The Royal Navy on Thursday entered the age of the Type 31 as work began on HMS Venturer, the first of five ships ‘at the fulcrum of the future fleet’. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace set the cutters at work on steel for the lead ship in the Inspiration class in a brand-new assembly hall in Rosyth.
In just two years’ time Venturer will be in the water. In seven she’ll be joined by sisters Active, Bulldog, Campbeltown and Formidable. With work under way on Venturer – named after the WW2 submarine which made history by torpedoing a U-boat while both were submerged – it means Britain’s shipyards are producing two new classes of frigate for the front-line fleet for the first time in more than 30 years.
Just three dozen miles away in Govan, the first three Type 26 frigates, led by HMS Glasgow, are taking shape.
They will replace the souped-up submarine-hunting Type 23s coming to the end of their active lives over the next 15 years, while Venturer and her four sisters will succeed the general duty 23s, such as HMS Montrose.
As such they will be expected to perform duties around the globe as varied as those backbone ships: submarine detection, interception and disruption of illegal activity at sea, intelligence gathering, defense engagement and providing humanitarian support.
Each of the Inspiration class – so called because either their deeds or the ingenuity of their designers are milestones in RN history – will be equipped with the Sea Ceptor air defense missile system, a 57mm main gun and two 40mm Bofors, a 4D radar and carry a helicopter up to Merlin size.
They will also be able to carry the planned Persistent Operational Delivery Systems or PODS which are at the heart of future Royal Navy operations, a ‘plug and play box of tricks’ carrying drones, autonomous mine-hunting equipment, a command centre for commando raiders or humanitarian aid – whatever is needed for a particular mission, all packed into a container-sized box which is easy to deploy and install.
“This is an exciting time for the Royal Navy. The Type 31 represents the very best of British shipbuilding and with its modular design will be configurable to meet the needs of both the Royal Navy and our allies around the world, now and into the future,” said Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Nick Hine.
“Type 31s will operate across the globe with sustained forward presence further signifying our intent of being a global navy and the foremost naval power in Europe.”
All five Inspiration-class ships are being built by Babcock for £250m apiece, with the program supporting 1,250 existing jobs on the Forth, a similar number in the supply chain throughout the UK, and will create 150 new apprenticeships.
Having toured the new facility at Rosyth, Mr Wallace said Venturer offered a glimpse of the future Royal Navy.
“These frigates will form the fulcrum of a formidable future force made up of: destroyers, new autonomous mine-hunting capability, new Fleet solid support ships, multi-role ocean surveillance and Bay-class support ships, next-generation nuclear submarines and our two magnificent carriers.
“Come 2023 when HMS Venturer slips its bonds and enters the water, I have no doubt it will emulate the trailblazing successes of its forebears and write its own glorious chapter in our nation’s famous maritime history.”