The Ministry of Defence is to put the order for Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships out to international tender at the end of this month, diminishing hopes that they will be built in the UK.

Keeping the work in the UK could create or secure 6,700 jobs, including 1,800 shipyard jobs, and support a further 4,700 in the supply chain, say union GMB.

Ross Murdoch, the GMB’s national officer for shipbuilding, claimed:

“It would be a gross betrayal of the spirit of the ‘red, white and blue Brexit’ that Theresa May promised if this crucial contract is awarded outside of the UK and jobs here are lost as a result. We have a highly skilled shipbuilding workforce in the UK that is more than capable of making these ships at a fair market price.”

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.

Support vessels like the solid support ships are eligible to be constructed outside the UK as only ‘complex warship’ construction (such as destroyers and frigates as outlined above) must stay within UK borders.

Babcock International, which announced 400 job losses at Rosyth was reportedly among a number of firms from the UK and abroad to attend an industry day in relation to the deal.

 

 

An article in The Herald recently 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 headline seems to set the tone for the rest of the article with a glaring error, “Clyde yards suffer new blow as Royal Navy orders set to go abroad”, they’re not Royal Navy, they’re for the RFA.

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.

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.

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.”

The article which also appeared in The Evening Times also points out that unions are demanding the vessels are built in the UK, as seeking an international tender “undermines the national interest” however none of them are advocating for the 40,000 tonne support vessels be built on the Clyde which is expected to be at capacity until into the 2030’s, long after the date the vessels will be required.

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. They’ll be going to South Korea like the tankers as I don’t think any UK yard is considering a bid for them, we certainly aren’t.”

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.”

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.

104 COMMENTS

  1. Quite frankly, Appalling.

    When will this country of ours ever learn to put Britain first?

    It’s time to invest in the UK, stop buying off the shelf military hardware and most importantly, stop handing out money in charitable aid at a time when we need it to invest in the security of this country.

    A twenty billion pound + black hole in the defence budget, while at the same time handing over twelve billion PA in overseas aid?

    Build the ships, increase the number of transport aircraft along with the service personnel across our entire armed forces and we can deliver the aid directly in peacetime to the people who actually require it while at the same time increasing our own military capability.

    I sometimes wonder if pure common sense exists within the walls of Westminster.

    • The question here is simple. If a British shipyard can deliver the right ship on time at the right price it will get the job. If not, the work will go overseas. I run my own business and I can buy certain items from America at less than half the UK price. Only shipment costs prevent me doing so.
      I do agree with you on foreign aid but will it stop. I doubt it.

    • Personally, I don’t think we need to worry about Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran. Our Government is doing a far better job at destroying our armed services than they ever will.

      Rant over, Good morning all!

      • Surely, it’s quick availability at the right price that the RN requires? However, the Rosyth yard should be big enough to construct them, as it accommodated the QE Class? Where possible, we should always build our own ships as it creates so many jobs; and supports the wider communities. When placing an order overseas the Government must consider the wider net costs to the UK economy. Denying jobs and paying social security appears to be crass, and the QE Class is proof that World class ships can be built in the UK. I personally didn’t get too upset about the Tides being built in Korea, and they appear to have been a successful experiment?

        At the end of the day, the RN needs these ships to reinforce the post-Brexit global strategy (if it exists?) and deploy modern and fast supply logistics.

        • I would rather see offsetting export contracts where Korea build the MARS and Tide class tankers in return for ordering CAMM, Brimstone etc that way both sides benefit from economies of scale, getting the best equipment at the best price.

        • Agreed.
          Unfortunately HMG loves pumping our money around the world rather than the French system of keeping it flowing in their own country.
          I would rather pay more for the vessels, with the tax returns from the builders, their workers and their supply chain etc finding its way round our economy.
          I wonder how much less the build cost would have to be abroad to offset the tax and employment returns by building in the UK?
          Any economists have an idea?

          • Well, the easiest direct comparison is the Labour element. In employee and employer tax take it brings back c50% of that cost. Then there’s whole knock on effect of recycling the earnings back into the economy.

            I would like to see Govt (at a min) factor this into bid costs when evaluating.

            That bastion of capitalism America, would never allow it’s ships to be built overseas.

            Madness

    • Given the choice I would sooner have four solid support ships from Korea than three (dropping to two after budget overspend and time setbacks) in the UK. As the guy above States, if “someone” bids for them then at the right price Britain will attempt to meet the deadline and price, but as far as I know, NOBODY bid for the tankers. Not even a too high price.

  2. Nigel I agree totally but your numbers are wrong foreign aid budget last year was £13.6 billion pounds not £12 billion and is predicted to be £14.2 billion this year.
    Cut it by 50% and we are still the most generous country in the whole of Europe.

  3. Something has to give you can’t have it both ways considering the limits to the defence budget

    option 1. build abroad at a fraction of the price

    option 2. build local and cut other capability to allow for the extra cost

    Ok absolute cost is not comparable as there will be some limited tax payable on the profit so reducing the cost and some jobs created for a few years, but if these don’t out weigh the reduced cost, then my opinion is we should go abroad.

    Another question is the design. will it be a UK one or brought off the shelf design. mid off the shelf, probably the cost of buying the design will be less if an existing ship yard builds it.

    • don’t get my wrong we all would prefer them to be built here but reality of life need to be taken into account over sentiment.

