LONDON — The British Ministry of Defence confirmed Tuesday that it has halted plans for procuring its proposed low-cost Type 31e general purpose frigate for the Royal Navy on the grounds there were insufficient compliant bids.
The MoD chose the day Parliament went into its summer recess to reveal that a competition to build five frigates at a price capped at a relatively low £1.25 billion (U.S. $1.65 billion) had been put on ice while the procurement process was rethought.
A spokesman for the MoD said the current competition was being restarted due to insufficient compliant bids being lodged for an effective and robust competition but that the move does not change the timing or scope of the program.
“There have been no changes in our plans to procure a first batch of five new Type 31e frigates to grow our Royal Navy,” the spokesman said. “We still want the first ship delivered by 2023 and are confident that industry will meet the challenge of providing them for the price tag we’ve set.”
A new procurement plan is in the works, MoD officials said.
Industry executives in Britain said the decision to delay the program, intended to replace the Type 23 fleet, means it is doubtful the Royal Navy will be able to meet what was an already a tight 2023 deadline.
The MoD had committed to announcing the two winners of a competitive design phase no later than the end of June. A winning contractor was expected to be selected by the end of March 2019.
“This is an early contract in a wider procurement process, and we will incorporate the lessons learned and begin again as soon as possible so the program can continue at pace,” the MoD spokesman said.
The competitive design phase was to have been funded by the MoD — the first time the government would have committed any meaningful cash to the program.
Procurement of the warships is at the heart of a new national shipbuilding strategy rolled out by the Conservative government in 2017.
With BAE Systems set to build eight Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates for the Royal Navy, the government was looking for a general purpose warship capable of supporting naval shipbuilding capabilities elsewhere in the U.K.
A Babcock-led team, which also included naval designers, sensor suppliers and other shipbuilders, was pitching against a Cammell Laird-led partnership with BAE.
Babcock is offering the Arrowhead 140, a modified version of the Royal Danish Navy’s Iver Huitfeld-class warship designed by OMT, while the opposition is offering its Leander design.
As recently as July 13, Babcock was notifying potential suppliers of an industry day briefing on their Type 31e bid. (The "e" in the title stands for export, as the British are hoping to pitch the design and cost to make it attractive to overseas customers.)
The MoD had hoped for more international interest in the program, but industry executives in Britain said the requirement for so much of the work to be done in the U.K. had deterred companies that initially had shown interest.
One of the other issues that had undermined foreign interest was the exceptional degree of risk the MoD wanted industry to take on the program, one executive said.