The Fleet Solid Support Ship project has been given an “amber/red” rating by the Infrastructure Project Authority, warning that the cancellation and resumption of the competition to build the vessels placed the £1.6bn project at significant risk.

The project was suspended in October 2019 following suggestions that efforts were being made to relaunch the project with a requirement that the ships be built in the UK. The competition was later relaunched, more about that below.

According to the 2021 Annual Report on the Government Major Projects Portfolio from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which can be found here, The Fleet Solid Support Ship project is categorised with a level of risk.

“Compared to financial year 19/20-Q2, the Infrastructure Project Authority’s Delivery Confidence Assessment rating increased from Amber to Amber/red.

This is primarily due to the following factors:

  • A Programme re-set, including approval for a revised Outline Business Case following the cancellation of the Fleet Solid Support competition in October 2019.
  • Progress has continued spanning the reporting period, achieving a number of key activities and advancing through the approvals that are required to enable a new procurement to start in 2021, as announced publicly and directed by the Secretary of State for Defence on 21 October 2020.
  • The Outline Business Case was considered and passed through Navy Command and Defence Equipment & Support assurance processes in November 2020 and completed Investment Approvals Committee consideration as expected in December 2020.
  • As of 31 March 21, the final Departmental approval is still awaited. This approval will enable the new competition to commence, with the internal project and commercial aspects in place and ready to proceed. Delivery confidence remains under constant review.”

What does ‘Amber/Red’ mean?

The IPA describe this rating in the following way:

“Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to address these problems and/or assess whether resolution is feasible.”

The Tempest jet project is also rated as “Amber/Red”, you can read more about that here.

Tempest jet investment ‘significantly less than required’

What are the Fleet Solid Support Ships?

Earlier this year, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace launched a competition to build three new Fleet Solid Support Ships to provide vital support to Royal Navy operations across the world. The vessels will provide munitions, food, stores and provisions to support the UK Carrier Strike Group at sea.

DE&S’ Director General Ships, Vice Admiral Chris Gardner, said previously:

“The launch of the Fleet Solid Support competition presents a really exciting opportunity for the shipbuilding industry to support the design and build of a new class of ship that will primarily resupply our Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. It is also another step in implementing the National Shipbuilding Strategy and increasing our domestic maritime construction capacity and capability alongside the Type 26 and Type 31 programmes already underway. The FSS ships will join the QEC Task Group, carrying out replenishment at sea to supply stores and ammunition to sustain operations, which is essential to meeting the UK’s defence commitments. To do this the ships will be able to transfer loads of more than two tonnes at a time while at high speed.”

The manufacture contract award is expected to be made within two years, following approvals.

Competition for three Fleet Solid Support ships launched

You can read more by clicking here.

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Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
4 days ago

It’ll happen, all will be fine.

They’re needed. There is nothing else bar Fort Vic.

Deep32
Deep32
4 days ago

Absolutely agree mate, don’t know how many the eventual total will be 2-3, but no FSSS = no carrier deployments.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
4 days ago
Reply to  Deep32

I am 100% that they will be built as @Deep32 says it would be unacceptable not to given the political capital that has been put into CSG etc The question is what other functionality is bolted onto them? And I suspect that this is what the delay actually is. Do they get a lot of flat top etc? They already had some degree of aviation facilities. Could they be used for drone launching with a limited catapult as well? They would always be with the CSG. They are long and have the beam to accommodate off-deck servicing. Problem with bolting… Read more »

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
4 days ago

Hi Supportive Bloke, You have just perfectly described ‘mission creep’ as applied to the equipment procurement programmes. It is the single biggest reason programmes over run and in my experience is down to a lack of focus, suitable understanding of the engineering cycle and leadership within the procurement system. If you want a successful programme: 1) Sort out the requirements properly up front. This often means spending MORE initially, but do this bit RIGHT because it will save x10 later; 2) Always build in a reasonable amount of flexibility e.g. build ships big or give armoured vehicles a bit of… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

From reading the comments from those here who know item 5 is common.

Can we employ you as head of DES from your home mate?

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
3 days ago

I’d echo that.

The number of meeting I’ve sat in a meeting where a bright idea, often from an academic that has not been properly stress tested, becomes part of the development curve was frightening. It was also frighteningly expensive and time consuming.

This is why I like the T31 / QEC model of procurement. Keep it big & simple to separate out the build from the up-armament costs.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
3 days ago

Uh, loud thunk as CR’s head hits table in a vain effort to dull the memories of loooonnnnng boring pointless meetings with zero outcome…

Or worse… a short sharp meeting on returning from a couple of days off to find a project I was in charge of had been completely derailed by the customer… Aghhhhhhh!

