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Future Surface Combatant (FSC) - since late 2004


(Above) A 2006 FSC design concept. Source: BMT.


(Above) A Thales concept published in late 2006 of a modular General Purpose frigate. Scaling from the Merlin helicopter the ship is about 135 metres long, which would indicate a full load displacement between 4,000 and 5,000 tonnes.  Source: Thales.


(Above) A concept from VT Shipbuilding for a substantial trimaran frigate for FSC.  The US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship project has helped to somewhat restore interest in a hull form that had faded in the UK since Vosper's built the trials vessel RV Triton back in 2000.  Source: VT Group.


(Above) For the FSC C3 requirement, VT Group proposed in September 2007 an enlarged version of its Project Khareef ocean patrol vessel (OPV) for Oman (shown top).  The new C3 Ocean-Capable Patrol Vessel  (OCPV) will displace 3,000 tonnes, have a length of 100m and a maximum speed of 25 knots (shown middle and bottom). Source: VT Group


(Above) A model of the F2020 concept proposed by Thales Naval UK for the FSC C2 role was displayed at DESi in September 2007.  The concept has evolved considerably since being first revealed in late 2006.  Source: Aviation Week




Project designation:
Status: Currently in the Concept Phase.  No Initial Gate target date is in the public domain.
In Service Date:  2018-2020.

It's hoped that the Future Surface Combatant (FSC) programme will ultimately comprise a series of variants to replace the RN’s Type 22 and Type 23 frigates as well as the existing MCM vessels and survey ships.  However the requirement has a very difficult history

Studies have been underway since the late 1990's, but the project has been put on hold several times, most recently in November 2004 at the Initial Gate milestone, when the MOD admitted that it no longer planned to commence the FSC Assessment Phase in 2005 and that the Integrated Project Team was being stood down until further notice.  The DPA's Future Business Group managed residual former FSC IPT activities. 

Directorate Equipment Capability (Above Water Effects) (DEC(AWE)) then began to develop a new surface combatant strategy and on 7 March 2005, Mr. Ingram stated:

 "The Future Surface Combatant project is still in its concept phase.  Studies continue to develop ideas for the platform solution and no decisions have been taken. Our current assumption for planning purposes is that the Future Surface Combatant requirement will be delivered by a two-class solution. The principal element, now known as the Versatile Surface Combatant, is expected to enter service around 2023, and a 'Military Off The Shelf' variant known as the Medium Sized Vessel Derivative is expected to enter service between 2016–19."

In 2005 the MOD identified the need for a "Sustained [Maritime] Surface Combatant Capability" (S2C2) programme to identify better ways for Defence to procure and support Joint Maritime Surface Combatant Capability for the Royal Navy in the future.

"Surface Combatants shall contribute to Standing Commitments and Contingent Overseas Operations exploiting Flexible Global Reach, Networked C4ISR, and interoperability to support Maritime Force Projection, protect UK Maritime Security and contribute to wider British influence and interests within identified constraints."

A new Integrated S2C2 Project Team was established at the DPA in early 2006, and was disbanded less than 18 months later after having delivered a "Surface Combatant Capability Plan" to inform the MoD's Directorate Equipment Capability (Above Water Effects) next planning round in 2008 (PR08)

A key part of S2C2's work was a new Future Surface Combatant (FSC) study in to how the capabilities currently provided by the existing Type 22 and Type 23 frigates might be met in the long term.  The S2C2 had revisited the assumptions and planning prior that had been made before its establishment and effectively discarded the two class MVD/VSC plan suggested in early 2005.  


Current Situation

The FSC Project is officially in the early Concept Phase - indeed it has been in this phase since at least at least 1998, although on two or three occasions got close to Initial Gate and entering the next Assessment Phase. 

There is not currently (August 2008) a dedicated Integrated Project Team, instead four members of within the Frigates Integrated Project Team form an FSC working group tasked with "Delivery of the class (or classes) of next generation surface combatant that will succeed T22 and T23 Frigates, including capability management, URD development, PR options, concept phase studies, acquisition strategy development and preparations for Initial Gate."

