DOHA, Qatar — For the first time ever, British company BAE Systems launched its proposed design for the Type 31e (e for export) frigate competition outside the United Kingdom.

The Type 31e frigate contender made its international debut at the Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference held earlier this week, coinciding with the release of the pre-qualification questionnaire for the program’s competitive design phase by the U.K. Ministry of Defence.

BAE is in a joint bid for the Type 31e contract with Liverpool shipbuilder Cammell Laird. The design is in part based on the Khareef class of corvettes delivered to the Omani navy by BAE.

The frigates are currently being designed for export and a key part of the program is “adaptability and flexibility of the warship in order to meet the customer’s requirements,” said Kevin Joyce, international business development for naval ships at BAE Systems.

In addition to the design, BAE Systems is working on the ship’s combat management system to support requirements of potential international customers. The CMS will add enhanced features through its open, secure, and flexible architecture, ensuring it can be upgraded as new technology is developed to counter threats.

On potential export sales, Joyce said that the company “already got interest from two South American customers on the Type 31e,”

Another industry official stressed the growing interest in the Type 31 frigate, stating that “BAE had visits from a lot of potential customers who are looking to know more about this very capable warship program.”

Tony Graham, Cammell Laird’s Type 31e project director told a suppliers conference recently the two companies had already worked up an international market plan for their design, known as the Leander.

“We have a global campaign plan for the Type 31e program and have identified opportunities in more than 20 countries,” said Graham, who was previously a senior executive in charge of the MoD’s combat ships procurement effort. “Our intent is to build a warship export business based on Leander. The MoD has indicated it is willing to sign a business agreement alongside the contract to help industry export the Type 31e. This joint approach between the government and the Royal Navy producing a proper business plan for exports has never been seen before.”

The proposed frigate will navigate at a top speed of more than 25 knots at a range of at least 7,500 miles.

Back in 2015, the British government announced plans to build a fleet of at least five light general purpose frigates under the Strategic Defence and Security Review, or SDSR, and has since been conducting early concept and other work on the Type 31.

“The purpose of this program was to serve our Royal Navy and international customers. The Type 31e will be designed to be operable in international waters, including the Gulf”, Joyce added.

The Royal Navy is currently looking to replace five Type 23 frigates with five brand new Type 31s. However, the UK government has a “long commitment to grow the Royal Navy’s fleet, which could lead to the increase of those units in the years to come,” the official added.

The Type 31 frigates and eight new Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates are planned to replace the British Royal Navy’s Type 23 fleet by the mid-2030s.

BAE already has a contract to build the first three Type 26s. A deal for the remaining five warships is expected early in the next decade.

The first Type 31e warship is to be delivered in 2023 with the British MoD capping the total cost of the five units at £1.25 billion, or $1.74 billion.

“The program is in the pre-procurement phase and we intend to run the competition this year and select a single consortium by the end of 2018,” said a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman.

“We will award a single design and build contract in 2019, allowing us to trial and accept the first ship into service by 2023,” she said. “Type 31e is a priority in our current financial plans and we will finalise the budget and schedule when the main gate investment point has been reached.

BAE executives have previously said meeting the MoD’s time schedule will present a huge challenge to industry.

In a concurrence of events, BAE’s launch of the Type 31e design internationally coincided with the pre-qualification questionnaire and invitation to tender (ITT) for the competitive design phase of the program.

Up to four companies will be awarded competitive design-phase contracts a British Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said Mar 16.

The spokesman declined to say who received the tender documents, but a Babcock International/BMT Defence Services team offering a new frigate design will likely be among the front runners for the deal, along with BAE.

The Royal Navy’s Type 31 is to be fitted with the Advanced Radar Target Indication Situational Awareness and Navigation (ARTISAN) radar, Sea Ceptor anti-air missile, and an unidentified gun.

BAE reckons it is best to use the Bofors 57 mm gun. “It is our preferred choice,”said Joyce. “But that depends on how the requirement goes,”

For its part, Rolls Royce will be supplying the MT30 engine and a range of equipment including steering gear, rudders, propellers and mission bay handling systems for the BAE/Cammell Laird bid.

Andrew Chuter in London contributed to this story.

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