Future Royal Navy Fleet Auxiliaries May be Partly Built Overseas

rfa fort victoria
RFA Fort Victoria, right, is the Royal Navy's sole dry stores auxiliary (file image courtesy Royal Navy)

Published Oct 21, 2020 10:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK Ministry of Defense said Wednesday that it will allow shipbuilders to bid for the Royal Navy's next-generation fleet auxiliary contract with proposals that contain a foreign build component. The decision marks another reversal: the ministry allowed foreign firms to participate in the bidding in 2018, then canceled the tender amidst controversy over domestic content requirements last November. It has now reopened the door for foreign participation.

Under the new terms announced Wednesday, eligible bids for the future Fleet Solid Support ships must be led by a UK shipyard, and they must retain “a significant portion of the build and assembly work" within the United Kingdom. However, an unspecified percentage of the work may be performed at foreign shipyards. 

“International companies will be invited to work in collaboration with UK firms to feed in their skills and expertise, but the successful manufacturing team must be led by a British company,” the MoD said in a statement. “This will have a huge impact on the local economies across the UK where shipbuilding is a prominent feature.”

A combined foreign/domestic ship acquisition strategy would not be a first for the UK MoD. The Royal Navy recently purchased a new series of fleet oilers, the Tidespring series, with deliveries from 2017-19. All four hulls were built in South Korea and fitted out at A&P Group's Falmouth Docks in the UK. 

"Shipbuilding has historically been a British success story, and I am determined to revitalize this amazing industry as part of this government’s commitment to build back better," said Defense Secretary Ben Wallace. "The Fleet Solid Support warships competition will be the genesis of a great UK shipbuilding industry, and allow us to develop the skills and expertise for the shipyards of tomorrow."

In a statement, the shipbuilding union GMB called for "cast iron guarantees" that all ships in the MoD's procurement strategy will be built and assembled in UK yards.

"[Prime Minister] Boris Johnson said that he wants to make the UK into a 'shipbuilding superpower' - the best way to support UK shipbuilding would be to confirm, once and for all, that these ships will be built in UK yards," said Ross Murdoch, GMB's national officer. 

The FSS is needed to support the long-range deployment of the Royal Navy's two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. At present, the service operates only one mission-ready dry stores auxiliary, the 26-year-old RFA Fort Victoria. Two more, the 1970s-era RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Austin, are in reserve layup status.