The River-class patrol vessel HMS Mersey is pictured at sea near Portsmouth. Agreement has been reached on construction of three large patrol vessels to replace the River-class vessels for the British Navy. (Caroline Davies/Crown Copyright)
LONDON — The British government has firmed up an agreement with BAE Systems to build three large patrol vessels for the Royal Navy in a contract valued at £348 million (US $584 million).
The first of the 90-meter offshore patrol vessels will be delivered from BAE’s naval shipyards in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2017, and all three will be delivered by the end of 2018.
The warships are destined to undertake operations in home waters and globally in roles currently conducted by frigates and other larger vessels, such as anti-piracy, counter-terrorism and anti-smuggling.
The intention to purchase the warships was first announced by the government last November. Since then, long-lead item contracts have been placed on items such as engines and gearboxes to allow speedy completion of the first warship.
In part the patrol vessels are being constructed to fill the gap in work between completion of two aircraft carriers now in build and the start of the Type 26 frigate program.
Under an earlier business agreement with BAE, the government would have had to pay for shipyard workers to essentially do nothing until the Type 26 program gathered construction momentum later in the decade.
The first 65,000-ton aircraft carrier was launched in Scotland July 4 and is now being fitted out; the second carrier is in assembly.
A demonstration and construction contract for the Type 26 is being negotiated and Defence Procurement Minister Philip Dunne recently told Defense News that agreeing to a deal was an equipment priority for the government ahead of the general election next May
The future of the three relatively new River-class offshore patrol vessels the new warships will replace will be decided by a strategic defense and security review scheduled to start after the election.
With a referendum on Scottish independence from the UK scheduled for next month, the future of naval shipbuilding in the country has become a political target. For months a debate has raged over whether the Royal Navy would have its future warships built in Scottish yards if the country voted for independence.
Announcing the contract, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon hinted that the work would only go ahead in Scotland if voters rejected the independence option.
“UK warships are only built in UK shipyards,” said Fallon in a statement.
The government‘s options appear somewhat limited, though.
BAE is already in the throes of closing its only other UK surface warship yard at Portsmouth, southern England, leaving its nuclear submarine-building facility at Barrow-in-Furneiss and a small yard run by Babcock as the only two operations working on naval orders south of the border.
Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, and Dunne both visited the BAE shipyards at Govan and Scotstoun on the River Clyde as the patrol vessel contract was being announced.
Earlier this year the company proposed spending £200 million updating its Scotstoun facility and closing the other yard at Govan.
Under current plans the new patrol vessels will be built at Govan and fitted out at Scotstoun.
Larger than the River-class offshore patrol vessels currently deployed by the Royal Navy for fisheries protection and other duties in home waters, the new warships will be capable of landing Merlin helicopters and have more room for embarking personnel. The OPVs will weigh about 2,000 tons.
BAE said the new warships, adapted from a design already in service with the Brazilian and Thai navies, will have a range of 5,500 nautical miles, be globally deployable and capable of ocean patrol. ■