Canada’s decision to select the BAE Systems/Lockheed Martin bid for the Canadian patrol frigate replacement has sent shock-waves through the naval community. Taken in combination with the June 28, 2018, announcement that the Australian Navy had selected the Type 26 frigate for its ANZAC replacement program, the position of the Type 26 has dramatically strengthened. In less than a year, the Type 26 has vaulted from a small, also-ran program to the leading contender in the international surface combatants market. With the Canadian order, assuming the present “preferred bidder” status is confirmed with a signed order, at least 32 Type 26 frigates are to be built.
Notably, both these recent orders have come from Commonwealth countries. There are significant suspicions that the rapidly approaching exit of the U.K. from the European Union was a major political factor in the selection of a British design. This interpretation sees these orders for British products as a mark of approval of the Commonwealth toward the return of Britain to its privileged position within Commonwealth economic circles.
This may or may not be true, but the fact remains that the Canadian and Australian orders have given the Type 26 frigate a major boost in the export market for surface combatants. An order book of the present size opens the way to significant additional sales, with Brazil and Chile being mentioned as possible future customers. British allies in the Middle East may also develop an interest in this frigate.
Another effect of the Commonwealth orders is that additional reductions in the British Type 26 frigate program are becoming increasingly unlikely. Suggestions that the number of Type 26s to be built for the Royal Navy may be reduced to six are now regarded as much less plausible than they were even six months ago.
This impression, however, may be misleading. It is becoming apparent that the driving factors behind the cutbacks to the Type 26 program are purely financial and that any strategic logic cited is no more than post-facto justification. The real issue is that the expense of the Dreadnought class SSBN program is draining procurement funds from the U.K. Royal Navy and the remaining resources will have to be spread very thinly. The Scottish Nationalist Party has picked up on this and has been quick to point out that building SSBNs rather than Type 26 frigates shifts construction from Scottish to English yards, something that was only made apparent after the Scottish Independence referendum was concluded. Already, less than a week after the Canadian order was announced, aggrieved Scottish nationalists were complaining that the Canadian ships would be built in Halifax, not on the Clyde.