The £1.5bn competition to build up to three Fleet Solid Support Ships for the Royal Navy has been suspended, say the Ministry of Defence.

It is understood that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace halted the competitive tendering process because bidders were “not compliant” with cost.

Competing for the work was a British consortium consisting of companies Babcock, BAE Systems, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce (forming Team UK) and international bidders Fincantieri (Italy), Navantia (Spain), Japan Marine United Corporation, and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (South Korea).

Fincantieri and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering had already withdrawn, according to the Financial Times. This left only Team UK, Navantia and Japan Marine United Corporation.

The Ministry of Defence said in a statement:

“It is clear that the current approach will not deliver the requirement. We are now considering the most appropriate way forward for the procurement project.”

It has also been reported that some regard the suspension as a first step to reclassifying the vessels to be exempt from EU laws, allowing them to be built in the UK rather than overseas.

That the vessels were put out to international tendering attracted a lot of criticism from a wide range of sources, including the UK Defence Journal.

During a debate last year on UK sovereign capability, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Shipbuilding & Ship Repair Vice-Chair Paul Sweeney pointed out that despite claims to the contrary from some corners, the UK was well within its rights to protect the Fleet Solid Support Ships tendering process from international competition, something the National Shipbuilding Strategy did not address when published:

“In the context of major shipyard closures and significant downsizing, whether that is at Rosyth or Appledore, it is bizarre that the Government are quite happy to tender contracts overseas in international open competition. Under article 346 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, the Government could quite easily designate the industry as UK protected. It is entirely at their discretion. Any notion that their hands are tied is bogus. They could do that, smooth the production cycles and build a firm and stable footprint for UK shipyards, which would enable them to get match fit and then go out into the world and compete effectively for other orders. That is exactly what they do in Italy with Fincantieri, and what they do in France with DCNS. It is exactly what happens in Germany.

I do not understand why other European Union member states can achieve the same objectives much more effectively than us, but we are so holier than thou that it hurts when it comes to the zealous application of these EU rules and we seem to undermine our own industrial base and our prosperity as a result, meaning that communities are broken and skills are lost. Ultimately, we undermine our objective of building a more resilient and effective industrial base to serve our defence industry and, potentially, commercial spin-offs.”

The National Shipbuilding Strategy itself was informed by Sir John Parker’s 2017 report that set out how the Government should pursue shipbuilding efforts in a way that best suits the UK, however, in a recently released review of the implementation of the Government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy, Sir John Parker advised that the Fleet Solid Support Ships and other classes of vessels should be protected against international tendering:

“A wider range of ship classes should be procured via UK-only competition. This will drive volume into the industry, supporting efficiency and sustainability of a competitive bidding capability.”

With a general election set for the 12th of December, it is unlikely that the competition will be revived this year.

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Andy P
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Andy P

It would be good if this was the start of a rethink on where the new RFA’s are going to be built. I’m calling dibs on Rosyth….

Colin
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Colin

Watch out
For camel laird they had a team inspecting the big dry docks in Greenock and Ferguson’s is for sale along the water…..

Andy P
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Andy P

As long as its in the UK that’ll do for me to be honest Colin.

Colin
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Colin

Yes I fully agree

Mr Bell
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Mr Bell

Agree has to be in the UK. Nothing else is acceptable.

Darren
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Darren

Inchgreen Dry Dock and area is the natural place to compliment Cammell lairds Birkenhead facility. The possiblities are huge. The ambition for Inchgreen by the local people is there and not for waterfront developments as in leisure, retail, bars, shops, houses and all that stuff in the wrong area, but a modern marine manufacturing development with great high quality modern marine jobs in across the sector (shipbuilding is certainly central).

Pacman27
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Pacman27

No bad thing in my opinion We have a long term requirement to replace 16 large vessels plus add a further 2 in the new FLSS requirement and for me we need to think long and hard about what we need, utilisation, cost and how we use this long term requirements into the NSS and regenerate our shipbuilding capability. For me we can achieve all of this with 1 base platform the Aegir used for the tide class developed into a fleet of 8 enhanced karel doorman class JLSS capable of operating S2S connectors. Another fleet of 8 Flo Flos… Read more »

Julian
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Julian

I think you (Pacman27) and I share a desire to, where practical and appropriate, see as much commonality as possible to streamline ongoing running costs going forward. To take an imaginary example simply to illustrate, having a fleet 20 escorts comprised of 6 different classes is likely to suck up more money each year from the annual budget and increase the risk of technical skills gaps on a particular class vs a fleet consolidated around fewer classes. Consolidation might initially mean additional design and construction costs to phase out orphaned vessels but ultimately could deliver a bigger navy than would… Read more »

Pacman27
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Pacman27

Agreed Julian and in many cases we actually end up with something better and more useful. The capability of the KD is simply astonishing it delivers a similar logistics load to a Wave or Fort class can operate 6 merlins or 2 chinooks from its 2 landing spots The article on TD about FLOFLO’s changed my view on a lot of this and is one of the best articles I have ever read. Why buy a tide class tanker when you can buy a FLO FLO and add the mega module. Clearly the tides are in demand and refilling is… Read more »

ChariotRider
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ChariotRider

“many regard the suspension as a first step to reclassifying the vessels to be exempt from EU laws aimed at preventing protectionism”, I think this has been coming for awhile now.

The political, economic and legal cases have been made repeatedly for sometime, particularly by theAll-party Commons Defence Select Committee.

Of course there is the small matter of the election first… DOH!

farouk
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farouk

Question I have to ask is, why has it taken so long to get to this, especially when most EU countries take no notice of EU laws.