I can laugh now, but…

Cheers CR

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
3 days ago

Hmm, I sure we could come to a suitable agreement mate 🙂 To be fair even if DES did everything prefectly there would still be issues as complex technology based projects are never straight forward and always fraught with risks, but too many projects are bedevilled with clever and smart people doing, frankly, stupid things, often because they simply do not have the experience or personal ‘tools’ to make the right decisions. Officers trained to make decisions on the battlefield or in humanitarian situations simply do not have the tools to deal with the long drawn out engineering process. They… Read more »

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
3 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

That is the beauty of research and the other interesting and sometimes useful things you trip over in the journey.

It can all be a lot of fun.

They key is having practical people in the room who are going at getting to the end result.

Although I did once run into the “if it that easy it can’t be any good” issue when we did over a weekend what someone else said would take nine months and ££££……

Sceptical Richard
Sceptical Richard
3 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

Completely 100% agree with you CR. Also could be that in the time between the last procurement being cancelled and this one being re-launched, the original money got squirrelled away on other things and the money men are now desperately looking who to rob of funds not yet committed to fund this lot. Often seen that happen. Another moral of the story: Once you launch something, DON’T stop it and try to re-launch it thinking you can do it better second time round!

Johan
Johan
3 days ago

so correct, money will have been moved and now there is no pot. should of never of stopped the procurement it kill projects

Nick C
Nick C
3 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

A really good illustration of what happens when you don’t adhere to your 5points is the Ajax programme. What started out as a 19 ton vehicle is now 40 tons(light tank?) and at least 4years late and wildly over budget. It appears that at no stage in the project did anyone stop the latest good idea being absolutely what we need, and “mission creep” is exactly what has happened. If anyone is interested the last issue of Private Eye has a very good piece about General Dynamics appearing in front of the Defence Select Committee. You don’t have to even… Read more »

Trevor
Trevor
3 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

Excellent analysis, and from experience would place 3) near the top of the list! Would it be fair to say that there is something seriously wrong with MoD procurement. They have had over 20 years now to figure out the answers to the above, and yet here we are now with 2 active carriers without the supply chain essential to any serious deployment, and a key part (FSS) not even ready to order.

Lee1
Lee1
2 days ago
Reply to  Trevor

May I remind you that the MOD is a Government department. It is entirely controlled by whichever government is in power. The current Government could have overhauled the entire department and fixed the long standing issues. The fact that they have not is entirely on the shoulders of our PM.

Marc
Marc
2 days ago
Reply to  Lee1

Hahahahaha.

Steve
Steve
3 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

I suspect it’s mainly about games of polictics. The MOD keep making the same mistake of wanting to building specialist platforms rather than more universal ones. Then the next cuts arrive or the process to trigger the next one’s is started and the dedicated platform is suddenly seen as a way to cover other capability allowing cuts elsewhere in the fleet and so needs to be redesigned and as the programs are very long this probably happens multiple times.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
4 days ago

I like the idea of drone launching, it has some ‘first thought’ logic to it and could help free up the carriers and their deck space somewhat to concentrate on their present/future duties even if they exercised control of those drones once launched. I guess with the big rethink on tactics and platforms inevitably effected by progressive drone development over the next decade or so, before it starts (in terms of purpose/capability) to solidify/mature through actual experience much has to be considered. Building in some flexibility for drone exploitation to offer opportunities for using them to the fullest as and… Read more »

expat
expat
3 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

I believe the RN are looking for a Heavy Lift Drone. At sea replenishment is the obvious use. Perhaps this has altered the original requirements.

https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/royal-navy-looking-for-heavy-lift-drone/

Sean
Sean
3 days ago
Reply to  expat

Exactly what I was thinking. If the FSS had a squadron of Heavy Lift Drones about it could replenish several ships in a CSG simultaneously.

Dern
Dern
4 days ago

Aren’t the other two Forts still in pretty good condition and their tenders for sale withdrawn?

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 days ago
Reply to  Dern

I was told on here they are both knackered and laid up? I don’t know any more. Tenders withdrawn?

Dern
Dern
3 days ago

Apologies if I’m using the wrong term, but as I understand it, the other two Forts where laid up and for sale on the international market, but earlier this year the MoD announced quietly that they are no longer for sale and will remain mothballed in RFA service. Can’t remember the timeline, but I assume this happened after the Fort Vic defect.

Fort Austin at least looks to be in decent condition
*edit* huh, for some reason my photo won’t attach.

Last edited 3 days ago by Dern
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 days ago
Reply to  Dern

Right, interesting.

I did not know that the sale had been cancelled.

Lusty
Lusty
3 days ago

The sales arrangements are often confusing, and at times, they can go through many iterations. Walney and Dill have had a few notices posted, only for them to be withdrawn.

I’m not sure what’s going on with the older Forts. The last I heard, they left service on the last day of the previous financial year. If Dern has a source that states otherwise, I’d be very interested in reading it (not trying to sound rude here, just purely curious).

