THIS is the first look at what around 3,000 Hampshire workers are hoping will be providing the lion’s share of their employment by 2013.

Called the Type 26 Frigate, it represents the likely future of combat ships for the Royal Navy and could be partly built and maintained in the county.

BAE systems, which now owns the former VT Group facility in Portsmouth, has won a four-year £127m contract from the Ministry of Defence to develop a replacement for the existing Type 22 and Type 23 frigates.

Although the design and research work will be done in Bristol, if it is ultimately approved sections of the Type 26 are likely to be built in Hampshire.

They would then be floated up to BAE’s other yards on the Clyde for final assembly in the same way as the recent Type 45 destroyers have been.

Alan Johnston, managing director of BAE Systems Surface Ships, said: “This is an exciting step in a programme that is hugely important not only for the Royal Navy but for the whole of the UK maritime industry.”