  4. As soon as I saw the article headline I knew this thread would descend into the same old arguments.

    Is this the UK Defence Journal or UK Defence Industry Journal?

    Yes I know about the benefits of home build, jobs, tax, economy, on and on.

    I also know the MoD is skint and we want and need these vessels.

    What shall we cut to have them home built?

    I start with 3 Type 23’s!

    • Daniele, I don’t think we have to cut anything. Government has it in its power to create new departments, loans, training grants, apprenticeship levies….
      It’s an attitude of mind. How do you think France funded Rafale, a project which UK received wisdom believed no single nation could afford? Fremm and now Belharra are years ahead of Type 26 and Type 31. Guess who will get the export orders? This ‘best value for the taxpayer’ mantra is like a dreary broken record.

      • Paul, I don’t disagree with your reasoning.

        I just look at the current situation that MoD has X amount of money and is short by X amount of money to pay for new stuff, leaving an X Black hole.

        A complete overhaul and long term strategy for UK industry is fine, spending extra at home to accumulate jobs, economy, industry, if HMG fund it.

        But they aren’t are they?

        So if we build these at an increased cost at home to cheaper abroad what pays for it?

        What?

        We read MoD is massively short from anything from 4 billion to 20 billion.

        I’m assuming of course they do indeed cost substantially more building here than Korea. If they don’t then that is utterly nuts!

        • (Chris H) Danele – the key differentiator for me is the ‘Nett Cost’ to the UK. You belittled the value to the UK if the ships are built here because ALL of the taxpayer funded money is then recycled round the UK economy not just the tax element and NOT the Korean economy. Therefore from (possibly) a higher ‘Price’ the UK has a lower ‘Nett Cost’.

          And why should we keep funding Korean jobs, training, investment and capabilities when for less ‘Cost’ we could do that for the British economy, jobs, infrastructure and all the rest? And once we restart building ships like these we get better at it and can be more competitive in the world market. It is nothing but a virtuous cycle….

    • Hello Danielle,

      Part of the problem is government money “box” mentality. The pros of income tax, reduced welfare, additional support nobs etc from having the builds in the UK are simply not credited to the MOD.

      Just like the De La Rue passport contract, the outlay of the cost does not take account of the income/job creation by using our own facilities (blindingly obvious – and I am a firm remainer!).

      MARS should be in Cammel Laird Birkinhead/Belfast. T26 on the Clyde.

      OPV/T31 in Appeldore – although personally I would can T31 And revert to full T26 fleet.

  5. Madness, but been here before. Imagine this happening in France or America – no, you can’t because it wouldn’t.

    The RN & RFA should underpin British shipbuilding on a rolling 25 year long term partnership. I’d rather hoped our Gav would have put a stop to this, so big brownie points deduction for you Mr Williamson.

    • No British Shipyard seems to want to bid for the builds so they have to be built abroad. If you want to vent your anger then vent it at the ship builders not the Government.

    • They have been waging a deliberate and organized war against British heavy industry for decades. No other European country is doing the same mind. They literally cannot wait to give British orders to foreign companies in EVERY SINGLE FIELD. Literally cannot wait. It is SICK and DISGUSTING to us British people. We are being humiliated.

      These ships are large and there are 3 of them, this would really give British shipbuilding something to get our teeth into. With the facilities and experience gained from these we could start bidding for cruise ships like other European countries do. Far from costing us more money it will actually MAKE us money in the long run.

      If France and Germany can build such ships then so can we. End this disgusting war against British heavy industry. Use point 3 (take into account wider factors including impact on U.K. prosperity) to make sure these are built in the U.K.

      • ‘A deliberate and organised war against British heavy industry’ really? So name names who are the guilty parties?? Or are you just having another tin foil rant? Plus there is NO NEED TO SHOUT!

        • How about the Tory party ably supported by New Labour. The politics are quite simple; no votes for the Tories in traditional areas of heavy industry so they don’t care. This was made worse by the idea that Britain would somehow flourish by selling services only. We now have a very unbalanced economy that is very dependent on Financial services. The industry that went bust in 2007, which we bailed out as taxpayers and who thrive on selling any UK owned asset they can get their hands on for a quick buck. All on the premise of free trade that no other country seems to follow in quite the same suicidal way.

    • Ian now you are getting boring robotically posting the same stuff on different threads. Just as a passing thought how much money does BAe gain from US navy contracts?? Secondly the heavily subsidised St Navaire shipyards in France were so ‘successful’ that they have recently had to be sold to the Italians in an effort to stop the bleeding.

      • (Chris H) Bill kenny – with due respect whatever benefit BAE gets from the US Navy it is spent, and therefore kept, within the USA. That is the point (and one with which I agree) that ‘Ian’ was making.

        The UK does not ‘do’ heavy shipbuilding and should do just like every other major nation like Germany, France, USA, Canada etc etc … And for me the bottom line criteria is that if it is UK taxpayer’s money it MUST be spent here where possible (and not by reason of ‘Price’). Its OUR money and WE as a nation should benefit.

        Call me simple minded but I see no argument for our money benefiting foreign countries. And yet people argue for us to ‘cut Foreign Aid’…..

  6. Morning all
    The yards haven’t got the current capacity to build the ships in the time frames required. The U.K. supplier market always prices itself out of the market, state subsidies, as far as I am aware are illegal, just look at the Bombardier fiasco.