The budget for the FSC project is secret although FSC is acknowledged to be Category A project which means that it has a budget over £400m (£400m is about half the cost of a Type 45 destroyers).

On 20 July 2008 the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Mr. Bob Ainsworth, stated that "Following the Department's 2008 planning round (PR08), we no longer intend to take up the option to place orders for further Type 45 warships beyond the six already on contract.  Instead, we plan to bring forward the timetable for the introduction of the Future Surface Combatant which is intended to provide replacements for the Type 22 and Type 23 frigates."


Evolution of FSC

In an interview in early 2006, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathan Band outlined his own thinking for FSC:  "These ships would be forward deployed, demonstrating presence, undertaking security work ... with a platform offering versatility and endurance, balanced off by the ability to conduct combat operations and join the task group.  What I have in mind is a platform, which is simple and cheap to run, offering good range and endurance, good surveillance capability, modern accommodations and a reasonable size for aviation.  And we have to produce something which is measurably cheaper than we have in the past.  Affordability is the biggest challenge to the navy's equipment plan."

Between early 2006 and March 2007 the MOD conducted the "Sustained Surface Combatant Capability (S2C2) Pathfinder" to help inform its FSC decisions.

On 30 January 2007, S2C2 team leader Commodore Steve Brunton presented an overview of early S2C2 outcomes to a Defence Manufacturers Association conference.  According to Janes he told delegates that "S2C2 largely focuses on the relationship between the current Type 22 and Type 23 frigates and FSC but it has also developed linkages to other capabilities. Mine countermeasures [MCM], patrol vessels and surveys vessels all offer us opportunities".

S2C2 thinking had developed in to plans for the replacement of the RN's current Type 22 Batch 3 and Type 23 frigates, plus a range of minor war vessels, with three new classes of surface combatants. Cdr Brunton identified these as:

  • a Force Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Combatant (known as C1)
  • a Stabilisation Combatant (C2)
  • an Ocean-Capable Patrol Vessel (C3).

He said "The plan we have developed takes eight existing classes down to just three. The capability currently delivered by the Type 22s and Type 23s would be replaced by C1 and C2, while C3 would replace the capabilities of our existing mine warfare fleet but also offer additional capability for maritime security tasks."

C1 was envisaged as a multimission combatant, of about 6,000 tons displacement according to Janes.  It is  optimised for war fighting and would operate as an integral part of the maritime strike group or amphibious task group, offering high-end ASW, land attack and coastal suppression.  It would also have an organic MCM capability and facilities for an embarked military force.

C2 would meet the policy requirement for operations in support of small-scale stabilisation operations, sea line protection and chokepoint escort.

One continuing debate was whether C1 and C2 should be based on the same generic hull but with differences across their respective equipment fits to reflect the capability split between the two.

C3 was envisaged as a vessel of approximately 2,000 tonnes displacement with a range of 7,000 nm for constabulary and minor war vessel tasks.  Cdr Brunton said  "We see this vessel being used for maritime security and interdiction operations. It would also have a large mission bay aft, reconfigurable for special forces, MCM or a Lynx helicopter.

Cdre Brunton acknowledged that the roadmap developed under S2C2 "is not yet endorsed MoD policy", but added: "We are hoping for endorsement [in PR08] to make this option set a reality."

Analysis on the force mix continues. Early planning estimates suggest a requirement for 10 C1-type vessels and eight C2 ships. The initial requirement for C3 is thought to number eight ships, these being primarily roled for MCM as replacements for the current Hunt-class and Sandown-class vessels. However, this number could rise significantly if potential long-term replacements for the three River-class offshore patrol vessels, the Falkland Islands patrol vessel HMS Clyde, and the survey ships HMS Echo and HMS Enterprise later enter in to the equation.



The first FSC's are expected to enter service in the later years of the next decade - 2019 has been speculated by industry sources. 

