The U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Monday announced the three competitors to build the planned Type 31e general purpose frigate for the Royal Navy.

The ministry awarded contracts worth up to $6 million to teams led by BAE System, Babcock, and Atlas Elektronik UK to fund the next stage of their plans. The government plans to announce a preferred bidder for the design and manufacture of upward of five frigates at a cost of $1.57 billion by the end of 2019. The Type 31e aims to replace some of the current Type 23 Duke-class frigates.

BAE Systems’ proposed design for the UK Type 31e frigate competition. (Artists concept: BAE Systems)
BAE Systems’ proposed design for the UK Type 31e frigate competition. (Artists concept: BAE Systems)

The first Type 31e is planned to be delivered in 2023. The defense ministry argued the Type 31e program is moving through procurement at an “unprecedented pace” with construction starting three years after program launch, which is “far quicker than similar programmes of this type.”

“This is the first frigate competition the U.K. has run in a generation, and today we are funding three shipbuilding teams with extremely exciting concepts to continue developing their plans,” Stuart Andrew, minister for defence procurement, said in a statement

The MoD is planning for the five Type 31e frigates to join with eight BAE Systems Type 26 Global Combat Ship frigates to help make up the next generation of U.K. Royal Navy ships. The Typ 26 ships will start being delivered in the mid-2020s and will be based in Devonport. The MoD has not yet decided where the Type 31e ships will be based.

Last October, BAE signed a teaming agreement with Cammerll Laird, which would act as the prime contractor to build the ships while BAE provides warship design, engineering capability, and combat systems experience. BAE previously said the arrangements allow it to support the ship while also delivering five Offshore Patrol Vessels and the first three Type 26 firgates on time and on budget (Defense Daily, Oct. 18, 2017).

This announcement came the same day the newest Royal Navy aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, returned to its home port of Portsmouth after a successful set of F-35B trials off the East Coast of the U.S. The carrier’s first transatlantic deployment, dubbed WESTLANT 18, started in August and involved two F-35B test aircraft from the Integrated Test Force from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

During the trials the F-35Bs conducted 202 takeoffs, 187 vertical landings, 15 shipborne vertical landings, and tested weight loading in various weather conditions (Defense Daily, Oct. 1).

“The WESTLANT 18 deployment has been a real success; and let’s not forget that we are just a year on from the ship being commissioned and accepted into service,” Queen Elizabeth Commander Capt. Nick Cooke Priest, said in a statement. Priest assumed command from Rear Adm. Jerry Kyd during the carrier’s visit to New York following the trials and before its return to the U.K.

“The main effort – Fixed Wing Flying trials have delivered outstanding results, which is testament to the co-operation, hard work and dedication of both the Ship’s company and the U.S. Integrated Test Force, assisted by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. Their combined efforts have put us in an excellent starting position for next year’s Operational Testing,” Priest added.