This is important because the UK restricts the building of vessels classified as warships to British shipyards.

The £1.5bn competition to build up to three Fleet Solid Support Ships was suspended last year and an update was due this autumn.

Speculation mounted regarding the status of these ships (and whether or not calling them warships was a slip of the tongue) after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Commons:

“I intend to announce the procurement timetable for the warships in due course, after market testing has completed. We intend to encourage international partners to work alongside UK firms for the bid, which will build on the success of Type 31.”

This was notable as it seemed to go in the face of earlier statements and comments that stated these vessels were not warships and as such, able to be tendered for build outside the UK.

Well, it wasn’t a slip of the tongue. It was confirmed again.

Stephen Morgan, the Shadow Minister for Defence, asked via a written parliamentary question:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, whether the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s planned Fleet Solid Support Ships are classified by his Department as warships.”

Jeremy Quin The Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, responded with confirmation:

“As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said during Defence Oral Questions on Monday 21 September 2020, the procurement timetable for the warships will be announced in due course, after market testing has completed. We are open to the principle of international partners working alongside UK firms for the bid.”

Previously the Government had argued that the new Fleet Solid Support Ships were not warships and as such, were eligible for international tendering rather than being restricted to British shipyards.

The definition of warship used by the Government had been previously challenged by people from all sides of the political spectrum. For perspective, according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea article 29:

“For the purposes of this Convention, “warship” means a ship belonging to the armed forces of a State bearing the external marks distinguishing such ships of its nationality, under the command of an officer duly commissioned by the government of the State and whose name appears in the appropriate service list or its equivalent, and manned by a crew which is under regular armed forces discipline.”

However, the National Shipbuilding Strategy defines warships as solely destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers.

This definition was also highlighted during a debate on the topic in Parliament last year with Stuart Andrew, then Minister for Defence Procurement, saying the following about the Fleet Solid Support Ships:

It is not a warship by definition, for the simple reason that the definition is based on the UK’s requirement to retain the ability to design, build and integrate frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers for reasons of national security, ensuring that the complex nature of the construct is an important part of it from the very beginning. We will continue to have this argument—unions are coming to meet me very soon to discuss it.”

This position appears to have changed.

Ross Murdoch, GMB National Officer and CSEU Chair, said:

“It looks like the Government has finally acknowledged what GMB has always said – these are warships. There is no reason to now hide behind any treaty – they must be built in UK.”

The UK Defence Journal, and other commentators as well as GMB and other shipbuilding unions long campaigned for the £1billion FSS contract to be given to UK shipyards – producing a report highlighting the estimated 6,700 jobs created or secured if the orders were kept in the UK.

Due to the aforementioned delays, the MoD expects that there will be a delay of between 18 and 36 months to the first new Fleet Solid Support Ship entering service. You can read more about this here.

5 4 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

And more importantly when will they announce that the order has been placed.

I can’t help thinking this is just another excuse to further delay the expenditure.

It’s nuts that the defense of our nation, and the reputation of our armed forces is used as a way to satisfy trade unions.


They being the MoD which due to it’s set up does not allow it to work effciently, intelligently and in the interests of the UK taxpayer. The Build Back Better’ speech and understand the tax claw back reality, means this needs to change.


it really depends on how much tax is actually clawed back. You will get income tax for staff and some profit (not a lot due to how companies manage tax arrangements). You would think it would be a pretty easy calculation. who knows if those calculations are already done or not though, it could well be that overseas is still cheaper.


By the time they ****** about with classification the project will be dead centre of the Chancellor’s gun sights! The Koreans would have built at least one by now!!


But they would not, and it would be more expensive.


As you well know Darren, it was meant as a way of expressing my exasperation with just how long it’s taking just to establish the nomenclature, let alone real ships!


WHY would you place ads directly over your lead picture? The adverts on this site is the ONLY reason I stopped coming here each week. It was overkill. Placing adverts now directly over the very thing we’ve come here to read seems utterly pointless. I was led here by Google news, but now gave to go elswhere to view the graphic.

