Type 31e frigate competition restarted

As we predicted would be the case – yesterday the MoD made its first steps to restart the Type 31e competition after it was temporarily suspended on 24 July. 

The MoD says it will begin market engagement activity with suppliers interested in re-tendering for the Type 31e design and build contract starting next week. The new contract notice issued yesterday has the same headline figures “Type 31e is to cost not to exceed £1.25 billion, inclusive of Government Furnished Equipment (GFE)”. This may indicate there is a recognition that the £250M per ship limit is not enough to cover the installation of credible combat systems. Just how much GFE will be provided may be the critical factor in the success of the design. It has always been the intention that some equipment would be transferred from the Type 23s to the next generation of frigates, both Type 26 and Type 31, including the Sea Ceptor missile system and the Artisan Radar. Weapons, sensors and combat management systems are a large cost component of warships and if paid for separately, would add significantly to the Type 31e ‘sail away’ price. The MoD could be looking at finding a great deal more than £1.25Bn. Any Type 31e built for export is therefore likely to have combat systems that differ considerably from the RN fit, but at additional cost to the customer.

Due to very strict confidentiality agreements with the MoD, the companies involved in the bids are unable to comment in detail, although it is known there was considerable dismay about the suspension in industry. Around 300 delegates from the potential supply chain had already attended each of the industry days held by the two consortiums this year.

Informed speculation suggested that the problem that lead to the process being suspended was around intellectual property rights. The Babcock Arrowhead-140 concept relied heavily on the Danish Iver Huitfeldt class frigate developed by OMT and rights to this design could have been a stumbling block. Babcock aroused further speculation about their participation by taking down their Arrowhead-140 website. Babcock insists this is just a “temporary website maintenance issue” and they are still committed to the Type 31e competition. Meanwhile, the BAE Systems and Cammell Laird Leander launched their new Leander website, despite the pause in the process. BAES benefits from a global network of contacts and is already sounding out potential customers for its Leander frigate, in South America and the Gulf region.

A report on the US Naval Institute website suggests there is a third German-owned consortium consisting of Atlas Elektronik U.K. and Thyssenkrup Marine Systems interested in bidding for Type 31e, but this has not be confirmed by any other sources.

As always, shipbuilding is never as simple process and there will doubtless be further twists and turns. From the RN’s point of view, what matters is the delivery of at least five credible frigates starting in 2023.