Royal Navy Type 26 ‘Global Combat Ship’ – BAE Systems Design Engineering Success

As a hugely important future platform for the Royal Navy, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship (GCS) programme currently in the fourth of a five year capability assessment and design phase has broken substantial new ground in terms of engineering and design capability success.

A proposed thirteen units of the Type 26 are planned to be built by BAE Systems and enter Royal Navy service in 2022. The vessel will be the most modern and efficient surface ship capability so far built, and will be the result of what has been a transformational change in the concept of naval ship design engineering.

Along with change management, lean manufacturing, best practice, change of approach to training and health and safety and even outsourcing there can be little doubt that naval shipbuilding in the UK is today a very much changed industry to the one that existed five years ago. While equipment capability will remain the crucial element of requirement, there can be no denying that affordability is also at the heart of all defence procurement. BAE Systems has risen to the challenge that the MOD customer has presented. Through the build process of the now completed Type 45 Destroyer programme and the ongoing Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier Alliance programme, the company has worked hard to achieve ever greater efficiencies and to make savings for the taxpayer. Being able to use the experience gained from the Type 45 and Queen Elizabeth-class programmes right from the start of the design engineering process, the Type 26 GCS has undoubtedly provided new opportunities for the company to make further efficiency gains in the process of naval shipbuilding.

In the fast changing world of geo-politics and defence procurement, designing replacement capability for the successful Type 23 frigate would need to encompass not only a changed mission requirement (Type 23’s had in part been designed to hunt Soviet Submarines in the Atlantic), but at the same time ensure retention of flexible full mission capability that would require new ways of thinking in terms how the ship was designed. In the new age of so-called austerity affordability, the need to fully build-in the through-life cost into the design would be crucial. The new approach by BAe Systems would not only need to consider the whole concept of design engineering but also to establish concepts such as best practice and change management at the very start of the programme.

Achieving this would require a different approach by all the various stakeholders involved in regard of establishing end capability requirement, but also in the establishment of a far more efficient process of how and where the new ships might actually be built. The result is not only the creation of a truly excellent ship design for the Royal Navy, and potentially for export customers as well, but one that all stakeholders involved in what is after all a very large equipment capability programme would be content to sign up to.

Various development and procurement hurdles on the Type 26 GCS have now already been passed while others are getting closer. The programme is moving toward acceptance of commercial proposals within the procurement process and eventually final contract award. Having already cleared the site of its former buildings, the planned investment in new state-of-the-art shipbuilding facilities that will be built on the existing Scotstoun site can’t come a moment too soon.

The Type 26, as it will be called in Royal Navy service, is not just important as being the planned successor for the thirteen Type 23 ‘Duke’ class frigates currently in service with the Royal Navy. It is also important because from the outset the new Type 26 GCS ship would need to be designed to be both affordable and relevant in its ability to meet future warfare and other requirements placed on it. The Type 26 GCS would need to provide state-of-the-art warfare capability plus fast, reliable and assured assistance in the many differing types of conflicts, threats and international requirements placed on an already stretched Royal Navy.

With 700 BAE Systems design engineering staff employed on the programme at Filton, Scotstoun and Portsmouth, the current plan is that the first Type 26 GCS steel will be cut in May 2016, with delivery of the first ship to the Royal Navy in 2022. Having been Director of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance until 2012, the Type 26 GCS programme is headed by the highly respected Geoff Searle; who I have had the pleasure of knowing for some years. The programme is fast gathering momentum with design contracts already awarded to Rolls-Royce and Tognum/MTU for the combination of gas turbines and diesel engines that will power the ships, gearbox design to David Brown, Babcock for the ship’s air weapons handling system and Raytheon for development of Integrated Navigation and Bridge Systems. Weapon Systems on Type 26 GCS such as Sea Ceptor are produced by MBDA and the towed array sonar and bow sonar underwater systems by Thales.

The measured and well thought out approach taken in the design of the Type 26 GCS can be best evidenced by viewing the 3-D CAD drawings at the superb BAE Systems ‘visualisation’ centre at Scotstoun, Glasgow. This I was personally recently able to do gaining hands-on experience of the whole engineering visualisation process. The facility is impressive and it demonstrates that engineering design skills in the UK are alive, well and thriving. In terms of a profession, engineering is once again a very exciting place to be.

