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
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)
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)
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.