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Long-awaited UK National Shipbuilding Strategy refresh emerges

10th March 2022 - 14:47 GMT | by Harry Lye in London


Image of HMS Glasgow, seen here under construction at BAE Systems’ shipyard in Govan on the River Clyde. (Photo: MoD/ Crown Copyright)

The UK’s refreshed National Shipbuilding Strategy seemingly shies away from commitments to build all RN warships in the UK.

The UK government on 10 March published a long-awaited refreshed National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) that features a pipeline detailing a 30-year timeline for all government vessels displacing more than 150t.

In what may be seen as a worrying development for shipbuilders, the document states that decisions on the procurement approach for each type of RN ship ‘will be determined on a case-by-case basis’, seemingly opening up the potential to build warships in foreign shipyards.

The revised NSS states: ‘As well as considering the specific capability requirements, the MoD will consider the long-term industrial impact of different options, including delivering value for money for the overall programme and maintaining the key industrial capabilities required for operational independence.

‘These considerations will determine whether the optimum approach would be a single-source procurement, a UK competition, an international competition or a blended competitive approach.’

Given this, the strategy says the MoD ‘considers’ that a regular drumbeat of design and manufacturing work is required to maintain industrial capability ‘important for UK national security’, drive efficiency and ‘reduce longer-term costs in the shipbuilding portfolio’.

In the past, the UK has operated a policy of building warships such as frigates and destroyers solely in the UK. The MoD was heavily criticised for procuring support ships from overseas shipyards and allowing foreign yards to compete for the Fleet Solid Support Ship competition.

Shephard understands that the decision is seen as giving the MoD flexibility to fulfil its shipbuilding needs, while the aim of the strategy to increase the overall capacity of the UK shipbuilding sector over time.

While the MoD would prefer RN ships to be built in the UK, the approach is understood to reflect an acceptance that some parts of shipbuilding projects may need to be outsourced.

Under the new NSS, £4 billion ($5.27 billion) will be invested in UK shipbuilding as a whole over the next three years.

Key to the document is a long-awaited 30-year pipeline for all government vessels over 150t, detailing opportunities for shipbuilders across a range of potential government customers.

The MoD has managed its programmes to create a continuous shipbuilding pipeline by learning lessons from a so-called ‘boom and bust’ approach to naval shipbuilding.

Vessels to be procured with the MoD budget include the future National Flagship, which is expected to enter service in the mid-2020s.

‘This generation of ships will pave the way for the future of anti-air warfare, the Type 83 future air defence system, which will replace the Type 45 capability in the late 2030s. This will see another technological shift to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of carrier strike capability development into the future.’The National Shipbuilding Strategy

Under the pipeline, a decision is due after 2026 to replace the Daring-class Type 45 destroyers with the Type 83 Future Air Defence System (FADS), with a view to the new destroyer entering service between 2036 and 2040.

Referring to the Type 83, the NSS document states: ‘This generation of ships will pave the way for the future of anti-air warfare, the Type 83 future air defence system, which will replace the Type 45 capability in the late 2030s.

‘This will see another technological shift to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of carrier strike capability development into the future.’

The MoD will decide on the replacement plans for the currently in-build City-class Type 26 frigates between 2041 and 2045.

Procurement of the up to five previously announced future Type 32 frigates will be decided before 2026, with the new class due to enter service in the early 2030s.

The future Multi-Role Support Ship to replace the RFA’s Bay-class LSD(A)s and RN’s Albion-class LPDs will follow a similar timeline.

A future Auxiliary Oiler will be procured and pressed into service between 2036 and 2040.

After 2026, a decision will be made on the RN’s future Strategic Sea Lift capability, which should enter service in the early 2030s.

The RN is currently exploring options for the procurement of an interim capability.

A fleet of future OPVs will be procured in the 2030s, entering service towards the end of that decade.

The RN will also procure a future Ice Patrol Ship in the 2030s. The Future vessel will enter service between 2036 and 2040.

A decision is also imminent on a programme to procure 11 new seagoing and coastal patrol vessels for the UK Border Force.

A decision is due after 2026 on replacing Type 45 destroyers (such as HMS Daring, pictured) with the Type 83 Future Air Defence System. (Photo: UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

Further opportunities for shipbuilders will come from other aspects of the RN’s modernisation plan, such as replacing the in-service fleet of landing craft.

The strategy says the MoD will engage industry for this project once an analysis of the future fleet mix has been completed.

On the RN, the strategy reads: ‘To deliver the fleet of the future, the Royal Navy will upgrade its capabilities and modernise, developing the next generation of warships throughout the 2020s. This will bring about a generational shift in UK naval technology, as well as growing the fleet at pace.

‘UK industry will build ships and develop systems that deliver innovative and battle-winning capability, bolstering the UK global influence and preserving the security of our nation for the future.’

As part of shipbuilding plans, the UK is also launching a new Maritime Capability Campaign Office (MCCO) to promote exports.

The MCCO will bring together the Department for International Trade’s defence export and civil maritime capabilities into a single unit which it says will target opportunities worth an estimated £600 million ($789.11 million).

In recent weeks, the UK scored an export success with Babcock being selected to supply its Arrowhead 140 design – the basis for the Inspiration-class Type 31 – for Poland’s Miecznik frigate programme.

The Arrowhead 140 design was also exported to Indonesia under a deal signed in September 2021.

In other export successes, the Type 26 frigate’s design has been used by Australia as the basis for its Hunter-class frigate and to Canada for the future Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC).

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