MoD plan to cut costs by moving Clyde frigate work under fire

Chris Stephens, the SNP MP whose Glasgow South West constituency includes the BAE Systems shipyards on the Clyde (pictured), said defence analyst Francis Tusas comments backed cross-party calls for a rethink on Type 31. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Chris Stephens, the SNP MP whose Glasgow South West constituency includes the BAE Systems shipyards on the Clyde (pictured), said defence analyst Francis Tusas comments backed cross-party calls for a rethink on Type 31. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
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The UK Government’s plan to drive down the cost of building a new class of warship by shifting work away from the Clyde is fatally flawed, a leading defence expert has claimed.

A new shipbuilding strategy will see the contract to build a new class of frigate broken up and put out for competition between yards. Costs to build the Type 31 “General Purpose Frigate” will be capped at £250 million in a bid to attract overseas buyers for the model.

But critics have warned that the savings involved are unachievable and that shifting work away from the Clyde will erode decades of expertise.

Defence analyst Francis Tusa, who has given evidence to Westminster committees on military procurement, said the Ministry of Defence was in the grip of a “conspiracy of optimism” over the new strategy.

He questioned plans to build a second class of frigate before the already-announced Type 26, which is due to enter into service in the mid 2020s. “Outside of World War Two, no one has done that,” Tusa told Scotland on Sunday.

“There is no way that you have a ship with the defence systems you need at £250m,” Tusa said. “No one will want to buy it.”

He said he was “worried sick” about the potential for a serious incident involving a Type 31 vessel built to what the MoD calls “commercial standards”, following two fatal collisions involving American warships this year.

“The Clyde is and has been the centre of excellence for at least sixty years,” Tusa said. “The National Shipbuilding Strategy doesn’t recognise this.

“Because we have one yard, we have the designers and production engineers for one yard ... and there is a serious risk that whoever wins Type 31 will go to poach as many people as they can from the Type 26 programme, which means Type 26 could then run into problems.”

Chris Stephens, the SNP MP whose Glasgow South West constituency includes BAE Systems shipyards on the Clyde, said Tusa’s comments backed cross-party calls for a rethink on Type 31.

“If these frigates are complex naval warships, they should be built on the Clyde, he said.”

An MoD spokesperson said: “Building ships in blocks across yards is tried and tested.

“With a £3.7 billion contract to build the first three Type 26 frigates, the largest for naval ships this decade, the Clyde is and will remain a key shipbuilding region.”