Work started on Friday on the first of three new offshore patrol vessels for the Royal Navy as the first steel is cut on HMS Forth in Glasgow. The Ministry of Defence is spending £348m on a second batch of heavily modified River class vessels with the first  in class, HMS Forth entering service in 2017. 

An artists impression of HMS Forth, Medway and Trent sailing together
An artists impression of HMS Forth, Medway and Trent sailing together

The Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael, accompanied by the MoD’s Head of Materiel Bernard Gray, attended the steel cutting ceremony, with the latter pressing the button to start the machines. Although the ships are referred to as Batch 2 River class vessels, it is understood that the ships are closer to the Amazonas class vessels built for the Brazilian Navy. However, it is understood that the design has been modified in 29 separate areas to meet specific British requirements.

Displacing around 2,000-tonnes, the ships will be equipped with an MSI-Defence Systems 30mm Automated Small Calibre Gun, two Mk 44 mini-guns and two sea boats. BAE Systems is also providing a variant of its CMS-1 combat management system, while Terma is supplying its SCANTER 4103 I-band radar as the primary air/surface surveillance sensor. They will be capable of making making 24 knots and patrol upwards of 6,000 miles or for 35 days with a crew of just 34 and can accommodate a total of 60 personnel. The vessels also feature a redesigned flight deck to operate Merlin helicopters, currently only seen on HMS Clyde, as well as increased storage and accommodation facilities.

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Mr Carmichael said at the cutting ceremony:

“Today marks another major chapter in the long history of building warships on the Clyde. Scotland is leading the way in building the UK’s warships and this underlines the UK Government’s commitment to the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde. I am sure the Offshore Patrol Vessels will be yet another fine example of the expert craftsmanship of our skilled shipbuilders. Over the coming years we will see the familiar sight of ships coming off the yard and travelling down the Clyde to serve the Royal Navy’s activities across the globe.”

The vessels share many design features with the Amazonas class
The vessels share many design features with the Amazonas class

The deal will sustain around 800 jobs on the Clyde and keep BAE yards ticking over over between work ending on new 70,600 tonne carrier HMS Prince of Wales and construction beginning on the first Type 26 frigates.

Bernard Gray, the MoD’s Chief of Defence Materiel, met members of the workforce during a tour of the facility. He said:

“I am proud to be able to start production work on this new class of ships, which will maintain the vital UK expertise needed to build the warships of the future. This contract, which will benefit the local economy in Glasgow, continues a 200 year tradition of building the nation’s leading ships on the Clyde and will sustain hundreds of jobs across the region.”

It is understood that the next defence review will determine whether the three new ships will replace the existing River-class vessels or will complement them.

HMS Forth will begin sea trials in late 2016, with delivery planned for April 2017. Each vessel in the class is being constructed to a 28 month schedule.

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