With the recent news that the Solid Support Ship contract is being tendered internationally, many have expressed outrage due to the Government and Ministry of Defence over earlier claims that warship contracts don’t go overseas, however, these support ships aren’t warships.

The following are a few from a serious of tweets which spurred the creation of this article in order to try and clear things up.

Current government policy is that Royal Navy warships are built in the UK but orders for Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships can go overseas as they’re not ‘complex warships’. According to the ‘National Shipbuilding Strategy’ document, there are three tenets regarding UK shipbuilding policy that impact on the build location of contracts:

  1. For reasons of national security, all Royal Navy warships (destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers) will continue to have a UK-owned design, and, will be built and integrated in the UK. Warship build will be via competition between UK shipyards. But international partners will be encouraged to work with UK shipyards and other providers to produce the best possible commercial solution.
  2. All other naval ships should be subject to open competition (provided that there are no compelling national security reasons to constrain a particular procurement to national providers). Integration of sensitive UK-specific systems will be done in the UK, where possible after competition between UK providers.
  3. Defence will take account of wider factors (including the impact on UK prosperity) when making these procurement decisions.

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.”

A recent article in The Herald had also claimed that shipbuilding on the Clyde has “been dealt a blow” as new support vessels aren’t going to be built there. The problem? The were never going to be, BAE aren’t even bidding for them. The article even says “unions had hoped the vessels would be constructed in yards across the UK and leave the specialist yards on the Clyde to built complex warships, support vessels are not complex warships by any definition and the unions appear well aware of the fact that the Clyde is at capacity with the Type 26 Frigate build and had no intention of bidding for this work. The 40,000 tonne support vessels wouldn’t even physically fit on the slip alongside the Type 26 Frigate builds.

It really is that simple.

What are the unions saying?

The unions are advocating that the build stay in the UK, not that it be done on the Clyde and this is something we agree with. There are strong arguments to build these ships in the UK.

Jude Brimble, GMB National Secretary, said:

“The Royal Fleet Auxiliary contracts are the key to unlocking the country’s massive shipbuilding potential. But Ministers refusal to put the UK’s interests first will mean that instead of a massive programme of shared economic and employment re-distribution, our firms will be competing against each other for slivers of complex warship work. It beggars belief that the Government wants to give this golden opportunity away to foreign competitors when working class communities up and down the country are crying out for decent work.”

We spoke to a contact at the BAE yard in Govan, who told us that the article was a bit surprising as no one at BAE expected the vessels would be built on the Clyde:

“Calling this a blow is a very strange choice of words. It [the article] came as a surprise frankly, I don’t think anyone here considers this any sort of blow especially as we were never going to be building them and BAE have no intention of bidding for them.”


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 Solid Support Ship is designed to carry a wide range of stores to support other ships with ammunition, food and explosives to replenish naval ships at sea.

They will have extensive aviation facilities, with 2 flight decks, one at the stern and one spot on top of the hanger. They will have the ability to to replenish at sea via 6 replenishment stations, three on each side as well as using helicopters for vertical replenishment.

The ships are expected to enter service in the mid 2020s.



  1. They should be built here even if they are more expensive, end of. Jobs, taxes paid, and investment in skills and yards. Please look at the bigger picture government!!!

    • In an era of tightening budgets the Mod should be looking for ways to save money without cutting capabilities. Building these ships overseas is a perfect example of saving money whilst retaining core capabilities.

      • Chris, you assume that with a genuine long term partnership and planning with UK yards we couldn’t get competitive. I don’t buy that. More laissez-faire short term thinking from UK Governments.

        This would never happen in that bastion of capitalism, America (or social democratic France). Only in UK do we so stupidly undermine our own industry.

        It’s nuts.

      • In principle you are correct, however, this is a British Government order and should always be open to public scrutiny, if work is being outsourced. Accountants in grey suits don’t give a dog’s bottom for the social ramification, but just how the bottom line works out. There is always a case for finding ways to achieve targets, but these ships would add value to British engineering, and all that means in maintaining excellence and skills.

    • T.S,
      Thing is, it does the MOD no favours if they are built in the UK at an increased cost unless the Treasury coughs up the extra cash to cover the difference.

      • Yep I agree. Our armed force should secure our country’s future militarily, but economically to i.e. bring employment and expertise in the area.

    • Sure the ships should be built in the UK. What if no UK shipbuilders bid on the contract? That is what occurred with the tankers built in South Korea. Would unions lower their compensation requirements in order to get a UK firm to bid on the ship?