Sean
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Sean

Because we’re British old boy, we obey the law, play fair and follow the rules, queue orderly, and always keep calm and carry on.

Robert
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Robert

Sorry hit flagged by accident can’t de-flag it

Jonathan
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Jonathan

It’s not about eu law it’s about neoliberal political dogma that demands the primacy of the market above all else including the wellbeing of the nation. The British political system has been rampant with very hardline neoliberalism from both the Tories and labour for a couple of decades ( hiding it behind centrist tradition liberalism, which is actually the antipathy of neoliberalism, which is really ironic) That’s why we are now seeing a movement to the Brexit party and Corbins labour, both of which reject neoliberalism in their own ways.

Nath
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Nath

“I do not understand why other European Union member states can achieve the same objectives much more effectively than us, but we are so holier than thou that it hurts when it comes to the zealous application of these EU rules” The author, a trade unionist I believe, has cottoned on to one of the fundamental mismatches between the UK and the EU but doesn’t grasp why. And it is this lack of awareness that frustrates me in conversations with Remainers. The answer is Common law versus the Napoleonic code. It is one of the key incompatibilities in mindset between… Read more »

spyintheskyuk
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spyintheskyuk

That is very convincing, we are so afflicted with tradition that it seems it just is not in our character to change what is chiselled into out psyche even when we see the damage it is doing to our economy.

ChariotRider
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ChariotRider

Hi Nath, Very interesting point and well made. Explains what I have long observed about how we behave relative to our European friends. Having said that I think in this particular instance the EU directive was a convenient political excuse rather than the core driving reason. May be I’m getting too cynical in me old age, but I think classifying the RFA’s as not being a class of warship was driven by the UK governments overly narrow way of doing cost benefit analysis / economic apprasials i.e. political focus on up front costs and neglecting running costs and economic /… Read more »

Andy P
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Andy P

I reckon you’re right that its more to do with the upfront cost affecting a budget. People tend to worry about their own budget than the big picture so putting it out to tender would save cash on an individual budget. Not great ‘big picture’ though of course.

Andy P
Guest
Andy P

Don’t really agree, you can cherry pick bits that we do or don’t do according to EU rules, same as other countries. I’m not buying your logic of Magna Carta logic either, while there’s a lot wrong with our parliamentary process, the reticence to ‘evolve’ it has more to do with it suiting the 2 party system and the lies that politicians sell us. ‘Our’ relationship with our governments has changed a lot, we’re seeing more (smaller funnily enough) Party’s looking to shake things up at Westminster and the devolving of the ‘Celtic parliaments’ has changed things up again. It… Read more »

Cam
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Cam

Let’s hope what Evers chosen has a large hangar for more than 3 choppers, a very handy asset.

Expat
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Expat

What’s interesting is if the non compliance on cost is the reason then it debunks the mythe that foreign yards would subsidise the bid to win. These now need to go the way of the T31, essentially categorised as a UK only competition.

Steve
Guest
Steve

In summary another excuse to delay the expenditure. The MOD did the same thing with the same excuse with the yet to be ordered t31.

Mr Bell
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Mr Bell

Steve the type 31e order has been agreed I thought as DSEI conference 6 weeks ago, or so it was reported on this website and in Warships IFR? Babcock iver huidtfield derivative.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Agreed in principle but not signed, no money has yet been put down.

Mr Bell
Guest
Mr Bell

If, when we leave the EU we are no longer compelled to follow acquisitions rules, that everyone else in Europe ignores. Then maybe a British shipyard will get this vital order? If they are just labelled “war like” vessels, which of course they are, and will be treated as, by any potential enemy of the UK in the future. Then does that avoid the EU acquisitions rules? I think it does. George is of course right in that UK ship building should be relabelled a strategic national asset and therefore not necessary to follow EU rules. George is totally correct… Read more »

Stephen
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Stephen

All Royal Navy and R.F.A. ships should be built in the U.K. (note I say U.K. and not Scotland). With the Clyde busy with the Type 26 and Rosyth busy with the Type 31 Cammell Lairds on the Mersey would love this work, they have had job losses after completing the R.R.S. Sir David Attenborough, or is it purely Scottish shipyards’ job losses that matter? Certainly it will not be fair at all if Scotland gets the solid support ships on top of everything they have already had whilst famous English shipyard after famous English shipyard closes down, or are… Read more »

Gavin Gordon
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Gavin Gordon

The call to reshore such capabilities probably goes beyond value for money. With the increasingly unstable international conditions the requirement becomes ever more a strategic imperative.

Steve
Guest
Steve

It’s not really strategically anything. The days where we had big enough navy to be able to control a region are gone, as are the days of being able to rush out ships if needed in the event of a war. We now live in a world where ships takes years to build and cost a ton, but this is balanced out with us having a large number of operations to buy from, so if we fall out with any one option, we have others available. It has nothing to do with military advantage and everything to do with winning… Read more »

Sjb1968
Guest
Sjb1968

I think it is more than luck that strategic imperative and political point scoring coincide. There is a genuine understanding amongst us voting fodder that lowest price, outsourcing and buy from aboard is not necessarily in the long term interest of the majority. That it is has taken so long to reach those in Whitehall is hardly surprising given that most that inhabit that place are so out of touch.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

This was never about EU competition rules, UK governments since the 1980s have all had some of the most hard line neoliberal ideas of any nations, it’s one of the key reasons we don’t have much in the way of heavy industry. Pretty much every other major nation on earth protects its industries, the British way is to always allow the market to decide even if that means providing jobs and wealth to our strategic competitors.