With the selection of the Arrowhead 140 for the Type 31 frigate program attention is shifting towards Type 4x, the Type 45 destroyer replacement program.
Currently, the Royal Navy is working on the replacement of its Type 23 anti-submarine warfare frigates. This will be done with both the Type 26 and Type 31 programs, with them covering the high and low ends respectively. For a more detailed look at how they fit into the Royal Navy check out our article on the Royal Navy and the 2020 SDSR
The building of the new frigates is expected to be finished by 2040 and then the Royal navy will begin to replace the Type 45s.
How Good is Type 45?
Entering operational service in 2010, Type 45 is regarded as one of the world’s premier Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) destroyers.
The Type 45, or Daring-Class, are principally armed with the Sea Viper missile system. Sea Viper consists of the ASTER 15/30 surface-to-air (SAM) missiles, SAMPSON multifunction radar, and S1850M long-range 3D search radar.
The sensor fit that the vessels mount is believed to be second to none. It’s been reported that during wargames the US Navy has asked the vessels to switch their SAMPSON radars off due to “inhibiting training.”
The Aster missile, on the other hand, has several flaws, the largest of which is the lack of them. Type 45s have 48 Sylver A50 vertical launching system (VLS) cells and therefore can only carry 48 missiles. One option to mitigate this is to replace the shorter-range Aster 15s with Sea Ceptor. The advantage of Sea Ceptor is that four missiles can be carried per cell while maintaining similar performance to Aster 15.
Another option is to add the 16 extra ‘strike length’ cells the T45s have been built to accept. Not only would this increase the number of SAMs that can be carried, but it would also allow cruise missiles to be carried.
On the other hand, currently, there is no realistic option to replace Aster 30. It has been speculated that updated missiles will be procured to offer an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capability.
With this capability, people wonder why we are looking at a replacement. The fact of the matter is that almost as soon as a military platform enters service work begins on its replacement.
Future Weapons Systems
With the movement towards missile defence, warships are about to undergo what has been referred to as a ‘Dreadnought moment.’
Technology such as railguns and directed-energy weapons (DEW) will make defeating threats much cheaper than at current.
A directed-energy weapon, or in this case more specifically a laser weapon, uses a beam of energy to defeat a target. The weapons work by converting electrical or chemical energy into light which is then aimed at high power at the target. The laser then heats up the target, causing fuel and explosives to ignite, bringing down the target. For a detailed look at laser weaponry, HowStuffWorks has a brilliant article detailing the subject, available here.
DEWs have a cost per shot measured in the tens of pounds whereas a single Aster 30 missile costs in the region of £15m. The cost-effectiveness is clear for all to see and therefore is the route the Royal Navy needs to pursue.
Currently in development by an MBDA led consortium is the Dragonfire DEW system. Dragonfire is expected to take the role of a close-in weapons system (CIWS) such as the current Phalanx system. Not only can it be used to ‘hard-kill’ a target it can also be used at lower powers to dazzle both humans and targeting sensors.
On the other hand, railguns will be just as important, but development isn’t at the same point, yet.
A railgun works by accelerating a kinetic energy projectile to a speed of over 3km/s. This is done by using two conductors, or rails, to conduct electricity which generates electromagnetic forces. This then accelerates the projectile along the rails, much like a barrel of a gun.
Whereas conventional guns use propellant and explosive rounds a railgun uses only electricity and a piece of metal. All damage done to a target is done through the kinetic impact of the round on the target. Not only can they be used against incoming threats, railguns can also attack targets like ships, using the kinetic energy to hopefully sink the vessel.
While not ready to be deployed as a primary weapons system, railguns will likely be viable for Type 4x.
While neither weapons system will completely replace missiles, they will change the way wars are fought. Therefore, the Royal Navy needs to change the way it is designing its ships.
Let’s Replace Type 45, Not Evolve It
Several ideas have been put forward for Type 4x. The most popular of these seems to be a development of the Type 26, City-class, frigate. A brilliant mock-up has been produced by the UK Defence Journal showing a Type 26 with a Type 45 sensor fit
While this would indeed provide a capable ship for the present it seriously lacks the growth potential needed for future weapons systems.
Power generation is the key to any future warship and in fact Type 45 is very well off in this regard. The ships use what is called Integrated electric propulsion (IEP) whereas Type 26 uses a combined diesel-electric or gas (CODLOG) system. IEP works by converting all power from the ship’s engines into electricity which then powers the motors which drive the propellers. CODLOG, on the other hand, drives the propeller shafts directly, while also powering electric generators.
While a subtle difference there is a major advantage to IEP, you can move the electricity to where it is needed. If the propellers don’t need high power that electricity can then be used to power weapons such as DEWs or railguns.
Whether or not the Type 26 design could be converted to use IEP isn’t public knowledge however it wouldn’t be easy. Therefore, a ship designed explicitly with IEP in mind should be the minimum requirement for Type 4x.
Another issue with the Type 26 will be space. With the need to carry multiple DEWs and railguns it would likely not be a large enough vessel to mount all the required systems. As automation reduces the number of crew required, you can build a larger vessel with the same complement.
Steel only accounted for around 20% of the cost of the new Queen Elizabeth-class and therefore the size of the vessel doesn’t account for much of the cost. While cost saving will be required to afford next-generation weaponry the lower operating costs should completely offset this in the longer-term.
An argument could be made to use nuclear propulsion due to it working like IEP but with more power generation. However, this would be a mistake, with several allies refusing to accept nuclear-powered warships within their waters.
Type 4x cannot be allowed to be an evolution, it needs to be a revolution. It is often said that modern military equipment is best for fighting the last day of the previous war. For the Royal Navy, this is the Falklands and in that type of scenario, Type 45 is king.
Wars will not, however, be a rerun of the Falklands. What needs to be looked at is comes next, not what comes now. With the move towards railguns, we could well see the return of ‘big gun’ warships just like the beginning of the 20th century.
All those in favor of the return battleships say aye!