Innovative Features in Britain’s New Frigate

The Brits are planning a new class of frigate, the Type 26, that has some interesting features.

The ship is going to be a close contemporary of the Offshore Patrol Cutter with both the new frigate and the OPC programs scheduled to deliver their first ship in 2020. The Type 26 is expected to displace 5,400 tons full load, so it is about 20% larger than the National Security Cutters and perhaps twice the size of the  OPC. Still some of the thinking might be applicable.

Propulsion:

“For propulsion, BAE has opted for a conventional but upgraded hybrid system combining gas turbines for top speeds and diesel generators for a fuel-efficient quiet mode, and these generators will provide significantly higher speeds than those of the Type 23.”

The 4,300 ton Type 23 cruises 7,800 miles at 17 knots so presumably they are talking about 20 knots or more on diesel-electric alone, for this relatively large ship. Like the now 22 year old type 23s, they will replace, the Type 26s’ generators will supply power for both propulsion and hotel services.

Boats, Mission Modules, and Aircraft:

“For greater flexibility of the combat systems, the ship will have an integrated mission bay and hangar, allowing the Navy to more easily deploy varying numbers of helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and boats according to the situation.”

The frigate, like many new designs, incorporates provision for reconfigurable space. What they have done differently is make this space adaptable for trade-offs among helicopters, unmanned vehicles (air, surface, and sub-surface), and boats.

Computer Systems:

“This basically means having a single computer system that can support the multiple pieces of software used throughout the ship, rather than installing separate hardware systems and local area networks from each supplier.

“Using blade server technology originally developed for the banking industry to provide reliable, high-power processing, the computing environment will be able to run different “virtual” operating systems to cope with the variety of programmes the ship will use, from navigation to combat management.”

Common hardware sounds like a great idea, but some are already questioning the choice of a Windows operating system.

More:

There are lots of conceptual drawings, a couple of videos, and additional links along with exhaustive comment (over 500) here.

Navy to Review Ship Needs–Opportunities for Cooperation?

File:BAMS-UAS.jpgAccording to Reuters, when the new Chief of Naval Operations addressed the Surface Navy Association on January 10, he offered some clues as to how he thought the Navy might address the changing environment and stated that a review of the Navy’s force structure is expected this spring.

There are a few areas where CG and Navy interests might intersect.

“The four-star admiral mapped out some areas of continued investment, including unmanned aerial and undersea vehicles…”

The CG could benefit, if Navy systems don’t become so sophisticated they are priced out of reach. Hopefully the Navy will apply their Broad Area Maritime Surveillance System (BAMS) (Navy illustration left) to areas of interest to the Coast Guard and the CG will be able to use it to help maintain maritime domain awareness.

“Greenert, who took over as the Navy’s top uniformed officer in September, told a packed audience that he made some changes to the Navy’s budget plan after visiting the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important shipping lane, which Iran last month threatened to shut off if new U.S. and EU sanctions over its nuclear program halted Iranian oil exports.

“He said funds were added for more mine warfare equipment, counter-swarm, and anti-submarine warfare.”

This could refer to mission modules for the Littoral Combat Ship program, but increased emphasis on ASW could mean another ship type may be needed. There could be an opportunity to share a hull with the OPC.

“Other priorities for the Navy in coming years included work on a next-generation destroyer to replace the Arleigh-Burke DDG-51 destroyers, a ship that he said would need a common hull and modular systems.”

So modular systems are being extended beyond the LCS program. This may be a way for cutters to have a meaningful war time role without the burden of maintaining weapon system on board in peacetime.

He also underscored the Navy’s interest in development of an anti-torpedo torpedo and new electronic warfare capabilities.

An anti-torpedo torpedo, might also be the basis of a system even small cutters could use for stopping large merchant ships.

Shipbuilding, Dealing with Reality

The Coast Guard’s fleet of large cutters  is facing a budgetary “perfect storm,” and if it is to survive without a major reduction in numbers, a change in procurement strategy is required.

The NSCs cost as much as an entire year’s AC&I budget for vessels. An analysis of the Coast Guard’s FY 2012 budget request for vessels and the funding history of the National Security Cutters (NSC), funding only about one half the cost of an NSC each year, and with three more NSCs still to be funded, suggest it is unlikely the Coast Guard will see the first Offshore Patrol Cutter in 2019 as has been planned. In fact there is reason to believe the Coast Guard will not be allowed to proceed with the OPC program as currently envisioned.

There are rumblings that some parties want to kill the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program all together, and many of those who understand the need to replace old ships question why all of our replacements are notably larger than the ships they replace.

  • 378s, 3,050 tons, full load (fl) to be replaced by NSCs, 4,375 tons
  • 210s, 1050 tons (fl) to be replaced by OPCs, 2,500 to 3,000 tons
  • 110s, 165 tons (fl) to be replaced by RFCs, 353 tons

We haven’t generated the “Fleet Mix Study” that might justify these larger and more capable ships. Saying we need larger ships to provide better living conditions for the crew won’t cut it and frankly it does a disservice to our crews who have shown a willingness to accept spartan condition on shipboard, particularly since now most, if not all, will have a place to live ashore as well.

If we want to actually arrest and reverse the aging of the large cutter fleet and have a more capable fleet in the long run, we have to do something different, and we have to do it soon.

Additionally it appears that we may have funded enough NSCs and the Coast Guard needs a different kind of cutter to address the emerging new ways drugs are being smuggled.