    Should we be building these vessels in the U.K. – probably
    Can we afford to build them in the U.K. – probably not
    Do we have the capacity to do so – maybe

    The U.K. hasn’t had the best track record in building RFA vessels in the last 25 years
    These are all things government looks at when deciding who is going to build ships for them.
    An international tender has gone out, as far as I am aware with are part of that international community and our companies cannot be barred from bidding, so bid for them – what are we afraid of?

    • Also, if the capacity is not there it is because they have DELIBERATELY made 110% sure it isn’t. This was there plan all along, close big shipyards down so then we will be FORCED to go to foreign companies (hahaha aren’t we so clever?). This has all been planned as part of the deliberate and organized war against British heavy industry that has been going on for decades. It is the same with closing all British train makers down knowing full well we will always need trains (now we have an excuse to give every single British train order from now until forever to foreign companies, this was our plan all along!).

      This has all been done deliberately.

      If we haven’t got the capacity, invest so we have. With the facilities and experience from building these we will be able to bid for cruise ships like other European countries do, and far from costing us money we will actually make money in the long run.

      End this war against British heavy industry, rebuild our industries in at least some fields with modern state of the art equipment, so we can be a force in at least some fields, like every single other major European country is.

  7. The government ignore the fact that building overseas means our money going overseas. Better to give money to your family.

    • Again, the Government can’t award a contract to a British shipyard if no British shipyards have put bids in! I totally agree that they would be better being built in the UK but if no one wants to build them then it is impossible.

  8. Might HMG have painted itself into a corner here? …

    The Tides were built abroad so precedent for building support ships overseas is set.

    No U.K. yard put in a bid for the Tides because none had capacity and I have read that was because of the amount of carrier module building going on in the yards big enough to bid.

    T-31e will, we all hope, be a fully fledged warship so those must all be entirely built in the U.K.

    HMG is on quite aggressive deadlines to get T31 to the build stage.

    So now we come to the corner that HMG might have painted itself into. What if MARS SSS build goes to one or more U.K. yards who then can’t bid for T-31 stuff? HMG then has no option but to delay T-31 or take it overseas and I would say the later is highly unlikely.

    I never, ever thought I’d hear myself say this because I’ve been banging on for ever, in numerous places, about how we need to get on with MARS SSS but now I’m thinking that maybe the government should delay until T31 design is chosen and the build can be put out to tender, at which point spare U.K. yard capacity will be known, before putting MARS SSS out to tender. If that then turns out to be a repeat of Tide it wouldn’t be so bad because it would be because the appropriate U.K. yards were already at capacity and we have already built RFA vessels overseas. Getting into the other situation and delaying T-31 would not be good.

    On another point, does this SSS tendering also involve design? Usually I would expect to see a design chosen for people to tender for the build. The only “design” I have seen is about 5 year old concept renders. MARS SSS has the potential to add a massive amount of extra flexibility to the U.K. military if it is a good design and able to do more than carry baked beans and munitions around the world. A Karel Doorman type of supply vessel, without the tankage since we have the Tides, could be something of a Bay Class on steroids and a good additional asset especially if a 4th vessel was built as an Argus replacement and maybe more still when Bays start to be decommissioned (or sooner if the aid budget funded one or more extra) but I have seen zero discussion of the design about 10 days before tenders are to go out. This makes me really worried that it will be a “build us a big basic supply ship” with no flexibility in design, no configurable extended hangar space by stealing from other stores space, no well thought out core hospital facilities that can also be temporarily expanded if required, no discussion if it could have the option to add anything to amphibious capabilities (at least a discussion on that) etc. If so this is a huge wasted opportunity.

    • Re amphibious capability, I imagine the logic of the decision is that if we are retaining the LPDs, then with the Bays we have enough well dock capacity so we can close off the debate on whether the MARS SSS needs to be a Karel Doorman; it doesn’t. We can go for a straightforward commercial design which is not ‘complex’ other than systems. So we should buy on price. For their own self respect I would like to see a UK yard bid.

      • By KD I didn’t necessarily mean it had to have a well dock, KD also has hangar space for 6 medium helicopters and the Norwegian equivalent to our Tides has quite advanced hospital facilities (I admit I’m mashing a bit together there).

        If SSS internal space is at least somewhat configurable to re-role in certain parts of the ship, and hanger space is adequate/generous, these vessels have the potential to do more. For instance if the sh*t did ever hit the fan and we find ourselves needing to pack out a carrier with F-35B then having generous helicopter capability on an SSS almost certainly accompanying the CBG could be very useful. Similarly having the ability to configure for a much expanded hospital around a core facility hosting diagnostic equipment, operating theatres and ICU beds would give extra options for disaster relief and potentially give the option of building a 4th hull as an Argus replacement (which would again need decent aviation facilities) and that might be cost effective due to maintenance/logistics commonality with the 3 SSS that would already be in service plus no new redesign necessary. Maybe these attributes are in the design but I remain concerned and perplexed that we know nothing about these proposed ships.

    • Build the type 31 in Cammel Lairds, build the solid supply ships in Rosyth with modules from other places. There is no problem here.

  9. Oh please out leave the rhetoric about betraying the British shipyards and the utterly misleading statements from the Unions . The defence budget is stretched to its maximum , and if these support ship can be built cheaper abroad and to the required standards then so be it . Those who scream thats its “appalling ” want it both ways more spend but spend it on a more expensive build of these ships. If British Yards cant compete then the outrage should be directed at them
    The fighting Ships will be built here and will keep the Yards busy for a long time

    • How come France, Germany etc. manage to build such ships, it would be cheaper if they went to a foreign country too, but they don’t. It is more important to keep your own industries going, keep your own people in well paid jobs, keep the money in your own country.