Paul.P
Paul.P
3 days ago
Reply to  Lusty

Fort Austin…National Flag Ship ?

Dern
Dern
3 days ago
Reply to  Lusty

All I have is the gov.uk site listing the summary of their sale as withdrawn and the twitter post that lead me to it I’m afraid:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/notice-of-the-potential-sale-of-the-former-rfa-austin-and-rfa-rosalie-for-recycling-only/rfa-fort-austin-sales-summary

https://twitter.com/sebh1981/status/1425533865570050054

Didn’t come off as rude at all btw. 🙂

Last edited 3 days ago by Dern
KLD
KLD
3 days ago

Hi Daniele, they are both down the road from me in Birkenhead docks, you do occasionally see/here them getting started up. They still look in good knick.

coll
coll
3 days ago
Reply to  KLD

And a type 45. There really seems quite a few ships in Birkenhead and one in Seaforth.

Last edited 3 days ago by coll
Paul.P
Paul.P
3 days ago
Reply to  Dern

https://www.harland-wolff.com/news/former-first-sea-lord-joins-board/
I’d have a small bet that H&W are going to put in a bid for both the FSS new build and for a refit of one or more Forts.

Last edited 3 days ago by Paul.P
Paul42
Paul42
3 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Given the ridiculous delays with the acquisition of the new vessels, at least one of the existing laid up Forts needs to be refitted along the same lines as Vic and brought back into service asap. When Vic returns from the CSG21 she’s going to need a refit leaving us with no ability to deploy a CSG independently……

simon
simon
3 days ago
Reply to  Paul42

I dont think they can be refitted to the same standad as Fort Victoria. I believe the replenishment rig wouldn’t fit and there are issues with spare parts. They are both nearly 44 years old

Johan
Johan
3 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

The trouble is when did H & W last build a ship. this is the major headache with most of the Scottish yards building wind turbines

Dern
Dern
3 days ago
Reply to  Johan

Well, they’re partnered with Navantia, so that problem should take care of itself.

Fedaykin
Fedaykin
2 days ago
Reply to  Dern

That is yet to be seen, even with Navantia help the process of restoring H&W Belfast to a working build yard represents a high risk to the programme if they were awarded the contract. I can’t see them doing it without at least some build of major sections in Spain.

Marc
Marc
2 days ago
Reply to  Johan

Maybe that is the reason they bought Appledore for their shipbuilding expertise?

Sean
Sean
3 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Certainly looks like they’re going after naval work and given the frigate contracts are all signed the FSS would be the prime target.

Paul.P
Paul.P
3 days ago
Reply to  Sean

It would be good news for Belfast ; a symbolic resurrection of H&W albeit with help from Navantia.

Johan
Johan
3 days ago
Reply to  Dern

like a lot of the older RN fleet, they are not capable of running the new range of systems, due to power supply limits

Robert Blay.
Robert Blay.
4 days ago

Exactly. Nothing to worry about 👍

Andy P
Andy P
4 days ago

Yeah my initial thoughts too and it’s good to see others of a similar stance instead of us seeing the headline and working ourselves up to a death spin over it.

Lele1
Lele1
2 days ago

Amber red is not a mark of if the project will be completed, it is an indication that the project will cost far more then it needs to and will likely not deliver the full capability it is supposed to. Any project can be delivered, Nimrod could have been delivered, it just could not be delivered with the required capability for anywhere near the required price. Tempest though is a different matter. I would love it to be successful, however I can see it being a project designed to keep people thinking Boris cares while it is actually far below… Read more »

David
David
4 days ago

They’ll be ordered just before the next general election. Cynical, moi?

Airborne
Airborne
4 days ago

I understood that most of the major projects were amber/red. More to do with long term accepted risk managment than any real possibilty of it being canned. They are essential, and even the dumbest politican could be made to see that.

Rudeboy1
Rudeboy1
3 days ago
Reply to  Airborne

I’ve put this comment in response to the Tempest programme elsewhere, its just as true here… I do wish the trade press (and the press in general) would actually get a real understanding of IPA RAG statuses. Yes there is a clear definition of what each level means (Red, Red/Amber, Amber, Amber/Green and Green) in writing, but the actual RAG status assigned to GMPP programmes is given in a rather opaque manner. Reviewers are brought in to an IPA review (either at a defined Gateway, or at the request of the SRO for a semi private PAR) and assign a… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy1

This is really interesting.

