LONDON — German plans to acquire a fleet of new combat ships through a European competition have opened the door to a possible sale of the British Royal Navy's Type 26 frigate design, BAE Systems executives said.

The German Ministry of Defense is expected soon to issue invitations to tender to several of Europe's big naval shipyards as it seeks designs for a 7,500-metric-ton multirole combat ship known as the MKS180.

Berlin is looking to open up a defense procurement process that has been battered over the last year or so by criticisms of cost overruns and program delays. Traditionally the German MoD has handed naval contracts to local shipyards like ThyssenKrupp Marine, Lurssen and German Naval Yards, Now, it looks like other European shipbuilders may be given a chance to provide designs.

The German Navy plans to acquire four MKS180s with options for a further two vessels.

BAE's naval ship business, based in Glasgow, Scotland, hopes to take advantage of the more open procurement process in Germany by offering a design based on the Type 26, also known as the global combat ship in export markets.

"It's early days," said Geoff Searle, the Type 26 program director at BAE. "German teams been over here, and there has been ministerial discussion. ... We are certainly interested in the program. They have a similar requirement to the Type 26."

German Naval Yards has already had discussions with BAE about the British company providing design expertise for its proposal to design and build MKS180s at the German company's Kiel-based company's facilities, German sources said.

BAE is talking to potential partners to explore how best to respond to the requirement, a company spokeswoman said, but she declined to confirm German Naval Yards was the company involved in the discussions.

One German defense analyst, who asked not to be named, said the British will have to keep a low profile to have any chance of success.

"The last thing the German Naval Yard wants is reference to a British ship," he said. "No one will think of buying a British ship. The yard will compete with a German offer based on a BAE design. The ship will be built in Germany and will have no UK equipment like command and control or electronics."

Other European rivals such as DCNS, Fincantieri and Navantia also may weigh in with bids, although some of the potential players are keeping their options open ahead of the requirement becoming clearer.

A DCNS spokesman said the French company had "not yet decided whether to enter [the German competition] or not."

An Italian industrial source said Fincantieri was monitoring the situation to understand the requirement before it decides whether to get involved.

Germany is the latest of several potential partners BAE has courted for involvement with the Type 26 program. So far the effort is unsuccessful.

Searle said the company continues to pursue a number of export opportunities, including programs in Australia and Canada.

The continuing export effort comes as BAE works to mature its Type 26 design effort and to push through a major transformation of its two yards on the River Clyde in Scotland. The two yards are home to a £1 billion (US $1.56 billion) a year naval ships operation currently leading an industry alliance building two 65,000-metric-ton aircraft carriers and three offshore patrol vessels for the Royal Navy.

BAE also has a maritime services and nuclear submarines business which, together with naval ships, generates about £2.4 billion in revenues and employs some 15,000 people across the UK.

The transformation effort has seen the company recently commit to spending £100 million to improve facilities at its Govan and Scotstoun yards, and to embark on a program of work practices and process changes aimed at placing it in the top 25 percent of the world's naval shipbuilders in terms of efficiency.

BAE is poised to firm up its list of major equipment suppliers for Type 26 ships in the next few weeks following the award of an £859 million demonstration contract awarded by the British government in April to complete detail design and acquire long-lead items for the first three ships. The Royal Navy plans a fleet of 13 anti-submarine warfare-general purpose frigates.

BAE completed functional engineering design on the Type 26 and is now into spatial design.

Protracted negotiations with the MoD over a production contract and a schedule for the delivery of the first three vessels are ongoing but a plan to cut first metal next year remains in place.

MoD officials previously talked about 2022 for first delivery of the Type 26, but Searle said 2021 was also being discussed. While delivery of the first warship is not yet set in stone, the requirement is to replace the first of the Type 23 fleet in 2023, he said.

BAE is expecting a production contract for three ships after completion of the yearlong demonstration phase next April.

Tom Kington contributed to this story,