Shipbuilding in the UK, depending on who you ask, is either at the cusp of a renaissance or doomed. So I asked someone in the know.


Paul Sweeney is a Scottish Labour politician and has been the Member of Parliament for Glasgow North East since 2017. More importantly in this context, he was formerly employed by BAE in Glasgow. Paul has worked with the APPG for Shipbuilding which has begun an inquiry into the Government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy, taking evidence from a range of maritime security stakeholders and industry.

This article forms part of our effort to encourage debate around defence as part of a ‘Views on Defence’ series, a look at the opinions of experts, major political parties and other organisations in the UK in the run up to the Modernising Defence Programme defence review being released.


I messaged Paul to discuss the prospect of yards around the UK beginning steady and sustainable production of new vessels using future programmes as a basis, the hope of new facilities on the Clyde, the build and service prospects of the Type 31e and the prospect of potentially increasing the escort fleet.

“The greatest flaw to have plagued British naval shipbuilding since the 1980s is the issue of small batch classes of escort vessels, especially when subject to competitive tendering. Contrast that with the United States, which has been building the Arleigh Burke class since the 1980s.

In the UK small batch numbers and a lack of certainty over production locations have militated against efficiency curves from long production runs and created feast and famine deadweights on shipyards which bleed skills and knowledge.”

The picture below shows HMS Forth in build at Govan. The vessel which the Royal Navy “did not want or need” was ordered at an inflated price simply to keep the workforce employed between the end of the carrier build and the start of the Type 26 Frigate build, highlighting why small batch ordering is a problem.

Photo by Ian Dick, ‘HMS Forth’ via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Last year, a report backed up this argument up. The report claimed that delays in the construction of the Type 26 Frigate have had a negative impact on the development of the workforce on the Clyde. Titled ‘Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy’, it states that:

“It is clear to us that the delays in the construction of the Type 26 have had a negative impact on the development of the workforce on the Clyde. Apprenticeships are not being offered at the necessary rate, and those currently undertaking apprenticeships are having their skills training disrupted. Furthermore, workers are being required to move from Scotland to Barrow in order for them to undertake meaningful work.

We welcome the efforts made by the trades unions and BAE to retain the workforce during this period of uncertainty, but remain deeply concerned by warnings that further delay could be catastrophic for the skills base.”

What can be done about this?

Paul pointed out that the aspiration for shipbuilding in the UK according to officials, would be to have two main yards for warships. The first being the Clyde with its Type 26 frigates and an eventual replacement for the Type 45 destroyers. He said:

“The Ministry of Defence want to get to a position where there is a constant rolling production line of Type 26/Type 45 successor and a second production line of Type 31e – building both lines permanently. As older ships leave service or are sold abroad, new vessels enter service.”

The second assembly site, now somewhat up in the air given no contract has yet been awarded, would focus on building Type 31e, from components produced around the UK.

Image of Arrowhead 140 via Babcock, a Type31e candidate.
A BAE concept design for Type 31e.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman recently said regarding Type 31e:

“There have been no changes in our plans to procure a first batch of five new Type 31e frigates to grow our Royal Navy. We still want the first ship delivered by 2023 and are confident that industry will meet the challenge of providing them for the price tag we’ve set. This is an early contract in a wider procurement process, and we will incorporate the lessons learned and begin again as soon as possible so the programme can continue at pace.”

What does this mean for industry and the fleet?

Sweeney pointed out that there is a big opportunity to recapitalise the Clyde and press for the Modern Dock Hall at Scotstoun as part of the Batch 2 contract.

Paul pointed out that BAE had two investment options for its Clyde shipyards. A £100m option for more limited infrastructure improvement, and a larger £200m option to consolidate on one site, the Frigate Factory at Scotstoun. He went on to say that the latter is still possible with Batch 2 Type 26 and Type 45 follow on work.

“There is a big opportunity to recapitalise the Clyde and press for the Modern Dock Hall at Scotstoun as part of the Batch 2 contract.”

He also, very interestingly, added:

“The Royal Navy’s requirement is for a 19 Frigate and Destroyer fleet and indeed the aspiration is to grow it back up towards 24 with the Type 31e. Unfortunately there nothing in the public domain, yet, but take it from me that is the intent from the people who buy ships for the Royal Navy. The Shipbuilding APPG aims to publish its full report in September.”

Referring to the relatively small, batch orders that are a staple of British naval shipbuilding, he said:

“It undermines business cases for investment in world class shipyard infrastructure and plant. This ‘Airbus-style’ vision of the MOD to essentially build Type 26 along with a derivative for Type 45 successor continuously on the Clyde in parallel with a continuous production of Type 31e at another UK shipyard is therefore a potentially revolutionary opportunity for British shipyards to move to the upper quartile of naval shipbuilders globally.”

The Type 23 Frigates have had a lengthy service life.

The National Shipbuilding Strategy made the recommendation that the MoD replace the ships once they reach their first refit period, rather than extending their time in service thorough costly refits, meaning that Type 31es could be sold while still relatively new and replaced with more modern incrementally upgraded examples all while clawing back some of the money used to build them with overseas sales.

The idea behind this being that ships have a 15 year life span, rather than the 30 or so they usually would, meaning they are sold on at mid-life refit time. Doing this would maintain relatively constant production of the Type 31e, similar to the Arleigh Burke class in the United States which has now been in build for decades with each batch being superior to the last.

“This new approach to standardising and rationalising production for the Royal Navy, if formally adopted as policy, will realise huge efficiencies that will be a platform for a globally competitive industry and drive both growth in the Royal Navy fleet and export success, particularly if the Type 31e fleet is first proven with relatively short periods of service with the Royal Navy before being sold on in their prime to overseas navies as newer vessels in the class enter service.”

This would provide a tangible means to meet the aspiration of continuously producing two standard classes of ships for the Royal Navy, allowing for a more sustainable condition for the UK shipbuilding industry.