      By your logic lets move every single job abroad, it will be cheaper after all, and that is the only thing that matters right? Wrong.

  10. Wherever they are built these vital ships had better have at least 2 CIWS.

    The newer versions of the Fort Class which were originally to be a class of 6 had VL Seawolf amidships.

    I’m talking Forts George and Victoria here not the older Austin and Rosalie ( Grange )

    • We only have one in service, Fort Victoria. The need for VL wolf to be fitted died when the T23 design was reworked.
      Most RFAs get a Phalanx fit when they go to an Operational area.

      • Thank’s Gunbuster.

        Yes I am well aware we have only 1 left.

        But I made this point on the VL Seawolf some time ago and Barry I think it was raised the correct objection that Grange and Austin did not have it, so I was being clear what Forts I was referring to!

        I knew that Fort design was to work in tandem with T23 for Cold War GIUK Gap ops but I was unaware the VL fit was dropped due to a T23 change, what was that?

        • You realise that the VL sea wolf sat smack bang in the middle of the explosive envelope of those ships.
          The whole concept was barking mad.
          The more complex you make these vessels the less they make sense. Replenish yes, flight deck yes, scalable casualty yes (if they see fit to staff it, the RFA carry 1 med tech). The whole concept of the RFA was to get Merchant seamen to operate cargo ship’s with a minimum of people, because it’s cheaper, but just remember that even when these facilities are not in use they have to be maintained. Cheaper simpler RFAs = more money for warships.

    • I believe the Tides have (or will have when necessary) 2 x Phalanx plus 2 x 30mm plus various miniguns and GPMG. I would be very surprised if these new SSS don’t have a similar and quite probably an identical defensive weapons fit.

  11. Replacing Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin is a must, but am a little bemused about Fort Victoria.

    Fort Victoria just started a major refit in January, which include double hulling. What role do the Navy and RFA see Fort Victoria fulfilling? Tanker or solid replenishment, and over what time period?

    If tanker, with 4xTide and 2xWave class tankers delivered by the time the refit is complete, is there a need for her to be used as a tanker and go through the expense of double hulling her. If there is this need, what will fulfil this need when replaced by a new solid replenishment ship? Nothing …. so why spend the money double hulling her?

    If as a solids replenishment vessel, again why double hull her. If there is a need for this refit in this case, why not use the opportunity to add more storage for solid cargoes and remove some or all of her liquid carrying storage. Then given her relative youth compared to Austin and Rosalie, we only need to invest in 2 solid support ships.

    Given the precarious state of the MODs finances, the current extensive refit Fort Victoria is undertaking make absolutely no sense in my eyes.

  12. Would be common practice in heavy industry to make an offer to fabricate ‘subject to’ outcomes of other overlapping / potentially capacity constraining bids.

    UK yards should bid their best offer premised on all the heralded lean manufacturing techniques subject to any other commitments.
    Let the market speak.

    Those evaluating on behalf of the government can then factor in the Price plus the NPV value of a uk source versus an overseas solution and add in the overall time-scale and commercial benefits of not sailing the ship around the planet and potentially the operational benefit and commercial benefit of commencing some of specialist fit out early either in the build yard or other UK yards.

    Early access to lower maintenance costs and more efficient fuel etc can form part of the equation to arrive at a best value assessment.

    Cutting edge private sector procurement focuses on net balance sheet impact… Not lowest price… for things that matter.

  13. Sorry guys, normally I would say that tax payers money should always be used through public procurement to support British industry. But in this case I think it is more important to get these ships built and soon, than bicker over where they are built. These ships are vital for the effectiveness of the RN. Without them we are just a coastal navy. I’d rather save a few quid and buy an extra T31 or whatever, and get them built soon! These are essentially merchant ships and we don’t build those any more. So long as the design input is from Britain and the final equipping, integration and test are in the U.K., I’m happy. And I think that’ll be the case.

    • Ah. Bravo.

      The industry debate can go on forever, and correct as it is that we should build our own stuff we need these ships ASAP at a price that the current MoD budget can handle and at the price HMG will pay, for right or wrong.

      • Morning Daniele,
        Agree… why do we have to keep this subsidized,built by committee argument going. At the end of the day it will be the best company with the best design and/or price that will build the ships.
        As for the unions it was constant strike action and ridiculous wage demands that destroyed UK ship building in the first place. Back in the sixties and seventies we were ‘building galleons’ when Japan was building supertankers.

  14. The flaw in the MOD ‘best value for the taxpayer’ is that the nation does not equal its taxpayers.
    The government ought to be viewing this contract as an opportunity to invest in and strengthen the UK industrial base and to signal its faith in the people it is elected to govern. The MOD needs to be brought to heel on this and told to take a more holistic calculation of the economic and social benefits for the country of placing the order domestically unless the quote difference is very substantial indeed. This ‘I’m alright (or my departmental budget is alright) Jack’ needs to change.

  15. We need to build UK industrial capacity. Why can’t we open the bid internationally but stipulate UK build? There are grants the government provides to enable infrastructure to be created and investment generated and we can add additional incentives to domestic and international companies to create the capacity to do this kind of work here. Short term it may be more expensive but long term it will be better for MOD and civil builds. We need to break the cycle and play the long term game.