The following pay-off dates for current vessels were officially published in March 2005:-

Type 22 Batch 3 frigates: HMS Cornwall (2015), HMS Cumberland (2017), HMS Campbeltown (2017), and HMS Chatham (2018). 

Type 23 frigates: HMS Argyll (2019), HMS Lancaster (2019), HMS Iron Duke (2020), HMS Monmouth (2021), HMS Montrose (2021), HMS Westminster (2021), HMS Northumberland (2022), HMS Richmond (2022), HMS Somerset (2023), HMS Sutherland (2025), HMS Kent (2028), HMS Portland (2028), HMS St. Albans (2029).

It was announced in June 2008 that only six Type 45 destroyers will be built.  The first FSC would thus need to enter service in 2015 to replace HMS Cornwall if the Royal Navy's escort force was not to drop below 23 units (6 Type 45 destroyers, 13 Type 23 frigates, and the remaining Type 22 Batch3 frigates).  This is very unlikely to happen given the current status (at August 2008) of the FSC project, indeed keeping the escort force strength above 19 units will now be very challenging for the Royal Navy.



Studies are being conducted in to the propulsion system of FSC, with assumption that standard NATO Dieso may come extremely expensive or even unobtainable towards the end of the ships likely in the 2050's.  Options include nuclear propulsion and bio-fuels. 



Currently (2007) details of the armament for the FSC are largely limited to speculation and concepts from industry.  However in September 2007 missile manufacturer MBDA that was was receiving funding from the Ministry of Defence the UK Defence Ministry for study and technology demonstrator work for a family of anti-air weapons.

The family, known as the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM), is aimed at meeting tri-service requirements from around 2018. In the land environment CAMM is intended to provide a successor to the Rapier point-defense missile system, while in the naval context it will provide a follow-on to the Sea Wolf missile, with FSC the obvious candidate for installation.

In August 2008 BAE Systems announced that had been awarded by the Ministry of Defence a £4 million contract to build and trial a new 155mm naval gun.  It stated that the next step for the programme, subject to a successful trial and MOD requirements, will be a full scale Technology Demonstrator Programme, leading to possible full manufacture and fit to the Future Surface Combatant 


Thales C2 Concept (2006)

In November 2006 Thales revealed some details of its then current thinking for a modular General Purpose frigate, apparently intended for what the S2C2 refer to as the medium-weight or C2 role.  The design concept evolved considerable over the next year - compare the graphic below with the F2020 picture at top of page.

A key principle adopted by Thales for the concept is that specialist capabilities are not required as “core capability”, for example Mine Counter Measure (MCM) systems, hydrographic and oceanographic (H&O) survey equipments, and embarked military force ((EMF) facilities.

The core combat systems are restricted to:

  • Primary weapon and sensor systems requiring major integration in ship structure, systems and with command systems

  • Major physical sensors and weapons, including:

    • Tactical MRR multi function radar (MFR)

    • Missile Vertical Launch System (VLS )

    • Main gun

  • Command and communications networks to support core systems and modular capabilities – open architectures (OSAs) are an essential enabler

This fit is suitable for a basic General Purpose frigate.  Further mission specific modular enhancements and capabilities can then be added as required, those proposed include:

  • MCM - Uninhabited Underwater Vehicle / Uninhabited Surface Vehicle (UUV/USV) systems

  • Merlin helicopter for ASW or other roles (helo + containers for onboard support)

  • EMF fit with additional RIBS, AUVs, RIBs + equipment containers

  • Additional accommodation for command team with planning and tactical data link facilities

  • H&O survey equipment

  • Uninhabited Air Vehicle / Uninhabited Surface Vehicle (UAV/USV) fit for surveillance and other effects in the littoral

  • Disaster relief – supplies, medical facilities, etc.

These systems are packaged in environmentally controlled ISO containers (preferably 20 feet long), with appropriate provisions for deck space and access; connections to ships power, heating, cooling and battery charging; and connection to ships command systems via a LAN for mission programming and data download.

