Ambitious UK Programme Seeks Delivery Date of 2023
As part of the tender process for the introduction of the new Type 31e frigate generation for the Royal Navy, thyssenkrupp Marine Systems is one of the selected suppliers in the final design and offer phase in a consortium led by Atlas Elektronik UK, which includes Atlas Elektronik GmbH and British shipyards Harland & Wolff and Ferguson Marine Engineering. This much was announced by the Royal Navy in London in December 2018, the company said in a 23 January statement.
“We are proud to have reached the decisive design phase for the Type 31e frigates. Based on our proven MEKO A-200 ships, we will offer the Royal Navy a multi-purpose frigate based on our many years of experience in developing high performance, modular naval vessels. The proposed ship design is already in operation with two navies and is unique in its comprehensive modularity and expandability,” explained CEO of thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, Dr Rolf Wirtz.
The ships will be manufactured by Harland & Wolff in Belfast and Ferguson Marine Engineering in Glasgow with the support of thyssenkrupp Marine Systems – the highest added value at the sites mentioned and in the entire local supply industry is guaranteed, the company stated.
The Type 31e programme is considered one of the most important in the Royal Navy’s comprehensive future capabilities program. The MOD want the first ship delivered in 2023.
From the perspective of early 2019, with a final downselect not due to be made till towards the end of the year, a delivery date of 2024 seems ambitious at best and a pipedream at worst. Even accepting that there is the political and institutional will to conduct this procurement in a smarter, more agile fashion – given the importance of the programme to the Royal Navy – it seems highly improbable at this point that the programme can be delivered as specified within such a timeframe.
Indeed, as recently as last summer, the programme was put on temporary hold (and MONCh understands was called into question by Ministers) when none of the contending bids came close to the £250 million target unit cost specified by the MoD. Although that has been resolved (without, it might be added, any robust discussion of what budget adjustments might have had to be made to keep the programme alive) it still seems counterintuitive to try to launch a five-vessel light frigate programme with a delivery date of under five years. Procurement is improving, industrial responsiveness has seen massive improvement in recent years and technologies, techniques and construction practices are better than they ever have been. So it might happen – and if it does, MONCh will be among the first to offer hearty congratulations and credit where it is due. However – setting such ambition targets does beg the question whether some are trying to set the programme up for failure. Creating yet another target for institutional, governmental or public criticism seems a flawed plan at best.