  2. I live in a small market town, I purchase the local paper every week , it takes all of a few minutes to read and people ask me why? I say if we don’t use it, we’ll lose it, its the same with the wee picture house (and it is wee) I try to purchase UK made goods in which to keep British people in jobs, Our toaster is a Duralit , All our furniture is made in the UK and we asked for British woollen carpets. Yes there are some things we can’t find with a MIB tag, but then we have no issues in purchasing European. The thing is we can see that in buying things made abroad, we are actually helping to erode the manufacturing base of the UK. Yes these ships may not be grey and the Uk may get them cheaper, but the fact remains the MOD/Government isn’t supporting the British workforce, which helps to explain our much smaller manufacturing base.

  3. Wasn’t Fort Victoria herself built in the UK? And although not a warship as such, I seem to remember her being used as a mini helicopter carrier in operations off the African coast in the past.

  4. Define ” Warship ” ……… Surely These Ships will carry CIWS and Helicopters equipped with Weapons and act in conjunction with other ” Warships ” ……… Is that not the definition of a ” Warship ” ?

      • Who is to say that in a real war situation these ships wouldn’t be fitted with Surface to Surface missiles? Frankly I’d like to see the design altered to include more flat top deck area. Why waste a 250m, 26 kn hull? It could then double down as a hybrid helicopter carrier.

        • They wont get fitted with any complex weapons system. You don’t just decide to fit SSM to a platform. It literally takes years to achieve.The effort required is not worth the expenditure in time and money.
          Simple Close Range Weapons are relatively straight forward to do and for anything else you’re as well sticking Booties with a Javelin/LAW rocket and Starstreak onboard (as has been done previously).

          Just dont let them take a LAW rocket down the mess deck to show the lads how it works…It ended in tears and a fire in the mess when they did that on Brazen 🙂

    • Agreed that these MARS ships are warships and more complex that the Korean Built Tankers. Also the National Shipbuilding Strategy indicates a build in the UK would be a way of revitalising ship building in general. There are also benefits with taxation, to the steel industry and the wider marine supply products industries in general and fact the Queen Elizabeth carriers have shown what can be done.
      Finally if the Rivers OPVs must be built in UK; why not the MARS ships?
      No brainer; oh dear I forgot the brain ‘problem’ in UK Government circles. Would any other EU country put these ships out to tender? No, thought not.

  5. Who is to say that in a real war situation these ships wouldn’t be fitted with Surface to Surface missiles? Frankly I’d like to see the design altered to include more flat top deck area. Why waste a 250m, 26 kn hull? It could then double down as a hybrid helicopter carrier.
    Excellent article 29/8/13 on the MARS support ships by UK Armed Forces Commentary. This is a must read on the subject and every UK MP and Gov Minister should bone up on all these naval topics and the MARS subject in particular.
    Finally I know there is an influential body of thought that thinks the UK should be crazy enough to want to scale back our carbon emissions. This is truely craziness and virtue signalling at its worst. Why? Because if we don’t produce the carbon another country will. If we produce the carbon maybe we can control it better in UK than in other places over which we do have no control. Perhaps we dont believe we can do this? Come on UK!

  6. What would you do? Spend twice as much money for the same ship from BAe or save money and have a barganing chip over BAe for future orders.

    • I would open tender internationally and insist on uk build and support that with grants from government to create the uk capacity whether to a foreign or uk company. The next time someone internationally wants to build of a ship MOD or civilian they are more likely to do it in the UK as we have the capacity and the engineering know how. UK GOV – Play the long game and these problems become easier else you are eroding the manufacturing base and there will be no one to pay the taxes to buy the ships in the first place! Break the cycle.

        • I dont think you will find that Bae is the only UK player. With any luck these others will see that if they can get a foothold they may in some futre date be able to make inroads into Bae. This will only come about though if we can increase the base by building for export. not easy.

  7. If they must be built abroad than at least 80% of the build materials must be sourced from British companies that seems like a good compromise.

  8. We need to make it a rule that all Navy AND R.F.A. ships must be built in Britain, use our own Navy to keep our own industries going and our own people in well paid jobs, and the money kept in our own country. We do not want our Navy being used to keep foreign shipbuilding going, that is absolutely sick and disgusting to us.

  9. The hulls are not profitable for most U.K. yards and few are big enough, the RFA fit out is, business and nation success is about profit and reinvestment of profits. Cammell Laird will probably bid and should have the space. Most of our other yards are full of oil and offshore wind turbines.