  16. Ok I might have a solution to this endless debate. Since everyone agrees Uk shipyards can’t compete on price with S.Korean yards etc. Why not have a Dept of Industry that could cover the difference between the best foreign and the best domestic price ? Otherwise unless there are national security reasons go with the best price. But I have to say I always enjoy these articles about the morons who pass for defence correspondents nowadays. I will go away with a mental image of the Glasgow ? Herald reporter sat in his cubicle, slack – jawed, blank eyed, with drool pooling under his desk playing with his lego bricks !

  17. I’m still confused about what is going out to tender at the end of this month. I have seen no discussion about design and, if you read the article carefully, you can find proof that the concept render that illustrates this article cannot be the design (clue – the flight deck/decks). Has a design competition been going on in secret? Was there a secret project with someone like BMT to design it? Is this tender actually a “tell us what we should build as well as how much it will cost” so there will be a design element first with perhaps people like BMT partnering with an overseas yard where BMT produces the design and the partner yard builds it?

    I’m way less concerned about where this gets built than I am about the total lack of information about exactly what is to be built. Hangar size? Size of landing spots? Number of landing spots? Hospital facilities? Any flexible spaces? Defensive armaments? Target crew complement? Space for additional personnel? Etc, etc, etc …

    I suppose maybe all this stuff came out at the industrial day but it seems odd that all the details of the MoD’s target specs for T-31e, supposedly (hopefully) a front-line warship, were made public in advance of even the design competition yet design details and/or requirements for a less sensitive RFA class of supply ship seem shrouded in secrecy, or if not secrecy then at least a serious lack of information, days before it goes to tender. The cynical side of me fears that this might be because these are going to be the cheapest most basic thing that can possibly be built to the lowest standards that we can get away with which is why the MoD doesn’t want to say much about the design requirements. I really hope I’m wrong.

    The SaveTheRoyalNavy site follows stuff like this closely. I just looked in case they had any article written about the industry day for these ships. They don’t.

    • There must be a design if it is going out for competitive tender. Take your point on the Type 31 design. All gone very quiet. HMG seem to be simplifying and shortening MOD procurement processes, to save money. Mars SSS, Poseidon, Boxer seems to be a pattern of more decisive procurement. MOD procurement is something lots of folks have said needs to improve so in a way we can’t complain. Would be good to know how much of the cost of a SSS is the hull build and how much is the UK systems fitting out.

  18. What is the point of all the fanfare for the new National Shipbuilding Strategy when the first Government contract that comes along is sent abroad..

    The 5 Type 31 ships will keep the 6 yards competing for that contract busy for 2 to 3 years, then what?

    A good start would be to take the existing RFA ships out of mothballs and find some extra crew to man them.

    Other nations can see the logic of securing their national industrial manufacturing base and are happy to pay a slightly above market price to maintain it.

    It appears to be a classic case of government saying one thing because it’s popular and then doing the complete opposite.

  19. Can anyone explain to me why for items as complex as these ships why the design and build appear to be hard locked together.
    I would have thought a design phase where the design the navy wants is sorted out and finalised. Then a build phase where various yards or a consortium of yards bid for the job of actually building them. To my mind splitting the two would enable more innovative designs to be considered and hopefully better ships for the RN.

    • Yup. That’s what I’m struggling to understand. Clever design doesn’t need to cost a fortune and a bit of clever design could create a more flexible asset than simply building a big floating box to carry stuff around in and offload to other vessels although obviously at its heart that is what an SSS is. I’m worried that we might be missing out on an opportunity to get some clever design incorporated into the next generation SSS.

  20. Although not complex warships the FSS will have the same automated weapons handling system and similar magazine arrrangments to CVF. From an intelligence perspective that should eliminate foreign competitors straight away and ensure a UK build. There is capacity to do the work in the timeframe required and keep everyone happy. Camel Laird and BAE can handle Type 31 at Birkenhead. Build 5 Cutlass or Leander then Increase Type 26 order to 11 on the provision BAE invest in the frigate factory at Scoutston. Then build FSS under the same model as CVF with block builds at the Babcock and A&P yards and assembley at Rosyth or even Barrow if BAE is involved as systems integrator. By the time that’s all complete we will need to replace the Type 45s, LPDs, LSDs, Waves and OPVs so plenty of work to spread around again.

    • Exactly. It’s almost as if they want, under all circumstances, to give British orders to foreign companies, every single time, in every single field (no, they would never do that now, would they….). They won’t be happy until we have ZERO heavy industry left (we are almost there now and they are still waging war against it) and we have to go cap in hand to foreign companies for every single thing, bar nothing, like a third world country, which we are certainly not.

      If France, Germany, Italy, etc. van manage to have heavy industries in several different fields, then so can we.

      End this decades long war against British heavy industry, invest in them, then support them, like every other major European country already does except us.

  21. Betrayal of all British shipyards by a scumbag Tory government who care little or nothing about jobs or national security in this country ,they have betrayed the yards in the past and the very same scumbags want to shut devonport naval base in favour of Portsmouth which is so run down and lack of investment the base is a joke,the Tory scum will put all their eggs in one basket and drop the lot ie shipyard jobs ,the Clyde,rosyth,Newcastle ,Southampton, Liverpool and Plymouth ,1 day I would love to see a military coup in this country and arrest and put these political axxxxxxxs on trial for corruption and treason ,I like many people in this country are sick the way our service people are treated by these Tory maggots and the potential loss of jobs in this country because of their been counter policies

    • I agree with a lot of that.

