Four international shipbuilding firms and a consortium of British firms have been selected to complete for Fleet Solid Support ship work.
The British consortium is made up of Babcock, BAE Systems, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.
The four foreign firms are Italian firm Fincantieri, Spanish company Navantia, Japan Marine United Corporation, and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering of South Korea.
Defence Minister Stuart Andrew said:
“The widespread interest in this competition shows that our Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary remain among the most prestigious in the world.
These support ships will be vital for supporting our formidable Queen Elizabeth Class carriers and will ensure our warships can deploy in a range of challenging environments and across huge distances, wherever they are in the world.”
According to a statement from the Ministry of Defence:
“The Fleet Solid Support ships, up to three of which will be procured through international competition as they are not warships, will be fitted with specialist and classified equipment at a British shipyard before entering service with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary from 2026.”
However, many argue that the claim “they are not warships” is arbitrary, more on that later.
Shipyards across the United Kingdom will be able to bid for this work in 2022.
The Government’s procurement plans are facing opposition from defence analysts, Labour, the SNP, trade unions and many others.
A briefing paper in the House of Commons library states:
“The Government intends to compete the contract internationally. Labour, the SNP and the shipbuilding trade unions argue the contract should be restricted to UK shipyards to support the shipbuilding industry, secure jobs and retain skills. They argue the proposed ships are ‘warships’ and as such, the Government can use the Article 346 exemption to exclude the contract from EU procurement rules on national security grounds.”
The TUC has also assessed the Article 346 exemption argument and argues the Government “has the sole right to determine” what its essential national security interests are. The TUC claims “other European nations have used the exemption to place orders for similar support ships with their own shipyards since the Directive was introduced.”
Paul Sweeney, MP for Glasgow North East, discussed issues surrounded the National Shipbuilding Strategy during a recent debate on UK sovereign capability in Parliament where he responded to remarks that only ‘complex warships’ should be built in the UK by pointing out that the construction of auxiliary vessels has allowed the UK to retain the skills to build complex warships and after citing the example of RFA Wave Ruler and more recently the five River class ships being built on the Clyde to sustain the workforce at the yard, he said:
“By utilising those less complex nut nonetheless complex warships, by smoothing that build cycle, we retain the skills, we maintain the infrastructure, we retain the critical mass to build to build the complex warships which includes frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers.
We have to look beyond that arbitrary restriction and maximise the purchasing power of the Ministry of Defence to deliver UK sovereign capability.”
Paul also explained that building the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fleet Solid Support ships and then the successor to the Albion class in Rosyth would be of huge benefit to UK shipbuilding and allow for at least four primary shipbuilding sites.