Conceptual Rendering of the OPC

Disclaimer by Acquisition Directorate (CG-9): (This) conceptual rendering (is) for artistic display purposes only and do not convey any particular design, Coast Guard design preferences, or other requirements for the OPC.

This is an alternative plan.

  • Stop NSC production at five or at most six ships and put them all in the Pacific.
  • Forget the Crew Rotation Concept (CRC), at least for now.
  • Kick start the OPC program by building the first six or seven as lower cost, smaller replacements for the remaining 378s and give them the sensors needed to find drug running semi-submersibles and true submersibles.
  • To provide “value added,” work with the Navy to make sure they have credible wartime mission capabilities.

NSCs go north, OPCs go south. NSCs will specialize in ALPAT while OPCs will specialize in drug interdiction, with at least some of them being made capable of interdicting true submersibles.

Normally it takes three ships to keep one on station, suggesting six NSCs to keep two on ALPAT at all times, but mixing in an occasional OPC during the summer months, 5 should be enough.

The OPC, at 2,500 tons or more, is a hard sell as a replacement for 1,000 ton 210s, but as a replacement for the 3,000 ton 378s, at what should be close to half the price of an NSC, the Coast Guard is clearly being a team player. This gets the program started and, in quantity, the price should start coming down substantially. After the first six or seven are built as 378s replacements, and they prove their worth, they may not be as hard to sell as MEC replacements as the economy improves.

Earlier posts (here and here) addressed multiple crewing of National Security Cutters and, following the numbers, demonstrated why, even if it works as planned, the current plan could only provide the equivalent of 10 conventionally manned cutters, not 12, and the total operating costs are likely to be higher compared to conventionally manned ships providing the same number of ship-days.

The only example I know of, where multiple crewing of complex ships works is the Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine program and there, the incentives to make it work are huge. Total numbers of submarines are limited by treaty so there is a desire to get maximum use out of an artificially limited supply and the capital cost per crew member is probably an order of magnitude greater than it is for Coast Guard Cutters. The Navy with all their experience does not attempt to multi-crew it’s attack submarines even though this is a closely allied program, again with a far higher ratio of capital cost to crew cost. If we want to try this concept, try it on the Fast Response Cutters first, where it is more likely to work, but kill it as a planning consideration for large ship procurement. Consider it just another hoax perpetrated on the Coast Guard by Integrated Deepwater Systems.

Since we started planning the new fleet of large cutter, our needs have changed. Drug smugglers have begun to change their tactics, using semi-submersibles and even true submersibles (here, here, here, and here). A ship equipped with a towed array and an embarked Navy MH-60R ASW helicopter detachment would substantial improve our chances of intercepting these.

Having a credible wartime capability can also help convince members of congress these ships are a worthwhile investment. Once we have given the ship a towed array and the ability to operate Navy ASW helos, at almost no costs we can add the ability to operate them in a war time role by insuring we have spaces appropriate for storing their weapons and other equipment, spaces that can be used for other purposes until required.  It also should not be difficult, working with the Navy, to insure they can accept at least some of the LCS Mission Modules.

A 2,500 ton OPC, as currently planned, is in many respects an excellent replacement for a 378 and it will have lower operating costs. More importantly, if the OPC program survives and goes on to replace the 210s and 270s, we will have a far more capable fleet overall.

We need to start this change with the FY2013 budget.

 

Shipbuilding–My Grand Plan–Navy and CG Work Together

One of the criticisms of the Navy and Coast Guard’s ship building programs has been that they were not coordinated; that they should have been able to come up with a common hull. I think there may still be an excellent opportunity to do that and get the benefit of large scale series production, by combining the 25 ship Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) with the last 31 ships of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.

Continue reading

New Renderings of Proposed OPC

OPC Conceptual Rendering (Unfortunately the rendering that originally appeared here is no longer available. This is a later version which appears similar.)

Conceptual Rendering of the OPC

The Acquisition Directorate has given us some more information on the proposed Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), including some new renderings of its appearance and information on how it will use “green” technologies and concepts to reduce environmental impact.

I like the fact that the 57mm is up one deck from the foc’sle, because that will provide some protection from green water coming over the bow and, it will allow the weapon to train on targets at relatively close range over the bow. In fact the design looks very much like the successful Floréal class of light “surveillance frigates” designed for the French Navy in 1989.

Looks like they are planning on mounting a 25 mm Mk 38 mod 2 on top of the hanger instead of a CIWS. For our purposes, that is probably a better choice, provided we have the option of substituting a state of the art CIWS like SeaRAM should we go to war. I’d really like to know what they are anticipating for a fire control system. Radar and electro-optical or electro-optical only?

What surprises me is that there is no stern ramp, in spite of the fact that it looks like there is adequate room. I never liked the arrangement we have for launching the boat at the fantail of the 270s, because of what happens when the ship is pitching, and this does not look like an improvement. However, the fact that she has boats on both sides amidships is an improvement.

I would still like to see some space planned for interchangeable containerized mission modules. Maybe there could be an option to put these on the fantail in lieu of the third boat. Aside from the Littoral Combat Ship modules, these might include class rooms for cadet cruises, holding cells for migrant interdiction, operating rooms for disaster relief, or laboratories for scientific research.

Hopefully the larger flight deck means the ships will be capable of operating all the H-60 variants including the Navy’s MH-60 R and S versions and there will be space available to store their equipment and weapons.

Provided the price is reasonable, these ships should have definite Foreign Military Sales potential. I can see variations of this design with Harpoon launchers either on the fantail or foc’sle.

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