flexible and the Type 31e may find itself escorting the aircraft carriers and the Type 26 used to conduct disaster relief operations. Ideally, items intended for the mission bay for both types of frigate should be interchangeable with compatible, handling arrangement, cradles, securing methods etc. The Type 26 mission bay will be undoubtedly used in other configurations and with equipment not covered here and the journey has just begun to exploit this new capability.