Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy Contents


95.The MoD is embarking on a major modernisation of the Royal Navy surface fleet. Notwithstanding the Committee’s concerns that the number of ships is at a dangerous and an historic low, it is a programme which has the potential to deliver a modern navy with a broad range of capabilities, especially if the GPFF design proves versatile and sufficiently economical to increase the number of frigates in the Fleet. However, there are serious concerns about the funding available for the programme and the timetable to which the MoD is working. The delay to the construction of the Type 26 has had a negative impact on the skills of the shipbuilding workforce. If this situation is allowed to continue, it risks undermining the ability of the shipbuilding industry to deliver the Type 26s to the necessary timetable. The MoD must also demonstrate that it has learnt from the extraordinary mistakes in the design of the Type 45.

96.The introduction of the Type 26 represents only part of the modernisation of the Royal Navy’s frigates. Five of its existing Type 23 frigates will need to be replaced by the new General Purpose Frigate, the design of which is only in its infancy. The MoD must not allow this programme to experience the delays to previous Royal Navy procurement programmes. It also has to ensure that the General Purpose Frigate provides the Royal Navy with the capabilities it requires and is not a less capable ship which is there merely to meet the Government’s commitment to 19 frigates and destroyers, and possibly to be suitable for export. Modular design and “plug and play” incremental acquisition could and should enable this to be achieved. Hulls can be designed and constructed to enable an increase in the number of platforms and subsequent augmentation of their equipment. Furthermore, the refit programme and associated costs for the Type 45 must not result in further delays to the frigate programmes.

97.The National Shipbuilding Strategy offers the MoD the opportunity to put its plans for the modernisation of the frigate fleet back on track. For this to happen, the MoD has to ensure that the Strategy includes a timed production schedule for the delivery of both the Type 26 and GPFF, in close co-ordination with the withdrawal from service of the Type 23s, and that both programmes are fully funded to proceed to that timetable.

98.At 19 ships, the Royal Navy’s frigate and destroyer fleet is at a dangerous and an historic low. By giving a commitment to build “at least” five General Purpose Frigates, the SDSR implicitly acknowledged the need to increase this woefully inadequate total. The Government has now set itself a target date for the start of construction of Type 26. It now has to demonstrate that it can deliver these ships, and the GPFF/Type 31 frigates to the timetable set by the out-of-service timetable for the Type 23s. If the MoD does not, it will put at even greater risk our frigate numbers and the capabilities they provide. The SDSR 2015 undertook to modernise the Royal Navy, it is now time for the MoD to deliver on its promises.

17 November 2016