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.


      • This is the problem – investment is long term but governments are inherently short term.

        So the current Conservative government commits to building a stream of ships for the next 15 years. Then the next Labour government comes in and decides to do something different. Suddenly those millions of pounds of investment are a debt chain hanging round their necks that will drag them under.

        This is why the low pound is yet to drive an export boom. To export we need to make, so we need plant and equipment – this is expensive and needs financing.

        The left wingers amongst us are be-moaning the low pound and the increased cost of living this brings (if you source things from overseas). So the next government pursues a strong pound and in doing so kills of those companies that invested.

        Private manufacturers have been burnt far too often by governments that change their plans and a monetary policy that works against them, either for the short-term benefit of the poor and the long term benefit of the City of London.

        Better to stay small, profitable and viable than grow and get stabbed in the back by the government.

    • It’s not that easy, Cammell laird only do major refit , Harland and Wolff specialises in the Off shore industry now , Appledore is too small , Swan Hunter doesn’t exist and BAE are already full with Astute,Successor SSBN,OPVs and T26 and possibly the T31 in future.Thst leaves zero capacity and we need these now as the Forts are getting long in the tooth.These new vessels will built on time and on budget if South Korea gets the work

      • Cammell Laird have just won the Polar ship contract. They do new build. bae have Barrow and Govan that are both capable, but have no ambition in building anything but extremely expensive frigates because they are a crony company.

        • I’m sure there is a degree of cronyism but all these companies have expensive operating overheads – especially BAE and similar. Such companies have to pay some of the most educated and skilled engineers on the planet to retain their services.
          Building a support ship will simply not return sufficient profit to cover these overheads and keep the shareholders happy. Then if you DO take on the contract you can no longer bid for the more profitable work you truly need as you’re global experts are designing barges.
          Low profitability jobs are too risky in a reasonably buoyant market. You only eat gruel if you’re starving.

          • 1 billion contract for building three solid support ships will. Not looking at BAE in building them, but the more dynamic companies. I think this is old news now anyway. There has been a shift away from this eu policy.

          • In fact I would like to see BAE let go of Govan (they do not own Govan) and the south Yard at Barrow for more meaningful complex surface shipbuilding. Barrow is difficult as it is owned by BAE and the steel production is used for subs. Also BAE have no intention of seeing shipbuilding grow in Britain.

      • Our designs lost to overseas too. It would destroy me, to see a ship I was principle designer of get built abroad. Most naval architects probably just think it is a just a shame. Pathetic. They’d think differently if they saw their jobs go abroad.

    • Hi Daniel, South Korean shipbuilding is amongst the finest in the world and is popular globally with all types of customer from merchant fleets to combat fleets.

      If we get these vessels at a good price while UK yards are busy with other vessels, we can’t really lose.

    • UK Defence Journal Or we could expand the UK shipbuilding by giving more contracts such as this, and aim to build ships for other countries like South Korea and Germany rather than the other way round.

      That, really, is where we cannot lose.

    • Also it’s all about marginal cost, by building extra docks you increase the cost of production. And then those docks won’t be used after the initial set of Rfa ships are built.

      • Wrong. It’s the initial spur to create a new modern shipbuilding sector, and those ships would not be the only ones built there, that’s the point. It’s called investment in the longer term!

        • You are an opinionated and nasty individual. Presumably anyone who disagrees with is a fascist?

          You talk about the long term but which government has ever planned for the long term. Democracy does not permit it. Governments have to respond to the will of the people and their priorities.

          We’d all love to see a new and vibrant shipbuilding industry in the UK but investment has to comes from somewhere and a commitment to build needs to be assured by the state. If the two don’t marry up then it is good bye to everything! Our ship yards have learnt from the past, they know they can’t trust the state to maintain a competitive currency or commit to building anything. Without the latter the investment will become a chain around their necks, without the former they will not win market share from the Koreans.

          Go away and solve these problems then come back to us with something useful. We don’t need more people in this world throwing insults at other simply because they disagree or because they don’t understand the wider economic concerns.

      • Use your head. There are many ship types the UK can be viable in. The 3 ship contract gives confidence in the UK shipbuilder bidding, to invest and compete in future contracts! Many of you sound like cannot doers, and that is why we lose.

