Defence Secretary Outlines 'New Approach' To Building Warships

6 September 2017, 05:33

BAE Systems shipbuilding on the clyde

A new fleet of multimillion-pound warships could be built in blocks across several British shipyards and then assembled at a central hub, the Defence Secretary has announced.

Sir Michael Fallon said the first batch of new Type 31e frigates would be built with the export market in mind, with the UK shipbuilding industry potentially serving both the Royal Navy and navies of allies and partners.

As part of this approach, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that the first batch of five Type 31e frigates could be built across different shipyards, before being assembled at a central site.

Their cost would be capped at no more than £250 million each.

The frigates are due to be in service by 2023 and shipyards would be encouraged to ensure the vessel was competitive on the global market by working with "global partners".

The plans form part of a new national shipbuilding strategy which accepts the recommendations of an independent report into the industry by Sir John Parker, the chairman of mining giant Anglo American.

In November, Sir John said the Navy fleet was being depleted by a "vicious cycle" of old ships retained beyond their sell-by date, and found that the procurement of naval ships took too long from concept to delivery compared with other industries.

He recommended a "sea change", with "pace and grip" from the Government so that shipyards across the UK could compete to win work and create jobs.

Sir Michael said: "This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.

"Backed up by a commitment to spend billions on new ships, our plan will help boost jobs, skills and growth in shipyards and the supply chain across the UK."

The separation of the building work for the new frigates reflects the approach taken for the Navy's biggest ever ship, the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The MoD said the ship was built in blocks by more than 10,000 people in six British cities, before being assembled in Rosyth in Scotland, then commencing sea trials in June and arriving in her home port of Portsmouth last month.

The method was also used to build British polar research ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough, which the majority of respondents to an online poll famously wanted to name Boaty McBoatface.

Sir John said: "I am very impressed by the courage that the Secretary of State has shown - and the Government - in adopting my recommendations, which were very extensive, and will change the shape of naval shipbuilding over the country in the future.

"The next challenge is to come up with a world-leading design; one that can satisfy the needs of the Royal Navy and the export market.

"We have the capability to do that, the will is there and it is a tremendous opportunity for UK shipbuilding.

"I see no reason why industry will not rise to that challenge.

"There is an incredible keenness from around the country, from Scotland to Merseyside, to the South West and over to Belfast."

The GMB union's national officer Ross Murdoch said: "Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels are key to unlocking the massive economic and employment potential of UK shipbuilding.

"Any national shipbuilding strategy worth of the name must have a plan for RFAs at its heart.

"Without a clear commitment from Government, it will be foreign competitors who will benefit from vital work that should be taking place in UK yards, a glaring missed opportunity for the UK Government as Brexit negotiations continue."

Scottish National Party defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said: ''This has been very long awaited - long promised and is depressingly as expected from this UK Government.

"It is nothing to do with ambition - it is all about squeezing costs to the bone and cutting corners, and still leaves real uncertainties for the future for workers at Scottish shipyards and the communities that depend on them."