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The future Type 31 frigates to be operated by the UK Royal Navy (RN) will be equipped with the US-designed Mk 41 Vertical Launch System, RN-focused website reported on 17 May 2023.

The website quoted RN First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key as saying at the First Sea Lord’s Sea Power Conference in London on 17 May, “We also need to advance our ability to deliver lethal long-range offensive fires against our adversaries. Hence the decision to ensure the Mark 41 Vertical Launch Silo is fitted to the Type 26 and, I am delighted to say, we intend to fit it also to our Type 31 frigates. This will enable potential use of a large variety of current and future anti-air, anti-surface, ballistic missile defence and strike missiles.” 

While the RN’s future Type 26 frigates were always destined to have 24 Mk 41 ‘strike-length’ VLS cells in addition to 48 vertical launch cells for SeaCeptor (CAMM) air-defence missiles, the Type 31 frigates were planned as lower-cost, general-purpose frigates that would conduct more lower-end RN operations compared with the more capable Type 26s. It was therefore stated by the then First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, in November 2021 that the Type 31s would be fitted ‘for but not with’ the Mk 41 VLS. 

As well as air-defence and anti-submarine missiles, the Mk 41 VLS is capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, giving ships hosting it a significant land-attack capability. In future the Mk 41 VLS will enable the potential use of a large variety of current and future anti-air, anti-surface, ballistic missile defence and strike missiles. These will include the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon currently being developed by MBDA, which will ultimately replace the Harpoon missile in RN service (an interim capability will be provided by the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile). 

A CGI of a Type 31 frigate. The RN’s First Sea Lord has confirmed that the UK’s Type 31 frigates will feature the Mk 41 VLS as well as the RN’s Type 26 frigates. (Image: Babcock)

How many Mk 41 VLS cells will be installed in the Type 31 frigates was not explicitly outlined, but noted that the ships were “built with the foundation structural seats for four eight-cell Mk 41 strike-length VLS modules”.

When ESD approached the UK Ministry of Defence for comment on 18 May, an RN spokesperson said, “The Mk 41 Vertical Launching System will deliver surface-launched strike operations against a full spectrum of targets. Working closely with the US Navy, we have commenced an assessment phase to explore the options and costs associated with fitting T31 with Mk 41. It is too early to provide any further information whilst this commercially sensitive work is ongoing.”

This assessment phase will determine configuration and installation options for the Type 31 fleet.

 Babcock International was awarded a contract in November 2019 to build five Type 31 frigates. Construction of the first frigate, Venturer, began in May 2022 at Babcock’s yard in Rosyth, Scotland. 

Peter Felstead