Literally a red rag to the bull.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
3 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy1

Well I guess there is a balancing force for the conspiracy of optimism I used to encounter, espeically when some new tech (usually from the ‘Americans’) was being touted. For every force…

And very well done for delivering…

Cheers CR

Rudeboy1
Rudeboy1
3 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

A lot depends on the Programme Team as well. We purposely wanted a Red RAG status initially…Why? Because it meant we got noticed politically and got assigned resources and funding when we asked, the consequences of not delivering were too onerous for anyone to get in our way. My SRO actually stated once that if the IPA reviewing team had tried to give us anything other than Red then an argument would have ensued…they would have been ‘persuaded’ to give us a Red….

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
3 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy1

Oh what games we have to play…

Of course if you had got amber or heaven forbid green then you would have been starved of resources until you were in the red, only you would have been blamed for the situation to boot!

Strange and silly world we live in sometimes  😂  laugh and weep at the same time.

Cheers CR

expat
expat
3 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy1

Spot on, people need to understand the difference between Risks and Issues. Risks that are not adequately mitigated will mature into an issue. Like you I’ve had red risks throughout the entire program’s life cycle and still had successful program. No one thanks you when a green risk turns into a red issue 🙂

Nate M
Nate M
3 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy1

ye but the tempest one had to do with the funds. everyone went nuts cuz there wasn’t enough money going into it apparently. we know baes capable of doing stuff like this, but apparently there wasn’t enough money. but that’s been solved now. i think.

Last edited 3 days ago by Nate M
Airborne
Airborne
3 days ago
Reply to  Rudeboy1

Thanks mate very informative 👍

AV
AV
3 days ago

Yawn….my tea is currently on the amber/red list, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get it. (eventually).

Johan
Johan
3 days ago

These will Go as per the Tide Class, we can only build so many ships in the UKs yards.

there Cargo ships painted Grey and best price is better then given more Money to the SNP to waste

Dern
Dern
3 days ago
Reply to  Johan

Better stay up to date with UK legislation: FSS is classed as a Warship and therefore under UK law must be build in a UK shipyard. Also they won’t be built in Scotland since all the yards up North are full up.

Tim Hirst
Tim Hirst
3 days ago
Reply to  Dern

Is it U.K. law that warships are build in the U.K. of government policy? I’d be interested if you have details of which law is involved.

Mark B
Mark B
3 days ago
Reply to  Tim Hirst

I don’t think you need to go further than the EU procurement rules which specified open tendering for Government contracts throughout the EU as a minimum. One of the exceptions was defence contracts. So simply bidding it as a defence contract changes the rules …

Tim Hirst
Tim Hirst
3 days ago
Reply to  Mark B

That’s all true, but whilst it made it possible to restrict warships contracts to U.K. yards it didn’t require them to be built in U.K. yards.
But for better or worse that’s all in the past. I done no of any current law requiring warships to be built in the UK, but I’m interested if Dern can quote one.

Last edited 3 days ago by Tim Hirst
Fedaykin
Fedaykin
2 days ago
Reply to  Johan

FSS as a programme are certainly not “Cargo ships painted Grey”, the stowage requirements for munitions are complex, these vessels will need specialised compartmentalisation and fire suppression systems. Their complexity is part of the reason the programme is Amber/Red. These vessels will present a major challenge to the yards looking to build them especially H&W Belfast who have not built anything like this in decades.

Nick Cole
Nick Cole
2 days ago

I wonder when they do their budget estimates of they take into account the procurement bungling and delays at MoD? The idea of building all our ships in our facilities is absolute common-sense. It means that tax-payers money is recirculated in and supports our economy and not exported to someone else’s.

Dern
Dern
2 days ago
Reply to  Nick Cole

Except is it common sense if that means we get 1-2 ships instead of 3-4? Is the RN primarily there to circulate money back into the economy or to project force on the ocean waves?

Nick Cole
Nick Cole
1 day ago
Reply to  Dern

The cost to the wider economy is not factored into the equation. This is not about primacy but having a circular economy. The local workforce pays taxes, and without their pay we couldn’t afford the equipment we are buying. Buy in raw materials yes, but do the assembly and construction here. Fewer people earning money in UK means lower tax revenues. Lower tax revenues because of a loss of jobs, means that society cannot afford the things it needs or wants.You cannot (despite Tory profit management thinking) separate the two functions. And you also have to factor in the relevance… Read more »

John Dew
John Dew
2 days ago

Good article… shining the mirror image on a project team trying to deliver a much needed defence asset. The truth is, we need robust analysis, and IPA reviews allow project teams (driven to deliver) the time and space to ensure we get the Asset the Nation needs at the best Value. Amber Red doesn’t mean stop… its been a waste of time, effort and money. It means, address certain issues to ensure we are getting what we need. The review of the business case should (if done robustly) help focus the minds of ALL concerned (Including the Market Place!) With… Read more »

Geoffi
Geoffi
1 minute ago

Is this ridiculous procurement / consultancy chain just a way of delaying buying capital defence equipment ? Thank heavens this pedantic process didnt exist in WW2.