Gavin Gordon

Good question as I’ve inexperienced the same issue. I’m not a fan of being followed around the internet by adverts in any case, particularly since so many refer to an interest from yonks ago (we had a bathroom fitted way back, but I still get adverts for toilets). Still, I accept they can help a site defray some of it’s costs. However, I would be surprised if UKDJ expected a large advert to be planted right over their image, as if it’s the most important thing on the page. This is likely an example of Google’s astounding conceit, and is… Read more »


Hi Gavin. My best is the Mail Online which posts an advert over the top of a main article every time and if you delete same it asks you why, in the interest of improving the viewability of the news, you have deleted it. One option I always click on is Covers Content-why? Because it covers content!! They thank you for your feedback and nothing is or ever has been done about it!!
It’s a strange old world….

Gavin Gordon

On going from the above, in an effort to toilet train Google, I did try down selecting on feedback. However, the options are designed just to deposit other crap on you basically i.e. there was no option covering ‘Thanks, but I’ve long since installed a WC’, or expletives to that effect.


Incidentally, now on the laptop my adblocker has done its duty and removed it, however I rarely power this up now, and use the tablet for 90% of internet reads…oh well, I do appreciate that a site needs its income to cover costs, but it is extremely excessive on here now.

Supportive Bloke

It is worth thinking on this for a moment. I was, as part of the day job, having to review some demolition photos of a major industrial site that was closed and partially demolished in 2009. We are looking at a project on the site. The type of equipment that was in there was shockingly out of date. I mean some of it was obviously 1940’s era and a bit was even older. This was the same on a lot of industrial sites I have come across – mind blowingly inefficient. The trouble was the inbuilt resistance (and I don’t… Read more »

Gavin Gordon

I’m trusting that this decision may link into the infrastructure deficits that we face these days. No matter how good a combatant platform may be, your overall defence security is not enhanced if you do not have sovereign control over its support vessels. In that respect, your likely on a hiding to nothing if you cannot manufacture all your platforms in sufficient numbers to replace losses during any prolonged conflict. That ability gave the US the edge during the 20th century, of course, alongside the strategic and tactical competence of its Allies. I fear the West’s peer opponents may have… Read more »


another missed opportunity I fear, a fleet of 12 FLO FLO’s with mega modules may be a much better spend, we do seem to like to spend money on dedicated platforms. So let me ask a question, what do these do that a Tide cannot do, whilst I acknowledge mixing weapons and fuel is not a good idea, we already do it, so that isn’t it. The beauty of Flo Flo’s is they can be what you need when you need them, we can replace all the RFA (non tide) platforms, Point, Bay and Albion Classes and have far more… Read more »

Glass Half Full

I don’t disagree with the UK having to be innovative, but IMO FLO-FLO is not the answer. These vessels are far too vulnerable when stopped in the water in a world of proliferating AIP subs, pervasive surveillance with LEO satellite networks and long range increasingly stealthy/fast and sophisticated anti-ship weapons. We’d need a high end AAW and ASW capability in depth to defend them in this state and as stationary targets they would still be more vulnerable. They are also too inflexible, requiring low sea states to operate, something we certainly can’t assume in the North Sea or off the… Read more »

Glass Half Full

In case you’re interested in my thoughts … Its the definition of what we mean by amphibious landing that needs to be qualified IMO. Landing against established defensive positions is not practical, creating unnecessarily high casualties, and its not required. No country can defend an entire coastline today with land troops, so there will be significant gaps. We can also fly light troops over a coastal force, but we do need to be able to re-supply them. We also need to be able to land heavy equipment and vehicles, and more troops, all of which we can’t fly in. Norway… Read more »

Andy P

Glass Half Full, while I don’t dispute your logic on these ‘mini Albions’, cost will play a part. More ships equals more fuel, more crew (training time, pay etc) to get X from A to B. This will have a big factor on things.

