There have been claims on social media that the awarding of five frigates to Babcock at Rosyth is a bribe due to Scottish independence, but that claim doesn’t add up.
Rosyth is to build 5 Type 31e Frigates while the Clyde is building 8 Type 26 Frigates (plus the five Batch 2 Arive4 Class ships).
There’s a straightforward reason the claim doesn’t add up, Type 31e Frigate work has been planned since 2015.
According to the 2015 Strategic Defence & Security Review:
“We will maintain one of the most capable anti-submarine fleets in the world with the introduction of eight advanced Type 26 Global Combat Ships, which will start to replace our current Type 23 frigates in their anti-submarine role. We will maintain our fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers.
We will also launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of lighter, flexible general purpose frigates so that by the 2030s we can further increase the total number of frigates and destroyers. These general purpose frigates are also likely to offer increased export potential.”
Many claims also focus on the timing of the contract announcement (happening at defence industry trade show DSEI this month), claiming that it’s perfect timing for an upcoming general election. The issue? The announcement has long bene planned for 2019.
The timing of the announcement coincides with a major defence trade show, that’s about all.
What’s the story?
The initial Type 26 frigate order was cut back from 13 to 8 in order to fund more of the immediate spending outlined in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, a move that has been widely expected since 2013.
The original plan for the Type 26 was 8 anti-submarine warfare variants and 5 general purpose variants. This changed to 8 Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates and five Type 31 general purpose frigates, a lighter and cheaper design than the Type 26.
BAE Systems announced it no longer intended to bid to assemble the Type 31e on the Clyde in order to focus on the Type 26 Frigates. BAE themselves say that shipbuilding capacity on the Clyde will be full until the mid 2030s while the Ministry of Defence want the first of the new Type 31 Frigates in service by 2023.
BAE say the move will allow them to ‘appropriately support the National Shipbuilding Strategy’ whilst ensuring the delivery of the five Offshore Patrol Vessels and the first three City class Type 26 frigates currently on contract, ‘to time, budget and to the highest quality standards.’
Why has the plan changed?
The MoD is hoping to reduce its reliance on BAE and cut the costs of procurement by spreading shipbuilding across civil and naval yards. To this end, the government are implementing the results of an independent report into the National Shipbuilding Strategy by Sir John Parker.
The National Shipbuilding Strategy was intended to be a “radical, fundamental re-appraisal of how we undertake the shipbuilding enterprise in the UK, intending to place UK naval shipbuilding on a sustainable long term footing”.
BAE themselves signalled their own reluctance to bid for the Type 31 Frigate as prime contractor due to concerns of a “race to the bottom” on price.
Speaking to The Herald here, BAE managing director Iain Stevenson said:
“We do want to be involved in Type 31. But we have questions. Does it have a budget? What are the timescales. We have not got solid facts. Type 31 could be a race to the bottom. If it is a front price contract people might bid for it to win and it and it might put them out of business. We would not, because we are BAE Systems.”
What has been built on the Clyde since 2014 and what are the yards planning on building in future?
So, what does the prospective order-book BAE are talking about actually look like for the next few decades? We’ve included the contracted and non-contracted work the Clyde is expected to build to give an idea of the scale of work already present as BAE cite this as a reason for not bidding for the Type 31e to be assembled on the Clyde.
Ordering in batches is common for projects of this size around the world and was last seen with the Royal Navy for the Type 45 Destroyers and recent Offshore Patrol Vessels. The Type 45s first batch order was for three vessels. Ordering this way allows for changes to specifications and allows for refinements to contracts as working practices evolve and efficiencies are learned.
The Type 31e Frigate has been planned since 2015, the announcement of who has won the contract to build the ships has also been long planned. For those unfamiliar with the industry, these two points may not be known.