Fleet Solid Support ship order reduced, now two ships with option for third


The formal tender document reveals only two support vessels are guaranteed to be built, with the third now only being an “option”.

GMB national officer Ross Murdoch said:

“This is a hugely disappointing decision by the Government who have once again let down the UK’s shipbuilding communities. Not content with insisting these Royal Navy support ships are built overseas, now the pressure is on to build them in the UK, they want to only build two.

What has this Government got against the UK shipbuilding industry? GMB demands the Government commit to three ships – and make sure they are built in UK yards.”

According to the official tender for the project:

“The Commercially Supported Shipping Team is seeking to procure up to 3 in number Fleet Solid Support Ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA), with a firm requirement for 2 ships and an Option for a further 1 ship. The RFA is tasked with the delivery of logistic support to the UK Royal Navy whilst at sea (Afloat Support). Its ships are currently merchant registered and British Flagged, regulated by the Maritime Coastguard Agency and classified by Lloyds Register. As a single organisation, the RFA delivers the totality of Afloat Support services. It provides both agility and value for money in manning its ships, and ensuring that the vessels are available and capable of supporting any military operation whenever and wherever tasked.

The role of RFA Solid Support ships is to replenish surface warships and other auxiliaries with ammunition (ordnance, munitions and explosives), food and solid stores. Solid Support ships must be capable of safely embarking, storing, preparing for and conducting underway Replenishment at Sea (RAS). There are three methods of delivering this, the abeam method (most common) and the transfer of general stores by aviation, referred to as Vertical Replenishment or Vertrep. The third method used is by Ships Crane for boat transfer ashore/to another vessel or to jetty whilst alongside in port.

The Royal Navy delivers an Expeditionary warfare capability, which requires it to operate World-wide. This Global reach reads across to the Solid support ship, which has to deploy and remain on station in a variety of environmental extremes. It must also integrate tactically with and contribute to a Naval task group. Its cargo is the life blood for the warships but, as a platform, it is also essential that it does not detract from the operational aims of the group.

The primary role is to support war-fighting operations.
The Solid Support ship has to operate and survive against a capable and hostile enemy threat and continue to deliver its prime logistic service to ensure overall mission success.
The introduction of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier and its aircraft, the F-35B Lightning II, represent a significant increase in our Carrier Strike capability.

That needs a corresponding increase in the tempo and volume of solid support, something that cannot be met by our current ships. While Carrier Strike will move into new realms of Air Combat, Amphibious operations will remain equally demanding, particularly the need operate in the littoral with the different threats and environmental conditions that this will pose. The FSS ships will need to support all tasks for the future Royal Navy, from full Carrier strike war-fighting through to Peacetime operations.”

GMB research shows that up to 6,700 jobs could be created or secured in the UK if the order went to a domestic shipbuilder – including 1,800 much needed shipyard jobs. A further 4,700 jobs could be secured in the wider supply chain – including in the steel industry.

The union estimates that £285 million would also be returned to the taxpayer through income tax, national insurance contributions and lower welfare payments.

Exclusive Survation polling, commissioned by GMB, found that 74 per cent of people want the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ships built in the UK. GMB maintains that RFA ships are military vessels that are crucial to the UK’s defence capabilities.

The Government’s current policy is to build all Royal Navy warships in the UK but orders for RFA ships are put out to international tender. Shipbuilding companies from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea and Spain attended a recent Ministry of Defence industry day on the Fleet Solid Support order according to documents obtained by GMB under the Freedom of Information Act.

Ross Murdoch, GMB National Officer for Shipbuilding, said:

“The Government looks set to repeat the blue passports fiasco by putting another order of national significance out to tender abroad. Ministers are not bound by normal EU rules on competitive tendering when it comes to military ships. There really can be no excuse for sending our shipbuilding contracts overseas.

We have a highly skilled shipbuilding workforce in the UK that is more than capable of making these ships at a fair market price. We face being sold down the river if the work goes to artificially subsidised international competitor shipyards instead. At a time when global tensions are rising, the Government should use this order to ‘buy for Britain’ and rebuild our defence shipbuilding manufacturing capabilities.

Shipbuilding workers are disillusioned by orders flowing overseas while highly skilled jobs at UK shipyards are being cut. It would be a gross betrayal of the spirit of the ‘red, white and blue Brexit’ that Theresa May promised if this crucial contract is awarded outside of the UK and jobs here are lost as a result.”

Reacting to this news earlier in the week, the First Minister of Scotland stated that the international tendering for auxiliary vessel contracts is a betrayal for the Clyde, despite the yards having no interest in them, having never been promised them and the fact the vessels couldn’t physically fit on the slipway.

Speaking during First Minister’s Questions, she said:

“That work should be on the Clyde, I argue that that work was promised to the Clyde and should definitely go to the Clyde. We should be very clear. What we are now seeing develop around that work and the future of the shipyards is nothing short of a blatant betrayal of Scottish shipyards. During the referendum, promises were made to those shipyards by the Tories, and indeed, by all the unionist parties—the shipyards were told of promises of work for years to come. The unionist parties specifically said that, if Scotland became independent, it would not be able to secure that work for the Clyde, because contracts could not go to “foreign countries. It is an absolute betrayal and I hope that we will hear all parties across the parliament stand up for shipbuilding on the Clyde.”

Sturgeon said the move was an “absolute betrayal” in light of promises made in the run-up to 2014’s independence vote. In fact, what was “promised” before the referendum was work on complex warships, like frigates and destroyers. There are three key problems with this:

    • The Clyde is at capacity with the River class and Type 26 Frigate builds and has no intention of bidding for this work.
    • The 40,000 tonne support vessels wouldn’t physically fit on the slip alongside the Type 26 Frigate builds.
    • The only vessels “promised” were warships, such as frigates and destroyers.

The unions are advocating that the build stay in the UK, not that it be done on the Clyde and this is something we agree with. There are strong arguments to build these ships in the UK.

Jude Brimble, GMB National Secretary, said:

“The Royal Fleet Auxiliary contracts are the key to unlocking the country’s massive shipbuilding potential. But Ministers refusal to put the UK’s interests first will mean that instead of a massive programme of shared economic and employment re-distribution, our firms will be competing against each other for slivers of complex warship work. It beggars belief that the Government wants to give this golden opportunity away to foreign competitors when working class communities up and down the country are crying out for decent work.”

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Source: 17 UK Defence Journal

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