Royal Navy warships “kept beyond sellby date”


Royal Navy warships “kept beyond sell-by date”

Image caption
A Type 26 frigate of the class which from next summer will be built on Clydeside

Royal Navy ships are being kept in service “well beyond their sell-by-date”, an independent report has said.

Sir John Parker said new ships were also being ordered too late, creating a “vicious cycle” which was depleting the fleet and wasting taxpayers” money.

He said Navy contracts should be shared among companies across the UK to cut build time and spread prosperity.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the approach had been a success in building new aircraft carriers.

Sir John, chairman of mining giant Anglo American, was tasked with examining how the British naval shipbuilding industry could be kept sustainable while increasing exports.

What could this mean for jobs on the Clyde?

His report calls for a “sea change”, with “pace and grip” from the government so that shipyards across the UK can win work and create jobs.

He said there had been a renaissance in shipbuilding in regional commercial yards which the Ministry of Defence should utilise.

Earlier this month, the defence secretary announced that eight larger Type 26 frigates would be built by BAE on Clydeside from next summer.

But he has not confirmed whether eight smaller, general purpose Type 31 frigates will be built there.

Sir John said his report recognised the engineering and technical skills that reside in BAE and has recommended that the Type 26 frigate be placed there.

However, he told BBC Radio 4″s Today programme: “On the Type 31, the new frigate, we want to see that built in the most competitive way, and I think our investigation shows that probably the lowest cost and the fastest time of build can be done by building it in a distributed way across the country and also, of course, distribute prosperity and highly skilled jobs.”

“Working together”

Sir John, a former chairman of Belfast-based Harland and Wolff shipbuilding group, said distributing work to several locations reduces the “cycle time of actual construction” which was a “very important part of competitiveness”.

Ahead of the publication of his report later on Tuesday, the defence secretary said Sir John had provided a “fundamental reappraisal of how we undertake shipbuilding in the UK”.

He said: “Taking lessons from our world-class automotive industry and other sectors, it sets the foundations for an innovative and competitive sector capable of meeting the country”s future defence and security needs.”

BAE”s modular construction of sections for the UK”s two new aircraft carriers “demonstrated the success of such an approach, with multiple shipyards and hundreds of companies across UK working together”, the defence secretary continued.

And he said that while there was already a “vibrant” shipbuilding sector in Scotland, there were significant export opportunities ripe for exploitation, especially after Brexit.

Last week a report from the defence select committee warned that Britain”s defences were at risk amid uncertainty over plans to replace the “woefully low” number of Royal Navy warships.

The Royal Navy currently has 19 frigates and destroyers but the MPs said that number could fall unless a clear timetable is set out for replacing older vessels.

The government will publish its formal response to Sir John”s report in the spring.

Royal Navy warships – numbers since 1985
Year Aircraft carriers Assault ships Frigates Destroyers
1985 4 2 41 15
1995 3 2 23 12
2005 3 3 19 9
2016 0 3 13 6
Source: Defence Select Committee report