UK MOD puts brakes on Fleet Solid Support ship tenders

Harry Lye 6 November 2019 (Last Updated November 6th, 2019 11:42)

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has put the brakes on £1bn plans to build three new Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

UK MOD puts brakes on Fleet Solid Support ship tenders
RFA Fort Rosalie (Centre) replenishes HMS Ocean (Right) and HMS Albion (Left). Credits: MOD Crown Copyright.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has put the brakes on £1bn plans to build three new Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

The controversial tender had become a political punching bag with unions and politicians criticising an early decision to not classify the ships as warships meaning they could be built outside of the UK.

In a statement sent to Naval Technology, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) said: “We can confirm that the Fleet Solid Support ship competition has been stopped, as it is clear that the current approach will not deliver the requirement.

“We are now considering the most appropriate way forward for the procurement project.”

The MOD added that the decision was made to ensure ongoing value for money for the contract. Despite originally attracting international competition from Japanese, South Korean and Italian shipbuilders, all had pulled out of the running except Spanish company Navantia.

A British Shipbuilding team, called Team UK, was also in the running for the contract with a plan to split the work between BAE Systems, Babcock, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.

Despite the MOD currently working on Dreadnought and Astute Class submarines and the Type 26 frigate, UK shipbuilders have been squeezed by a lack of business causing some yards to close.

The contract in its current form necessitated international companies being invited to bid. However, the MOD said the companies were aware of its right to suspend the competition at any point and had exercised its legal right to do so.

In the past the MOD has said that the vessels would form an important part of the UK’s maritime capability, transporting supplies as part of a Task Force or Carrier Strike Group allowing the Royal Navy to project sea power further afield.

A final decision on the contract was expected to be made in 2020 however it is not known if this timeframe is still accurate after the competition was stopped. As the UK has entered the pre-election period a decision to continue with the contract will have to be made by the new government in December or later.

Original plans meant that if the ships were produced abroad any sensitive or classified systems would have to be installed in the UK by British companies.

The decision from the MOD comes one day after it published Sir John Parker’s review of the National Shipbuilding Strategy where he criticised the decision to possibly build the ships abroad.

Parker wrote: “There is significant parliamentary, industry and public interest in increasing the number of categories of ships eligible for UK only competition. While I do not wish to delay or damage the procurement of the Fleet Solid Support ships.

“I recommend that UK-only competition should be considered for future defence-funded vessels including amphibious vessels and mine countermeasure vessels.”