Johnson to buy Danish designed frigates built in Scotland

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Danish Frigate Niels Juel
Danish Frigate Niels Juel

By Russell Bruce

As part Johnson’s announcement on Thursday for new naval vessels were five Type 31 frigates. One of the interesting things about this cost efficient frigate is it was designed in Denmark for the Danish Navy. How could a country of just 5 million people possibly produce a vessel that would be the envy of the Rule Britannia Brigade? Answer, just don’t mention it.

Back on September 12th last year Johnson announced a contract for five Type 31 frigates to be build by a Babcock led consortium at Rosyth shipyard. The hull design is based on the Danish Iver Huitfeldt class frigates designed by Denmark’s Odense Maritime Technology (OMT) who are also part of the Rosyth consortium. Johnson also then omitted to mention this was not an all Brit affair.

Was Thursday’s announcement of 5 new Type 31 frigates an addition to the announcement nearly 15 months ago? As the time scale for building and delivering is the same as reported last year this is clearly the same five vessels Johnson announced previously – lest we forget.

The preliminary stages are quite possibly what the MOD could finance but now they needed the cash to actually pay for the build starting in 2021 with a projected delivery of the first vessel in 2023. It has been suggested that 2025 might be a more realistic delivery date. The MOD is notorious for slippage before vessels gets to the slip for launch which is long before the vessel is fully fitted out and equipped for delivery.

The Type 31s are a small part of the £16.5 billion over 4 years. This may sound a lot to us but as the FT reports the MOD already has a £13 billion black hole in its equipment budget. The emphasis in reports of Johnson’s statement concentrated on the shipbuilding element, no doubt to indicate another union dividend for Scotland, but the extra money is scheduled to cover a whole host of developments that the MOD will struggle to deliver given past performance.

The Type 31 will be around 138m in length with a beam of up to 19.8m and draft of 4.8m. Each vessel will be able to accommodate a helicopter in an on-board hanger which will also be able to house light aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. A small innovation is 2 boat bays on either side of the frigate able to deploy rigid hulled inflatable boats and autonomous underwater or surface vessels.

Ferguson Marine of Port Glasgow are also part of the consortium and can therefore supply parts to the build. As Ferguson is now owned by the Scottish Government it will be interesting if they do get a part order.

Freedom Frigate Class?

This is a frigate that would fit Scotland’s naval needs very well but we would need to give it a more appropriate and imaginative name for a Scottish naval class of vessel than Type 31.

It is also worth noting that this £16.5 billion investment is less than the £17 billion Johnson’s government have spent in rather questionable PPE contracts lacking due procurement process and adding ‘Chumocracy’ to the lexicon of 2020.