There’s a lot of misunderstanding and myth circulating about how many ships the shipyards on the Clyde are expecting to build, but what’s the truth?
Recent news that BAE have decided not to bid to assemble the Type 31e Frigate on the Clyde due to an apparent lack of interest has created a stir in Scotland after earlier expectations that the light frigates would be built there.
BAE themselves say that shipbuilding capacity on the Clyde will be maxed out until the mid 2030s while the Ministry of Defence want the first of the new Type 31 Frigates in service by 2023, one of the primary reasons they have decided not to bid as prime contractor for the project, there’s no space at the BAE yards on the Clyde to do so if they are to meet the deadline for the first Type 31e to hit the water.
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 City class Type 26 frigates currently on contract, ‘to time, budget and to the highest quality standards.’
In a press release BAE say:
“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.”
So, what does the prospective order-book BAE are talking about actually look like for the next few decades? We’ve included the contracted and non-contracted work the Clyde is expected to build to give an idea of the scale of work already present as BAE cite this as a reason for not bidding for T31e on the Clyde.
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. Ordering this way allows for changes to specifications and allows for refinements to contracts as working practices evolve and efficiencies are learned.
Eight Type 26 Frigates are to be built in total by their designers BAE, the contract for the second batch will be negotiated in the early 2020s. Why have we included it despite this? There are no other yards in the UK to build the Type 26, it’s a BAE product and their only surface shipyards are in Glasgow. The ships are not going anywhere unless the Royal Navy take the incredibly unlikely decision not to replace their frigate fleet.
The UK Government committed to eight advanced anti-submarine warfare ships in its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The Type 26 programme currently employs more than 1,200 people in the UK supply chain, with a number of contracts already in place for the manufacture of major equipment for the first three ships.
In total, there are already 33 UK and international companies working in the supply chain to deliver the Type 26 ships – with further announcements to be made shortly. The only way the Type 26 wouldn’t go to the Clyde is if the Royal Navy decided not to replace its frigate fleet.
Could the Type 31 still come to the Clyde?
Babcock recently announced that it will lead a team of industry partners in a bid for the new £1.25 billion Type 31e Frigate with work to be undertaken in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.
Babcock say work would be shared across the UK its facilities in Fife and Devon being among the prime locations for building. Ferguson Marine on the Clyde will also be in line for the work.
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 and assembled at one main location.
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 and assembled into one ship. This is known as block construction and is far more cost effective. 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.
Babcock will act as the overall programme lead, whilst Thales will have overall responsibility for the development of the Mission System solution. The make-up of the team, the company say, will ensure that the economic benefits of the programme are shared across the UK. Ferguson Marine on the Clyde, Harland & Wolff in Belfast and the Babcock facilities in Fife and Devon will all have ‘key roles to play’, while much of the equipment provided by Thales and others will support jobs across the UK.
Babcock CEO Archie Bethel said:
“Team 31 will allow Babcock and Thales to take forward the key lessons from the Aircraft Carrier Alliance and apply them in a new and highly capable team with Harland & Wolff, BMT and Ferguson Marine. We firmly believe that our combined skills can deliver an affordable and effective Type31e Frigate programme for the Royal Navy and offer something new and exciting in the export market. With a high degree of UK content and the use of innovative technologies, we believe that our approach will deliver real benefits to UK plc.”
Victor Chavez, CEO of Thales UK said:
“Thales UK is delighted to be working with Babcock and our partners as part of Team 31. We recognise the diversity of roles anticipated for Type31e and, together, we will create and exciting, innovative and flexible capability for the Royal Navy based on the best of UK and international technologies in an open-system architecture that will ensure long term value for money.”
Sarah Kenny, BMT CEO said:
“BMT has supported the UK and global maritime sector for decades. As a proud member of Team 31, we are delighted to be shaping the Type 31e programme, and we welcome the opportunity to bring our substantial global engineering experience to bear on this vital UK defence programme. We are confident that the combined Team 31 offering will meet the exacting requirements of the UK MOD whilst creating UK shipbuilding industry momentum and a competitive offering for wider export opportunities.”
Babcock were originally offering the ‘Arrowhead 120 while BMT were offering the Venator 110, the companies now say that they will be exploring both available designs to determine the best possible option. The companies say that new arrangement draws on combined strengths and will deliver ‘innovative, capable, affordable and flexible customer solutions, within a fast changing and increasingly demanding environment’.
Why has the plan changed?
The MoD is hoping to reduce its reliance on BAE and cut the costs of procurement by spreading shipbuilding work across civil and naval yards around the UK. 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 was 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 signalled the defence firms lack of interest on building the vessel:
“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.”
The landscape of UK shipbuilding has been shaken up with BAE on the Clyde building the OPV, Type 26 Frigate fleets and the Type 31 Frigate fleet work to be spread around the UK. One of the primary contenders is the Babcock-lead alliance which should see the vessel built around the UK (Including the Clyde and Rosyth) if their bid wins.