Saturday, August 27, 2011

What would a modern Type 21 Frigate look Like?

I have been trying to come up with a concept for a vessel which could not only fulfill the requirements for MCM, Hydro Graphic Survey and EEZ patrolling as outlined in the C3 requirement but could also give us a decent sized warship able to take the strain of the all to over worked escort fleet.

After looking at a number of options I was stuck by a question asked on Think Defence, What would a modern Type 21 Frigate look like?

Type 21 Frigate

The class was designed to fulfill a requirement for a relatively cheap yet modern general purpose escort vessel to fill a projected gap in the number of escort hulls in the fleet. Many older vessels were rapidly approaching the end of their useful live

s yet their replacements, the Type 42 destroyer and Type 22 frigate, would not be ready until the mid-to-late 1970s. The Admiralty design board were busy with the latter, therefore the Type 21 project was given to private shipyards Vosper Thornycroft and Yar
row. The unmistakably yacht-like and rakish lines were indicative of their commercial design. Their handsome looks combined with their impressive handling and acceleration lent itself to the class nickname of Porsches.

The first of the eight built, HMS Amazon, entered service in May 1974

referenced from Wikipedia

What Would a Modern Type 21 Frigate Look Like?

We have to ask ourselves here what are we hoping for? Really we are looking for a smallish warship with a decent sized naval gun and basic protection. It needs to have a half decent radar with some sort of sonar which would need to be advanced on the MCM and Hydro gra
phic versions. It must have a flight deck with a small hanger able to take a medium sized helicopter. It needs a little speed but we don't need to break the rules of physics here 25knots is fine. A long range with a cheap diesel engine.

We would want a vessel which has a relatively small crew more minesweeper sized than destroyer sized. We need a vessel with a flexible mission deck aft boat ramps and the ability to launch and recover small boats and UUV's. Most importantly we need something really cheap that can be built in large numbers.


Much as with the US Navy's littoral combat ship there is a rational for combining many if not all the smaller warship types.

  • Modern Mine Counter Measures (MCM) rely more on remotely operated vehicles and sensors now than small specialised vessel. Indeed many modern mines are so lethal that no vessel no matter how specialised and plastic would want to go any where near them. Deploying these types of UUV's and sensors requires significant space and working area on board which a small dedicated mine hunter or sweeper is not able to provide. In the future MCM may rely more on UAV's as well meaning aviation facilities are required again something not necessarily on board a small mine hunter

    • Modern destroyer and even Frigates have become much larger in recent year. Much closer to the size of WWII Cruiser's. Conversely they find it more difficult to operate close to shore. There great expenses has also lead to a massive reduction in numbers meaning that there are not enough hulls to do all the jobs of the past. Especially the really dull important ones like policing EEZ's. Another type of cheaper smaller vessel is needed to fill the gap.

    • Thanks to self contained mission modules a modern vessel should be able to carry out a number of roles that previously required dedicated specialized vessels. This will allow the navy to deploy more vessels with a smaller number of hulls.

    Okay that all makes sense to me. Very logical it would seem. Small, lightly armed, aviation facilities and mission modules.

    This was what the US navy sought to get however after the usual gold plating they ended up with a 3000 barley armed speed boat costing some £500 million per vessel. (initial projection was £60 million)

    Errors to Avoid

    The US Navy went wrong from the get go. It tried to design a warship of 3000 tonnes that could accommodate a Chinook. It decided that it wanted a vessel which could be armed with mission modules carrying everything from land attack cruise missiles to surface to air weapons able to supplement an Arleigh Burke Destroyer. It wanted a vessel which could keep up with a carrier but at the same time out maneuver an Iranian speed boat armed with RPG's. This lead them to engine systems capable of moving the vessel above 40 knots. Inevitably it ended up with something that tried to be all things to all men and the US navy laughably believ
    ed it could get such a vessel for under $100 million each. These are the same people who belied the F35 could be done for less than $60 million.

