Earlier statements from the MoD outlined a planned build of 13 Type 26 Frigates would be awarded to the Clyde, a defence review and subsequent cost cutting has however stood in the way of that, is there more to it?

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.

Some of the recent controversy over orders on the Clyde comes from previous Defence Secretary Michael Fallon indicating that he expected the Type 31 to also be built there.

Michael Fallon told local radio in Scotland earlier in the year:

“Nobody is shortchanging the Clyde. This is a huge moment for the Clyde; we’re confirming we’re going ahead with the steel cut next summer, earlier than expected. The first eight will be the Type 26 combat ships.

After that, the Clyde will be building a lighter frigate and we will end up with a fleet that is larger than the fleet at the moment.”

The build plan for the Type 31 Frigates is expected to follow a similar pattern to that of the Queen Elizabeth carriers and early Type 45 Destroyers in that blocks will be built in yards around the UK.

Modern shipbuilding makes considerable use of prefabricated sections. Entire multi-deck segments of the hull may be built elsewhere around the UK, transported to the building dock or slipway, then lifted into place. This is known as “block construction”.

Yards pre-install equipment, pipes, electrical cables and any other components within the blocks, to minimise the effort needed to assemble or install components deep within the hull once it is welded together. You can read more about earlier indications regarding the Clyde here.

As we reported recently, BAE Systems has announced a partnership with Cammell Laird, who would ‘Prime, build and assemble’ the vessels at their Merseyside facility while the Clyde will focus on the Type 26 Frigates.

If the bid is successful, Cammell Laird would be main contractor with BAE providing design and combat systems.

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.’

Shipbuilders union GMB earlier accused the Government of reneging on guarantees to build the Type 31 Frigates on the Clyde. While the Clyde will still be working on 13 vessels, 5 of them are Offshore Patrol vessels and 8 are Type 26 Frigates.

Mr Cook of the union GMB told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme:

“These five frigates which Fallon is talking about today were promised to the Clyde as part of the massive cuts. In return, we would have had a state-of-the-art frigate factory to be able to produce the ships at the price that the MoD wished to pay, and we could attract foreign orders.”

Cook also said that there was “no frigate factory, and now no five ships” and that “there has definitely been a reneging – there has been a betrayal on the 13 frigates on the Upper Clyde”.

“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.”

We spoke to a source intimately involved with shipbuilding in Glasgow regarding the practicality of building the Type 31 on the Clyde and he told us:

“I think it’s the obvious answer from an industrial point of view but the question is capacity.

There isn’t any at Govan while T26 is in build.”

Sir Michael Fallon said the first of the new ships are due to be in service by 2023 and shipyards would be encouraged to ensure the vessel was competitive on the global market by working with “global partners”.

He said:

“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.”

Nia Griffith MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, responding to the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, said:

“I welcome the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy and the commitment to the long-term future of our shipbuilding industry. But as well as investing in our naval fleet, we must also invest in the men and women who serve in our Royal Navy.

Despite warnings over many years, our Navy is facing a crisis in recruitment and retention. The Government is on course to miss its own target for the size of the Navy and we simply do not have enough sailors to crew our naval fleet. Experienced personnel are leaving the Navy because of dissatisfaction with pay and conditions. If the Government was serious about properly resourcing our Royal Navy it would lift the public sector pay cap and pay our servicemen and women properly.”

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 which recommended that the Type 31 Frigate build be spread across the UK, with blocks and components being constructed in yards in both Scotland and England.

The National Shipbuilding Strategy is 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.”

In a press release BAE say:

“In response to the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) evolving requirements as outlined in the National Shipbuilding Strategy, BAE Systems will bring together its warship design and engineering capability and combat systems expertise with Cammell Laird, the commercial shipbuilder, in a Teaming Agreement to bid for the manufacture of the Type 31e, an adaptable general purpose frigate.

BAE Systems is focused on the manufacture and delivery of the two QE Class carriers, the five River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) and the first three City class Type 26 warships, as well as continuing to develop and upgrade combat management systems on all Royal Navy ships. Taking account our current and future workload, including Type 26, our shipbuilding capacity on the Clyde will be full until the mid 2030s.”

What does the order book on the Clyde look like?

The Clyde is working on 5 Offshore Patrol Vessels and is planning to build 8 Type 26 Frigates, compared to an original plan to build 13 Type 26 Frigates at the yards in Glasgow.

BAE Systems was recently awarded a contract by the Ministry of Defence worth £3.7bn to manufacture the first three of the eight Type 26 Frigate fleet.

Eight Type 26 Frigates are to be built in total, the contract for the second batch will be negotiated in the early 2020s. 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 for example.

This work will begin after the five Offshore Patrol Vessel order is finished and will last until the mid 2030’s.

What’s going to happen next?

Sir John’s aforementioned independent report to inform the recent National Shipbuilding Strategy recommended:

“There is no precedent for building two ‘first of class’ RN frigates in one location in the UK. Type 26 is a critical project for the RN and the Nation. Type 31e is urgently required to maintain RN frigate fleet numbers and to establish a UK exportable light frigate. Against this background risks need to be assessed and evaluated in a responsible way by all stakeholders.

A separate lead shipyard or alliance appears to be the best way forward for Type 31e to minimise overall risk. Regardless of choice, BAES would remain in a position to compete for Type 31e work on combat systems, design support and in block build if capacity is available.”

This recommendation has been met.

In summary, BAE have decided not to bid as prime contractor for the Type 31 and instead have decided to partner with Cammell Laird for reasons outlined above.