      • A tiny portion of one year’s foreign aid budget? Also we obviously wouldn’t just build these 3 ships, we will have the facilities and experience to bid for more, like cruise ships, like France, Germany and Italy do.

    • Ben, at a time of increased budget pressure where the MoD are struggling to fund even a first batch of frigates, it may not be the best call to pay for the construction or reopening of yards around the UK to support occasional orders.

      • There is no long term strategy. If we cannot afford it and build here, have no Navy at all! We do have yards here that could build them now, but bae own them. They are not interested in this, they are not shipbuilders!

    • UK Defence Journal, I want to move away from a situation where our shipyards would only build for the Royal Navy.

      In the long term, having a shipbuilding industry which actively builds warships not just for the UK, but for other countries as well, is only good for our economy and tax receipts. Long term investments bonds are at the lowest level since the Napoleonic wars, and we should be investing in infrastructure to support a potentially prosperous industry.

      • It would no doubt be a bit cheaper for Canada to have Navy vessels built in Korea too, but they aren’t, they are building every last one of them in Canada. It is more important to keep your own industries alive, your own people in work and have that money spent in your own country.

    • As far as I’ve heard Rod, the only people saying that Govan is under threat is the SNP. Even the unions aren’t saying that. The delay in the Type 26s is only due to the design not being complete.

    • From the Guardian
      “In last autumn’s defence review, the government announced that it would order eight frigates instead of the original 13; and there are concerns that promised work on smaller offshore patrol vehicles will not be sufficient to keep the yards’ order books full and maintain the workforce.”

    • That’s only half the story. The 13 original frigates to be ordered are being replaced by 8 Type 26 frigates PLUS 5 Type 31s – smaller less capable ships more suitable to drug patrols etc.

    • And that helps the workforce just now how?
      I could quote the shadow defence secretary as well who also doesn’t think this enough to stave off job losses, which kinda kiicks your assumption that only the SNP are saying the will lead to job losses into touch.

    • “The shadow defence secretary, Emily Thornberry, insisted the government must honour its commitments to Glasgow workers. She said: “This would be a hammer blow to the British shipbuilding industry, one that cannot be allowed, so I have immediately written to [defence secretary] Michael Fallon demanding assurances that the Tories will honour the commitments they made to the people of Glasgow.”

    • Only time will tell Rod. Obviously it wouldn’t be in the MOD’s best interests if yards have to lay off workers and they lose the very skills that they’ll need for the next order.

    • Daniel Allen – I recall some RN boats built in the UK not so long ago that all had engine issues (and still have), so built in UK does not necessarily mean built properly or better. Engine and system installation and matching is about as basic in shipbuilding as you get, and the UK couldn’t get that fundamental fact right.
      And have you seen the difference between Korean and UK yards – UK cannot compete. We don’t build enough merchant vessels at competitive prices any more to develop decent yards to keep the work going when not building Grey Funnel Line vessels. The Grey Funnel Line orders in fits and starts no continuous work.

  1. Perhaps the fall in Sterling will make MOD reconsider ordering from a foreign yard.British steel is now a lot cheaper than it was which is why Tata are hanging onto their steelworks in the UKand viewing their options.

    • That’s fine if sterling stays low but what happens when it starts to appreciate again?

      Unless the government configures its policies to maintain a competitive exchange rate there is too much risk for private firms to manage.

      We could part nationalise them and invest in the docks with taxpayer money but without a competitive currency those assets will just become, un-used, rotting liabilities.

      We are in a catch 22 position. A strong currency benefits the service economy and allows us to import goods cheaply. The poor can eat cheap bread and the financial sector can deal in foreign assets cheaply.

      The biggest sector of our economy makes bigger profits and thereby pay bigger taxes and the rest of us have “better” living standards (if you like cheap TVs). But… this sector of the economy is centralised in London with a few outlying cities also doing good trade. The rest of the nation is left providing services to them, which a far down the value chain, and basically fix people in relative poverty forever.

      Or we rebalance the economy for the benefit of the majority (ie Brexit voters) but in the process we lose revenue from a decline in the service sector and imports get more expensive. The opposition party has a field day, services are squeezed and the government loses confidence. The problem is party political system based on 5 year election cycles.