What about the Fleet Solid Support Ships?

The Government’s procurement plans for up to three new support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary are facing opposition from defence analysts, Labour, the SNP trade unions and many others.

“This model should be further extended to maintaining big ship construction of vessels with a beam larger than 20m at Rosyth dockyard, by ensuring a continuous production run after the Queen Elizabeth class is complete by building the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fleet Solid Support ships and then the successor to the Albion class there”, Sweeney advised.

How the support ships could look.

According to a briefing paper in the House of Commons library released earlier in the month, the programme is currently in the Assessment Phase with the competition expected to be formally launched towards the end of 2018 and a contract signed in 2020. The MoD says the contract will be for two ships with an option for a third.

The briefing paper states:

“The Government intends to compete the contract internationally. Labour, the SNP and the shipbuilding trade unions argue the contract should be restricted to UK shipyards to support the shipbuilding industry, secure jobs and retain skills.

They argue the proposed ships are ‘warships’ and as such, the Government can use the Article 346 exemption to exclude the contract from EU procurement rules on national security grounds.

The Government disagrees, defining warships as ‘destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers’, and says all other surface vessels should be subject to open competition.”

Lower Block 04, the largest hull section of HMS Queen Elizabeth is attached during the skidding to 01, 02 and 03 sections of HMS Prince of Wales at Rosyth.
Photo Credit John Linton / Aircraft Carrier Alliance

Two major unions, GMB and the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU), have published reports outlining why they believe the ships should be classified as warships and why they should be competed domestically. Their arguments can be summarised as:

  • The FSS should be seen as warships. They are armed and take part in counter-piracy and counter-narcotic missions;
  • The Government’s commitment to revitalising domestic naval shipbuilding (as espoused in the National Shipbuilding Strategy) will only be achievable with a steady stream of orders;
  • Building the FSS in the UK will help protect the UK shipbuilding industry, protect jobs and retain skills: GMB estimates up to 6,500 jobs could be created or secured, including 1,805 shipyard jobs;
  • Rosyth shipyard will have a gap between the completion of HMS Prince of Wales (the second aircraft carrier) in 2019 and the expected refit of HMS Queen Elizabeth (the first aircraft carrier) in 2030, and FSS work could keep the shipyard operational in between these dates;
  • The UK will financially benefit from returns to the Treasury in the form of taxes and national insurance contributions and lower welfare payments: GMB estimates £285m of the estimated £1bn contract could be returned to taxpayers this way; CSEU estimates 20% of the contract cost could be returned to the Treasury;
  • The Government should factor in the revenue that could be returned to the Treasury when scoring bids between domestic suppliers and foreign competitors;
  • There isn’t a level playing field as, the CSEU argues, “many foreign yards are either state owned, or receive significant direct or indirect subsidy… UK yards do not benefit in this way and are therefore at an unfair disadvantage.”

The TUC has also assessed the Article 346 exemption argument and argues the Government “has the sole right to determine” what its essential national security interests are. The TUC claims “other European nations have used the exemption to place orders for similar support ships with their own shipyards since the Directive was introduced.”

What is Article 346?

EU law requires most government contracts to be procured via an open, competitive process. The main EU legislation in the defence domain is the Defence and Security Directive 2009/81/EC, transposed into UK law by Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011.13

However, Article 346 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides for an exemption to the procurement rules where a country considers it to be necessary for national security reasons: “any Member State may take such measures as it considers necessary for the protection of the essential interests of its security which are connected with the production of or trade in arms, munitions and war material”. Article 346 refers to a list drawn up in 1958 by the Council of Ministers of products to which the provisions

December this year will see the formal issue of documentation inviting bids for the design and build contract and in 2020, the contract for design and build is to be awarded.

Paul also explained that building the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fleet Solid Support ships and then the successor to the Albion class in Rosyth would be of huge benefit to UK shipbuilding and allow for at least four primary shipbuilding sites. This would also allow for industry that would become sustainable.

What next?

“This would maintain a competitive full spectrum of naval shipbuilding capability centred on at least four sites in the UK: the Clyde specialising in the most complex capital ships Type 26 and Type 45 successor along with the principal surface ship design engineering centre in the UK, another UK shipyard specialising in the less complex Type 31e vessels, big ship final assembly at Rosyth in collaboration with other UK shipyards and nuclear submarine design and build at Barrow-in-Furness.”

However, Paul also expressed concern at the way large projects like this are funded:

“Underpinning all of this we also need to urgently need to address the absurd Treasury rules on financing large scale capital programmes like Type 26, liberating them from arbitrary in-year spend limits and patiently financing them in the same way commercial shipyards would or how other large public capital projects like Crossrail and HS2 are financed. 

This would be a further revolutionary step in driving efficiency and competitiveness into British naval shipbuilding and also open up opportunities for a renaissance of commercial shipbuilding activity too. We must grasp this vital opportunity to reinvigorate this iconic British industry.”

Rosyth during the build of the two new carriers.

We can only hope that the aspirations laid out by Mr Sweeney, about the new approach that could be taken by the MoD, will lead to the future of British shipbuilding marching towards a steady drumbeat of orders. New thinking is becoming imperative, a fact demonstrated with the recent mismanagement of Type 31e by the Government.

The UK needs a better way to effectively sustain its shipbuilding industry, let’s hope we’re heading in that direction.

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Ron5
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Ron5

He’s dreaming if he thinks the Navy is big enough to support 4 shipyards.

As for the Treasury signing off on replacing 15 year old ships, forget it.

Rob
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Rob

It does seem widely optimistic. One or two yards producing two types of ship between them, launching one per year (not each), then selling them on at 20 to 25 years depending on fleet size. That would actually be a strategy and could work with the political will.