    BMT came up with an interesting design a few years ago called Venator. Venator see

    med like a well worked out design with mission modules and an aft docking bay. However it is very light on weaponry. Not really the type of thing we could call a warship and while it has a large aft flight deck it has not hangar. Its top speed likley to be around 18 knots may also make it too slow for many missions such as interception of cargo ships

    A number of authors most notably Think Defence have proposed a basic de

    sign modeled on Offshore Supply Vessels used in the oil and gas industry. The rational is that these vessel are durable, flexible and above all cheap coming in at the $60 million mark. The only issue I can see with these proposals are that the vessels themselves are but ugly. That might not sound like a problem but remember one of this vessel primary roles will be flag flying. Entertaining dignitaries on the back of a cargo ship hardly says do business with Britain. More than that the vessel will hopefully participate in a number of military exercises with allies across the world. What kind of message does it show when;

    Singapore shows up in this

    France shows up in this

    and we show up in this

    There is an old adage if it looks right then it is right. We should also remember that a major goal of this project will be to attract international buyers. Most of those buyers are little swayed by the vagaries of cost and performance. Pure looks unfortunately goes along way.

    Off The Shelf

    It will be extremely important to get this vessel at the right cost. We do not need to reinvent the wheel here. The UK and other countries build vessels like this all the time at a reasonable cost. Perhaps the best example of this recently comes from Vosper Thornycroft the same people who gave us the Type 21.

    The Khareef Corvette built for the Oman Navy has some very impressive statistics.

    However perhaps the most impressive is its cost at just £400 million for 3 including all design work and training for the crew. Indeed in many way the Khareef is a modern Type 21. While the vessel has all the warship attributes we are looking for it does lack the versatility and flexibility we need to provide MCM, Hydro graphic work and it has no aft boat ramp to recover vessels. However it would not be too difficult to redesign the vessel with an aft section incorporating mission modules and small boat recovery area. In essence we keep the head and body of the Khareef Corvette and we add on the rear end of the Littoral Combat Ship USS Independence

    The LCS Independence has a beam of 3 meters more than the Khareef. It is also 16meters longer and it ways an extra 500 tonnes. However we could accommodate these changes into the overall design using the additional space for mission modules and extra fuel giving us a design of around 3000 tonnes with a range of some 7-8000 miles

    Mission Modules

    This is one area where everyone (including me) starts to go crazy. We start of with the idea of a few mission modules for sensible things like disaster relief, MCM and hydro graphic survey. We then end up migrating through every conceivable mission from ASW to land attack. Obviously these more unique type modules will be the most expensive. They will probably add the least value to the project as well. As with the the LCS we have to realise that this vessel is not a full blown warship. We are not designing something that can single handily sail up the Yangsi river and free Tibet.

    We also have to realise that the more space devoted to these modules the less space we have for the actual warship part. We can be in danger of ending up with little more than a cargo ship. As with all thing balance is the key. I cannot foresee the need for more than 4 modules to be carried by any vessel.

    We should avoid the higher end weapon system types in favour of the lower end really useful modules items such as

    • MCM
    • UUV storage
    • Diver support
    • Special Forces equipment storage
    • Medical supplies
    • Water Desalination
    • Emergency Food Rations

    Most of these items require little more than a standard ISO container painted grey and filled up with useful stuff. They do not need integrated electronics to launch missiles or strange an exotic weapons like lasers and rail guns.


    The choice of helicopter is possibly the main area we can go right or wrong with this vessel. Its also the main area where the gold platting is likely to arise. Any modern naval vessel should be not only capable of having a helicopter but should carry one at all times. It makes the vessel infinitely more valuable for almost every task.

    However there are helicopters and there are helicopters. This vessel is not a high end ASW frigate. It will not be hunting submarines because it is not designed to do so. Its a patrol vessel. It should have space on its fight deck to accommodate an aircraft up to the size of a Merlin if needed and its hanger should be able to accommodate a Lynx Wildcat but it should not be routinely expected to carry either. The New Lynx coming in at $27 million a piece makes them far to expensive to procure in numbers.

    Yes it would be nice and it would save a few quid to have a common fleet of helo's for the entire navy but those savings would be more than offset by the roughly 5 to 1 price of the Lynx compared to other lighter vehicles.

