COLUMN | The Type 26 Global Combat Ship: a transnational project [Naval Gazing]
The rapid proliferation of ever more sophisticated submarines in the orders of battle of some potentially hostile nations has goaded the navies of middle-ranking powers Australia, Canada, and the UK into seeking new and more potent warships to replace their existing aging inventories of escort vessels. Other factors include the increasing need for larger vessels that can undertake extended long-range operations with little support, the requirement to sustain national warship building capabilities, and a desire to avoid dependence upon US-designed and constructed vessels.
The UK decided in 2017 to go ahead with the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, classified as a frigate in spite of its heavy displacement, and, after an extended period of competition and evaluation, Canberra and Ottawa decided to proceed with the build of their own variants of this ship. It is hoped that the sharing of a common design will result in cost savings, particularly by the pooled production of vital components.
Outwardly, all ships of the type will closely resemble the UK baseline version, and will use the same power train, but the Canadian and Australian vessels will have many differing, country-specific features, ensuring maximum use of indigenously-built equipment.
UK City class: the baseline vessel
The initial three of the UK’s Type 26 frigates are under construction by BAE Systems in Scotland, with the first unit, the future Glasgow, due in service around 2026. Eight such ships are planned to replace the anti-submarine versions of the Type 23 frigate. The ships will displace around 8,000 tonnes. Propulsion will be provided by a combined diesel engine/electric motor/gas turbine system, utilising a single Rolls-Royce MT 30 gas turbine, two Rolls-Royce MTU diesel engines, and two electric motors, enabling a speed of at least 26 knots.
The propulsion system and stealthy hull form will together ensure the quiet running and low observability essential for anti-submarine operations.
Gun armament will consist of a 127-millimetre gun, two 30-millimetre remotely fired cannon, Phalanx close-in weapon systems, and a pair of multi-barrel Minigun rotary machine guns. Sea Ceptor vertically-launched air defence missiles will be fitted, along with an as-yet-to-be selected type of anti-shipping cruise missile (ASCM).
A new feature, likely to be seen on many future warships, is the mission bay situated abaft the hangar. This space will be available for the transportation and deployment of RIBs, a helicopter, uncrewed aerial and underwater vehicles (UAVs and UUVs), as well as midget submarines and special forces (SF) detachments.
The large flight deck will facilitate operations by Merlin anti-submarine helicopters and by Wildcat helos equipped with two new missiles, namely the Sea Venom ASCM, and the smaller, laser-guided Martlet, which is optimised to counter swarm attacks by small fast boats.
The Royal Navy has also been emphasising that the City-class will be able to operate big twin-rotor Chinook heavy lift helicopters, and there is speculation that a number of the Royal Air Force’s large fleet of these helicopters will be modified for maritime operations.
The lead contractor for the projected nine Type 26 Hunter-class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy, intended to supplant the Anzac-class, is BAE Systems Maritime Australia, and the vessels will be built at the ASC shipyard in Osborne, South Australia. Early October saw the first cut of steel for the Hunter-class ships.
At the core of the warfighting capabilities of these warships, which could reportedly displace as much as 10,000 tonnes, is the AEGIS combat system. Sensors will include CEA FR2 3D phased array radar and bow mounted, towed array, and variable depth sonars. Gun armament will be similar to that of the City-class with air defence provided by Standard 2 and Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, while MU 90 Impact torpedoes will enable anti-submarine operations.
The Hunters will carry an MH-60, seen by many analysts as the world’s most potent shipborne helicopter, for anti-submarine and surface warfare operations, as well as UAVs and UUVs.
Lockheed Martin is leading the Canada Surface Combatant project to construct the as-yet-unnamed class of up to 15 Type 26s. Build will be carried out at Irving Shipbuilding, Halifax, and the new ships will replace the Royal Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigates.
The CMS 30 combat management system, linked with AEGIS, will be installed, together with SPY 7 electronically scanned array radar. Gun armament will again be similar to that of the City-class. The Canadian warships will reportedly mount a heavy air defence armament, the intent being to fit Sea Ceptor, Standard 2, and Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles.
The new Naval Strike ASCM will be fitted, as well as Tomahawk land attack missiles, while a Cyclone helicopter, AUVs, and UUVs will be carried as well.
Despite rumblings about escalating costs, the Type 26 project retains strong tri-national political support, for the time being at least. Their size, endurance and comprehensive sensor and armament outfits should ensure that the ships will be much in demand for both solo and force escort operations.