Rob
Guest
Rob

*wildly optimistic

Chris
Guest
Chris

When the Type 23s go out of service i don’t think that they should be sold for scrapping. I think they should be sold fairly cheaply like with Ocean. I would imagine some of the baltic states wouldn’t mind buying up a used, cheap (with still some life in them) but still very capable Anti submarine frigates to help patrol the Baltic. They’d probably have to go through a bit of a refit (new radar, naval gun etc) but would still be worth it. Hell maybe even flog them to South America seeing as Chile already operates 3 of the… Read more »

USS Montana
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USS Montana

Brazil

Ian S
Guest
Ian S

It’s time the treasury take the nuclear deterrent back out of the MOD pot of money and start using this money to build the FFS ships even at a slightly higher price than possible competitor nations (ie South Korea) in the U.K. plus more Type 26’s and get over the need for low cost Type 31’s.

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

They should indeed build the enclosed dockhall on the Clyde, and use Rosyth with its large dry dock and gantry crane to assemble the fleet solid support ships and any other large Royal Navy or R.F.A. in future. But Scotland can’t have everything, so the Type 31 must go to an English yard, probably Cammel Lairds on the Mersey being the obvious choice. I don’t mind Scotland getting most Royal Navy ships, but they can’t have every single last one without exception. With the Type 26 on the Clyde, F.S.S. ships and future large Royal Navy and R.F.A. ships being… Read more »

Pacman27
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Pacman27

Hmm, decent article spoilt by politicking (there are plenty of Tory MP’s against SSS being foreign built). The 15 year sell off point is something I agree with and actually think we can do. I have costed all of this and we need a capital budget of £3bn p.a. For us to build the ships we need in the UK. We should build 1 complex warship every 2 years and 1 T31 every year. We should also build a large scale RFA/Amphib ship every 12-18 months. Subs should also be 1 every 2 years (9 SSN + 4 SSBN) And… Read more »

Elliott
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Elliott

Mostly agree but I would make the following changes. 1. Shift the Nuclear deterrent to a air-launched one. By making a Storm Shadow variant capable of carrying something like the W84 variable yield warhead. Then integrate that variant onto Typhoon and the F35B. To achieve some of the durability of the submarines the squadrons with Nuclear deterrent could be dispersed around the UK and over seas territories like Ascension and Diego Garcia while several are weapons kept aboard each Carrier. This would be far cheaper than building a new class of SSBN. 2. This would allow BAE to focus on… Read more »

DaveyB
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DaveyB

If you do the above you’ll be making a strategic asset more of a tactical asset. This is because the Trident/SSBN combination is partially self-sufficient. It can operate on its own without any outside help. If you go down the Storm Shadow route you have a problem with range as there is the Nuclear Treaty on cruise missiles limiting their range. This means for a J35B for example you’ll need a massive support footprint of bases, personnel and tankers with perhaps a buddy F35B tanker to get the aircraft to the release point. The Trident equipped sub by comparison could… Read more »

Elliott
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Elliott

I didn’t say it was better. The reasoning is the Dreadnought program IS the black hole on the defense budget. Barring a significant increase in defense spending it will continue to do so. I was suggesting a solution to retain a Nuclear deterrent while also using as many assets already in use and acquired through the normal supply chain. As for the longer ranged missions. That is why I mentioned Typhoon. Their are numerous overseas territories or allied bases one could base them from. Which I might add already exist in most cases and would require minimal UK personnel to… Read more »

AC
Guest
AC

VPM aboard a possible if unlikely batch 2 Astute would be desirable. Can anyone tell me if it would be technically and financially feasible for a retrofit in the future?

An enlarged Batch 3 or 4 typhoon built in a similar way to the USAF F.15E and FA 18E/F superbugs which are approximately one third larger than the c variants of both would be nice but it is in the realms of fantasy fleet stuff.

David Taylor
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David Taylor

The only shipbuilding program that the country should actively support are nuclear submarines.

Mike Saul
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Mike Saul

Agreed

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

An island without its own shipbuilding? Madness. Germany, France, Italy, etc. all have shipbuilding and they are not even islands, Britain is definitely keeping ours. It is vital to our national security to be able to build our own ships, even the government recognises this fact.

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

We will always have a Royal Navy so we will always need shipbuilding in Britain, we have to support it and invest in it.

Ian
Guest
Ian

Are you a Russian?

maurice10
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maurice10

Under no circumstances should any Royal Navy ship be built anywhere but Britain. To do otherwise would be crass.

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) So basically this Glasgow politician is dismissing the rest of the UK shipbuilding capabilities and proposing further orders and investment in the Clyde. Not a big surprise there then I will happily defend his right to promote his home interests but I also feel offended by this blinkered (if understandable) view. The Clyde has done rather well out of the UK Naval shipbuilding projects to date and to play the victim is frankly a bit rich (and too well worn). While Portsmouth was sacrificed on the altar of devolution and ‘IndyRef#1′ the Clyde was given overpriced patrol boats… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

What do you expect Chris from a Scottish based defence blog.

Im suprised we haven’t had the usual ships on the Clyde article this week, although this is not far off.

It’s a sad state of affairs where the best defence blog we have to comment on is so biased towards Scotland.

Also if the guy who runs this “George” would just put on the front of the leg that this defence blog is Scottish orientated and I’m a unionist anti snp man. Impartial my arse.

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

Sorry last paragraph

Also if the guy who runs this “George” would just put on the front of the website that this defence blog is Scottish orientated and I’m a unionist anti snp man. It would be a little bit better.

Impartial my arse.

Sorry I’m on my holidays.

Hope you’re well Chris and I apologise if I offended you on our last encounter on here, I know we are both passionate about politics, but I wish you no harm and respect your views even if they are sometime different to mine.

I wish you a fine summer evening.

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) SoleSurvivor – Water under the bridge mate .. being passionate about our country, how it is defended and by what is a good thing even if sometimes it causes a few sparks. I just try to keep to the issues but not good at it …

weather has been 31C in Suffolk but just enjoying some rain .. yes really!

Ron5
Guest
Ron5

So the UK should build Typhoon fighter jets and Ajax armoured vehicles in Scotland?

