(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Wed, 6 Sept 2017) London, Uk – –
A radical shake-up of how warships will be built for the Royal Navy that aims to spread the work around the country has been unveiled by the Ministry of Defence.
Proposals floated by industrialist Sir John Parker in his review of the sector last year have been backed by Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon in a move intended to deliver budget vessels to the British military that are also aimed at being attractive to foreign buyers.
Under the National Shipbuilding Strategy, Britain will buy five “Type 31e” general purpose frigates – a cut-price warship – to bolster the Royal Navy’s depleted fleet, with the first one intended to enter service in 2023.
Sir John recommended the new vessels be built at shipyards around the country, using the “modular” system employed to construct the huge Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
This saw giant blocks fabricated at sites around the UK, before being towed to Rosyth in Scotland were they were integrated into the 65,000-tonne ships by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, made up of BAE Systems, Babcock and Thales working with the MoD.
Backing his plans could threaten BAE’s near-monopoly on building vessels for the Navy, throwing it open to other entrants to the market, and raising concerns about jobs at the defence giant’s naval operations focused at its Clyde facilities in Glasgow.
Announcing the plan, the MoD said a £250m-per-ship price cap had been set for the vessels, which were revealed in the last defence review when the Government said it would purchase only eight of the more capable Type 26 frigates, with the Type 31 making up numbers.
“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,” the Defence Secretary said, adding the strategy would “help boost jobs, skills, and growth in shipyards and the supply chain across the UK”.
In July, the Government signed a £3.7bn contract with BAE for the first three Type 26s, underlining their relative expense.
A key focus of Sir John’s report was developing ships likely to be bought by foreign navies, helping create a secure foundation for Britain’s shipbuilders.
Responding to the announcement, Sir John – a trained naval architect who currently chairs Anglo American and has held senior jobs at companies including Babcock and Harland & Wolff – said he was “impressed by the Defence Secretary’s courage in adopting my recommendations, which were very extensive, and will change the shape of naval shipbuilding over the country”.
He added: “The next challenge is to come up with a world-leading design that can satisfy the needs of the Royal Navy and the export market. I see no reason why industry will not rise to that challenge.”
Another recommendation was that the MoD replaces ships once they reach the end of their natural lives, rather than extending their time in service thorough costly refits, creating uncertainty about when contracts to build new ships will be placed.
The £250m price cap was implemented as it was seen as the optimum price to encourage export orders, and the Government said it wants shipyards vying for the contracts to get export customers involved to increase the Type 31e’s marketability.
The prospect of work being spread across the UK has raised anger in some areas, with the GMB union claiming it will take away contracts from its Scottish members who were pledged the work.
Gary Cook, Scotland organiser for the GMB, said: “Let's be clear that the Type 31 contracts were originally promised to the Upper Clyde, so while shipbuilding communities across the UK would benefit from a work-share programme of the Type 31 work, this will be at the expense of the Upper Clyde despite its own future already[being] secured until the 2030s.”
Some defence commentators have questioned the usefulness of the budget vessels, and suggested that without the complex systems of their heavyweight sister ships they could be a liability in a war zone.