LONDON — A new fleet of frigates for the Royal Navy moved a step closer Wednesday with prime contractor BAE Systems awarding long-lead item production contracts worth more than £170 million (US $265 million).

The contracts, which involve seven suppliers plus a deal with a BAE business unit, will see equipment and systems starting to be delivered next year for the first three of what is hoped will be a 13-strong fleet of Type 26 anti-submarine warfare/general purpose frigates needed by the Royal Navy. The new warship is needed to replace an aging fleet of Type 23s.

Babcock, David Brown Gear Systems, GE Power Conversion , Raytheon Anschuetz, Rolls-Royce Power Engineering, Rohde & Schwarz and WR Davis have all signed contracts, as has BAE's combat systems team.

BAE is four months into a yearlong, £859 million demonstration phase contract awarded by the government to allow the shipbuilder to continue with detailed design and purchase of long-lead items while extended negotiations over price and delivery for the first batch of warships is hammered out by the two sides.

Geoff Searle, BAE's Type 26  program director, said the supply contracts were an important step forward in building momentum around the program. The company hopes to have about 47 contracts placed with 30 equipment suppliers by the end of the demonstration phase.

Some £600 million of the demonstration phase deal will be spent on equipment from suppliers in Britain as well as North America and Europe.

BAE is looking to sign a production contract for the first three ships of the class after completion of the demonstration phase at the end of March 2016. Searle said BAE was still on track to cut the first steel for the Type 26 in late 2016 but that was contingent on a signing of the production contract.

Discussions over delivery of the first Type 26 continue but either 2021 or 2022 are likely dates, allowing the Royal Navy to start pensioning off the first of its Type 23 fleet by 2023.

Searle said during a recent briefing at BAE's naval shipyards operation on the Clyde, Scotland, that various delivery options for the first ship were still being looked at.

Whatever handover date is agreed, the equipment from suppliers is scheduled to start arriving late next year.

Simon Slifkin, commercial director for naval systems at Rolls-Royce, said the first engines from the company are due to be delivered late next year.

The company has signed a production deal for supply of its MT30 gas turbine and continues to work under earlier design contracts for diesel engines supplied by its German operation, as well as steering gear, stabilizer and mission bay handling equipment.

David Brown Gear Systems Managing Director Steve Watson said the company would deliver fully tested gearboxes for the three consecutive warships starting in 2017.

The last of the three warships is expected to be delivered by the end of 2024 from the company's Govan and Scotstoun yards on the Clyde.

The Type 26, also known as the Global Combat Ship, will have an operational displacement of around 7,000 tons, have a range of some 7,000 nautical miles and be able to land helicopters as large as the Chinook on its deck.

The company is discussing possible export sales of the design with Australia, Canada and Germany.

BAE soon will start a £100 million makeover of the yards as part of a transformation effort aimed at putting them among the most efficient warship builders in the world ahead of production of the Type 26s.

The company is currently building three offshore patrol vessels for the Royal Navy on the Clyde and is coming to the end of its construction of modules for the second of two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers being built at the nearby Babcock International yard at Rosyth.

Confirmation about the number of Type 26s to be ordered and over what time frame they will be delivered is likely to emerge in the upcoming strategic defense and security review (SDSR) the government is expected to reveal in the final quarter of this year.

Expectations of a 12-month drumbeat for production of the warships was thrown into uncertainty earlier this year when Chancellor George Osborne announced during a visit to Portsmouth naval dockyard that he had asked officials to look at the possibility of building one complex warship every two years as part of a new national maritime strategy.

Government officials declined to give any update about the strategy saying the issue would be addressed in the SDSR.


Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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