The UK has been very busy running around the world trying to sign up foreign allies to get on board the Global Combat Ship band wagon. Nations from Canada and Australia to Brazil and India have all been offered a part in the program. So far only Brazil seems to have made a commitment to the project.
While I have long advocated selling this ship to allied nations to promote jobs and retain capability in the UK ship building industry the current coalition government and the MOD seem to be repeating mistakes of the past.
Firstly the T26 seems to be being treated more like and export expo than a vital warship design. It seems that any nation that David Cameron visits is offered a piece of the pie weather they will be buying vessels or not. Indeed to read one commentators views from Turkey the UK is requesting Turkish assistance to build its own vessel.
India is the latest nation to be touted as a possible partner. According to news media all Indian vessels will be built in India at private shipyards which currently have no warship building design skills.
In desperation the MOD are going about this program in totally the wrong way which could lead to a major disaster with arguably the most important ship designed for the RN in a generation.
Firstly T26 has been scaled back massively. The Original intention was for a large design of some 6500 tonnes capable of providing a high end ASW capability to replace the T26. It was also to have a 155mm main gun as well as a VLS capable of carrying Tomahawk Cruise missiles for land attack. In addition it was to carry ASTER 15 missiles to supplement the AAW role covered by the fleet of just 6 T45 destroyers. It was estimated that T26 would be built on the same hull as the T45 with some modifications.
In addition to T26 the Royal Navy would get a fleet of simplar cheaper general purpose frigates the Type 27. These vessels would way in at around 5500 tonnes. They would likely carry CAMMS for point air defence and have some form of ASW capability but would not have the advanced towed Array Sonar of the T26. Neither would they carry the ASW helicopter Merlin but would instead use the new Lynx Wildcat. A sensible plan we might say.
However all talk of a 6500 tonne vessel seems to have now gone out of the window. All mentions of T26 are for a 5500 tonne vessel with a General Purpose Variant, ASW variant and likely a AAW variant available. This would make the program not unlike FREMM.
While I am all for commonality in design and trying to get a large number of hulls in the water a 5500 tonne design suggests we will be loosing many of the capabilities we so desperately need. Mainly land attack. Lets remember that ships have not engaged each other at sea since the second world war. The main role of navy's has been land attack. T45 was built without the ability to launch land attack missiles. One of the main goals of T26 was to provide this capability.
It may be that the UK has began to sacrifice many if its required needs from this vessel to make it more attractive to foreign partners. However we should remember that the UK has a very poor history in cooperation on warship designs. Even with very similar allies such as France and Italy let alone very different foreign partners such as India and Brazil. Also while we need a General purpose and ASW variant we have no need of an AAW variant so who would pay for the development of such a vessel?
It seems to me that the Global Combat Ship may go the same way as so many projects in the past. We start with the best intentions of bringing in partners to share R&D and bring down costs while keeping a simple common design. When we actually sit down and work everything out what we end up with is an unnecessarily complicated design which tries to fill too many roles.
Then we find that those same foreign partners were only really kidding in their commitment to the project. They scale back orders but keep a gun to our head to keep work share. We end up with an expensive project delivering a sub standard design at a high cost with much of the work taking place in foreign countries. We also inevitably loose our ability to compete in the global market to sell the thing.
Both India and Brazil will need a high end ASW frigate if they wish to compete in the 21st century naval arms race. We have the most advanced technology and capability to build an ASW frigate in the world. Better to build a vessel for us so we can then sell to them rather than designing something by committee which end up not being wanted by anyone.
Many other nations may be interested in buying T26 or T27. However if we allow Brazil and India to share in the design work and construct all their own vessels they will likely cut us out of the market as they will be able to under cut us with cheaper labour costs.
I hope I am wrong in my assumptions and that the UK will end up producing a real winner that can be sold to a wide variate of world customers however all my experience tells me otherwise. We are likely to end up with another farce costing billions and producing nothing.