      But do you seriously think Corbyn’s brand of defence and defence jobs would be any better?

      I’m talking purely defence here not investing in industry, which I actually believe Labour would do, they want to bankrupt the nation even more to pay for the investment I believe by borrowing £500 Billion?

      If he gets in I genuinely would not be surprised at the a military coup, against the far left about to disarm the UK and UK Defence industry, removing the UK as a P5 nation, never getting involved in world affairs and spending the cash instead on whatever socialist panacea they think up next.

    • Agree with most of that David, this is not how we want our country run (in many other respects other than just this too, we are already over 20% non White British and STILL letting more in, are we just going to keep allowing immigration until we are outnumbered in our own country?, they certainly seem to think so. Can anyone imagine China, Korea, Turkey, Thailand, Pakistan, Japan, etc. being over 20% foreign, then STILL letting more in?).

      This is not how we want our country run, it is the EXACT OPPOSITE of how we want our country run if the truth be told. We cannot go along with this any longer, it is time we headed in a different direction.

  22. If we don’t build them here, it is yet again another opportunity missed to reinvigorate our ship building industry, making us wait years before another opportunity can be taken. I would be happy to pay 25-30% more as the benefits to our society could be great. We need to take every opportunity that we have to increase skills and investment in many industrial areas or we are going to fizzle our quietly as an economic power.
    I read yesterday that in the 70’s we were one of the biggest investors of r&d of all advanced nations. This meant constant industrial stimulation. We are now one of the lowest spenders in R&D. Foreign companies now spend more here than uk owned business and government. They see how good we are at designing fantastic stuff, get us to do it then take all the profits abroad. This has to stop.
    Give us companies opportunities to design ground breaking ships for us, invest in the designs, gain experience building them well, then sell sell sell to the rest of the world.
    All the people saying it doesn’t really matter where they are built are just plain wrong in my opinion.

  23. (Chris H) – I haven’t read all the comments so forgive any repetition. But I have said it before (frequently) and I will say it again. UK shipyards will never get this work as long as the Mandarins in Whitehall only look at the ‘Price’ of whatever the ship is and not the ‘Cost’ to the UK economy.

    Again to repeat my argument: £250 Mn spent in Korea is £250 Mn lost forever to the UK. However £300 Mn spent here is NO loss to the UK other than items purchased, and maybe profits that go, abroad. Much of which will be returned to the Government in Income Tax, NI, Corporation TAx and VAT. The ‘add on’ benefits of investment in infrastructure, training and capabilities also remain here.

    It is a total ‘no-brainer’ to anyone else but apparently totally anathema to the idiots who spend our taxpayer money. There is an old railway theory that Civil Servants spend money in relation to the square root of the supplier’s distance from London…..

    • I agree with your comment but UK industry cannot have a blank cheque. There would have to be a mechanism to make industry internationally competitive otherwise once the order is fufilled the yard will go under as it cannot win more orders. Whilst the churn Tax money good for the economy winning large foreign orders is even better.

      I would support a competitive tender process where a UK yard has to be within 20% of the lowest bidder for the entire contract. The last ship built would need to be delivered at or under the cost of the foreign bid otherwise there are penalties. This forces the yard to invest and unions to embrace productivity improvements over the contract life. By the end of the contract they have the capabilty to compete internationally and the future MoD contracts will be better value for the tax payer.

      Type 26 is a prime example once the government committed to the Clyde Bae and unions had the upper hand. Watch Australia and Canada frigate competitions!

  24. The best thing the government can do for the country is spend less.
    If the Hammer & Sicklers in the GMB can’t complete, well the people shouldn’t have to suffer for that.

  25. Since 2008 EVERY major defence program has been placed with foreign firms. For the army,600 tanks from an American company being built in Spain using Swedish steel. 900 troop trucks and 2700 LandRover type jeeps from America. Uniforms and boots from Germany, Croatia, China and Turkey. 32 helicopters from Germany/France, while helicopter plants in Somerset are shut and work moved to Italy. The Navy, 4 support ships from Korea. 5 new patrol ships, built with Swedish steel.The new Trident subs will use French steel and the Type26 frigates will use 20,000 tons of EU steel. The Tories and Labour have FAILED to support our defence and steel industries. The benefits to the wider UK economy of defence investment are ignored. But our EU partners have managed to ignore EU procurement rules and unlike the UK maintained THEIR industries. The French, German, Italian, Dutch, Swedish armies all drive trucks built by their OWN industries. The UK stuck to EU rules and now drives 7200 German trucks. We are mugs!

    • Exactly, it is literally every single time, in every single field. There is no way this is by accident.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we have to rebuild our industries with modern state of the art equipment, then support them, like other European countries do. We are not being the ONLY major European country with ZERO significant heavy industry of our own. We have been absolutely humiliated in front of the entire World.

      • John, Stephen…one minor problem If you can’t compete, you don’t work. the only person who can create a business is the individual man or woman who has an idea and is willing to work stupid hours for stupid money until they succeed, if they do, and yes I do have personal experience. I started with £250 and a £100 bank overdraft in 1980. Now my daughter is about to take over one of the most successful promotional agencies in the South West. Governments do not create businesses. We do.