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) sorry meant **investment in the Clyde and Rosyth**

Ian L
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Ian L

Off subject :-Interesting article on Janes website about a possible off the shelve replacement of the Harpoon missle system 🙂

Ian L
Guest
Ian L

Sorry that should be “shelf”

expat
Guest
expat

As soon as the government say the t45 replacement will be built on the Clyde the MoD has given up any chance to negotiate a good deal. Look at BAe, 15 years of TOBA delivered over price Rivers yet refuse to invest an additional 100m for the frigate factory. BAe know they have the MoD in their pocket with t26. The t31 is going the right way and yards have to win exports orders for commercial and military ships if we truly want an successful industry that can offer the RN best price, best quality, on time. The UK can… Read more »

Ron5
Guest
Ron5

Why would Bae spend another 100 million of its own money on new facilities based on an order for 3 type 26. Because that’s all it has in the order book right now. Don’t forget a 100 million has already been spent on shipyard upgrades.

The MoD allows a mere 6% profit to single source contracts. That gives a very tiny incentive for any company to invest.

As for the Type 31, it’s the MoD that’s stopped the program not the shipyards.

Martin
Guest
Martin

Type 45 over budget and under armed. Astute over budget and late in service. Carriers over budget and more than a few hiccups. River class batch 2 expensive, under armed and the first one returned under warranty. The navy has 2 problems, HM Treasury and BAE systems. I sometimes wonder who controls the naval budget.

Julian
Guest
Julian

You have to contrast that with other countries though. USA Zumwalt & LCS development, German listing F-125, Spanish subs delayed & will launch without the final propulsion. I’m sure the list goes on. T45 isn’t really any more lightly armed than FREMM, especially if the FFBNW Mk41 capacity is included. As for carriers, a significant part of the over-budget came from Gordon Brown slowing the build and the to-cat-or-not-to-cat flip flop. As for “more than a few hiccups” please tell me you’re not talking about stuff like the prop misalignment found on the sea trials. It would have been an… Read more »

expat
Guest
expat

I don’t think saying everyone else is bad so we should just match that. If anyone commenting on this site purchased an item, it was deliver late, you we asked to pay more and it was bad quality you’d complain and demand a refund. Its not just individuals who do this big commercial organisations like airlines, they buy expensive assets much like the MoD, they’d will take the manufacturer to the cleaners if they don’t deliver what was contractually agreed. The trouble is as soon as you have no competition what can you do but accept the crap you’re given,… Read more »

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) martin – While I am no lover of BAE Clyde being the default shipbuilder of choice in fairness the carriers were only over budget due to a 2 year delay in the process by the then Government which added some £1 Bn. Not sure (once it restarted) they were late on delivery. In fact QE went through builders and sea trials in half the projected time and PoW was in a far more advanced state of build than was QE on float up. And again being fair the QEs were no more a BAE ship than an A… Read more »

AC
Guest
AC

“As for T45 well they are air Defence ships (with other capabilities) and have all the armament they need”.

Not they don’t with 48 VLS fitted and a possible 64 with the FFBNW nonsense and only 6 built compared with the USN AB class of 90 or 96 silos and 80+ built

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) AC – Ever thought maybe we have a different foreign and military policy to the USA? And the little matter of being 1/6th the size? Type 45s are the air defence and control ship of choice BY the US Navy in the Med and Gulf areas so they are the best at what they do. They are not offensive ships by design but can deliver a big punch with those 48 silos and just need to protect themselves and other vessels with them. That is all. The Arleigh Burke is a Jack of all trades but master of… Read more »

AC
Guest
AC

What happen when they stop listening and realise that our “soft power” means our big stick is a twig.

Regarding foreign policy I am not sure it is that different and I was not suggesting we should build 80* or (65*) just that 6 with a max of 64 silos is not sufficient.

* total number on order or planned is 77*

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) AC – You fail to understand what ‘Soft Power’ means then because there is no ‘Big Stick’ needed as you influence by persuasion, strength of argument and the history you bring to the discussions not force of arms or threats. The fact we are rated No 1 means by definition we are already accepted and respected for our views and power to influence. If you need a ‘Big Stick’ then that isn’t Soft Power and why the USA is rated so poorly given its size. Again I differentiate between people respecting and listening (as they do to us)… Read more »

AC
Guest
AC

What utter nonsense.

Soft power without hard power to back up your argument and persuasion will never work if it did why do we bother having any armed force at all and remember what a potential enemy will say to your face is one thing and what they mean behind closed doors is quite another.

I want both you cannot have one and hope for the best with the other

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

AC

You need to go and read the difference between soft and hard power, they are not related. One does not “back up” the other.

It’s getting tedious the amount of people on here that doesn’t know the difference.

AC
Guest
AC

Sole survivor

Thank you but I do I know the difference and know that if cannot back up your “soft power” with anything remotely harder as and when the need arises then you are already out of the fight if that is what you want then stick to the peace at any cost type website

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

No AC you clearly don’t. Ok, so the British council funds a classroom in Chile teaching English. The same people then go home and listen to the BBC world service for an hour after every lesson. Those 30 men and women in that classroom, after spending months with a British teacher, spending months in a British council library, will grow into society with a favourable view of the U.K. they could become politicians or become employed with businesses in positions of power within the country or even elsewhere. The local politician also sees this and mentions the U.K. favourably to… Read more »

AC
Guest
AC

Sole survivor Clearly the penny has not dropped yet with you that one or the other on it’s own is irrelevant. Please explain how all that you state, wonderful and desirable as it is makes us safer when all of your examples of people in library’s reading about how wonderful GB is and all those listening to the world service tell the same politicians who disagree or do not care about UK plc safety. I am sure Vladimir Putin listens to the world service has that stopped him annexing Crimea or carrying out chemical warfare in this country. How about… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

