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.
🤨 Whatever happened to this promise @Conservatives !?
— Peter Murrell (@PeterMurrell) April 19, 2018
No wonder @GMB_union are furious with the Tories. Solid Support Fleet ships likely to go out to international tender by end of the month. Potential for 6k jobs and a further 5k in the supply chain. Not good for taxpayers or shipbuilding in the likes of #Rosyth #Clyde
— Douglas Chapman MP 🏴 (@DougChapmanSNP) April 18, 2018
Weren't we promised voting No would protect things like this? https://t.co/sfr6VCHLyQ
— Darren Loki McGarvey (@lokiscottishrap) April 19, 2018
Sorry, There was no "promise" on non-complex military ships (which can't be made on the Upper Clyde anyway, no room). I can see why unions continue to be miffed but we're confusing apples and oranges here.
— David Leask (@LeaskyHT) April 19, 2018
Up to a point. No pointed out the RN has never built fighting ships in "foreign" yards. Yes said 'Look at RN tankers built in Korea!' No replied, 'Those aren't fighting ships'. Yes: 'So you're saying there's a chance that work would come to the Clyde?' No.
— alexmassie (@alexmassie) April 19, 2018
— Dr Philippa Whitford (@Dr_PhilippaW) April 19, 2018
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.