        • Its not a question of can’t Geoffrey. My grandmother there is no such thing as can’t; there is only won’t. This is what people are saying; the establishment doesn’t want to encourage the UK industrial base because then it would be dependent on real people who actually make things. Look at Nissan, Toyota, BMW, VW. The Japanese and Germans have more faith in the talent and work ethic of the British worker than UK investors. Its basically the UK class problem. If you treat people with respect then everything works. The French rescued their auto industry which had similar problems with productivity and obsolete models, because unions, govt and employers were able to work together in a spirit of give and take. The contrast with BL, Red Robbo and Margaret Thacher could not be greater: scorched earth and BL directors head for early retirement in the sun with the proceeds of the sell off.

          • Geoff. When dealing with enterprises on this scale the days of individual importance has long since gone. In 2005, rather than award the tender to the UK’s LDV, Blair’s govt followed the EU’s Procurement Rules. The vehicles would have been built in Birmingham and the programme would have provided work for 140 other UK suppliers. The benefits to the wider UK economy were completely ignored. It was nothing to do with individuals, the technical capabilities of the truck or even price. The £2 billion contract went to MAN/VW because Blair wanted to ingratiate himself with the EU. The Army now drives 7200 trucks built in Germany/Austria rather than the Midlands.

          • Paul, John…. I don’t know how old you are but the Britain I remember in the sixties and seventies was a bankrupt head case with idiot governments and most of industry run into the ground by a mixture of incompetent management and militant unions who were given into one after the other. Britain was a laughing stock.
            You both mention investing in and building up British industry but it just couldn’t be done and whatever you may think of a lot of MT’s policies it was vital that the UK was given some pride in itself. We are now the fifth largest economy in the world and chasing Germany. it didn’t happen by accident.
            Where are the truck company’s or shipyards to award these contracts to? Answer. They all went under twenty or more years ago….and where is the money coming from to get them started. Would either of you be willing to pay more tax (say 5p in the pound) to get the MARS ships built in the UK?

  26. Do you want two MARRS ships at 40,000tonnes built in the Uk, or would you prefer the Royal Navy to have 3 ships, but built in presumably South Korea? That’s what it boils down to….
    British built ships in a perfect world is what we ,would all want, but that’s not the world we live in… i’d Bet that the majority of posters here have foreign built cars, but instead we insist that the Uk government should buy only British to support local industry…
    Reducing the foreign aid budget isn’t going to happen….they passed it into law that 0.7% of GDP must be spent so, it ain’t getting reduced…..

    • (Chris H) Andrew – Firstly its a fools errand to compare inividual choice and money with National necessities and taxpayer money.

      And then you conflate building here in the UK with having fewer vessels. WHY? How so? Given if we built here at least 40% of the ‘Cost’ would go to a workforce that would recycle money back into the economy for all to benefit a UK company could be 40% more expensive and the ‘Nett Cost’ to the UK would be the same. And most probably less given the back take of Income Tax, Corporation Tax, NI, VAT and fuel duty. Taxes that could be used AGAIN to support the UK economy. Do the Koreans pay those UK taxes?

      • Yes, Chris. Also, the figure that keeps on coming about is between 38%-45% tax clawback in various forms. In this digital world, I am sure this can be measured and modelled. If anyone says, well, the South Koreans pay taxes to their own exchequer. 1. Maybe they do, so so who gains? 2. It is totally irrelevant. One billion pounds for 3 ships mean SK build for 600 million to have some vague competitive price to our nett price. To be cheaper, lets say this constant talk of “they can build ships for half the price”, then let’s see 300 million pounds as a price for 3 ships to be remotely value for the UK taxpayer. Then I ask who is subsidising them?

    • Agreed.
      Unfortunately HMG loves pumping our money around the world rather than the French system of keeping it flowing in their own country.
      I would rather pay more for the vessels, with the tax returns from the builders, their workers and their supply chain etc finding its way round our economy.
      I wonder how much less the build cost would have to be abroad to offset the tax and employment returns by building in the UK?
      Any economists have an idea of the figures?

    • Geoffrey, are you saying that UK yards would charge an extra 30 billion pounds (in addition to the 1 billion price tag) to the Koreans or was your 5 p in the pound tax hike an error?
      I do not mind a premium for British industry but those are BAe like markups.

  27. There is a simple bodge, design them with a well-deck as a Karel Doorman plus. They would then be a hybrid MARS and Albion class replacement. Becomes a warship and has to be built in the UK.

  28. I would love it if we built these ships in the U.K., but that will not happen because of several reasons :-
    1. We do not have a Budget to cover the cost of building of 3 of them in the U.K. without balancing the budget elsewhere with cuts.
    2. We absolutely need this capability otherwise we have lost the ability to deploy ships worldwide.
    3. The CV’s need modern replenishment ships.
    4. I have read the idea of build them at Rosyth in modules using the same facilities used to build the QE’s. That is possible but it is expensive and what do you do if you need to dry dock the QE’s. The U.K. isn’t exactly overloaded with large Dry Docks these days.

    • Ian. We do have the budget. They will cost more to build elsewhere with tax claw back lost. Apart from Rosyth, Belfast, Birkenhead, INCHGREEN may be Hebburn (was always figured for being lengthened and Graythorp (outside one, but huuuuge). They will be built here, otherwise, the National Shipbuilding Strategy is one big scam.