Visualisation of full Type 26 GCS product concept engineering design not only brings to life the complexity of the design itself but also of mass of product information buried in specialist toolsets. It does this for all the various stakeholders involved. As I say, this really is impressive and useful technology and it creates a very dynamic environment for all stakeholders to contribute and enable them to add value to the end product.

Engineering design has come a long way in recent years, but what BAE Systems has done in Type 26 GCS design is to take the process one big step further. The ability to demonstrate the virtual prototype (design), virtual build and virtual Ship (in-service) capability process will, in my view, allow the ultimate programme owners and those currently involved in the programme design and build to take responsibility and deliver success. On that basis, Type 26 GCS should already be considered a huge project success due to the already demonstrated ability, within a collaborative environment, to reduce the potential for risk. It also demonstrates step changes in the decision making process that will, I am sure, greatly assist future quality and cost control adherence. In short, the virtual prototype developed in a virtual build facility can also be expected to have contributed to the achievement of what will, when the major rebuilding work at Scotstoun is completed, be a world class shipbuilding capability. That in turn will help make the UK military shipbuilding industry even more competitive and able to address the potential of product exportability. I was certainly impressed with what I saw and can easily see that this facility will, as it develops, provide huge benefits in the overall through-life cost of the ships and when they go into deep maintenance and upgrade.

When in service the Type 26 GCS will be a multipurpose deterrent and warfighting capability. It will provide the Royal Navy with a larger number of available options and in this regard it may be regarded as being ‘smart ship’. To get the Type 26 GCS to the current stage has, as I have suggested, caused a revolution in the concept of design engineering. When completed, the redeveloped Scotstoun site will provide state of the art facilities to build the fleet of Type 26 GCS ships. Scotstoun was I suggest chosen for investment rather than Govan because it is owned by BAE Systems. Govan is in fact leased from port operator Clydeport, which has acquired the yard in 1999 and who then leased it to BAE Systems for a period of 20 year period which expires in 2019. Apart from being owned by BAE Systems, Scotstoun is also home for its main engineering facilities. Having a single site would, as Charlie Blakemore, Transformation Director at BAE Systems Ships reminded me on my visit to Glasgow last month, “allow complex warships to be built far quicker and more efficiently than by doing so using two sites”.

It is currently planned that thirteen Type 26 GCS will eventually replace the existing similar number of Royal Navy Type 23 frigates that, along with the six recently commissioned Type 45 Destroyers and amphibious assault ships, will for some time constitute the front-line force of Royal Navy surface ship capability. As Type 23 had been, the Type 26 GCS has also been designed to provide all the elements of anti-submarine and anti-air warfare capability, plus a wide mix of other mission requirements such as humanitarian, disaster relief to anti-narcotics activities.

Complete with a hangar and with the ability to embark Merlin and Lynx Wildcat helicopters, the Type 26 will be the only frigate in the Royal Navy that is also capable of deploying a Chinook helicopter as well. The GCS will carry the Sea-Captor air defence system and possibly also Tomahawk, a medium calibre gun along with close-in-weapon systems, Artisan three dimensional medium-range target-indication and fire control radar plus air, surface and sub-surface unmanned vehicles, vertical launch cells and both hull and towed sonars. The first five GCS units will have a vast array of all-new equipment. Some of which, as the programme builds, will later be transferred from Type 23 ships as these are retired.

Designed to have an in-service life that is much longer than the designed life of the Type 23 frigates they will replace, the Type 26 GCS will, at 7,000nm and around 60 days endurance, also have a much larger range than the ship that it replaces. With a top speed of around 28 knots the ship will be powered by a combination of four MTU (Tognum/Rolls-Royce) diesel gen-sets powered by Type 20V 4000 M53B engines and a Rolls-Royce Type MT30 gas turbine. An important aspect of Type 26 will be the ‘mission bay’ at the aft of the ship that will allow small fast boats and autonomous unmanned vehicles to be launched.


CHW (London 5th September 2014)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Tel: 07710 779785

Comments are closed.