After confirming that the Type 26 Frigate would be built on the Clyde, Michael Fallon has expressed the intention that the Type 31 Frigate will also be assembled there.
The yards are now expected to build 5 Offshore Patrol Vessels, 8 Type 26 Frigates and 6 Type 31 Frigates.
Michael 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.”
The build plan for the “at least five” 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 and assembled on the Clyde.
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.
We spoke to John Carmichael, who works at the Govan yard as a welder, during an open day at the yard in Govan:
“It’s no secret we’ll be getting the frigate work, we’re already gearing up for the Type 26 after the Rivers and Type 31s after the Type 26s.
We may end up building a design put together by another company but make no mistake, at the very least the blocks will be assembled on the Clyde and hopefully before Type 26 work ends.”
An independent report into the National Shipbuilding Strategy by Sir John Parker has also recommended that the Type 31 Frigate build be spread across the UK, with blocks 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 shipbuilding in the UK, intending to place UK naval shipbuilding on a sustainable long term footing.
The government say they will give Sir John’s work the full consideration that it deserves and will provide a full and detailed response in the spring 2017.
Additionally, it was announced recently that steel had been cut for the fourth of five new Offshore Patrol Vessels being built on the Clyde.
Sir John Parker said:
“Should Government, Industry and the Trade Unions rise to the challenges I have set, I believe we can establish a new era of collaboration and success across the ‘Total Enterprise’.
It will create savings over the coming years for MOD, renew the Royal Navy fleet, position the UK for new export opportunities and create regional prosperity and highly skilled jobs across the UK in the Shipyards and supply chain.”
One of the opportunities that the report identifies is the way Scotland’s cutting edge technology can allow for Modular Construction, in which ship components are produced across the UK before being assembled at a central Hub, which is expected to be the Clyde.
According to a government press release:
“The build of the Royal Navy’s largest ever warships, the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers, has already demonstrated the success of such an approach, with multiple shipyards and hundreds of companies across the UK working together and benefiting from the aircraft carrier build.”
Welcoming the report on behalf of the government, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said:
“I would like to thank Sir John for providing an ambitious vision of naval shipbuilding in the UK based on a new era of cooperation as part of our modern industrial strategy.
This report will inform our National Shipbuilding Strategy to match the needs of the Royal Navy with the ability to design and build efficiently, maintain skills, and maximise export opportunities.
This will ensure a strong naval shipbuilding sector and help deliver an economy that works for everyone.”
The government will publish a full response, and implementation plan, in spring 2017.
Responding to earlier speculation that the work could go elsewhere, Fallon dismissed this by saying:
“BAE will be in pole position [for that contract]. They’re the principal warship builder.”
This isn’t a surprise to anyone in industry, it has long been expected that the Clyde will be building sections of the Type 31.
The two additional Offshore Patrol Vessels, hulls four and five, were announced as part of the last Strategic Defence & Security Review.
The first of the five new vessels, HMS Forth, is expected to be handed over to the Royal Navy in 2017.
The Offshore Patrol Vessels have been ordered to fill a gap in orders after the second carrier and before the Type 26 frigates begin construction.
The Prime Minister at the time of the Strategic Defence & Security Review had also confirmed that the five general purpose frigates mentioned in the defence review will be built in Scotland.
The original plan for the class had been 8 anti-submarine warfare variants and five general purpose variants, this remains largely unchanged except for the specification and type of the later five vessels, which has been reduced to make them more affordable.
Ahead of the announcement, the SNP had said that any reduction in the number of Type 26 frigates being built on the Clyde would be a “betrayal” of the workforce, with some MP’s even going so far as to claim “promises were broken”. A significant amount of MP’s from the Conservative party also posted strange and now deleted tweets regarding the number of frigates to be ordered.
Then Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons:
“There will be eight of the Type 26s and at least another five of the new type of frigate, probably more, and they can be built in Scotland if the conditions are right. The only way these ships wouldn’t be built in Scotland is if Scotland was independent and didn’t have the national resources of the Royal Navy.”
Mr Cameron also told the Commons that the new class of frigates would be “more affordable than the Type 26 which will allow us to buy more of them for the Royal Navy so that by the 2030s we can further increase the total number of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers.”
The Type 26 frigate represents the future backbone of the Royal Navy and a massive leap forward in terms of flexibility of surface vessels enjoyed by the service. It will replace the 8 anti-submarine Type 23 frigates of the Royal Navy and export orders are being sought after by BAE. The programme has been underway since 1998, initially under the name “Future Surface Combatant”.
The programme was brought forward in the 2008 budget at the expense of Type 45 destroyers 7 and 8.