Soft power is pursuation, getting a country to think on your terms, become friendly, through culture and diplomacy amongst a few other things. Hard power is the THREAT of military action to get a country to think on your terms and do as you want. Economic sanctions is hard power, getting a country to join a military alliance with you is hard power. If you have to go to war it’s becuse the hard power tactic of coercion has failed. Soft and hard power are measures of getting a country to do what you want. We could double our navy,… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

Was in their interests**

AC
Guest
AC

Sole survivor No and neither have you one without the other does not you need to have both to complement one another Iraq 1991 and 2003 “soft power” was used albeit briefly through UN sanctions and negotiations and Saddam ignored it was the use of “hard power” that bought him down. EU does not use any “hard power” at all North Korea was threatened with utter annihilation by DT that is what brought fat boy to the negotiating table and as things stand it seemed to have worked that is “hard power” at work. Remember the Yugoslavian civil war telling… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

“Iraq 1991 and 2003 “soft power” was used albeit briefly through UN sanctions” “EU does not use any “hard power” at all” Economic sanctions are hard power you doughnut, c’mon Ffs. You clearly don’t know what’s you’re talking about as that blatant mistake just proves it. Soft and hard power does not necessarily mean war or preventing war, it’s a measure of how to get relations with countries, how to get them onside. We are allies with the majority of nations so where would Hard power be used against Europe or the US for example. A lot of geopolitical analysists… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

I don’t why people are so obsessed with the concept of hard power. It’s a declining means of pursuasion, threatening countries with war and using economic sanctions barely works anymore. N Korea only started playing ball when the US used diplomacy, it’s been using hard power for decades with no success. Russia will never play ball being threatened, neither would China. Look at Libya and Syria. Afghanistan is turning into a hell hole. This is not to say that we should not expand our forces and spend more on defence, I have actively supported that on here for ages. But… Read more »

Elliott
Guest
Elliott

Sole No North Korea only started to play ball when they started to starve outside of the cities and when instead of previous administrations tolerating North Korean provocations (such as launching missiles tests over Japan while also threatening the United States’s sovereign territory of Guam) President Trump outright said the retaliation for a missile landing on Guam would be the extinction of North Korea while also not ruling out a preemptive strike. North Korea’s inabilities to feed itself or provide for it’s people is a result of sanctions. Kim Jong Un has had to shoot a record number of Generals… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

That’s another classic example of how stupid you are Elliot. The US never used hard power to get where it is today you moron, there is one reason and one reason only, the size of its economy. It was always heading towards superpower status regardless of world events or what it did. Just like China is now, China isn’t waging war making its economy grow at 6% a year is it. You though the US fought it’s way to the top like some brave gunslinger arriving into town ? classic elliot. What was it I said last week, you never… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

And please stop insulting people’s inteligence trying to justify Iraq and now Libya and Syria. Will you f**k off with this tripe that it is about saving the people from a dictator, or helping the people. Where is the hard power with China then? Why do we let a hard Islamic absolute monarchy rule a country in the Middle East? Where is the interventions to “help” people in Africa, or in Burma? We have let a nutcase family rule N Korea and starve millions to death. Where are these crusades then to save the people being killed Elliot. Seriously f**k… Read more »

Sean
Guest
Sean

I wonder given the RN didn’t want those 5 Amazonas corvettes/ River Batch 2 opvs…

Had the money for each opv been added to the £250 million budgeted for each T31, would that have been enough to ensures;
a) both bids came in under the competition target for the T31e
b) the T31e would be decently armed to fight in high-intensity scenarios…

Martin
Guest
Martin

If the MOD had it’s act together those 5 batch two rivers could have been type 31 frigates. BAE already had the Khareef designed being exported for £140 million and stretching it out as with Type 31 Leander design could have been done for £250 million. But the RN wanted all the high end frigates it could get and it did not want another platform getting in the way. That’s why those batch 2 rivers don’t have hangars making them little more than useless. Meanwhile half of Africa is Swimming over the Med and we have to send HMRC cutters… Read more »

Paul.P
Guest
Paul.P

We know the bacKground to River 2; that the MOD contract with BAE committed to an annual spend regardless of any ships being built In all probability BAE believed, pre the NSBSS and the MOD issuing the competitve RFI that their stretched Khareef or River 2 was a shoe in for Type 31. I suspect that in order to make the best of a bad situation they, the RN and the MOD all agreed to spend money on combat hardening of the R2 hull in expectation of ot being the basis for Type 31, Leander. Courtesy of Keith Campbell writing… Read more »

Mark L
Guest
Mark L

WAIS is the Warship Automatic Identification System. All ships over 300 tons have to have AIS which reports their identification, position, course and speed. So WAIS helps with collision avoidance and greatly simplifies the compilation of the surface picture.

Martin
Guest
Martin

Very good article, however on ship building strategy I would deny the point or need for two frigates assembly lines.

Invest heavily in one very high end assembly yard for frigates (scotson) and one for larger ship like rosyth, nationalise both facilities, then use competitive tendering and possibly even a mix of foreign yards for blocks from across the rest of the country. Aim to knock out one frigate style vessel per year and a larger vessel every 2/3 years.

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) I got as far as ‘nationalse’ and realised anything I say would be wasted … Especially as you seem to think anything nationalised understands ‘competitive tendering’

Martin
Guest
Martin

There is no point in having a private company, especially BAE when you only have a sole source provider.

Nationalised industry’s can be done very well, Asia and in particular Singapore manages it quite well.

Let’s be honest since BAE took over ship building in the UK it has been a disaster.

What you have now is an effectively nationalised industry that you have to pay a private premium to for zero benefit.

Ron5
Guest
Ron5

You really, really need to go research how badly the UK shipyards did when they were last nationalized.

Nationalization has never solved any productivity issues anywhere and at any time.

expat
Guest
expat

Agree Ron

AC
Guest
AC

Where does the huge subsidies come from for a nationalised shipbuilding industry?

