Fears a ‘huge hole’ in shipbuilding could hit the Royal Navy

A computer-generated image of one of the new Type 26 frigates

A computer-generated image of one of the new Type 26 frigates

Royal Navy reserves tuck into breakfast on Spinnaker Tower

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FEARS have been raised that a ‘huge hole’ in Britain’s next shipbuilding strategy will force the navy to rely on its ageing frigate fleet for longer.

MPs from the government’s Defence Committee made the statement in front of the Royal Navy’s top sailor, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones yesterday.

If (the Type 26 programme start date) is not announced by the time of the national shipbuilding strategy in time for the Autumn Statement, surely that blows a pretty big hole in the national shipbuilding strategy,

James Gray, North Wiltshire MP

It comes as the team of MPs continue their inquiry into when work will begin on the new Type 26 Global Combat Ship – a project which has been fraught with delay.

At the hearing, committee member James Gray grilled Tony Douglas, chief executive for defence equipment and support at the Ministry of Defence, over when production would begin.

The North Wiltshire MP accused Mr Douglas of ‘using management speak’ and deflecting his question.

When pressed, Mr Douglas admitted to the committee: ‘I can’t give you a precise date because it is subject to a complex negotiation.

‘However, I don’t believe we are talking about this being drawn out for any period of long time.’

But a frustrated Mr Gray said a lack of a definitive start date for the frigate programme was casting doubt over the UK’s crucial shipbuilding strategy, which is just months away from being revealed.

‘If (the Type 26 programme start date) is not announced by the time of the national shipbuilding strategy in time for the Autumn Statement, surely that blows a pretty big hole in the national shipbuilding strategy,’ Mr Gray said.

Mr Gray asked how a ‘sensible strategy for national shipbuilding’ could be proposed if it was not yet known ‘whether or not and if and when the Type 26 was going to be built’.

New defence minister Harriett Baldwin was also quizzed over the impact Brexit would have on the timetable of delivering the new frigates and whether the shipbuilding strategy would be hit by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Responding, she said: ‘This is not something that is affected by Brexit.’

The First Sea Lord said he was ‘very happy’ with the Type 26 and added the national shipbuilding strategy was ‘complementary to’ the separate order of the Type 26.

‘There’s a clear and separate commitment to Type 26 and I’m pleased to see that in place,’ he stressed.

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