‘Base new frigates in Portsmouth’ say BAE bosses

HI-TECH The first early design of the navy's new Type 26 frigate
HI-TECH The first early design of the navy's new Type 26 frigate
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Picture: Malcolm Wells (171030-0346)

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BAE Systems has told the Ministry of Defence it wants all 13 of the Royal Navy’s new Type 26 frigates to be based in Portsmouth.

The News can reveal the shipbuilder has urged the MoD to base the new warships in the city from 2020 in a bid to expand its 1,700-strong ship repair and maintenance division at Portsmouth Naval Base.

BAE believes the move would offset the impact of job losses among 1,300 Portsmouth workers in its separate shipbuilding division, which faces deep cuts once work on huge sections of the navy’s £6bn aircraft carriers comes to an end in 2014.

While BAE conducts an internal review of its UK shipbuilding operations, a senior source told The News the desire is for Portsmouth to become a ‘specialised centre’ for refits and day-to-day repairs of the fleet.

‘We’ve told the MoD it will make sense to have all the Type 26s based in Portsmouth,’ the source said.

This, coupled with both of the navy’s new carriers and six Type 45 destroyers being based in the city, would allow BAE to maintain its ‘strong presence’ in Portsmouth.

The BAE source added: ‘People seem to forget that, historically, Portsmouth has been a place of excellence for ship maintenance and repair. That’s an area of the business that we are looking to grow going forward.’

The MoD is holding talks with BAE executives about the Type 26 programme, which will replace the navy’s Type 23 frigates from 2020.

Ministers have expressed a desire to build 13 of the warships, but final decisions on how many will be actually bought and at what cost will not be announced until 2014.

Where and how the ships will be built also forms a key part of the discussions – and it’s not guaranteed Portsmouth will see any of the work.

The MoD remains tight-lipped on where the Type 26 frigates may be based.

Currently, the navy’s 13 Type 23s are split between Portsmouth and Devonport.

Basing all the future frigates in Portsmouth is likely to spark a political backlash from Plymouth MPs who fear Devonport is being wound down by the government.

An MoD spokesman said: ‘Our current intentions are for the Type 26 to enter service as soon as possible after 2020.

‘A four-year Assessment Phase programme, which was launched in March 2010, is currently under way.

‘This comprises a joint BAE Systems and MoD team to evaluate capability, availability and support options in order to develop a detailed specification for the ship ready for demonstration and manufacture.

‘The main investment decision is expected to be made after the completion of the Assessment Phase in 2014. We anticipate taking the design forward to manufacture at this stage.’

A BAE spokeswoman said: ‘As part of our business planning activity, we are reviewing how best to retain the capability to deliver and support complex warships in the UK in the future. This work is ongoing and we will keep our employees and trade union representatives fully informed as it progresses.’