The taxpayer i.e even less for the Mod and by extension the RN.

The main problem and maybe the only problem lies in the fact that BAE systems has it’s fingers in so many pies making it effectively a one stop monopoly.

Ron5
Guest
Ron5

The Bae warship UK monopoly was deliberately created by a Labour government under the Labour chief of defence procurement Grayson.

He wished to replicate the situation in France & Italy where one company got enough business to invest in productivity improvements instead of keeping multiple companies just alive on a trickle of orders.

expat
Guest
expat

Did it work in Italy or France, I keep hearing they continue to be subsidised, so perhaps not.

You could argue that commercial yards like CL are actually more efficient after all they beat off competition from around the world to build the polar research ship, Italy’s Fincantieri withdrew but other competitors were from Korea, Singapore where yards are subsidised.

CL has had to slug it out and win orders by being more efficient they have been forced to invest. Is there the same incentive if your guaranteed the next order?

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

I understand what you are saying Martin it would make sense to have 2 modern shipyards, one for frigates/destroyers and the other for large ships (carriers, tankers, etc.), but if they build the enclosed dock hall on the Clyde, and they should, the other shipyard invested in cannot be Rosyth, also in Scotland, it is at the stage where Scottish shipbuilding gets absolutely everything and English shipbuilding gets absolutely nothing. The other yard to be invested in has to be an English yard, probably Cammel Lairds.

Martin
Guest
Martin

Yet some how we can build all the fighter jets and submarines in England. More English nationalism on UK? (Little England) Defence journal is it.

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) Martin – Thank you for clarifying you are a full on Socialist (hence ‘nationalise it’) duly signed up to the SNP for whom these discussions are always an excuse for racist and dumb abuse towards ‘Little England’. Some of us are frankly very tired of Sturgeon’s continual whingeing and interfering in matters that are not devolved. She is nothing more than a Chief Executive of a not very big Regional Authority. And she can’t even manage to do that well. Let me just remind you Soft Lad that it is ‘Little England’ that funds your £15 Bn a… Read more »

rec
Guest
rec

What the UK lacks is any real long term strategy and the politucal will to spend money to achieve it. It wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to agree to order in larger batches and give industry some security. However until politicians extend their horizons beyond the short term political cycle and change their attitude to money. Money is a useful servant but a terrible master. And at present money is the master and the treasury is too much in control. Hence all areas of UK public services are blighted by a short term financial dogma which is not doing any of… Read more »

Ron5
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Ron5

Excellent comment.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Whilst the poor budgeting resulting in slow builds and even slower design phases has led to this mess, as has the reality that we as a country are in pretty poor health financially and whilst our income (gdp) is one of the highest, our net public income is very low. As we as a country are not willing to accept that and our policiticans are unwilling to tell us, short term decisions have been made to cut public expenditure on the quiet, such as the delays on the build / design phases of ships. The public debt won’t be solved… Read more »

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

If money needs to be found cut the foreign aid budget, it is far too high.

Steve
Guest
Steve

that would be a political bomb. If they cut aid and don’t invest it all in the nhs the papers would have a field day. In peace times and a era after 2 messy wars, military spending is just not on the public’s interest list.

Ian
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Ian

I agree with every word Paul Sweeney says. It’s time we got strategic. Long term planning and commitments gives Gov less short term room for maneuver but very much greater long term value for money. HMG has seen potential benefits of this re it’s 10 year NHS plan, we should do the same for ship building.

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

The U.K. should also get back into commercial shipbuilding like France, Germany and Italy so we are not reliant solely on the Navy. We should start bidding for cruise ships, that’s what other European countries do, perhaps Cammel Lairds could do this. Also we should build a new Royal Yacht Britannia to give British shipbuilding a boost, and also be a visible sign of modern Britain and modern British shipbuilding.

Steve
Guest
Steve

mind the pun but that ship has sailed. It would require a huge public investment to get ship building back into this country to any scale and even with the investment there is no guarantee that it would be profitable without government subsidies, which we can’t currently afford as a country.

The question I would like to ask is why do we need to build war ships domestically? The era of being able to mass produce in the event of a war are long gone due to technological complexity and cross country supply chains.

Ron5
Guest
Ron5

Great idea, let the UK buy warships from China. They’re the cheapest.

Steve
Guest
Steve

and what is the issue with that? We buy pretty mucj everything that flies from US, ajax from Spain, guns from Germany.

Ok there is a risk of software backdoors but are we realistically going to go to war with China?

Steve
Guest
Steve

not to mention that the weapon systems and radars would be British and so any backdoor would be limited usefulness. They could also be fitted here like they did with the tides.

Ron5
Guest
Ron5

So you cannot differentiate buying weapons from our allies from buying from our adversaries?

If you’d been around, the RAF would have been flying Messerschmitts during the Battle of Britain and Fokkers during WW1.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Yes let’s give a few billion more to a nation that is as close to practising mercantilism against the west as you can get and still pretend to espouse free trade. in fact one thing trump has right is that China has been manipulating free trade (by the use of currency deflation and other tools such as governed control of cheap labour and corporations, state sponsored steeling of research etc) to economically weaken the west and strength its own reserves. China very much recognises money is power and it can easily be transferred to hard or soft power to use… Read more »

expat
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expat

We need to keep our nations money in our nation as much as possible, BAE may cost more but it pays tax, it pays its workers who pay tax, buy houses spend in shops and make us wealthier. It pay workers who buy Samsung TVs, Bosch fridges and BMW’s. Even the shop workers by Chinese, Korean, German Japanese. The Plasters, Electricians who work on your house buy VW or Renault vans. Even the workers at HMRC buy foreign. Why is everyone so concerned about where the government spend your money, yet your own money you will happily hand it to… Read more »

Steve
Guest
Steve

Whilst I am not suggesting China is the only option, the giving money to an opponent is rubbish and US practices are equally messed up, just look at the mess that is latam and many other countries caused by US interference. As it stands China is also an ally, I don’t remember any declaration of war or suddenly all the Chinese built goods vanishing from our shops or the debt we owe them being called in. I’m partially playing devils advocate here, but only partially. Ideally keeping money domestic is the best option but you have to balance that with… Read more »

Darren
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Darren

We don’t buy it. Our eu loving civil servants, vested interests and politicians buy it. Why do you have to accept less capability and numbers if built in this Country? How did this Country get into the past recession, which she is still trying to recover from in many areas?

