WASHINGTON — Britain’s Ministry of Defence unveiled Monday its top three contenders for the planned Type 31e frigate, a scaled-down frigate that it wants to be able to both export and buy in numbers to eventually grow the size of the fleet.

The MoD announced contract awards to BAE Systems, Babcock and Atlas Elektronik UK, each worth up to £5 million (U.S. $6 million) to push ahead with the next phase of the competition, according to an MoD release.

The U.K. plans to initially build five of the frigates, with a top-line budget of £1.25 billion for the whole program.

“This is the first frigate competition the UK has run in a generation, and today we are funding three shipbuilding teams with extremely exciting concepts to continue developing their plans,” Britain’s defense acquisition minister, Stuart Andrew, said in the release. “Next year we will announce the winning bidder, and one of these designs will go on to bolster our future fleet with five new ships, creating UK jobs and ensuring our Royal Navy maintains a truly global presence in an increasingly uncertain world.”

The first Type 31e warship is slated for delivery in 2023. 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.

The shortlisting comes just days after the MoD named the contractors it was listing as contenders to build three fleet solid support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the service that supplies the Royal Navy with ammo, food and fuel.

The British contender is a partnership comprising BAE, Babcock, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.

International bidders are Fincantieri of Italy, Navantia of Spain, Japan Marine United Corporation, and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering of South Korea.

A winning bidder is expected to be announced in 2020, with the first ship ready for sea in 2026.

One of the main tasks of the Fleet Solid Support vessels will be to provide the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier with task groups on deployment.

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.

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

More In Naval