Saturday, September 11, 2010

Royal Navy Future Frigates

A recent report from the Royal United Services Institute RUSI has urged the UK Government not to be sea blind and support the Royal Navy with a large number of frigates.

RUSI recommend purchasing around 6 type 26 frigates C1 to join with the 6 type 45 destroyers forming the UK's high end response. They also recommend purchasing 10-12 ocean going frigates. In particular they sight the Danish Absalon as choice for this vessel.

Every forum I read online sites the Absalon class as a shinning example of what a modern friagte should be. However I am not sure if this is the case. Is it a piece of naval procurement genius or a car ferry with a medium gun?

Absalon Class Flex Support Ship

The Absalon is designed as a flexible combat and support ship. It is able to carry multi mission modules with extra armament for the ship or supporting sensors for mine hunting, ASW etc or troop support and disaster relief. The ship has a flex deck nicknamed the bath tub which can employ upto 5 of these modules. On the face of it the Absalon has some impressive specifications.

Displacement: 6,600 tons full load

Length: 137.6 m (451 ft 5 in)

Beam: 19.5 m (64 ft 0 in)

Draft: 6.3 m (20 ft 8 in)

Propulsion: 2 x MTU 8000 M70 diesel engines

two shafts

22,300 brake horsepower (1.66×1010 mW)

Speed: Less than 24 kn (44 km/h)

Range: 9,000 nmi (17,000 km) at 15 kn (28 km/h)

Boats and landing

craft carried: 2 x RHIBs, 2 x SB90E LCP

Complement: 100, plus aircrew and transients (accommodation for up to 300 in total)

Sensors and

processing systems: Thales SMART-S Mk2 3D volume search radar

Terma Scanter 2100 surface search radar

Atlas ASO 94 sonar

4 × Saab CEROS 200 fire control radars

ES-3701 Tactical Radar Electronic Support Measures (ESM)

Electronic warfare

and decoys: 4 × 12-barrelled Terma DL-12T 130 mm decoy launchers

2 × 6-barrelled Terma DL-6T 130 mm decoy launchers

Armament: 1 × 5 inch (127 mm)/54 Mark 45 mod 4 gun

2 × Oerlikon Millennium 35 mm Naval Revolver Gun Systems CIWS

6 × 12.7 mm Heavy machine guns

MU90 Impact ASW torpedoes

VLS with up to 36 RIM-162 ESSM/RIM-7 Sea Sparrow (Mk 56/Mk 48 VLS)

3 x 2 × Stinger Point-defence SAM

8-16 × Harpoon Block II SSM

Aircraft carried: 2 × EH-101 helicopters

Aviation facilities: Aft helicopter deck and hangars

While the Absalon has an impressive array of weapons and facilities perhaps its most impressive feature is its cost. Each ship is reported to have cost just EUR 200 million (£120 million)

Given that the UK has already budgeted the similar sized Type 26 at £500 million per ship a price that is likely to rise this is a very impressive accomplishment for the Danes.


Their is very little criticism of the Absalon. However I will attempt to point out some of the flaws of the design in relation to the UK's need to acquire a medium sized frigate. While the ships large size makes it ideal for disaster relief missions or supporting troops a shore, it surely makes it more of a target. A bigger ship will always have a bigger radar signature. For a carrier or LPD this is not such an issue as you would expect to be surrounded by smaller escorts with proper missile defence systems. However when the vessel itself is suppose to be an escort it seems some what dangerous.

The ship also has a relatively week ASW suite. The main purpose of Frigates is to provide ASW escorts. The Absalon would be of little use in this role. While the ship has a fairly large gun at 127mm for shore bombardment you have to ask that if this vessel was your main task force command ship would you ant it close enough to shore to use this capability.

It is also designed to perform mine hunting duties however would you want to hunt mines on a 6600 tonne all metal ship close into shore and at the same time probably have all your troops and vehicles on board.

Every one hales the Absalon as a great example of cost control and flexibility. In comparison to a frigate the £120 million cost of the Absalon looks cheap. Especially when the similar sized type 26 is already cost ed at more than £500 million. However the Absalon has non of the sonar or quieting mesaures we would expect to see on a high end frigate. Indeed the Absalon is not really a frigate. Its more like a heavily armed LPD. When comparing costs of the Absalon with logistic ships it begins to look expensive. The 6600 tonne Absalon cost £120 million. The 18500 tonne Albion class LPD's come in at a cost of just £300 million each. but provide three times the ship and 5 times the capability of the Absalon in terms of payload.

The Absalon's slow speed also makes it unsuitable for many of the jobs we would expect a frigate to perform. Would you want to try and hunt a submarine that might be travelling at 30+ knots if you could manage less than 24 knots?

Much criticism has been lumped on the navy for choosing too few high end platforms to carry out a number of low end sea control tasks. It is embarrassing watching a $2 billion Burke chasing a small fishing boat armed with AK47's. This criticism is entirely justified however is a 6600 tonne armed car ferry any better for this mission.