Darren
Guest
Darren

To expat. Because as individuals, we do not have our own tax-raising powers and tax clawback. Even when we buy Chinese good, in which some are fooled into thinking they are still UK manufactured brands, the UK government receives certain tax in those goods from individuals buying them. The paymaster general (the UK with her treasury etc) can get clawback from workers and firms that can amount to over 40%. Plus, a catalyst to energising a sector that has so much potential. Renault vans are made in Luton.

Darren
Guest
Darren

As said before. We don’t buy out of choice from them. Others our doing this in our name even though we do not agree. An army general said that these competitions do not give value or what the army needs, we need to manufacture more here, but why is this happening. It’s sad to say, but I don’t believe certain individuals and bodies in power or near the decision makers along with their vested interests, always make decisions that are best in the UK’s interests.

Darren
Guest
Darren

Far from it, that ship has not sailed, only for the un-ambitious that may be the case. What has mass production have to do with this? Someone told me years ago that Cammell Laird would never build a ship again. I watched a live launch of a 150 million pound complex non-grey hulled ship a couple of weeks ago. While Babcock in Rosyth is a facility created by the Royal Navy it does have huge potential for the larger type of ship build, but there are other areas that have the ambition and potential and have the large holes in… Read more »

Darren
Guest
Darren

Just to add Steve. This from a few years ago in the Telegraph: ” Today the company looks abroad for its megaships, though a Cunard spokesman did concede: “If all things were equal and British yards were able to meet our specifications, we would consider them.”

The problem is there aren’t any British commercial shipbuilding yards left capable of handling such a job”. Not yet

The whole article: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/engineering/11593892/Why-Britains-boatbuilders-are-riding-the-crest-of-a-luxury-wave.html

David Taylor
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David Taylor

We must remember that T45 has only become a specialist AAW ship because their was no budget to outfit it fully. I am not sure from where this idea that it is ‘thrashy’ destroyer came. It seems some are intent are rewriting history to meet the current situation. An IEP ship should be quieter than a mechanical ship; how BAE managed to make it noisy is a mystery. Never mind how T45 generates less electric than the seemingly more robust conventional Horizons. T45 was designed to be a replacement for T42; the latter used to do very well in ASW… Read more »

Ron5
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Ron5

1. The Royal navy specification for the Type 45 did not require any sound proofing. It’s very expensive so Bae didn’t design or build any in. 2. Yes, an IEP ship could in theory be quieter because of the absence of a man gearbox and a hard connection between engines & propeller, but that quietness doesn’t come by magic. It has to be designed and built into the ship. See 1. above. 3. You are misinformed, the Type 45 generates an order of magnitude more electricity that the French & Italian Horizons. 4. The Type 42’s were not an ASW… Read more »

David Taylor
Guest
David Taylor

Oh dear…… 1) The RN originally set for a like for like replacement of T42. You perhaps need to go to read about the history of RN escorts post WW2. How improving technology meant the RN could do away with the specialist escort types to GP types whose main had a single main role but also had capabilities in other areas. So just as Leander, T22, and T23 all have/had anit-air capabilities the Type 42 went to sea with a sonar set, shipborne torpedoes, etc. T42 wasn’t as quiet as Leander but it is question whether it was any more… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Ummm the type 45 was designed from the bottom up as an air defence destroyer to replace the type 42 another dedicated air defence destroyer. The RN has followed the same pattern of specialist ships since treaty cruisers went out of fashion. Most air defence ships make useless ASW assets, as making a hull quite is an expensive luxury in an AAW ship that really need fast acceleration so they can react quickly to threats, making them generally noisy in hull form, propulsion and behaviour. Even the burkes ( which are very expensive attempts to do it all) are a… Read more »

Rfn_weston
Guest
Rfn_weston

As a platform T45 is perfectly suited to operate Sea Viper, an extremely potent missile.

However the missiles aren’t self aware. They are guided on target by the systems and software installed on those platforms. To suggest T45 is anything other than one of, if not the best area air defence platform in operation is foolish. As is suggesting T45 was intended as anything other than an out and out air defence destroyer.

Steve
Guest
Steve

The T45 is currently a terrible AAW platform. The one thing you need for even a basic platform is 100% certainty that the systems will work when called on. The power problems and the various other issues means, that this is just not there. Hopefully this will get resolved, but until then any task force effectively has no viable air defence and would be extremely vulnerable.

Wars aren’t fought on paper with paper capabilities, they are fought in the moment

Rfn_weston
Guest
Rfn_weston

Various other issues? Please share?

Steve
Guest
Steve

there has been constant stories of them being towed back to port and not always power related. When you only have 6 of them. which means maybe 3 are available at any one time, even minor breakdowns would result in a serious capability gap in the event of a conflict where one was needed.

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) Steve – Just because a warship has a tug fore and aft does not mean it is ‘under tow’. A ship loses its ability to steer as speed reduces. Or do you believe everything the numpty main stream media idiots write (as they did recently) using ‘White Van Man’ as their technical source?

