The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) awarded two contracts worth £320m to sustain the UK Royal Navy’s River-class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs).

BAE Systems won a contract worth £70m. The company is the original equipment manufacturer of the second batch of OPVs. However, this contract will now see the company support the preceding batch: HMS Tyne, Severn, and Mersey.

These three first-generation ships entered service in 2003 to secure the country’s borders, fishery protection, and other patrol missions. The legacy batch will be re-serviced until 2028, after it was intended to be decommissioned.

The Tyneside-based company, UK Docks and Marine Services, won the second contract for £250m. The company will support the requirements of the second-generation OPVs: HMS Forth, Medway, Trent, Spey, and Tamar.

The company will sustain the quintet until 2031. These OPVs operate abroad for years at a time. The batch is the face of the ‘Global Britain’ strategy at a time of a shrinking Royal Navy force level.

Competition and commercial solutions

According to the UK government’s Refresh to the National Shipbuilding Strategy there was a need for clear procurement intentions.

“[F]or government shipbuilding spend to drive the transformation we seek, we must be clear about what we will value from our procurements and the effect we wish our spend to have.

“We must deliver long-term value for money for the taxpayer and competition will remain an important mechanism to achieve this, but this does not mean that we are driven to choose the lowest price.”

The government’s intentions are clear: extending the lifetime of the OPVs will sustain its maritime presence at home and abroad. The two contracts mark a policy of continuity rather than any discernible “transformation” to the Royal Navy.

That being said, this strategy has the benefit of creating competition between manufacturers to produce creative commercial solutions.

Head of future support acquisition in Navy Command, Graeme Little, stated: “I am delighted with the outcome of the commercial activity by colleagues in [Defence Equipment and Support].

“[They] have put in place effective, efficient, and commercially benchmarked support solutions that are critical to providing support to the OPVs.”