  2. The Tides are on time and under budget at the moment , the only reason a Tide isn’t in UK waters is that we’re not ready for it yet , because it was built that fast

  3. After spending a few years on the QE project and seeing how much our ship workers sit around doing nothing all day (and night) and then charging top money for this “service” I have no problems with the South Koreans building these vessels.

    • That’s the fault of management. It’s the jobs of managers to manage! Many people are sponging off these contracts who don’t produce nothing, and if you think you will be out of a job after a contract, that does not help either. It’s been seen as job and it’s over type project. Just piss poor. British industry has to really change. Butr I have heard nightmares about South Korean work practices too.

    • All thanks to BAE doing no work! Look at QE, T26, T45, the lot! They charge far too much for a system is yes capable but not capable enough for the money being spent on it.

      • The union gangs killed British industry. It was on its feet before she even won an election you fool. Remember British Leyland? The night shift bringing mattresses so they could sleep, then go to their second job in the morning.

  4. The initial message is that the only reason UK jobs are not being used by default is because the UK doesn’t have the resource. But then the article contradicts this message, saying that UK jobs could be used, because they expect UK companies to enter bids, and that if the rest of the world places a cheaper bid, we will cost-save and ignore the UK jobs. Which is true?

    I suspect the latter. This appears to me as if the government are only interested in cost-saving, and are trying to justify sending UK jobs off-shore with the false premise of a lack of UK resource, and hope we don’t realize. But perhaps I have missed something.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for your comment however you have entirely misunderstood what the author has meant, we at no point claim or imply that the vessels could be built in the UK nor are we responsible for what MoD spokespeople say.

      There is no contradiction in the point of the article and it is also not a government publication, cheers.

  5. I see no issue with this, the new tide class were built for a lot less than it would have cost if bae had got the job. Tight budgets mean best value for money is needed and the history of ship building in the uk is packed with cost overuns just look at the type 45 and the new carriers.

  6. Terrible decision! Has anyone thought that perhaps we ought to build the capacity in our shipyards to build these? Revolutionary thinking I know….

  7. Hopefully people read the article rather than just take the headline an assume things. No capacity in the UK dockyards to build them, nothing to do with price or ability.

  8. It would have happened anyhow. It’s trying to justify the move taking advantage of cheaper labour. We have already had factories moved abroad to locations not only in the EU but the world. No real change really

  9. Any government that condones this should be thrown out of office… It would seem in there minds it is cheaper to pay people to be unemployed than to give them work…

    • Well, being an engineer that has to suffer the poor workmanship we currently get from the highly inexperienced British ship repairers, I sure as hell wouldn’t want them building the new ships. They have no experience in building any more, so send the contract to where the experience is. Having seen build pictures of the QE and the shoddy so called craftsmanship on there, I’ll be surprised if they aren’t as badly finished as the overpriced Destroyers that are all requiring new engines. I think we should get them built by a dockyard with experienced and quality workers, send the work to the far east!

    • Agreed, UK shipyards are beyond a joke! They charged £1500 for a 10min inspection of a tube cooler and wanted £10’000 to jet wash the flight deck! You don’t even want to know what goes on behind the scenes! And this is all taxpayers money down the drain!

  10. What most of the comments here are missing is that ship construction, especially for naval supply vessels, is very “lumpy”. You need to build a few at one time, and then none for a long period.

    That gives a natural advantage to places like Korea, because they already have the building capacity and plenty of customers. If we invested in new building capacity in the UK, it would be useful for these few ships, but then what?

  11. Good. Let’s see … 4 Tides built overseas at about £450m. These 3 new ships will be more complicated and with inflation probably £600m if built abroad and twice that if built here. So, build them here or build them overseas and use the £600m saving to build a couple of extra T31s here in the UK. A bit simplistic but if we can get these built at a decent saving and put that saving towards front line stuff then that seems a great outcome.

  12. Read the article people !! They are having to build them abroad because there is no spare capacity in the UK, because we are too busy building Frigates and Patrol ships ! There’s no room left GOOD NEWS !

  13. So if the only place big enough in the UK to build these is the clyde, why didn’t they switch the smaller vessel’s to one of the other yards like people had mentioned pompey or Devon. Leaving room on the clyde yard for a new rfa ship to be built? Does anyone know if Chatham is still a ship yard or has that been demolished?

