It has been claimed that a new class of support ships to supply the Royal Navy with ammunition, food and equipment will be built outside the UK.
This hasn’t come as a surprise to anyone in the industry, no UK yard seemingly has the spare capacity to build these vessels given the scale of current and future work such as the fleet of Offshore Patrol Vessels, new nuclear submarines and of course the future Type 26 and Type 31 Frigates.
The support vessels are eligible to be constructed outside the UK as only ‘complex warship’ construction (such as frigates) must stay within UK borders.
Other than procurement activity undertaken during the World Wars, the UK has not had a complex warship built outside of the UK since the start of the 20th century at least. All of the Royal Navy’s new complex warships are being built in UK shipyards and the UK Government remains committed to utilising the strengths of UK industry in this specialist and complex area.
An MoD spokesperson said:
“There will be an international competition to build the ‘Fleet Solid Support’ supply ships, which UK companies will be able to enter, with a separate UK-only competition for customisation work and trials. This approach ensures the best value for money for taxpayers.”
There are not expected to be any UK bids however as no UK companies have expressed any interest.
The UK Government is committed to using the exemption under Article 346 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to retain an industrial capability in the UK to protect its operational advantage or freedom of action where it is strictly necessary for national security, utilising it for complex warships but not support vessels.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 confirmed that three new large Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) Solid Support Ships would be acquired for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, to replace the single-hulled RFA Fort Victoria, which entered service in 1994, and RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Austin (both dating from the late 1970s). The ships are expected to enter service in the mid 2020s.
Four 37,000 tonne Tide class fast fleet tankers (one is pictured above) are currently being built in South Korea by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary under the first phase of the MARS project. The ships will provide fuel, food, fresh water and other supplies to Royal Navy warships, and are projected to enter service at a rate of about one ship every four or five months from September 2016.