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House of Commons Select Committee on Defence - Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy

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?

Have your say.

2 thoughts on “House of Commons Select Committee on Defence - Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy”

  • Nick Jordan

    I greet the news of the Select committee's report on "Restoring the Fleet" with some skepticism, firstly, because successive governments since WW2 have often ignored the advice they are given, my earliest personal recollection was a demand for an escort fleet of no less than 50 surface units, in the mid-70's it was "around 40", and the slide has continued ever since.
    Secondly, (again) successive governments have downsized shipyards, sold them off as well as the Naval bases, leaving all shipbuilding (usually as failed attempts at attracting votes), in the hands of a single company, which is now failing to deliver vessels capable of operating to the standard required, this may be due to government interference, but it should be incumbent on the builders, and the Navy to point out the potential risks of the cost savings (an oxymoron when allied with the word government).
    I would suggest 2 possible options:
    Invite tenders, from all interested parties, whether British, or European, or any country with a proven capability to build warships of the type required. The Germans especially seem adept at quality warship building.
    Enter into a consortium with other countries (one cannot limit this to the 'European partners, given Brexit), and indeed the Americans I am sure would be happy, and capable of building suitable vessels, with the bonus of having multiple yards which are churning out warships (Arleigh Burke for example) at a much better rate than any British shipyard.
    Finally, to cover the 'gap' in maintaining a capably sized fleet of warships, buy secondhand warships from various sources as a stop gap. This may cause politicians to spill their G&T's, or pints, but hopefully will sober them up enough to think of the consequences of their earlier actions. By the way, I do not feel any one party is to blame for this situation, all are equally culpable, and should man up and admit they made errors.
    This crisis needs a strong leader to admit mistakes, and regain some respect from the United States, NATO, and qall the other Nations that have seen the RN fall to this level.
    In the longer term, companies, such as Appledore Shipbuilders, and the like, should be encouraged to increase their knowledge base so that in the future they can be competitive when tendering for the chance to build modern, versatile, but capable warships.
    Whilst industry sorts the vessel supply out, government should sort out the manning problems, encourage by all means necessary, the recruitment of young , keen, people who recognize a good career opportunity.
    All this will of course cost money and time, which many will say Britain does not have, but all the cost cutting over the decades means there must be money found somewhere, and as for time, it has to be found. Time and tide waits for no one.
    Our fathers, and grand fathers fought in 2 major conflicts to save Britain, now is the time for that price to be at least in part repaid.


    I feel that the time has come when we have to choose between conventional forces and the nuclear deterrent. The cost of renewing Trident is now placing a huge burden on the rest of the defence budget. As Frank Cooper a civil servant in the MOD said in the mid eighties we shall end up with the finest one ship navy, one aircraft air force and one tank army.

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