  14. I don’t get the issue. Look at the state of the navy and the constant cuts in hull numbers all caused by overly expensive uk prices. Yes in an ideal world we would build locally but we don’t live in that world and in the real world we have to decide veteeen building local and paying more resulting in reduction in capability of the navy or building aboard and saving money to invest in more hulls. That of course is assuming that there was the option to build local.

    For me I would have preferred the orignal number of type 45a built abroad for example.

  15. Too be honest I dount we have the capacity to build these now. Glasgow is commited to new builds for thr Navy and Barrow to the Astute class & follow on Trident. Birkenhead may have some capacity but I can see the managements reluctance to reply on MOD work as that was what sank Cammell Lairds in the 1990s. The new Cammell Lairds is doing well for itself in what they do at present. The lastest generation RFA have been built overseas. Maybe coming out of the EU might help as the Govt would then be free if it saw fit to subsidise the RFAs being built in the UK. As an ex Cammell Lairds apprentice it pains me to see the state if our shipbuilding/steel/heavy industry these days.

  16. I don’t care where they are built, as long as they are built quickly and the hulls get in the water. It is not the job of the MOD to subsidise British industry at the expense of our armed forces.

    • You should care! The fact we are not building many ships, make warship building more expensive as an example. We loose over all by having them built abroad. We can be competitive in building ships like this in this Country.

    • It is not the job of the Royal Navy to keep foreign shipbuilding alive and foreign workers in jobs whilst our own shipbuilding industry is on its death bed. These 3 large ships would be invaluable for British shipbuilding.

  17. Does it matter where they are built, once decided not to be in the UK. Who cares if they are built in China or anywhere else. We should just get the best value for money.

    They are not war fighting ships and so there is no militiary secrets to be hidden and all the comms etc gear is to be installed in the UK.

    • Yes, because if more ships were built here, we would build ship more efficiently including warships here too, instead of this adhoc farce set up!

    • Such a sort term and cannot do do look at matters. The Korean oil tankers have become more expensive over time, and ther is nothing special in the speed they have been built. I tell what is impressive, that is, despite all the political and officials fucking upp the carrier build program and delaying it by years, thus making our shipbuilders look like total C’s., the HMS Prince of Wales has been assembled at one heck of an impressive speed, from an empty dry dock to a fully complete in structure and much fitted in only one and a half years! Nothing made of this though!

  18. Biggest pile of rubbish. Best value for taxpayers huh. So UK taxpayer can pay for their over the top prices for homes, food, over seas aid etc, and eu cost directly and indirectly, so we will make sure there is no future in a viable future UK shipbuilding that would benefit warship building prices too. Cronies! If we cannot built these types of ship, we do not deserve a Royal Navy or any maritime future! This the UK needs to get it’s act together over shipbuilding. The Dry Dock at Rosyth was empty at the beginning of the year in 2015, but by 2016 June the HMS Prince of Wales was complete as a ship structure and much fitted out, but no news about his in the mainstream, even though officials and politicians had done their best to ruin this. Yes much had been manufactured before then, but cruise ships are too, to make it look like the build time is shorter. I challenge any euro country to build shorter and better than the UK! We can compete!!! Investigate how much the cost was to build the last Berlin ship for Germany. We could of built that thing for less! All cruise ships built in Germany, Italy, France, Finland etc, should be built in Britain as an example. There is no excuse in any of this, it’s just that the last labour and tory governments do not like heavy hi-tech industry and are quite happy to see it die, but let say house prices go sky high and that is ok! God give me strength, and plenty of it!

      • Yes, I do, and would pay a litte extra in tax to create a new viable re-born shipbuilding industry! You carry on paying for more expensive food, overseas aid, over the top house prices and too much insurance! Building ships here does not make the cost of living higher in the UK.

