Probably the best description that I can use to describe confirmation of the order placed by the UK Ministry of Defence to BAE Systems covering the first three Type 26 Global Combat Ships today is that this announcement provides a massive boost for UK Sovereign Warship design and build capability just as it does to retention of vitally important design and engineering skills and employment in Scotland and the rest of the UK. It is also excellent news for future UK Defence.
Confirmation that contracts between the MOD and BAE Systems have been signed for delivery of the first three of what are eventual planned to be a procurement of eight high-end capable, multi mission Type 26 ‘Global Combat Ships’ for the Royal Navy – vessels that are optimised for anti-submarine warfare plus that are designed to also deliver the full range of complex combat operation missions required, is absolutely brilliant news not only for the Royal Navy and for UK defence as a whole, but also for the UK economy, jobs and importantly as said above, that the order secures retention of crucially important engineering and design skills.
Coming just a week following the departure from Rosyth of the largest ever Royal Navy vessel to be built, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, to begin sea trials, confirmation from the MOD that contracts for the first three Type 26 Global Combat Ships has now been signed should be the cause of great celebration amongst the 1,700 highly skilled members of BAE Systems workforce employed at the company’s two Glasgow based shipyards on the Clyde just as it will also be by an estimated 1,700 highly skilled specialist workers employed in the supply chain and that will secure employment through to at least 2035.
Urgently required by the Royal Navy in order to begin the overdue long term process replacement of the existing fleet of thirteen anti-submarine warfare Type 23 Frigates, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship will, along with the six Type 45 Destroyers and ‘Carrier Strike’ capability in the form of the two new aircraft carriers that will be commissioned into Royal Navy service later in the current decade, will provide high-end Royal Navy surface ship capability through the next thirty to forty years.
In design and potential mission capability, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship is not only to be considered world-class but also in my view, unmatchable in respect of modern day maritime defence capability. Put simply, the Royal Navy is on its way to having some of the best designed capability in the world.
Able to be deployed anywhere in the world, ‘cutting of steel’ of the first Type 26 vessel is expected to occur within a few weeks. The delivery plan is well conceived and well-thought out and Type 26 build will initially run alongside building of five River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV’s) by BAE Systems at its Scotstoun and Govan yards, the first of which is due to be handed over to the Royal Navy later this year.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance that confirmation of ordering of the first three Type 26 Global Combat Ships provides in respect not only for UK defence but also in securing the long term future of the primary UK surface shipbuilding industry. Not only is confirmation full recognition by government of the importance of maintaining sovereign capability in navy shipbuilding, of the importance of maintaining warship design, engineering, technical and manufacturing skills and the thousands of jobs that will be maintained in the industry through 2035, it is also recognition of the huge effort put in by BAE Systems to ensure that the Royal Navy gets what it requires and the taxpayer gets good value for money.
Neither can the large amount of work put in by those within the MOD, DE&S and other sections of Government be ignored either. They have all worked hard with industry to achieve the self-same ends that have made the announcement of this order possible.
Importantly also, this is full recognition by the Government of its confidence in BAE Systems and the expertise and skills of the highly capable workforce and the proven ability of the company to deliver highly complex ships such as the new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, on time and on budget.
BAE Systems, the MOD and the Royal Navy have worked hard over the past few years to ensure that what would emerge in the design of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship would provide all that the Royal Navy required in respect of capability and would be cost effective in respect of both build and future operation.
Much has been learned over the past decade and the importance of providing value for money and in reducing the potential for programme risk has been well recognised by all parties involved. The two new aircraft carriers are testament to what can be achieved and the same is true on the new River Class ‘Offshore Patrol Vessels’ currently under construction by BAE Systems for the Royal Navy.
BAE Systems two highly invested shipyards at Govan and Scotstoun on the Clyde and which I have visited several times in recent years will be responsible for building of the Type 26 Global Combat Ships. The two yards are to be considered the centre of excellence of the UK’s strategically important surface warship building industry and what has been achieved particularly in respect of design engineering and build capability and that should ensure a reductions in future cost of operation is certainly very impressive.
