Sea vessels

What's Next For The Navy's Vessels?

Plans for an evolving Royal Navy feature uncrewed, underwater systems.

The Royal Navy's future was outlined in the recent Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper, including announcements about new technology and the retirement of other capabilities.

China currently has the world's largest navy and is set to have five aircraft carriers by 2030, while the UK will likely possess two in its tilt toward the Indo-Pacific region.

Russian development of a nuclear torpedo has also grabbed Britain's attention.

The Defence Command Paper revealed the capabilities that have made the cut for the UK's naval future.

Merlin and Wildcat helicopters will be part of the Navy's plans for the next decade, but here we are mainly focusing on the future of sea vessels in the service.

BAE Systems computerised image of future Type 31e frigate CREDIT BAE SYSTEMS.jpg
BAE Systems' computerised image of a future Type 31 frigate (Picture: BAE).

Above surface

The aim is for the UK to have more than 20 frigates and destroyers by 2030.

Announcing plans in November for £16.5bn extra defence funding over the next four years, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said plans for five Type 31 frigates will continue, as well as those for eight Type 26s and never-before-mentioned Type 32 frigates.

Arriving in the mid-2020s, anti-submarine Type 26 vessels will replace the Type 23 frigates, accompanying British aircraft carriers as part of a Carrier Strike Group and delivering critical protection of the Navy's continuous-at-sea-deterrent (CASD).

Costing about £250m each, the first general-purpose Type 31 is expected to be in the water before 2024, with hopes for five by 2028.

The first batch of Type 31s will be fitted with the Sea Ceptor missile system, a range of highly advanced weapon and sensor systems, and a combat system with a 4D air and surface surveillance and target indication radar.

On 19 May, the MOD revealed that the names chosen for five Type 31 frigates will represent the future vision of the Navy and collectively, the vessels will be known as the 'Inspiration Class'.

They will be named HMS Active, HMS Bulldog, HMS Campbeltown, HMS Formidable and HMS Venturer.

Watch: HMS Queen Elizabeth is about to lead her Carrier Strike Group on its first operational deployment..

Britain aims to be building Type 32s by 2030, designing the vessels to protect territorial waters, provide a persistent presence for the UK overseas and support the Royal Navy's Littoral Response Groups.

'Littoral' means the part of the sea close to the shore, and more than £50m will be spent converting a Bay-class amphibious landings ship to provide "a more agile and lethal littoral strike capability", the Defence Command Paper says.

Upgrades are being given to air defence weapon systems on Type 45 destroyers, which will be replaced by Type 83s from the late 2030s.

Before then, the Type 45 Harpoon missile will also be replaced by the interim Surface-to-Surface Guided Weapon.

New, automated minehunting systems will be deployed in the future, replacing the Sandown and Hunt-classes, which will both retire in the 2020s.

The service will also get three new classes of support vessels, including a "new Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance Ship" and three Fleet Solid Support ships to assist the Carrier Strike Group.

Inshore and Offshore Patrol vessels remain part of plans in 2030, the Defence Command Paper says, as well as an Ice Patrol capability.

An artist's impression of the Dreadnought-class submarine (Picture: MOD).

Below surface

By 2030, the Defence Command Paper says uncrewed air and underwater systems will be in development for the Royal Navy.

Improved underwater capabilities will include delivering a safer, faster and automated Mine Hunting Capability with France, with the Navy to retire Mine Counter Measures Vessels as the new capabilities come into service.

Two new types of submarine will enter service, including Dreadnought-class ballistic missile vessels to replace the Vanguard-class.

Dreadnought vessels are expected to enter service in the 2030s and will be the largest submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy.

Carrying an arsenal of Trident thermonuclear warheads as part of the UK's continuous-at-sea-deterrent (CASD), at least one submarine will be on patrol at all times.

Meanwhile, the UK remains committed to delivering the rest of the seven Astute-Class attack submarines.

Astute-Class submarines are capable of hitting targets 1,000km from the coast and, as well as coming equipped with world-leading sensors, the submarines carry Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles (TLAM) and Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes.

They will eventually replace the Trafalgar-class vessels, although the life of these will be extended to allow for a seamless transition.

Cover image: Royal Navy.