    There are two lighter cheaper helicopters available in the market today that could satisfy this role. The first is the AW109 family which comes in several navalised variants. The second is the Eurocopter Fennec AS 555 SN. While the AS109 is an excellent helicopter at $9-$12 million its roughly twice the price of the AS 555 SN at $4-$5 million. For that reason I would choose to have the AS 555 SN

    Eurocopter Fennec AS 555 SN

    The AS 555SN is used for shipborne missions operating from ships above 650t. The helicopter is equipped for anti-submarine warfare and over the horizon (OTH) targeting. The helicopter can carry a lightweight homing torpedo. A chin-mounted Telephonics RDR-1500B X-band, 360° digital colour radar is used for search and surveillance.
    The radar also provides weather avoidance, beacon transponder location, and waypoint navigation display. An unarmed naval variant, the AS555MN can also be fitted with the RDR-1500B.


    Sonar - Thales KINGKLIP

    This sonar is specifically designed to operate in littoral environments. It is constructed to be easily integrated onto a number of different platforms and is currently used by the UAE, Malaysia and Morroco.

    Its Primarily an ASW sonar with simultaneous early torpedo warning. In addition it provides underwater obstacle mine-like avoidance capability.

    Radar - Thales SMART - S Mk2

    This is Thales’s latest 3D multibeam radar, operates in S-band and is optimised for medium-to-long-range surveillance and target designation in littoral environments.Its speciffically designed to locate small surface targets, helicopters and anti-ship missiles. Furthermore, SMART-S Mk2 is designed to match the full performance of surface to air missiles (SAM), such as the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM).


    Gun - Currently Royal Navy OPVs such as the River class are armed with a 20mm cannon. while frigates are armed with a 114mm naval gun. The navy will likely phase out the 114mm gun in favour of a more NATO standard 127mm weapon. A 127mm weapon will be too large and expensive for this vessel while the current 20mm weapon is likely too small to allow anything but service in benign waters. There are two options available

    BAE System 57mm Mk110

    This weapon is used on the USN littoral combat ship and USCG National Security Cutter. It provides a high degree of capability against aircraft small boats and even missiles maximum range 15km

    Oto Melara 76/62mm super rapid gun

    Used on the Khareef Class Corvette as well as the the French and Italian FREMM Class frigates this gun provides a high rate of fire. It is also capable of being used as anti aircraft mode and against small boats. It has a wide variety of ammunition including HE fragmentation rounds and it can be used for shore bombardment at ranges of up to 30Km.

    The 57 mm fires at twice the speed of the 76mm giving it better capability against small boats and aircraft. However at 120 rounds a minute the 76mm is hardly slow firing. The large rounds are also capable of providing better hitting power against gun boats or corvettes.

    The 76 mm offers better range and a wider choice of ammunition giving the vessel more flexibility so for that reason I would choose the Oto Melara 76mm.

    AAW Weapons

    The Khareef Class Corvette is armed with the Mica SAM. While an excellent weapon I would instead opt for the new CAMM system being developed to replace seawolf. This will provide a highly effective point air defence capability as well as some anti missile protection .

    At a cost of nearly $10 million for Phalanx 1B or even more for SeaRAM a CIWS is an expensive piece of kit. With the air defence capability of CAMMS I would say that CIWS is something we could do without. However the vessel should be fitted for but not with this capability in case its needed in future.

    Surface to Surface Missiles

    Both Exocet and Harpoon offer excellent missiles choices with newer version having limited land attack capability. However neither missile is optimised for the littoral environment.

    I would opt to use the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile (NSM)

    The missile is optimised to operate in the littoral environment with the ability to even fly around islands and other features to attack a target. It also has a rather sophisticated land attack capability at a range of up to 240 KM.

    While its not currently being used by UK armed forces it may eventually be used by the RN and RAF on the F35. The missiles warhead is around half the size of harpoon so not ideal for taking out large target but perfect for hitting small fast moving warships and gunboats.

    Anti ship missiles are expensive. Average missiles cost around $1million each. While the vessel should be armed with twin quad launchers on port and starboard carrying 8 missiles would be prohibitively expensive and unnecessarily in virtually any scenario. Holding just two missiles in each launcher would half the cost while still providing almost all the capability. Boats in high potential threat areas like the straits of Hormuz could be armed with 8 missiles. This would also keep any potential advisory in the dark about how many missiles the vessel carries.