The defence giant had already signalled their reluctance to build the vessel and it’s now clear that building them on the Clyde isn’t feasible if they’re to enter service when required, there’s no capacity.

While this has reduced opportunities for the Clyde to build more frigates after the Type 26 production run in 2035, it is good news for UK shipbuilding in general if it goes ahead.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I’m amazed Clyde shipbuilders expected all our frigates to be built there. That’s not fair on the rest of the UK, nor wise to have all our eggs in one basket. Besides, this is old news. The Scots also had the lions share of the QE project, assembling it there in Rosyth. I don’t begrudge them such success, I just want to see the capability, if we have an emergency build & repair necessity due to war, to build warships at many UK sites retained. For type 31s to be built in time to avoid numbers falling below those already inadequate, other yards have had to be used.
    Politicians are always making promises they can’t keep & empty spin.

  2. The contract for 3 of the OPVs was actually awarded in August 2014 and was on the go for a year or more before that, to fill in the gap before the T26 was to be built, because otherwise the MOD would have had to pay BAE anyway because of the 15 year 2009 TOBA. This was in ADDITION to the 13 T26 (8 + 5). Subsequently another 2 OPV were awarded because of further delays to the T26 which was because, dependeing on who we believe, design problems or budget problems.

    Them’s the provable facts. As far as the Clyde workers are concerned they’ve been cheated, whether by the MOD or BAE – or both – is another matter entirely.

    • How did Bae cheat the workers?

      Bae made an offer to build all 13 under a fixed price contract that was half a billion less than the unit prices being discussed with the Treasury. Bae was willing to gamble they could save that much over the life of the contract. Basically build 13 for the price of 12.

      Osborne rejected the offer out of hand. No way did he want 13 Type 26.

      • I understand that Ron5, but on the other hand BAE could still have taken the chance and built the frigate factory anyway. Sometimes in business you have to speculate to accumulate.

        • I’m afraid I lay all this at 10 & 11 Downing St – both parties for decades.

          Laissez faire, on off, quick slow quick quick slow naval procurement and no strategic plan.

          Current Govt pretends it does which is even worse because that misleads folks.

          Oh how I would vote for change if there was one…

    • cheated they were lucky to have got the nod after the slow building of the carriers even a patrol ships taking years to build

  3. The quick answer is because the threat of an independent Scotland has diminished.

    A slower answer is that UK politicians lie through their teeth, none more than Pinnochio Fallon and his chancellor Geo Osborne.

    By the way, Sir John Parker used to be head of Babcocks and his shipbuilding strategy came out heavily favoring Babcocks. So what’s all this nonsense about him being “independent”??? He was and is, nothing like.

    • I didn’t know that, but looking at his profile he was also chairman of Harland and Wolff, and BVT which is a kind of merger of BAE and VT Group, doing the QEs. A mixed bag.

      • other shipyards across the u.k should get the chance to show what they can do. the BAE monopoly on the clyde doesnothingbut but give the unions and the s.n.p something to whinge about. the speed of build in the clyde is abysmal.

  4. I believe a single Frigate Factory is the only way the UK can become competitive in the complex warship space.

    Plenty of other work available as well it just needs some joined up thinking and a master schedule/fleet management plan.

    I also think we need to stop messing about with designs (10years for T26 is a disgrace) and pay for design companies to constantly be pushing the envelope and accept that there is a cost to retaining independent design authorities.

    This has car crash written all over it I am afraid

    • the scottish yards production rate is a joke 4 years to build an op.v?its a farce that is sadly all too familiar the scottish should be told that two ships per year is required.

      • I dont think that is their fault Andy – I think it is the Government and MOD to blame for rate of production.

        I strongly believe that they can knock out a T26 per year if required – but they are not required because our government and MOD between them can’t get their shit together, either with funding or gold plating a design (10 years in design is farcical).

        I think the yards are slowing down to ensure continuity of work and a skilled workforce. Now we have that skilled workforce it really is shocking that we are not using them properly.

  5. Sorry everyone, but this whole National Shipbuilding Strategy is a waste of time unless we actually have a fleet management plan for all UK naval assets (Not just RN/RFA).

    It all comes down to creating a 25 year schedule that sees us refresh our whole fleet in that lifecycle (with the exception of carriers which should be replaced at 1 unit per 25 years – or not replaced at all).

    Only then can we sort out which yards will build what and if necessary nationalise them and get the unions onboard with being competitive.

    Once we have a full schedule (or close) we can do what the French do and sell ships off the production line and add in extra capacity as needed. But to get us to that stage we need a plan and most importantly enough ships being built in the UK for us to 1) get good at it 2) gain economies of scale 3) be competitive and get export orders.

    Not going to happen until the government decides to commit and industry gets on board. What we can’t have is a return to the 80/90’s where shipbuilding was so inefficient and the yards were closing – truly depressing.

    We need to automate as much as possible now and get ahead of the ROW in building ships with the lowest volume of people possible only then can we start to hire more people when the orders start coming in – in about 10 years time.

  6. I believe, as most Canadians, that the LM/BAE Type 26 Frigate will win the bid this year for 15 Type 26 Frigates to be built in Canada. There are still some technical issues with all 3 bids (Dutch & Spanish as well), however the Type 26 has the capability to overcome these issues. Canada is looking for one vessel that has the best options to replace both our ASW and AAW ships with a single Class. GO TYPE 26 GO!!!!

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