Glass Half Full

I’ll admit my proposal isn’t fully formed but here’s some additional thoughts. Ref more fuel. It depends a lot of how many of the “old fleet” we start with and replace with the UK LAW+ option. If we use LAW+ to replace Albions, Bays, and Points that’s nine significantly larger ships (some of which we haven’t been fully utilising). If we also use LAW+ for mission module based MCM then pick a number between 1-13 Hunts and Sandowns to replace. We could have a fleet of 15-20 LAW+ and still have fewer hulls, albeit with far greater flexibility in terms… Read more »


Not sure I follow your point fully, the utility of a FLO FLO with relevant module allows for the uk to improve its overall set of capabilities, perhaps it isn’t suitable for every role, but it is suitable for hospital, solid stores and fuel with the appropriate mega modules and I would also suggest some literal rolls as well as RORO duties. These vessels can operate in all sea states, it depends on the task how efficient they are but that is no different for dedicated ships as well I do think the MOD should be modelling ideas like this… Read more »

Glass Half Full

Sorry if I didn’t explain my point well. The issue I see with FLO-FLO, or any large ship, stationary in the water in time of conflict, is its increasing vulnerability to targeting. The trend to pervasive LEO satellite networks in the 100’s or 1000’s is going to change the ability for ships to “lose themselves” in the oceans from surveillance. We should assume they will be under continuous surveillance in the perhaps not too distant future. If they cannot escape surveillance, and then have to remain stationary for any period of time to perform their role, they risk being successfully… Read more »


can’t say I disagree with you on this, as I was a champion of us having an Absalon v2 with ability to put 8 CB90’s to sea full of Marines. but if the RN/RFA are insistent upon big ships, then I do feel as though FLO FLO’s with Mega Modules is the way to go. It gives us high volume, low costs, lots of flexibility and the ability to make some money as well. We have the Goliath crane already (albeit in the wrong place imo) so have the ability to move mega modules. We just need to decide what… Read more »


Why are they so expensive? 4 Tide class 500/600million


Well when you are designing a ship that’s meant to carry 7,000 cubic meters of ammunition I imagine it’s worth spending the money, look at Beirut. I also think that the Tide bill was only for building, not fitting out etc, so a good question is what’s inlcuded in that 1.5 billion.


There is a diffrence between a Tide class which is basically a oil tanker and a FSS ship which is a floating warehouse for everything from a light bulb to a guided missile. I would imagine the weapons storage areas would need cooling/heating (constant temp control), extra fire protection, possible kevlar armour, special handling equipment etc. This is what would drive the cost. I also suspect that there would be some form of engine and hull noise reduction technology built in. A Tide as I said is an oiler with RAS equipment, I would think that RAS stations could be… Read more »


How much life do the Waves hulls have left in them given both are 20 years old now? But yes in theory that would be an interesting idea (though I think the LSS concept is pretty much dead now which is a shame). I don’t think that using RLC road transport is a terribly good idea, Covid-19 has kind of shown, at least on the med front, that embedding military assets in civilian structures creates issues when you need to surge (quite aside from the increased wear and tear on military assets which are ageing in a lot of cases… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

though I think the LSS concept is pretty much dead now which is a shame”

Agree, as I was a big supporter of the concept.
I was reading in the DSC Equipment report 2019-20 earlier, that they were looking at a 600 million cost for the two vessels. Unbelievable.

To me the LSS are SF floating bases, using STUFT if necessary and converted like the USSOC examples. How can they cost so much? No wonder we cannot afford kit in any amount.


Ah, GMB, the nations most useless TU


Everyone is so happy they will be built in the UK, I am far more concerned they get built. The Royal Navy is not a job creation program.


This is good news in many ways on the condition that the Government does not use it to delay the project even further. In reality if the British Government got its act together there is enough RN projects present and up coming to keep shipyards working for the next ten years. Possiblie and realistic projects: 1. 3x FSS ships 2. Albion/Bulwark/Ocean replacements for example with 1x Wasp class and 2X San Antonio class ships or three Canberra class ships. 3. 2x Littoral Strike Ships based on the FSS ship or Point class 4. Bay class replacement possibly with its half… Read more »

Benjamin Rule

I’ve always thought the ‘Frigates, Destroyers and Aircraft Carriers’ definition was odd anyway. What about Minehunters, Amphibious Assault Ships and Patrol Vessels. They are all warships in the Royal Navy aren’t they? Would we outsource their replacements? I suspect not.


Buy net from abroad that’s all you get. Buy gross from the UK, the UK gets money back. Up to One and a half for the price of one and a half (40-50%). The more the UK government itself buys from the UK producing firms the more savings.