    • Babcock have a lot of space at Rosyth, and could assemble all of them there, even if sections or blocks were built elsewhere, if the design permitted.

  10. I think Babcock in Rosyth are putting in a tender, but think it might also include Fergusons on the Clyde.

    I agree with other comments that they should be built in the UK as the economic benefit could likely outweigh any gross cost savings, but it would need the Treasury to top-up the defence budget by an appropriate amount to compensate.

    I also agree they should be more flexible, including potential military capabilities like anti-ship, and hence could be treated as warships for EU and WTO purposes, while still in the meantime, peacetime, being treated as cvilian ships for the RFA, with just CIWS and maybe some miniguns being fitted.

    I do wish the SNO would get these things right though, I’ve posted enough times that there’s a difference between RFA ships and RN ships, you’d have thunk they’d know by now instead of going off half-cocked and half-baked.

    Jackie Baillie (Labour) got it right, these could be jobs for the UK including Scotland, Sturgeon got it wrong. Read my flaming postings.

  11. I don’t mind them opening the tender outside of the the UK ( a bit of competition can help keep manufacturers honest in quality improvement). But I do think any tender assessment should include wider benefits including:

    1) immediate benefits to the tax take
    2) UK manufacturing investment and job creation
    3) social impact to UK regions
    4) impact on strategicly important industrial base

    As well as the more basic product specific:
    1) unit cost
    2) ongoing costs
    3) quality assurance
    4) financial and corporate governance ( assurance of delivery on time and at cost)
    5)risk spread

    Our national procurement and commissioning tends to be a bit dumb and does not focus on all the elements I have highlighted.

  12. I am all for British built and as Sir John Parker highlighted UK yards are competitive.

    The RN should underpin this, but all builds need to be benchmarked on the international market and a maximum price agreed. The flip side is that the RN really can underpin a large scale industry as it needs the following every 25 years.

    13 Large Escorts (T26/45)
    25 Small Escorts (T31)
    9 SSN
    4 SSBN
    200 RHIBS
    8 FFT
    8 SSS
    4 Amphibs
    50 small patrol (safeboats mk 6 or similar)
    250 CB90 style boats
    50 Tugs and workboats
    10 Landing Craft
    100 Atlas Arcims Mine countermeasures craft
    4 Research ships
    4 other specialist vessels

    I think the above would require a budget of circa £3bn p.a to build these vessels at a sensible and consistent drumbeat and this then allows the yards to fill in with orders for our fishing and leisure markets and then build out an export market from there. This will take 25 years to achieve and realistically the government must commit to this level of funding for 2 cycles or 50 years (index linked).

    The same needs to happen for the RAF and the Army and they really need to standardise on hulls engines etc to ensure parts and logistics are as efficient as possible

    This is doable and well within our gift. Once we commit to our armed forces we can then commit to the communities who are at the heart of the UK’s heavy industries and that surely must be good for everyone.

    • So you want to spend 750mil dollars on Safeboat Mk6 PCs ?
      You do know they cost around 15mil dollars each??

  13. My feeling is if the UK yards put in a tender and if it is vague competitive (within 10-15% of best price/deal) then we should go domestic, but if not then we should go aboard to get the best deal for the tax payer.

    • I’m not sure how accurate this is but I saw a design floating around for the ships that had a full length vehicle deck and stern ramp like ocean. Do yes may be it could.

  14. I think it’s quite disgusting that the British Government is not putting Britain first. What’s this rubbish about not enough capacity on the clydebank. Well put some in where are the entrepreneurs it’s time people invested in our future, would the victorians have said no we are not quoting we have no capacity. It’s time the city put its money where it’s mouth is and invested in major industries, what about ship building
    Instead of creaming off the top of the hard working people of Britain. Some one needs to change the culture in this country, think Britain First, why should we spend our money around the world it’s bullocks, the attitudes of our MP’s stinks, who are they working for, its certainly not us

  15. Would have been good to see these vessels built in UK. South Korean yards seem to have done a poor job on tide class tankers. It’s easy to slate British shipbuilding and think everyone else is better but RFA vessells are not just simple tankers or cargo vessells they do have increased requirements and as the South Koreans have proven that can lead to delays and cost over runs.

    It would have also been good to use this order to build a viable alternative to BAE from either Babcock or Camel Laird.

    A multi yard build could have have been assembled at Rosyth allowing for retention of the Goliath cranes that could have then been used for a new Pegasus class LHD in the late 2020’s to replace Albion class. Might even have considere having some blocks built in foreign yards to keep down the price.


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