      “2. We absolutely need this capability otherwise we have lost the ability to deploy ships worldwide”. So it is a sovereign requirement, I thank you!

      Not that it should be the only stipulation when building them here.

  29. Morning all
    Great comments as always but just a couple of things:
    The U.K. is not currently competive in the ship building market, this includes the military market or we would have been a lot more successful in exporting warships (they are well designed platforms after all).
    State subsidies are not the answer, this just closes the market, encourages dependencies and slows down productivity.
    People find it very easy to blame others for their woes or the woes of an industry that has slowly died. People believe that there are politicians out there whose sole aim in life is take punish and take from “the man”.
    Regardless of Party I don’t think that’s really true, what is true is that politics looks for blame: “its their fault, they are to blame why your industry has collapsed” vote for me so I can moan with you.
    The RN need ships, they are not the DTI, they need ships soon.
    If U.K. yards can bid, then they should do so.

    • (Chris H) Lee H – I am not sure anyone is looking for ‘State subsidies’ and to quote export sales of warships ignores the buying nations’ preference for home build even if a design is from a foreign country.

      I have never made a political point on foreign purchases using taxpayer money. My criticism is aimed firmly at the Mandarins in Whitehall who carry on unchanged from one Government to the next. As I keep repeating they just cannot see the difference between ‘Price’ (as charged by a Korean shipyard for example) and the ‘Nett Cost’ of buying from what might on paoer seem a higher UK build ‘Price.

      Some have also said ‘we do not have the capacity’ but that is hardly true and building these here wouldn’t affect Type 31e build as someone suggested. We have huge drydocks in Belfast and we have large build capacity in various yards all over the country as proved by the huge modules built outside the Clyde and Rosyth. So even if Type 31e was built on Merseyside we most surely have the capacity and skills to buils these supply ships right here in the UK.

      The REAL issue is in Whitehall. They are London centric number crunchers who think the answer lies in a laptop. In ‘another life’ I had battles with these idiots for some years over the failure to buy British for the rail industry. the utter stupidity of which was highlighted by the largest ever order for trains going to Germany while we were laying off equally skilled workers in Derby. Thankfully the political reaction jolted these people out of this mindset and we now have 2 train factories and a 3rd being built. We, at last, established the principle that if a foreign company wishes to sell us trains then they WILL be built here. The principles applied in the rail industry are exactly the same as shipbuilding. Building here in the UK is (in Nett Cost to the UK taxpayer terms) less costly than buying abroad.

      And someone asked for a figure? Well try the 40% that is generally the labour element and about 12% in the tax take. So a UK yard (or consortium) could be 50% ‘Higher price’ than a Korean bid but ‘Cost’ the same to the UK taxpayer.

      • ‘Cost’ is even less as no model can take into account other factors. Such as a worker employed in that industry may innovate and spur development with a new marketable (taxable) product. Another result is a employee who is now more financially secure may take a risk start a business. Employ more citizens and in turn pay more taxes.

    • Read the Sir John Parker report and see the stipulation in winning Tax payer funded ships which will mean them becoming competitive, otherwise, we have this catch22 situation.

    • In fact, can I expand on my previous reply? Look up the costs of the Waves (albeit slightly smaller), minus the UK content percentage from them (as is done with the MARs tankers to make them look cheaper than they actually are), to get a rough pure shipbuild price, look at the inflation calculator on the BoE website, and realise, that we can build these ship competitively. That’s not even including the huge tax clawback factor direct and indirect which must be taken into account. Ye, if we had modern facilities, there would not many could touch the UK. That is what Sir John Parker is after. It’s a National Shipbuilding Strategy, not a National 5 frigates Warshipbuilding Strategy! He covers Commercial shipbuilding too.

  30. “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” No! Current UK government policy is to follow eu rules to the detriment of UK industry that can be viable but has no belief from it’s own government!

  31. “The Ministry of Defence is to put the order for Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships out to international tender at the end of this month, diminishing hopes that they will be built in the UK.” No. We knew this was the case back when the MOD/UK industry Alliance was destroyed by Andrew Tyler during labour times, to obey eu rules.

  32. If these ships go abroad, it will be a huge devastating thumbs down from this UK government to a truly new UK sector called shipbuilding. One that is viable forward-looking IT digital based and creative. The National Shipbuilding Strategy (along with its cousin the UK National Industrial Strategy) will be seen for what it really is, one big lie! Write to your MP’s, Guto Bebb (the one who is peddling all the same old BS rhetoric at the MOD), the papers, and even those foreign firms who have the front to take these big-ticket contracts away from our Country. In fact, this Country needs a UK taxpayer projects watchdog. It is one big p*** take and killing viable UK industry.

    • I Take it back sorry. Just been looking at a book on Fighting ships and British warships or Warships of the Royal Navy. Rather than saying Auxiliary warships or just under contents saying destroyers, frigates or “support ships”, they do actually come under the heading, not Military ships, not warship like, don’t go into dangerous areas, not armed, not complex (enough like an Astute), should not be grey, are not a soveriegn requirment as carriers, destroyers will never need them, more like cruise ship ships which are complex (but unlike cruise ships, these ships must be tendered internationally by only the UK so to make sure the UK never has a decent shipbuilding sector again which pleases all eu countries) so why are they in warship books. I should have read that bit. Sorry.

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