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The Government will publish a National Shipbuilding Strategy in 2017. Its purpose will be “to place UK naval shipbuilding on a sustainable long-term footing”. The strategy is expected to outline the Government’s plans for two new classes of frigates for the Navy which are needed in the 2020s.

A Government-commissioned report published in November 2016 criticised the way in which the Ministry of Defence develops and buys new surface ships and recommended a ‘sea change’ in naval procurement. The report was written by Sir John Parker. The strategy will include the Government’s responses to the report’s proposals.

New surface ships

The Ministry of Defence is in the middle of an ambitious recapitalisation programme for its naval surface fleet. The Government plans to spend about £19bn over the next decade on surface ships for the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary. A substantial portion of this is for the Navy’s new frigates, oft-described as the backbone of the fleet.

The Royal Navy designates a class of frigates/destroyers as a Type. The Navy has a fleet of thirteen frigates, all Type 23s, which will begin to leave service from 2023 onwards.

Plans to replace the fleet changed significantly in 2015 when the Government dropped proposals to replace them on a one-to-one basis with the yet to be built Type 26 frigates. Only eight Type 26 frigates will be ordered and instead a new class of General Purpose Frigates, unofficially known as the Type 31s, will be developed.

BAE Systems is the prime industry partner for naval warships and submarines. The Government has confirmed, subject to contract, that steel will be cut on the Type 26 in summer 2017. This will be at BAE’s two remaining shipyards, both located on the Clyde. The Government’s plans for the design and build of the Type 31 class are still at the early stages.


The aim of the shipbuilding strategy

The Government announced it will publish a new National Shipbuilding Strategy in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The strategy will “will lay the foundations for a modern and efficient sector capable of meeting the country’s future defence and security needs.”

Concerns about recruiting and retaining the highly skilled workers needed to build warships is one of the factors driving the strategy. As is the Government’s policy of building complex warships in the UK. Options for designing the new type 31 to be exportable will also be examined.

Timing of the publication

The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) set a publication date of 2016 for the strategy. Sir John Parker was appointed as the independent chair of the strategy and was expected to the Government by the Autumn Statement in November 2016.

The Parker report

Sir John Parker delivered his report to the Government ahead of the Autumn Statement but his report was not published until 29 November, six days after the Autumn Statement. Upon publication it transpired this was not the National Shipbuilding Strategy, as might have been inferred from Government comments, but an ‘independent report to inform the National Shipbuilding Strategy’. The Government announced its response to the report will form the National Shipbuilding Strategy which it will publish in sprin 2017.

Parker made a total of 34 recommendations which, he said, amounted to a ‘sea change’ in how the MOD acquires surface ships. This included a new approach to procurement, in-building exportability to the design process and harnessing the ‘renaissance in shipbuilding’ in UK regional shipyards to build the Type 31 class.

Parliamentary scrutiny

The Defence Committee published its report on naval procurement and the national shipbuilding strategy (HC 221, 2016-17) on 21 November 2016. The Government’s response was published in mid-January 2017.

A debate on shipbuilding on the Clyde was held on 25 April 2016 and on the Type 26 frigates and the Clyde on 18 October 2016. Members have asked a number of oral and written questions about the Navy’s frigates and the strategy. A debate on the strategy will be held in Westminster Hall on 8 February 2017.

Note on this briefing paper

This briefing paper was first published on 14 October 2016. It was revised and updated to reflect the Parker report in December. The briefing paper now starts with an examination of the naval shipbuilding sector, followed by an overview of the Navy’s plans for new frigates, offshore patrol vessels and logistics ships. It then looks at Government descriptions of the shipbuilding strategy and a summary of and reaction to Sir John Parker’s report. It was updated again to incorporate the Government’s response to the Defence Committee.


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