LONDON — The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has inadvertently published the target date by which it hopes to achieve sufficient maturity on the program to take forward the delayed Type 26 manufacturing phase.

The MoD on April 21 published a series of appointment letters to officers taking up the role of senior responsible owner (SRO) for major defense procurement projects being pursued by the British.

SROs are usually high-ranking officers who are personally accountable to the MoD and Parliament for delivering and the realization of expected benefits from major programs.

Included in the letters was one from the then-First Sea Lord Adm. Sir George Zambellas to Rear Adm. Chris Gardner.

The letter set April 2017 as the milestone for Gardner to secure "approval to proceed to manufacture phase 1" on the program to build a fleet of anti-submarine warfare frigates for the Royal Navy.

A spokeswoman for the MoD confirmed the approval date but cautioned the date would not necessarily tally with production start.

"This letter sets a target for securing approval to proceed to manufacture; this is not necessarily the date when manufacture phase 1 will start, but it is a milestone which demonstrates momentum on the program," she said.

The approval target date surfaced 24 hours ahead of a warning by the GMB union that there could be as many as 800 redundancies at BAE Systems Scotstoun and Govan yards, Scotland, if the government reneges on its commitment to build all of the warship fleet on the Clyde.

The warning by the shipyards' biggest union followed a briefing of officials early Friday on potential proposals for building the warships by BAE.

"We are working with the MoD to agree [to] a revised baseline for the Type 26 ships and a production schedule for the two additional offshore patrol vessels in Glasgow. We are engaging our trades unions as we work through this process. Our focus is to deliver the capability the Royal Navy needs, while ensuring the best value for UK tax payers," BAE said in a statement.

The discussions are taking place against a background of the government developing a new, national shipbuilding strategy that it hopes to roll out later this year.

Industry executives have previously said the government has been looking at how to include English yards like Cammell Laird in the strategy.

Babcock is the only English yard currently capable of building frigates, and then only small ones, but several companies south of the border were involved in constructing parts of the two Royal Navy 65,000 ton aircraft carriers now nearing completion in Scotland.

The original target was to start building the Type 26 warships at BAE later this year. Design maturity, cost and other issues have slowed the program down to the extent the government is having to build a fleet of new offshore patrol boats at the yard to maintain skills and capabilities ahead of the start of a frigate program.

The Type 26, also known as the Global Combat Ship, received a boost earlier this week when it was shortlisted, along with two other European designs, to provide Australia with a new fleet of frigates.

Last month, the MoD announced it was extending the current demonstration phase on the program with a £472 million (US $686 million) contract award to BAE and companies in the supply chain for long-lead items for the first three Type 26s, but industry and MoD officials were coy about providing a production date to get underway.

The extended demonstration/manufacturing phase is set to run until June 2017, at which point it seems the MoD now expects to be in a position to approve a manufacturing decision for phase 1 — the first three warships — of what will now be an eight-strong fleet.

The intended fleet strength was cut from 13 to eight in November's strategic defence and security review (SDSR) with the MoD opting to build at least 5 smaller and cheaper general-purpose frigates to fill the number gap.

The MoD is now re-baselining the program in the wake of the SDSR decision, and the work will define a program timetable, including the start of Manufacture Phase 1.

"The re-baselining work will define a program timetable, including the start of manufacture phase 1. In common with all equipment procurement projects, we will announce the award of the T26 build contract when the relevant approval has been secured, and contract negotiations successfully completed," the spokeswoman said.

The appointment letters — nearly 30 of them in total — also detailed milestone dates for other major programs, not all of which have necessarily been in the public domain.

Some of the letters cover appointments made as recently as last month, while others relate back to 2014 and 2015, so some of the milestone dates may have changed since publication.

Milestones for the Successor nuclear submarine program, F-35 strike jet and Complex Weapons have all been heavily redacted, but other programs haven't.

For example, as of August 2015, Airbus A400M airlifter milestones included initial tactical support capability in September 2017 and a full deployment capability by March 2019.

Delivery of the third Airseeker signals intelligence aircraft from L-3 and full operating capability is targeted for December 2017.

Initial business case approval for the Future Beyond Line of Sight communications program is slated for June this year.

Delivery of the first of four fleet oil tankers built in South Korea using a British design from BMT Defence is due to enter service in September, with all four vessels in service by December next year.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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