The National Shipbuilding Strategy reveals that the government are to buy at least five Type 31 Frigates, and share the construction between shipyards around the UK.
The Type 31 Frigate is expected to be cheaper than Type 26 with a fixed price of £250m to encourage exports.
The first ship is expected to be delivered in 2023 and designed to be replaced at the end of their life instead of frequent refits and upgrades.
As part of the new approach, it was announced that the five Type 31 frigates could be built across different shipyards, before being assembled at a central site believed to be either the Clyde or Rosyth with the former being the favourite if capacity allows.
The Clyde yards are currently working on five Offshore Patrol Vessels and has started working on the first batch of eight Type 26 Frigates, leaving the question of spare capacity. Will there actually be space to assemble Type 31?
We spoke to a source intimately involved with shipbuilding in Glasgow regarding the practicality of building the Type 31 on the Clyde and he told us:
“I think it’s the obvious answer from an industrial point of view but the question is capacity.
There isn’t any at Govan while T26 is in build so there needs to be a new assembly hall built at Scotstoun.”
Sir Michael Fallon said the first of the new ships are due to be in service by 2023 and shipyards would be encouraged to ensure the vessel was competitive on the global market by working with “global partners”. He said:
“This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.”
Nia Griffith MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, responding to the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, said:
“I welcome the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy and the commitment to the long-term future of our shipbuilding industry. But as well as investing in our naval fleet, we must also invest in the men and women who serve in our Royal Navy.
Despite warnings over many years, our Navy is facing a crisis in recruitment and retention. The Government is on course to miss its own target for the size of the Navy and we simply do not have enough sailors to crew our naval fleet.
Experienced personnel are leaving the Navy because of dissatisfaction with pay and conditions. If the Government was serious about properly resourcing our Royal Navy it would lift the public sector pay cap and pay our servicemen and women properly.”
It is understood that Rosyth is also seen as a potential site for assembly of the frigates but BAE is reportedly keen to retain the work for its yards on the River Clyde in Glasgow according to The Times.
Whoever wins, the vessel is set to be assembled in Scotland we’re told. We spoke to another source earlier in the year who works at the Govan yard as a welder and wishes to remain unnamed, about the possibility of the Clyde assembling parts of the new frigate:
“It’s no secret we’ll be getting the frigate work, we’re already gearing up for the Type 26 after the Rivers and Type 31s after the Type 26s.“
Scottish National Party defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said:
“It is all about squeezing costs to the bone and cutting corners, and still leaves real uncertainties for the future for workers at Scottish shipyards and the communities that depend on them.”
Gary Cook, Scotland organiser for the GMB, said:
“Let’s be clear that the Type 31 contracts were originally promised to the Upper Clyde, so while shipbuilding communities across the UK would benefit from a work-share programme of the Type 31 work, this will be at the expense of the Upper Clyde despite its own future already being secured until the 2030s.”
The build plan for the Type 31 Frigates is expected to follow a similar pattern to that of the Queen Elizabeth carriers and early Type 45 Destroyers in that blocks will be built in yards around the UK and assembled on the Clyde.
Modern shipbuilding makes considerable use of prefabricated sections. Entire multi-deck segments of the hull may be built elsewhere around the UK, transported to the building dock or slipway, then lifted into place and assembled into one ship. This is known as block construction and is far more cost effective.
Yards pre-install equipment, pipes, electrical cables and any other components within the blocks, to minimise the effort needed to assemble or install components deep within the hull once it is welded together.