British shipbuilding gets boost as new support ships to be built by UK-led teams

Danielle Sheridan
·3-min read
The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives back at Portsmouth Naval Base after taking part in exercises off Scotland - Gareth Fuller/PA
The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives back at Portsmouth Naval Base after taking part in exercises off Scotland - Gareth Fuller/PA

UK shipbuilding has been boosted after the Defence Secretary announced that the three new support ships for Royal Navy aircraft carriers will be made by British-led teams.  

A competition to build the new £1.5 billion Fleet Solid Support vessels to support HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales as part of the Carrier Strike Group, which will undertake its first operational deployment next year, will launch in spring 2021. 

While it will invite international companies to collaborate with UK firms, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) stressed that the successful manufacturing team must be led by a British company.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said: "Shipbuilding has historically been a British success story, and I am determined to revitalise this amazing industry as part of this Government's commitment to build back better.

"The Fleet Solid Support warships competition will be the genesis of a great UK shipbuilding industry and allow us to develop the skills and expertise for the shipyards of tomorrow."

Lord Admiral Alan West, a former First Sea Lord, said: "I am delighted that the Treasury has at last seen sense and realised that ordering ships offshore is not the best thing either financially or in maintaining skills. This is very good news for British shipbuilding." 

The announcement comes after The Telegraph revealed that British shipbuilding companies would be favoured for Government contracts under plans being considered by Boris Johnson's defence review.

The Integrated Review is understood to be considering changes to EU-derived rules that prevent the UK from prioritising domestic firms as part of a push to boost the UK shipbuilding industry at the end of the post-Brexit transition period.

An F-35B Lightning jet lands on HMS Queen Elizabeth as she sails with tanker RFA Tideforce and Type 23 frigate HMS Northumberland - LPhot Kyle Heller/MoD/Crown Copyright/PA
An F-35B Lightning jet lands on HMS Queen Elizabeth as she sails with tanker RFA Tideforce and Type 23 frigate HMS Northumberland - LPhot Kyle Heller/MoD/Crown Copyright/PA

Last month, both Mr Johnson and Mr Wallace hinted that the deal to build the Royal Navy supply ships would stay in the UK.

The three Fleet Solid Support vessels were due to be put to tender because they were not previously classed as warships. However, Mr Wallace told the Commons last month that the vessels were warships, raising the possibility that they could be built in Britain. 

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister further hinted at the flux of domestic shipbuilding that could happen at the end of the transition deal during his speech to the virtual Conservative Party Conference earlier this month.  

He said: "We aren't embarrassed to sing old songs about how Britannia rules the waves – in fact, we are even making sense of it with a concerted national ship-building strategy that will bring jobs to every part of the UK, especially in Scotland."

The MoD said the new contract would require a significant proportion of the build and assembly work to be carried out in the UK, and "hundreds of highly skilled jobs would be created as a result".   It added that more jobs would be created in small and medium sized enterprises throughout the supply chain.

In the run-up to the Integrated Review Mr Wallace has stressed the need for the military and its weaponry to be fit to fight wars of "the future". Speaking at Salisbury Plain earlier this week, he pledged to put technology at the heart of defence and s aid the Armed Forces of tomorrow would have an emphasis "on new information age skills and capabilities".

In a statement the MoD added that the new warships would incorporate "next-generation technology with a purpose-built design".

The announcement comes after the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Australia to continue building and delivering the next generation of Type 26 frigates. The programme consists of eight ships and will sustain 1,700 jobs in Scotland and 4,000 jobs across the wider maritime supply chain until 2035.