UK’s Type 23 frigate back at sea after massive overhaul

Back at sea for the first time in four and a half years is HMS St Albans – the penultimate Royal Navy frigate to undergo a massive overhaul.

Royal Navy

The Type 23 warship left Devonport Naval Base today on the first stage of its regeneration to return to front-line duties later this year.

The vessel will spend the next few weeks flashing up its systems and testing improved/refurbished machinery in the Channel to ensure all the work that has been carried out is effective.

The ship’s 178-strong crew moved back aboard in mid-November, since when they’ve been working hand-in-hand with contractors and engineers from defence firm Babcock, which has overseen the entire refit program.

“Going back to sea is a huge milestone. Today is the result of a real team effort where Ship’s Company, Babcock, other specialist contractors, shore-based support organisations, Devonport Naval Base and even some people from other Devonport-based ships have come together to help us transition from engineering project back to being a warship,” said HMS St Albans’ Commanding Officer Commander Helen Coxon

After nearly 20 years of constant service in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Gulf, St Albans arrived in Plymouth in 2019 to begin preparations for the refit, known as the life extension (LIFEX) upgrade.

The upgrade will help carry the class of Duke-class frigate into the middle of the next decade, while their successors – the Type 26 City-class currently under construction on the Clyde – enter service.

Revamping the 23s have been a massive undertaking stretching back a decade. Work on HMS St Albans alone has demanded more than 1.2 million working hours by sailors, civilian engineers and shipwrights, software specialists and many more.

All four diesel generators were replaced, meaning the ship can produce more power, the main engines removed, overhauled, and reinserted—a complex engineering feat, and a first for the project team.

More than two dozen new pumps with four kilometres of pipework have been fitted, and some 10,000 square metres of paintwork refreshed – that’s the size of a football pitch.

All weapons and sensors have been upgraded, not least the installation of the Sea Ceptor air defence system which can provide protection to an area the size of Greater Manchester against incoming threats in the skies.

As a dedicated submarine hunter, the ship has been fitted with Sonar 2150 in place of 2050, which can detect underwater threats at greater range and is easier to operate.

After the initial trials in the Channel, St Albans will return to base for any necessary tweaks to the work carried out in refit, before starting the work-up to becoming fully operational again, which culminates with Operational Sea Training off Plymouth.

Just one Type 23 frigate is left to complete the LIFEX program: HMS Sutherland, which is currently in Devonport’s frigate refit complex.