What the Absalon does show us is that it is possible to get allot of ship for a much cheaper price than we have come to expect. The question we should be asking is that if the Danes can build just two ships in a class and get a 6600 tonne monster for just £120 million, why cant we get a 3000 tonne global corvette C3 type for £60-£70 million? Allowing us to build them in large numbers.


  1. Excellent post. I have been following the Absalon debate and personally find much to like.

    I'm not overly concerned by the weak ASW capability, as that will be taken care of principally by the T26/C1.

    My own thoughts are here:

  2. Hi Jedi,
    Thanks for your comments. I have already read your blog entry and found it very informative. I am not concerned by the lack of ASW capability offered by the Absalon class. I just argue the need for 10-12 large C2 style frigate's I would rather have 18-20 smaller Venator style C3 vessels for the money. This might actually allow us to start meeting our commitments. While I think the Absalon is an excellent vessel for the Danes, it is of little use for the RN or USN. Its too small to launch a significant land force compared with LPD's or LHD's and its too big for simple sea control duties. It does not have the anti submarine ability of a large frigate. And it lacks the AAW ability of a large destroyer. Its not an escort but then its not really a logistics ship. I dont really see why we need so much ship with so little capability.

    People can say that it can carry allot of flex moduals and can perform a variety of tasks but if the ships only funtion is to carry moduals why not just buy a cheap offshore support vessel or a small container ship with a large helicopter deck for a 1/4 the price.

  3. Venator is a nice design, but it is possible to properly deploy a helicopter including the necessary maintenance space and equipment if you only have a telescoped hanger?

  4. I don't know to be honnest with you. It seems to work in whale wars LOL. The Venator design would deffinatley be enhanced with a fixed hangar able to take a Merlin. However if we want the flex moduals and boat deck in a 3000 tonne design something has to give.

    I think operating a smaller helicopter like the lynx in this fashion will present little in the way of issues. At the end of the day the Venator will probbaly never have to operate anything bigger.

    I just want to see a small cheap vessel produced in numbers to take the pressure of the very few high end escorts. I would also like to see far less in the way of specialised vessels such as OPV's, Mine Hunters and Hydrographic vessels so that the navy can deploy vessels to tasks that are needed. Venator is the only serious design I have seen so far than can do this.

  5. The Absalon isnt supposed to be deployed to "war" alone. In a high threat environment, it should be under the T45 bubble, if its deployed alone, its air defence should be aimed at seriously substandard kit, like jets from the 60's, or helicopters, or recon planes.

    "The main purpose of Frigates is to provide ASW escorts."
    "Would you want to try and hunt a submarine that might be travelling at 30+ knots if you could manage less than 24 knots?"

    Thats the main purpose of the T26.
    The Absalon will be a general purpose ship, it can hunt subs a bit, most likely just at "choke points".
    It also has a sub hunting helicopter, so speed is less of an issue.

    The sole purpose of the absolon is to relieve the T45/26 of the roles they arent required for, and provide a bit of utility in a "proper" war, even if thats bullet catching.

  6. To be fair Absalon, in Royal Danish Navy service, is a flexible Command and Support ship not a frigate and it makes sence because the Danes don't possess other amphibious assets.

    But, I agree, for C2 it's the wrong vessel.

    I would prefer to see a larger build of Type 26 comprising of C1 and C2 variants.

    A T26 using existing "off the shelf" and already developed systems and re-using some equipment from decommissioned ships should be extremely cost-effective (certainly nowhere near £ 500 million).

    In my fantasy fleet those 'costs' would be spread across, perhaps, a 21 ship class.

  7. Hi Jason I agree with your points I think its the wrong choice for the RN. I agree that ASW in the domain of the T26 however I dont agree with the T26 either. Too big and expensive with no more untility than a T23 at 5 times the price.

    I would rather see more T45's as general purpose destroyers better equiped for Land attack and ASW deploying Merlin and Towed Array. If we are going to have a small fleet of high end warships we have to make sure they are capable of all the mission we require. They also have to be able to act alone in the way a Burke is expected to.

    Would be great to see 21 of any ship in the RN but I doubt we will ever see such numbers again.

  8. P.S I would not fancy being on one of Her Majestys Ships if its only role in a real war was bullet catching. 80% of the escorts sent to the Falklands had the same job and look what happened there. If a ship is going to be used in a war it must be capable of fighting. That is the problem with the C2 variant. The C1 is built for combat the C3 is a utility vessel with some patroling duties. What is the C2. Too expensive for the utility and patrol roles and probably too poorly armed for high end escorting or ASW. If its large size is purley designed for disater relief then wht not just build more LPD's or LPH for the same price with allot more utility. Or give it to the RFA. The RN is way to over streched be running around on disater relief mission anyway except for Britsh Over Seas Territories.