An article in The Herald has oddly claimed that shipbuilding on the Clyde has “been dealt a blow” as new support vessels aren’t going to be built there.
The problem? The were never going to be, BAE aren’t even bidding for them.
The headline seems to set the tone for the rest of the article with a glaring error, “Clyde yards suffer new blow as Royal Navy orders set to go abroad”, they’re not Royal Navy, they’re for the RFA.
The article even says “unions had hoped the vessels would be constructed in yards across the UK and leave the specialist yards on the Clyde to built complex warships“, support vessels are not complex warships by any definition and the unions appear well aware of the fact that the Clyde is at capacity with the Type 26 Frigate build and had no intention of bidding for this work. The 40,000 tonne support vessels wouldn’t even physically fit on the slip alongside the Type 26 Frigate builds.
The unions are advocating that the build stay in the UK, not that it be done on the Clyde. Jude Brimble, GMB National Secretary, said:
“The Royal Fleet Auxiliary contracts are the key to unlocking the country’s massive shipbuilding potential. But Ministers refusal to put the UK’s interests first will mean that instead of a massive programme of shared economic and employment re-distribution, our firms will be competing against each other for slivers of complex warship work.
It beggars belief that the Government wants to give this golden opportunity away to foreign competitors when working class communities up and down the country are crying out for decent work.”
The article which also appeared in The Evening Times also points out that unions are demanding the vessels are built in the UK, as seeking an international tender “undermines the national interest” however none of them are advocating for the 40,000 tonne support vessels be built on the Clyde which is expected to be at capacity until into the 2030’s, long after the date the vessels will be required.
We spoke to a contact at the BAE yard in Govan, who told us that the article was a bit surprising as no one at BAE expected the vessels would be built on the Clyde:
“Calling this a blow is a very strange choice of words. It [the article] came as a surprise frankly, I don’t think anyone here considers this any sort of blow especially as we were never going to be building them and BAE have no intention of bidding for them.
They’ll be going to South Korea like the tankers as I don’t think any UK yard is considering a bid for them, we certainly aren’t.”
Other than procurement activity undertaken during the World Wars, the UK has not had a complex warship built outside of the UK since the start of the 20th century at least. All of the Royal Navy’s new complex warships are being built in UK shipyards however merchant vessels for the RFA are not included in this and can be tendered overseas.
An MoD spokesperson said:
“There will be an international competition to build the ‘Fleet Solid Support’ supply ships, which UK companies will be able to enter, with a separate UK-only competition for customisation work and trials. This approach ensures the best value for money for taxpayers.”
The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 confirmed that three new large Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) Solid Support Ships would be acquired for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, to replace the single-hulled RFA Fort Victoria, which entered service in 1994, and RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Austin (both dating from the late 1970s). The Solid Support Ship is designed to carry a wide range of stores to support other ships with ammunition, food and explosives to replenish naval ships at sea.
They will have extensive aviation facilities, with 2 flight decks, one at the stern and one spot on top of the hanger. They will have the ability to to replenish at sea via 6 replenishment stations, three on each side as well as using helicopters for vertical replenishment.
The ships are expected to enter service in the mid 2020s.
In summary the Clyde isn’t bidding for it, the Clyde has no capacity to build the vessels and the Clyde wasn’t expecting them. Hardly “a blow”.