Defence secretary says new fleet of Navy warships could be built across the country

HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Portsmouth last month.
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Portsmouth last month.

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A new fleet of multimillion-pound warships could be built in blocks across several British shipyards and then assembled at a central hub, the Defence Secretary has announced.

Sir Michael Fallon said the first batch of new Type 31e frigates would be built with the export market in mind, with the UK shipbuilding industry potentially serving both the Royal Navy and navies of allies and partners.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

As part of this approach, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that the first batch of five Type 31e frigates could be built across different shipyards, before being assembled at a central site.

Their cost would be capped at no more than £250 million each.

The frigates are due to be in service by 2023 and shipyards would be encouraged to ensure the vessel was competitive on the global market by working with ‘global partners’.

New shipbuilding strategy

‘This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.’

Sir Michael Fallon

The plans form part of a new national shipbuilding strategy which accepts the recommendations of an independent report into the industry by Sir John Parker, the chairman of mining giant Anglo American.

In November, Sir John said the Navy fleet was being depleted by a ‘vicious cycle’ of old ships retained beyond their sell-by date, and found that the procurement of naval ships took too long from concept to delivery compared with other industries.

He recommended a ‘sea change’, with ‘pace and grip’ from the government so that shipyards across the UK could compete to win work and create jobs.

Sir Michael said: ‘This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.

Portsmouth could be one of the shipyard bases used to build the new warships. Picture: Shaun Roster

Portsmouth could be one of the shipyard bases used to build the new warships. Picture: Shaun Roster

‘Backed up by a commitment to spend billions on new ships, our plan will help boost jobs, skills and growth in shipyards and the supply chain across the UK.’

‘There is an incredible keenness from around the country’

The separation of the building work for the new frigates reflects the approach taken for the Navy’s biggest ever ship, the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The MoD said the ship was built in blocks by more than 10,000 people in six British cities, before being assembled in Rosyth in Scotland, then commencing sea trials in June and arriving in Portsmouth last month.

HMS Queen Elizabeth sailing into Portsmouth. Picture: LPhot Dan Rosenbaum/Royal Navy/PA Wire

HMS Queen Elizabeth sailing into Portsmouth. Picture: LPhot Dan Rosenbaum/Royal Navy/PA Wire

Sir John said: ‘I am very impressed by the courage that the Secretary of State has shown - and the government - in adopting my recommendations, which were very extensive, and will change the shape of naval shipbuilding over the country in the future.

‘The next challenge is to come up with a world-leading design; one that can satisfy the needs of the Royal Navy and the export market.

‘We have the capability to do that, the will is there and it is a tremendous opportunity for UK shipbuilding.

‘I see no reason why industry will not rise to that challenge.

‘There is an incredible keenness from around the country, from Scotland to Merseyside, to the South West and over to Belfast.’