BAE Systems will partner with Cammell Laird for their Type 31e Frigate bid, who will build the vessels at their Merseyside facility while the Clyde will focus on the Type 26 Frigates.
While the Clyde will still be working on 13 vessels, 5 of them are Offshore Patrol vessels and 8 are Type 26 Frigates. The Type 31 Frigates were originally promised to the Clyde.
In November last year, after confirming that the Type 26 Frigate would be built on the Clyde, Michael Fallon also indicated that the Type 31 Frigate will likely be assembled there too. Fallon told BBC Radio Scotland:
“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.”
Should their bid be successful, BAE Systems will partner with Cammell Laird, who will build and assemble the vessels. This enables BAE Systems, the company say, to appropriately support the National Shipbuilding Strategy whilst ensuring the delivery of the five Offshore Patrol Vessels and the City class Type 26 frigates, ‘to time, budget and to the highest quality standards’.
Duncan McPhee, a steward with shipbuilding union Unite at BAE systems said:
“We are not happy, these are ships we would have expected to be built on the Clyde. As far as we are concerned they should have been part of the 13 ship package we were clearly promised.
We were told then we would have the order for 13 frigates. Now we are down to eight and the five cut-price frigates, which will not be built here.
The Government has come out with a bizarre national shipbuilding strategy, trying to create internal competition in a replication of failed policies of the 1980s.
This will put at risk the ability of the Clyde yard to be a centre for complex naval shipbuilding.”
Another shipbuilders union GMB earlier accused the Government of reneging on guarantees to build the Type 31 Frigates on the Clyde.
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”.
Iain Stevenson, Managing Director, BAE Systems Naval Ships, commented:
“Type 31e is an exciting and important programme. Our expertise in warship design and engineering, combat management systems and export campaigns means we are in a great position to contribute to the success of this programme.
We are pleased to be working with Cammell Laird with whom we have a strong and effective relationship, having worked with them on the Carrier and Astute programmes.”
John Syvret CBE, Cammell Laird CEO, added:
“Cammell Laird has very much welcomed the National Shipbuilding Strategy and the Type 31e competition. We will offer a UK warship design, a UK combat system, a UK build and a supply chain with high UK content.
We will be working with BAE Systems and A&P to deliver certainty, speed and agility on this nationally important project. Cammell Laird is proud to be responding as a Prime Contractor for Type 31e.”
Why has this happened?
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.”
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.