Former head of the Royal Navy warns of shipbuilding '˜fiasco' if order books aren't boosted

NAVAL shipbuilding needs to be stepped up to avoid a '˜fiasco like the British steel industry', a former First Sea Lord has claimed.

Tuesday, 10th May 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 10th May 2016, 10:07 am
A fitter cutting steel inside the C ring of the HMS Queen Elizabeth in the shipbuilding hall a Portsmouth Dockyard

Admiral Lord Alan West has warned that the UK needs to increase its order of Royal Navy surface ships or face dire consequences.

It comes amid concerns over the future capacity of the Royal Navy’s next generation of warships.

Speaking in the House of Lords, Labour peer Lord West questioned what the ‘optimum build rate’ was to construct new warships and how many yards were needed to meet this.

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Lord Alan West

Responding, Conservative defence minister and 7th Earl Howe, Frederick Richard Penn Curzon explained the new national shipbuilding strategy would determine what is needed to ‘ensure a modern and efficient national warship sector capable of meeting the country’s future defence and security needs’.

However, Lord West told the peer: ‘Since 2010 we have not ordered a single highly complex major warship.

‘If we do not have a constant flow of ships being built in this industry, we will have another fiasco like the steel industry.

‘I ask the minister first why, when the prime minister and the secretary of state for defence said at the time of the 2015 SDSR that we would have a larger number of warships in the navy by 2025 than today, in fact we are going to have fewer?

Lord Alan West

‘Secondly, does he not agree that it is a disgrace that we have so few ships that for the first time in living memory we do not have a destroyer or frigate deployed in the north Atlantic outside home waters, in the West Indies or in the south Atlantic?’

The Tory peer swept aside the comments and refused to accept that by 2025 the navy would have fewer ships.

He argued that work was already under way on the navy’s future workhorse, the Type 26 global combat ship.

However, he did agree that a regular drumbeat of shipbuilding production was vital in securing the industry.

‘The strategic defence and security review published last year set out the government’s plans for surface warship building, in particular the Type 26,’ he said.

‘We committed to precede that programme with two additional offshore patrol vessels.

‘The work to develop a new baseline for Type 26 is proceeding, as is the work preceding the concept study for the design and build of a new light general purpose frigate.’

He added the key aim of the shipbuilding strategy was to have a ‘sustainable long-term shipbuilding capacity’.

Next year Portsmouth will welcome the first of two 65,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.