  19. These are the very ships we need to help increase capacity and start a new realisdtically sized (bigger than it is now) shipbuilding sector in the UK. The original UK industry/MOD alliance was shelved for reasons to do with eu regulations while a Berlin type ship was being built in Germany and similar ships in Netherlands and Italy, with no requirement to be tendered abroad. The value for the tax payer is total rubbish while there is waste in the 100s of billions in other areas in this Country, yet ship building gets targeted for value for money, when British ship builders can produce value for money! British Industry was there in times of war and people saying how British industry should not be propped up by military needs are missing the point. You don’t build many ships, you will not be as good at it as others. There are many ships this Country can be building if only the government has confidence in nurturing a newly born industry in this country, which is a modern ship building industry. The fact is Britain can build very good ships of the highest quality on budget and on time. Any delays in military ships are usually caused by design changes and officialdom getting involved. The building of HMS Prince of Wales now, along with her sister have been examples of this. Heaven know how much better this would of been without all the bureaucracy, design change (from big to small to big again when anyone can tell you a bigger aircraft carrier is more cost effective), catapults no catapults etc …

    These solid support ships will be the spur a new British shipbuilding industry needs!

  20. eu regs in making the UK tender these ships abroad thinking they will get a cheaper ship, and making commentators come out will ill informed and assumed rubbish, is astonishing.

  21. eu regs in making the UK tender these ships abroad thinking they will get a cheaper ship, and making commentators come out with ill informed and assumed rubbish, is astonishing.

    • Those are ROKN MARs ships. This is the second contract that will be fucking over the future potential of UK industry!

  22. Think hard – South Korea – DSME are in some financial and corporate difficulty and the new Tide tanker appears in difficulty, running four trials and well behind schedule. And no one will comment on it?

  23. “We can’t build new capacity for just three ships!”

    The lack of imagination and sheer stupidity of some. You don’t build new capacity for just three ships. You build capacity for three ships, then, you know, bid around the globe for more work. It’s called investing in a ship-building industry. I think we did it once before.

    And no, we won’t always be priced out. Other advanced first-world economies with high labour costs have bigger ship-building capabilities than we do. And some of them use a currency rising in price…

    • Exactly! If France, Germany and Italy can have commercial shipbuilding, so can we. If the capacity is not there, build it, do not use it as an excuse forever more without doing something about it. After building these we can start bidding for cruise ships like other European countries do. To do this war must stop being deliberately waged against British industry like it has been for decades.

  24. The article says we can’t build these ships in the UK because there is not the shipbuilding capacity. My grandmother used to say, there’s no such thing as can’t, there is only won’t. The UK simply must get out of the habit of exporting our creative designs for nothing.

  25. If those three ships go abroad, it means there is no real UK shipbuilding strategy. The UK government must buy ships from here, and also buy the steel itself rather than the main builder. It is the paymaster general and brings in the tax. Tax claw back to the UK exchequer.

    • Canada also released a national shipbuilding strategy recently. In it they say EVERY ship for the Navy will be built in Canada. THAT is a real national shipbuilding strategy. Saying many, many Royal Navy ships will be open to foreign competition is our national shipbuilding strategy is it? What a joke. End this deliberate and organized war against British industry which has being going on for decades.

  26. We do not want our Royal Navy being used to keep foreigners in well paid jobs and foreign shipbuilding alive whilst our own shipbuilding is on its deathbed.
    These 3 large ships will be invaluable for British shipbuilding. They damn well better be built in Britain. If the capacity is not there, build it, a large enclosed dock hall. When we have finished building these 3 ships we can bid for cruise ships like other European countries do.

  27. They have deliberately waged war against British industry for decades to the point where there are now only small British shipyards left, incapable of building a ship by themselves. This hasn’t happened by accident, it was deliberate. It is not cost effective to build blocks hundreds of miles apart and transport them. Again, this has been done deliberately to kill British industry (in all fields) whilst other European countries have done the opposite.

    If the capacity to build these in Britain is genuinely not there, then this is a golden opportunity to enlarge an existing shipyard or build a brand new one with state of the art facilities. A large enclosed dock hall so we can build regardless of the weather, where an entire ship can be built in one place so British shipbuilding is cost effective and competitive, instead of deliberately making sure it isn’t. A tiny portion of one year’s foreign aid would be enough to do this. When we’ve finished building these 3 ships start bidding for cruise ships like other European countries do.

    We are sick to death of being the only major European country with no industry whilst other major European countries have massive industries in several fields. End this war against British industry, invest in British shipbuilding to make it genuinely cost effective and competitive as possible, give them this massive order for our own Navy. Is it too much to ask to have even one industry here in Britain?


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