Royal Navy frigate contract: Harland & Wolff consortium preferred bidder for £1.3bn

A large turnout for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions solidarity rally at Harland and Wolff recently. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
A large turnout for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions solidarity rally at Harland and Wolff recently. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
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Engineering giant Babcock - part of a consortium including Harland and Wolff - has been named the preferred bidder for the £1.3 billion contract to build a new fleet of Royal Navy frigates.

The five ships will be assembled at its Rosyth Dockyard in Fife and will involve supply chains throughout the UK.

The Babcock team’s Arrowhead 140 design beat off competition from a Cammell Laird/BAE Systems consortium and a third bid led by Atlas Elektronik UK.

The winning consortium also includes Thales, BMT as well as Ferguson Marine, based in Port Glasgow and Harland and Wolff in Belfast - both of which are currently in administration, the BBC reported.

Last month, Babcock insisted these firms’ financial difficulties would not affect its bid because its “flexible build approach” could accommodate “a range of delivery sites”.

It is understood that parts of the frigates would be made in Belfast and the ships assembled in Scotland.

However it is not yet clear what it could mean for the future of the yard and the 120 jobs there.

More than 2,500 jobs across the UK are expected to be supported as a result of the Type 31 programme, including 150 jobs for new technical apprenticeships.

The firm said work on the fleet will begin immediately once the formal contract is awarded later this financial year, with detailed design work first and manufacture starting in 2021.

Archie Bethel, Babcock chief executive, said: “Driven by innovation and backed by experience and heritage, Arrowhead 140 is a modern warship that will meet the maritime threats of today and tomorrow, with British ingenuity and engineering at its core.

“It provides a flexible, adaptable platform that delivers value for money and supports the UK’s National Shipbuilding Strategy.

“Arrowhead 140 will offer the Royal Navy a new class of ship with a proven ability to deliver a range of peacekeeping, humanitarian and war-fighting capabilities whilst offering communities and supply chains throughout the UK a wide range of economic and employment opportunities.”

The Government has committed to buying at least five of the low-cost warships for the Royal Navy, with the first vessel expected to be in the water by 2023.

The average production cost is £250 million per ship.

The Ministry of Defence aims to award the contract by the end of the year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit a ship on the Thames on Thursday.

Speaking ahead of the visit he said: “The UK is an outward-looking island nation and we need a shipbuilding industry and Royal Navy that reflect the importance of the seas to our security and prosperity.

“This is an industry with a deep and visceral connection to so many parts of the UK and to the union itself.

“My Government will do all it can to develop this aspect of our heritage and the men and women who make up its workforce - from apprentices embarking on a long career to those families who have worked in shipyards for generations.”

He added: “I look forward to the restoration of British influence and excellence across the world’s oceans.

“I am convinced that by working together we will see a renaissance in this industry which is so much part of our island story - so let’s bring shipbuilding home.”

The PM has appointed Defence Secretary Ben Wallace as the Government’s new shipbuilding tsar to enhance the UK’s production.

He will look at how the Government can use further education, skilled apprenticeships and graduates to achieve a sustainable skills base for British shipbuilding across the UK.

Mr Wallace said: “These mighty ships will form the next generation of the Royal Navy fleet.

“The Type 31 frigates will be a fast, agile and versatile warship, projecting power and influence across the globe.

“The ships will be vital to the Royal Navy’s mission to keeping peace, providing life-saving humanitarian aid and safeguarding the economy across the world from the North Atlantic, to the Gulf, and in the Asia Pacific.”

The vessels will be fitted with the world-leading Sea Ceptor missile system, a range of highly advanced weapon and sensor systems and a combat system with a 4D air and surface surveillance and target indication radar.

They will also have capabilities to operate with a Merlin or Wildcat helicopter.