Thales went in to considerable detail in relation to the ships organic MCM capabilities, which it has defined as "A capability that is vested in a non-specialist MCM platform, or vessel or platform that is not configured primarily for the conduct of MCM operations, which is able to deliver the required MCM effect immediately."

The modular design can be reconfigured as required.

Proposed ship self protective measures and tactics include machinery quiet states, degaussing and [low] speed.   Permanently fitted to the ship will be obstacle avoidance & Navigation sonar, and provision for UUV/USV launch and recovery systems. 

In relation to mission planning, data analysis and MW command tools, it's believed that elements could be embedded in the ships command system.   Alternatively much of the functionality could be part of the module supplied with the MCM package interfaced to the OSA core system.  Common consoles could be used to manage the MCM functionality in the command room.

Only a small number of additional Mine Warefare specialists will be required, namely a Command MCM Advisor; an Analyst; UUV/USV operators; and Maintainer(s).

The full “Toolkit” of MCM Options includes:

  • 2 medium UUVs (12.75” or 21”) - Sonar payloads (SAS, In Volume), Deep search or Reconnaissance

  • 6 small UUVs (9” or smaller) - Integrated payloads Shallow, Very Shallow or Confined water search

  • 2 USVs (9 – 11m RHIB or possibly Semi-Subs) with any of:

    • Acoustic and Magnetic sweeps for sub-optimal “hunting” conditions and for “un-huntable mines”

    • One Shot Disposal system including rails and ancillary equipment

    • Sonar Towfish - Area search SAS


VT C3 Concept (2007)

In September 2007 VT Shipbuilding, part of VT Group, announced a design concept tailored to the C3 element of the FSC programme - a general purpose vessels for worldwide deployment to fulfil tasks including minehunting, survey work and patrol duties.  It suggested that the first of class could enter service as early as 2012, although this seems very unlikely

VT has utilised the hull of the Ocean Patrol Vessel (OPV) that it is building for the Royal Navy of Oman to develop the FSC solution, although the ship has a larger equipment fit that increases displacement to just over 3,000 tonnes.

VT’s C3 design would have speeds in the region of 25 knots and would be diesel-powered, while there would be accommodation for up to 76. The ships would be built in steel but with provision for FRP composite in areas such as the masts.

The ships would essentially be compartmentalised by having the assets of a patrol vessel forward, while aft the ship would be equipped for its MCM and/or survey role. In its patrol role, armament would include guns of 76mm or 30mm calibre and provision for surface-to-air missiles if required.

MCM resources would provide a task force with front-line minehunting capability rather than having to wait for slower dedicated minehunting assets to arrive as present.

The design would include the option for a flight deck to accommodate a helicopter up to Merlin size and a weather protected working deck which would accommodate four 11 metre rigid inflatables or unmanned surface vessels. These could be deployed either by ship’s crane or via a stern ramp that would include an integral launch and recovery system. Space is also available for two 20 ft ISO containers to carry additional MCM or survey assets. Additional assets may be transported on the flight deck and deployed by the ship’s crane at the expense of the capacity to simultaneously carry out helicopter operations.

VT has offered the financing and support model employed for the RN’s River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels, i.e. VT would own the FSC vessels and charter them to the Ministry of Defence.  VT Export Sales Director Sym Taylor explained: “In this case, it makes more economic sense for the customer to contract for the lease of these ships over ten years, as opposed to five years for the Rivers. However, the principle would remain the same with the customer saving capital expenditure by paying for use on the basis of VT guaranteeing and delivering the required capability.

VT suggests that further savings would be made by using existing equipment technology and introducing commonality across the whole of the FSC class in elements such as engines, other key machinery and command systems. This would also enable maximum efficiencies to be derived from training and maintenance.


FSC Links

Defence Procurement Agency & BAE Systems - Type 45

Naval TechnologyHorizon CNGF (Type 45 Destroyer)



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 © 2004-13 Richard Beedall unless otherwise indicated.