Pacman27
Guest
Pacman27

Jonathan If the T26 is the best ASW frigate in the world, adding the best radar and AAW suite will then make it the best warship in the world. I see no logical reason why the T26 cannot be the UK’s Arleigh Burke, but do it better. Clearly they would have a specific role in a task group, but actually from a build perspective it offers the RN so many more options that I think it is wasteful not to. 13 T26 Global Combat ships (AAW and ASW) would allow us to invest £6bn in T31. The huitfeldt class btw… Read more »

Nigel Collins
Guest
Nigel Collins
Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) In regard to what the UK as a whole has ‘available to spend’ we should never lose sight of the fact that a Coalition and two Tory Governments have had the major task of keeping public services going, repair infrastructure and yes buy new military equipment while removing what was a £145 Bn current account deficit in one year. We are now in practical terms in a balanced economy for the first time in since 2002. All that borrowing costs us interest and last year our interest bill was some £46 Bn a year. A bit more (2.5%)… Read more »

David Taylor
Guest
David Taylor

The Danish Absalon support ships would cost about £230 million today sans systems. That is the same hull as the Babcock offering but with only two engines. Even with hand me down weapons it would be a squeeze on £250 million per hull budget. An additional T26 would make more sense. The thing is with the aid money is that we have to borrow it. It isn’t like we really have to spend. Never mind the interest. One of the best things we could do with our EU Danegeld is us to pay down our debt. We have been a… Read more »

Porky
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Porky

2/3 of our debt is owned by ourselves. We bought our own debt to ensure liquidity in the markets. Do you suggest that we ‘pay down’ our debt to ourselves?

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) Porky – If you are referring to QE then you need to go and read your information again. Of the £46 Bn some £33 Bn is not B of E owned.

https://fullfact.org/economy/interest-payments-national-debt/

Steve
Guest
Steve

And where do you think the BoE got the money to lend the government, it issued government gilts.

David Taylor
Guest
David Taylor

What about the portion debt that isn’t ‘ours’ shouldn’t we pay that off?

Ron5
Guest
Ron5

You are misinformed (again) the Babcocks Arrowhead 140 has 4 diesels for main propulsion..

David Taylor
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David Taylor

” That is the same hull as the Babcock offering but with only two engines. ”

The Iver Hurtfield uses the same basic hull shape as the Absalon.

And the Absalon has only two engines.

Porky
Guest
Porky

If Gavin Williamson MP had made these remarks rather than Paul Sweeney a lot of people commenting here would have been joyously celebrating his genius

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) Porky – No they wouldn’t because no matter who says the words it is politically biased and reflects the pressure Labour are under in Scotland from the SNP. No UK Minister would offer a solution that effectively closes off naval shipbuilding outside Scotland …

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) – Of some relevance to the ‘Foreign Built’ debate is this concise comment from ‘NavyLookout’ twitter feed:

“DSME South Korea lost money on the Tide class, underestimated how complex it was, went bankrupt during construction, was baled out by state subsidies, made mistakes and delivered lead ship nearly a year late”

Anyone suggesting British shipyards face fair competition need to wind their necks in ….

Steve
Guest
Steve

So the South Korean government has paid towards us getting the capability we need, this is actually a positive. If they had been built in the UK, and the UK government had to bail out the manufacturer, it would have resulted in capability cuts to pay for it. It’s not like every single British built vessel hasn’t come in way over budget.

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) Steve – So the Korean Government subsidies allowed this yard to undercut other bids to retain jobs and skills in Korea and stay in business. Now that I can understand even if it distorts fair competition but what I can’t understand is why you think this is a really good idea (for Korea) but its not a good idea for the UK Government to do the same for UK jobs – And you make the assumption that it would have to ‘subsidise’ anything. But the simple act of placing the work in the UK creates and maintains high… Read more »

Rob Collinson
Guest
Rob Collinson

One of the biggest issues all of the complex, multi-year programmes face is the constant fiddling from MoD and their political masters, who are constantly changed and reflect various different ideas and agendas. Once a decision is made and a price has been agreed, the money needs to be forwarded in the agreed installments. No changes should be made, unless a problem occurs. There must be NO changes like the no cat&trap/yes to cat&trap/ no cat&trap debacle. Utter lunacy. There was terrible meddling in the T45. Meddling in the T26 and T31 (remembering that the T31 s all a political… Read more »

Steve
Guest
Steve

I suspect the big issue is that tech evolves and so do threats, it’s too tempting to adjust the spec to meet these. The t26 design started over a decade ago, and just look at your mobile phone and compare to what you had back then to see the change.

Chris
Guest
Chris

(Chris H) Rob Collinson – I admire your logical thinking and the rationale for it. You also naile well the obvious fact that ‘change = Cost’. However you do seem, with respect, to have created a Scottish favouring solution looking for a problem. You say: T26 to The Clyde – Yes well it already is T31 to Rosyth – Apart from a consortium (which included all of the UK shipbuilders) the carriers were the first complex ships built there. Belfast has built more carriers alone. FSS to Cammell Laird – for just 2 ships. So you want to put 5… Read more »

Steve
Guest
Steve

p.s. considering the size, I will never believe that the original plan wasn’t for cat/trap and this wasn’t cut initially for cost reasons and then the whole double decision came later.

Darren
Guest
Darren

I think the studies from turning the tide GMB and the CSEU give the 285 million pounds returned as a figure from the people employed and not the firms and other sources which could amount to far more than this. Worth reading.

Darren
Guest
Darren

How much did the last recession and banking crisis cost this Country? No more pre-2007 thoughts on buying from abroad, and please have longer memories that can go back to this recent past. Did Naval shipbuilding ever cost this country dear or steel making, but who were bailed out? The pre-2007 model was for the financial banking sector to make us the money and for nearly everyone else to work in the public sector, it seemed.

Darren
Guest
Darren
KeithSware
Guest
KeithSware

You either build two RN ships a year at a regularly scheduled build commissioning rate for 15 years service, or you build one RN ship each year at a regularly scheduled build commissioning rate for 30 years service. This would eventually result in 30 RN warships in service. Quote: “The idea behind this being that ships have a 15 year life span, rather than the 30 or so they usually would, meaning they are sold on at mid-life refit time.”?????? Building one ship a year according to that previous quote would reduce the number of RN hulls in service to… Read more »