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The National Shipbuilding Strategy: January 2018 update

Published Tuesday, January 9, 2018

This Commons Library briefing paper looks at the UK's National Shipbuilding Strategy and what it means for the Royal Navy's new frigates.

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The Government published a National Shipbuilding Strategy in September 2017, fulfilling a commitment made in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Strategy completely overhauls how the Royal Navy will procure and build its new fleet of general purpose frigates. The Government has already committed to a fleet of eight Type 26 frigates, the first of which will enter service in the mid-2020s. The Shipbuilding Strategy focuses more on the five cheaper frigates, the Type 31e.

The Government remains committed to building Navy warships in the UK but the design and build will be open to competition rather than via a non-competitive single source contract with BAE Systems. Exportability will be built into the new Type 31e frigate fleet to counter the Navy's poor record in exporting new ships. Lastly the strategy sets out an aggressive timetable with the main contract to be placed in early 2019 and an in-service date of 2023 for the first in class for the Type 31e.

A fleet of new frigates

The Royal Navy is in the midst of a major programme to replace and renew its surface warships. Six new destroyers (Type 45) entered service in the first half of this decade and the first of two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was formally commissioned into the fleet in December 2017.

The focus now is on the Navy’s frigate fleet and that is the subject of the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

The Navy's current fleet consists of thirteen Type 23 Duke-class frigates. These frigates have already exceeded their original design life and the Ministry of Defence has ruled out any further life extensions.

The Type 23's will begin to leave service from 2023 on an annual basis until 2035. This timeline matters because the Government has made a commitment to maintaining the current fleet number of 19 frigates/destroyers. There is no option to increase the numbers of destroyers, which means the first of the new frigates must enter service in 2023 and on an annual basis thereafter to match the outgoing dates.

The Government contracted BAE Systems to design a new fleet of 13 frigates which has developed into the Type 26 programme. However the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review announced major changes to this plan: only eight Type 26's would be bought (to replace the eight Type 23 frigates that focus on anti-submarine warfare) and instead a new class of frigate, lighter and cheaper, would be designed. This class was not named in the SDSR but has become known as the Type 31e. The Government signed a contract with BAE Systems for the first three Type 26 frigates in summer 2017. They are to be built on the Clyde.

The SDSR also committed to publishing a National Shipbuilding Strategy in 2016. In November 2016 the Government published the results of Sir John Parker's review of the naval shipbuilding industry. His recommendations, and the build up to that report, can be found in Library briefing paper The National Shipbuilding Strategy: February 2017 update.

The National Shipbuilding Strategy

The Government published the National Shipbuilding Strategy in September 2017. The Government accepted all of Sir John Parker's recommendations. The report laid out a new way to procure the Type 31e frigates. Significantly, the contract would be open to competition and a strong preference was expressed in the strategy to utilise the 'rennaissance' in shipbuilding in yards around the UK. The Government has challenged industry to provide plans for the new frigate capped at £250 million per vessel.

There is a strong emphasis on building in exportability from the start - one of the main recommendations of Sir John Parker's report. The Navy has not exported a new warship since the 1970s. The 'e' on the Type 31e's name represents exportability.

The Strategy also laid out a 30 year masterplan for the Navy's ships and boats, identifying when decisions need to be taken for future ship purchases. 

And the Strategy laid out a wholly new Governance structure for naval shipbuilding.

Next steps 

The Shipbuilding Strategy laid out an aggressive timetable for the Type 31e :

Q4 2018: Main Gate (the main investment decision)

Q1 2019: design and build contract award

2023: first in class to enter service

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8193

Author: Louisa Brooke-Holland

Topics: Defence equipment and procurement, Defence expenditure, Defence policy, Shipping

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