New Type 26 Frigate continues world leading ASW legacy

By Lieutenant Commander Pete Brotton, Royal Navy

The ever increasing capability of submarines worldwide has meant that anti-submarine warfare (ASW) has become part of the psyche of the Royal Navy (RN).

There are now 40 countries operating submarines (from a peak of over 100). However, investment in submarines has increased significantly in the 21st century after its nadir following the end of the Cold War.

Technology is increasing the effectiveness of smaller coastal submarines which more countries can afford to deploy. That does not mean all capabilities are equal; the large number of North Korean coastal submarines is not comparable with America’s blue water fleet.

The RN relies on Type 23 Frigates, designed at the height of the Cold War, to protect the Fleet from submarines, as well as complex combat operations, counter piracy, humanitarian and disaster relief work.

These capable ships will continue to serve until the 2030s but they were designed against a Soviet threat. They remain highly effective, but the advances in technological capability have driven a need for a new world class frigate. The UK Government’s 2015 Defence Review decreed that the RN’s new frigate, the Type 26 will provide the RN’s ASW capability into the next era.

“The RN relies on Type 23 Frigates to protect the Fleet from submarines, as well as perform complex combat operations, counter piracy, humanitarian and disaster relief work.”

The Type 26 will be a multi mission warship and has ASW capability at its core. It is designed to operate in an adverse ASW environment globally, and will deliver capability in extreme temperatures.

It will come into service in the 2020s to replace the ASW Type 23 Frigate and will operate until the late 2050s. However, as submarines have developed, so has the need to improve their hunters, and the Type 26 is no exception.

“Once a submarine is found, you need the ability to engage at range so that they cannot counter attack; a role traditionally conducted by aircraft. The Merlin is the RN’s ASW helicopter, and it can be operated from the Type 26 and other platforms.”

A key consideration is noise. The ability to travel quietly is essential so submarines cannot detect us, and to maximise our chances of detecting them. What is not always realised is how this affects the ship’s sensors.

Vibration isolation and mounting techniques utilised by submarines have been included in the Type 26 design to ensure noise and vibration generated by machinery and pipe systems are not transmitted into the water, making the Type 26 faster and quieter than the Type 23 when on patrol.

Investment in submarines worldwide has made them smaller and/or quieter with torpedoes that are more capable with a longer range. This means that you need to detect submarines further away; the weapons and sensors of the Cold War are no longer sufficient to defeat modern submarines. Because of these, the Type 23’s future plans include new radar, missile, sonar and C2 systems to provide a world beating anti-submarine capability until the Type 26 enters service.

Once a submarine is found, you need the ability to engage at range so that they cannot counter attack; a role traditionally conducted by aircraft. The Merlin is the RN’s ASW helicopter, and it can be operated from the Type 26 and other platforms.

The ship will have a vertical launch silo that can take a variety of weapons. To ensure we are investing in the most up to date weapons that meet future threats, a final decision about the exact missiles to be used within the Mk41 missile launcher will be made closer to the in-service date of the Type 26.

The Type 26 is designed to operate and deploy unmanned vehicles (air, surface or sub-surface). This is a huge growth area and various defence industries are investing a significant amount of effort into developing these capabilities.

The technology and capabilities are increasing rapidly and can be used to augment and supplement traditional ASW assets. With a mission bay capacity of up to 150 tons and 300 square metres, this capability provides a flexibility that will allow Type 26 to quickly incorporate advances in unmanned technology as it matures.

The Type 26 Frigate program is incorporating the lessons from the past and developing current technologies to deliver a ship for the future. It will be a world leading ASW frigate, ready for service around the world.

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