UK Plans Six Amphibious Warships in New Golden Age of Shipbuilding

UK warship construction
Construction of HMS Cardiff, one of the new Type 26 frigate under construction (BAE Systems)

Published May 14, 2024 7:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK government detailed an ambitious plan to expand the Royal Navy highlighting that it calls for up to 28 new vessels including those in planning and under construction. In the latest move, the government announced plans for up to six new amphibious warships for the Royal Marines while also deferring the retirement of two vessels.

Speaking at the annual Sea Power Conference in London today, May 14, Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said the country was entering a new “Golden Age” of shipbuilding designed to support the future capabilities of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. He said the plans for the newest vessels bring the total up to a potential 28 warships and submarines for the fleet.

“We’re learning from what’s happened in the Black Sea in Ukraine and learning what’s happening in the Red Sea currently to make much more flexible ships capable of carrying out a lot of different types of tasks,” Shapps told the BBC. He called the plans for the new ships “more flexible” while saying it would enhance the UK’s overall capabilities.

The latest plans call for up to six vessels called Multi Role Support Ships specifically designed for the Royal Marines and to support the commando forces while conducting special operations. The Ministry of Defense reports it has entered the concept phase for the new vessels and will be moving forward working with the shipbuilding industry. They will be flexible warships designed to carry vehicles, aircraft, “insertion craft,” uncrewed systems, and also feature medical facilities to support the mission.

“These will be the most capable amphibious warships the nation has ever owned, designed to be fully interchangeable with our closest allies in Europe and NATO,” said First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Ben Key. 

Shapps told BBC that three vessels would definitely be built and planning was also underway for three additional ships.

He highlighted that the expansion of the naval forces comes due to the commitment of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to increase the UK’s defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by the end of the decade. While the Conservative and Labour parties rarely agree on policy, both sides support the plan to raise the investment in defense.

The total plan now calls for eight Type 26 Frigates, with the first three scheduled to enter service before 2030, along with five Type 31 Frigates. Two Astute class submarines are also under construction and four Dreadnought class sub are planned for the UK’s nuclear arsenal. Three support ships are scheduled to start production next year for delivery by 2031.

They highlighted that the shipbuilding work is involving companies across the country. The Type 26 and Type 31 are being built in Scotland, the submarines in Barrow-in-Furness, England, and the fleet support ships in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Devon, England.

The Defense Secretary also confirmed that HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, two 20-year-old amphibious vessels, will remain active till their planned out-of-service dates in 2033 and 2034. There had been speculation that one or both would be retired near term. Shapps said both would remain active until the six new vessels were commissioned. The new vessels are also expected in the early 2030s to replace three landing dock ships in the auxiliary and the Aviation Support Ship RFA Argus.

HMS Argyll, the longest-serving Type 23 Frigate in the Royal Navy, they reported has been sold to BAE Systems. She will be used in the shipbuilding sector to support apprentice training. HMS Westminster, which along with the Argyll has a total of 63 years of service, will also be officially retired.