• Lighter vessel was devised as alternative to pricey Type 26
  • More basic ship may also offer improved export prospects

Britain could increase its order for a lighter class of naval frigates announced last year beyond the current five vessels, U.K. Defence Procurement Minister Philip Dunne said in an interview Tuesday.

“It’s possible we will build more,” Dunne said at the Singapore Air Show. “We are due to publish later this year -- the back end of the year -- a national shipbuilding strategy when we will make clear how this will all come together.”

The more basic frigate was announced in November when Prime Minister David Cameron said the costlier Type 26 model would be limited to eight vessels. The initial commitment to five of the new ships alongside the Type 26 would keep the Royal Navy frigate fleet at 13, matching the current setup.

BAE Systems Plc, which is building the Type 26, would likely benefit from further orders for the lighter vessel, which Defense News reported will be known as the Type 31, though Europe’s largest defense company hasn’t been guaranteed the work. BAE is investing 100 million pounds ($143 million) in its Scotstoun and Govan naval yards in Glasgow where the Type 26 will safeguard jobs once two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers enter service after 2020.

A bigger order for the light frigate, the most basic class of general purpose naval vessel, would aim to avoid “peaks and troughs” that have afflicted U.K. warship building for 20 years, Dunne said. Britain is building five offshore patrol vessels largely to smooth the carrier-Type 26 transition.

The new vessels might also have better export prospects than the Type 26, which BAE has pitched for contracts in Canada and Germany but has cautioned may be too expensive and well equipped to be in the running for many deals.

Britain has sent its biggest-ever delegation to Singapore for the world’s third-largest aviation expo, Dunne said, targeting increased military spending in Southeast Asia amid tensions over Chinese policy in the South China Sea. Deals would help offset any slump in key Mideast sales tied to the lower oil price.

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