Royal Navy: Doubts surround new Type 31 frigate programme as project costs soar amid contract row

Ballooning costs are reportedly plaguing one of the Royal Navy’s most important new shipbuilding projects.
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The force is pressing ahead with its Type 31 frigate programme, where five new advanced warships will be built. These vessels are earmarked to replace the ageing Type 23 frigates – with new models scheduled to be rolled out throughout the 2020s.

Equipped with advanced weaponry, a deck to host helicopters and room to have 187 personnel on board, the warships are expected to be a real threat at sea. HMS Venturer is the first of the new vessels, with her first crew being involved in her construction at the Rosyth dockyard in Scotland. She is due to be structurally completed in January, but doubts are still surrounding the project.

The Type 31 frigate programme is pushing ahead, but doubts remain over its soaring costs. Picture: LPhot Bill Spurr/Royal Navy.The Type 31 frigate programme is pushing ahead, but doubts remain over its soaring costs. Picture: LPhot Bill Spurr/Royal Navy.
The Type 31 frigate programme is pushing ahead, but doubts remain over its soaring costs. Picture: LPhot Bill Spurr/Royal Navy.
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The publicly available Annual Report on Major Projects for 2021-2022, commissioned by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, grades major UK operations on whether they are likely to be on budget, completed on time and to the appropriate standard. The Type 31e programme was rated an amber on a traffic light scale from green to red.

This means the operation is still feasible, but it’s not guaranteed to be completed on time, within budget and to sufficient quality – with “significant issues” existing. The project was branded amber “given the Covid-19 pandemic impacts on the programme and the complex activities associated with delivering the full capability of a ‘new to service’ combat system and its associated systems”, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority said.

A row has also been brewing between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and shipbuilders Babcock. As reported in the Daily Telegraph in April, construction was initially halted to due industrial action by shipbuilders, though this was resolved following a pay deal.

Insiders at Babcock told the national publication the ships will be finished on time, but the fixed cost of £250m each – excluding weapons – is under threat. Arguments have reportedly ensued between the MoD and the shipbuilder about costs potentially overrunning.

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The Telegraph reports the project is roughly £100m overbudget due to soaring inflation and the rising costs of materials and labour. Babcock believes the MoD should pay for some of the cost overruns, but this has been refused.

Chief executive David Lockwood told the publication the talks were on friendly terms and there is a “sensible discussion” about moving forward in the contract. A Royal Navy spokeswoman said: The Ministry of Defence has received a formal claim from Babcock relating to the Type 31 contract, which has been rejected in full.

"While this issue is being dealt with through formal contractual processes, it would be inappropriate to provide any further details due to the commercial sensitivities of the on-going negotiations.” The spokeswoman added that the new Type 31s will be “at the heart” of the navy’s surface fleet and will be used to deter aggression and maintain “the security of the UK’s interests” by working with allies across the globe.

"Flexible and adaptable by design, Type 31 Frigates will undertake missions such as interception and disruption of those using the sea for unlawful purposes, collecting intelligence, conducting Defence engagement and assisting those in need,” she added. The ships – HMS Venturer, Active, Formidible, Bulldog and Campbelltown – are part of the Inspiration class.

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