The £3.7 billion contract awarded to BAE Systems covers the first three of class Type 26 vessels. Not only will these vessels provide a solid platform to sustain the UK based industrial skills base they will also provide the Royal Navy with formidable capability, the nation with strong defence in order to protect large scale UK national interests both here at home and across the rest of the wold but they will also demonstrate the prowess of UK based design engineering skills to a wider market.
To get Type 26 Global Combat Ship to where it is today in respect of both design of capability and order from the MOD for the first three vessels of class has required years of hard detailed work in respect of design and development of the ship and in order to ensure the Royal Navy gets the capability that it needs.
Teams from BAE Systems Glasgow and those working on the programme at other company sites around the UK over the past few years including many within the extensive supply chain have also been working alongside senior MOD and Royal Navy personnel to ensure that Type 26 would be world class. It is just that and what they have designed in respect of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship really is, to my mind, warship capability that will, when delivered in the mid 2020’s, not only serve the Royal Navy and the nation’s defence well, but also provide the potential for wider export benefit as well.
In respect of export potential for Type 26 design it is well known that Canada and Australia have both expressed considerable interest in the Global Combat Ship. Being two long standing allies of the United Kingdom and both also being Commonwealth members it would, given the increasing importance for each of maintaining strong anti-submarine warfare capability, be very interesting should either or both these important nations decide that the Type 26 Global Combat Ship offers the capability that they require. The Type 26 Global Combat Ship is as I have said a world leader in terms of the capability that it can provide. On that basis I would suggest that export potential should not be discounted.
The Government and BAE Systems have already invested heavily in the Type 26 programme and suffice to say that 1,200 personnel working for no fewer than 33 UK and international companies are working within an extensive and already established supply chain.
There has, as yet, been no announcement in respect of actual delivery timing expectation beyond the first Type 26 ship being planned for delivery in the mid 2020’s. Whilst I can as yet have no knowledge of government intention in respect of future Type 26 capability delivery targets beyond the first ship, I would imagine that following the start of production of the first ship later this summer, work on the second ship could possibly start late in 2019 and that subsequent ships might then, if that is what is decided by HMG, appear at 18 to 24 month intervals after that.
In respect of the above much will of course depend on defence budget availability over the next few years but suffice to say that the genuine strength of commitment shown by Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon, his visits to the Glasgow shipyards to see for himself the extent of the investment and more recently, his repeated use of words ‘2017, the year of the Navy’ are to me a very clear demonstration that he is strongly behind the Type 26 programme and that he also understands priority and urgency of need for these ships by the Royal Navy.
As previously mentioned and as stated in SDSR 2015, the MOD intends that a total of eight Type 26 vessels will eventually be built for the Royal Navy over a period of years and also that five of the proposed Type 31e General Purpose Frigate would also be built. Combined, the Type 26 and Type 31e vessels are intended to replace all 13 of the existing Type 23 Frigates currently in service with the Royal Navy.
In respect of Type 26 build capacity, my view is that BAE Systems has ample capacity to either accelerate medium/longer term deliveries of Type 26, should this be required, and also to take on Type 31e work.
With propulsion for the Type 26 Global Combat Ship provided by four MTU diesel gensets (MTU is a Rolls-Royce subsidiary) comprising 20V 4000 M53B engines, each delivering 3,015 kw of mechanical power combined with one Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbine V4000 M53B engine, Rolls-Royce will play an essential role in the success of Type 26.
Known throughout the design and development stage as the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, the design process required a ship optimised for anti-submarine warfare, able to operate in any variety of complex combat mission operations and to also be able of delivering a wide range of other capability requirements. Designed for high intensity warfare just as it is also for humanitarian and disaster relief missions, my understanding is that all variants of Type 26 will have an acoustically quiet hull and take full advantage of modular design and open systems architecture that has been so successfully pioneered by BAE Systems and that facilitate through-life support and any potential upgrade requirements as new technology is developed in order to counter potential new threats that emerge.
That the announcement of the Type 26 order from the MOD should come on the very weekend that BAE Systems moves into a new era of senior management is to me testament to the considerable work done by former CEO Ian King and his superb team to drive the Type 26 Global Combat Ship design and development through. For the new generation of management under CEO, Charles Woodburn, it serves as one more base from which BAE Systems can further grow as the company continues to invest in more of its own technology developments, people and in further improving productivity.
CHW (London – 2nd July 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785