UK to build cut-price warships to spur on naval exports, says Defence Secretary

Government backs construction across several shipyards

Thomas Seal
Wednesday 06 September 2017 08:11 BST
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HMS Prince of Wales is built in blocks at six different locations across the UK
HMS Prince of Wales is built in blocks at six different locations across the UK (Getty Images)

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The UK will go ahead with the construction of a new generation of cut-price, multipurpose warships as it seeks to spur naval exports.

The Type 31e frigate has a price capped at £250m for the first five vessels to be produced for the Royal Navy.

That compares with a bill of up to £1bn apiece, including some dockyard-related costs, for the state-of-the-art Type 26 model that began production in July.

The first of the Type 31 craft should enter service in 2023, with the workload likely to be shared among UK shipyards and assembly focused on a central hub, in line with recommendations from a report into future naval programs, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement Wednesday.

The new approach is “designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said in the release, adding that while the Type 31e will be designed to meet British needs, it will have the export market “in mind from the beginning.”

Britain initially placed an order for 13 Type 26 vessels, to be built at BAE Systems’ Glasgow shipyards.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron announced in late 2015 that the commitment would be cut to eight ships, with the balance of the requirement to be filled by a less capable but cheaper model with enhanced export prospects.

The commitment to build the Type 31e comes ahead of next week’s Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition in London, which will see a “real push” for maritime sales, according to Stephen Phipson, the outgoing head of arms exports at the International Trade Department.

The UK is working on several “very, very large” naval opportunities, he said Monday.

The switch to modular construction for the frigate follows a report last year into UK naval shipbuilding led by John Parker, chairman of miner Anglo American, which argued that BAE’s Scottish dockyards be excluded from the lead role on the new vessel in order to encourage competition and pare costs.

He also recommended the “e” designation to emphasise the export focus.

Britain’s £6.bn aircraft carrier programme pioneered the devolved-construction approach, with blocks for the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales built at six UK locations before being assembled at Babcock International Group’s main yard at Rosyth near Edinburgh.

Bloomberg

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