Urgent action needed to get Royal Navy support ship project back on track

URGENT action is needed to get a critical £1.6bn project to build new support ships for the Royal Navy back on track, the government has been warned.

By Tom Cotterill
Saturday, 14th August 2021, 4:55 am
An example of a fleet solid support ship that is set to aid the navy's two aircraft carriers in the future.
An example of a fleet solid support ship that is set to aid the navy's two aircraft carriers in the future.

The project to build three new fleet solid support ships – that will one day aid the navy’s two new aircraft carriers – has been given an ‘amber/red’ rating within the latest Government Major Projects Portfolio report.

The rating plunges the proposal into stormy waters, placing it at risk of delay.

The news will come as a blow for those involved in the shipbuilding effort, which has already faced its setbacks, having been suspended in October 2019

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Fresh hope had been sparked in May when defence secretary Ben Wallace relaunched a tender process, requiring the vessels to be led by a UK firm and built in Britain.

But defining the amber/red category the project is now categorised as, the Infrastructure Project Authority – which delivered the report – said: ‘Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to address these problems and/or assess whether resolution is feasible.’

Other naval schemes have also been highlighted as at-risk in the latest portfolio assessment of military projects.

Among them include the £435m Crowsnest advanced early-warning programme.

The hi-tech kit uses state-of-the-art radar systems fitted to Merlin Mk2 helicopters to detect aerial threats from range and protect the navy’s carrier strike group.

But it has been plagued by technical woes and delays and, despite those behind the project having been able to deliver aircraft fitted with the system in time for the UK carrier strike group deployment, it still remains in the ‘red’ category.

Elsewhere, the project to build the Royal Navy’s two new frigate classes - the Type 31 general purpose frigate and more advanced, Type 26 submarine hunter - remain in the ‘yellow’ category.

In June the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, cut the first piece of steel on the third Type 26 Frigate, HMS Belfast, in Glasgow.

According to BAE Systems, work on the first two ships is progressing well. First-of-class Glasgow , which started production in July 2017, was rolled out of the build hall for the first time earlier this year.

Meanwhile, about 40 per cent of the units for second-in-class Cardiff, which started manufacture in August 2019, are in build, the shipyard said.

HMS Glasgow, is expected to enter service in 2027.