This week's House of Commons Select Committee's report entitled: Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy has a key phrase:
"At 19 ships, compared with 35 in 1997, the Royal Navy’s frigate and destroyer fleet is way below the critical mass required for the many tasks which could confront it. If the National Shipbuilding Strategy can deliver the Type 26 and Type 31 GPFF to time, the MoD can start to grow the Fleet and return it to an appropriate size. The 2015 SDSR set out the Government’s ambition for a modern, capable Royal Navy. Now is the time for the MoD to deliver on its promises".
Few would argue with that statement.
Several newspapers and commentators have picked up on this and the phrase 'and return it [The Royal Navy] to an appropriate size'. However, the report and subsequent comment have not made enough of the next phrase 'If the National Shipbuilding Strategy can deliver'. The challenges of delivering the future escort programme to a timetable that will ensure no further reduction in escort numbers is immense.
BAE Systems is the only shipbuilder in UK capable of delivering the Type 26 and the future Type 31 General Purpose Frigate. With the Type 23 going out of service from 2023 the first Type 26 must enter service then to replace HMS ARGYLL. Given a typical, first of class, build time of five years, Type 26 Hull-1 must start its build by 2017. The current MoD and industry 'drumbeat' timetables envisage building and launching a ship every 18 - 24 months, but the 23s pay off annually - creating an immediate problem. Similarly with the propose GPFF Type 31 - the first would need to be in service by 2030, meaning a build start date of 2025 - at the present 'drumbeat' by 2025 there will still be 6 Type 26s to be built - making a dual warship building programme necessary.
Does UK and BAE Systems have this capability and if not what are the alternatives? Perhaps the Chancellor would divert some of his planned 'spending for growth' funds on developing the country's shipbuilding infrastructure and improving the rate of delivery for new warships?
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