    On cost grounds I would rule out ship launched Torpedo's although the Fennec helicopter is capable of carrying a single light weight torpedo. This would be the only ASW armament of the vessel. Again it would be useful to leave space for a deck mounted launcher.

    Smaller Arms

    As this vessel will primarily operate in littoral environments it may need to defend its self against swarm attacks from small boats. Arming it with a pair of30mm DS30M Mark 2 Automated Small Calibre Guns on port and starboard towards the rear of the ship should allow solid all round protection from small boats when combined with the 76mm super rapid fire gun on the bow.


    We will have a requirement to use a number of these vessel for MCM and more specifically mine hunting. A mine hunting vessel will require a more specialised sonar. To accommodate this need we should look to equip around 8 of the vessels with the Thales sonar 2193 hull mounted mine hunting sonar instead of the KINGCLIP. The 2193 is designed to be easily retrofitted so no design alterations should be necessary to operate this sonar. It is also compatible with the Thales TACTICOS combat management system.


    We are currently looking to spend anything upto £6 billion for 20 versions of the T26 and T27 Global combat ship. If we could get the cost of a modern type 21 down to £100 million with its helicopter then we could potentially replace the 10 or so T27's with 30 of these vessels. We are also likley to be spending around £1.6 billion on the MHPC to deliver some 8 vessels. Again with a combined program we could look to get that up to 16. However this would not take into account the various moduals needed especially for the MCM roles which are not likley to be cheap. Procuring a fleet of around 40 of these vessel is well with in the navy's current operating budget and it would go along way to relieving much of the pressure on the escort fleet.

    Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group, Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group, Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group,Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group, Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group,Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group,Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group,Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group,Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group,Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group, Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group, Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group,Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group,Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group,Stuart Yeomans Farringdon Group


    1. So you want to conflate T 26 and T 27 AND the MHPC all into a common design, based on the Karheef, a patrol boat with no ASW or AAW capabilities, so that we could have an RN consisting of 6 x T45 and up to 40 (?) of these ?

      Ahh, no just re-read that, 6 x T45, 6 to 8 x T26 for ASW, and 30 to 40 of these wee things.

      With only 3,500nm at 16kts we will have to build a lot of tankers to support them ! Or we can always admit that steel is cheap, air is cheaper, and shallow water should be left to embarked boats and aircraft......

    2. Hi Jed thanks for your comments. I would advocate an RN with less ASW capability in favour of a larger patrol capability. Given the tight budget I see this as the most sensible approach. The navy can run around all day doing ASW but at the end of the day it’s probably the least likely scenario it’s ever going to face. Meanwhile our seas are infested by pirates, we face a major terrorist threat and we are increasingly reliant on the import of resources from dangerous and unstable places. Our Navy along with other navies have consistently reduced the number of vessels in favour of more and more high end weaponry. Leaving us in an increasingly vulnerable situation.
      I would love the navy to have 12*T45's 10-12 *T26 and 10 T27's but it aint going to happen. I feel it’s better to have a mix of a few high end hulls such as 6 T45's and 8* T26 with a large number of low end cheap patrol frigates. If we do this then we do not need to waste billion pound warships on small tasks they can sit in reserve to wait for the red navy to over-run Plymouth.
      The navy brass seems to feel that cutting the cost and capability of T26 so that it comes in at around £300 million is the way to do this. However £300 million is allot of money for a vessel that ain’t going to be that well-armed or capable. Khareef is a vessel built in the UK today for almost a third of that price and it will have almost all of the capability of T26 excluding ASW and range.

      I take your point about limited range however I would look for a slightly larger design (as you say steel is cheap) with a longer range than the Khareef. I would also look to base a number of these vessels in foreign ports. I take your comments about large vessel in shallow waters however if experience in the gulf is anything to go by I think when an RN crew is captured and humiliated by the revolutionary guards we can clearly see the present system of embarked boats has its flaws. There is littoral and there is littoral. Close into shore does not have to mean running up a river. Look at the straits of Hormuz or the straits of Malacca or any other pinch point in the world’s sea lanes. These are places where we need something larger than a RHIB with a GPMG on board and we need the kind of permanent presence that we cannot afford to provide with frigates.

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