Talk within the Ministry of Defence of building warships abroad in hope of resurrecting a free market (your report, 1 December) is naïve and misguided.
The reality is that warship-building is no longer a volume business and there isn’t a free market for it, either in the UK or anywhere else in the world.
The free market (of sorts) that did exist in the UK collapsed in the early 1990s, when the Royal Navy stopped ordering ships in the quantities necessary to sustain it.
In warship building, foreign competition is never free competition, as there’s always national self-interest and foreign government interference lurking in the background.
Shipbuilding orders are large and infrequent, meaning that one lost order is enough to sink a shipyard. There’s a very real risk of orders being “bought” by overseas yards to force our yards out of business, only for them then to pile on the cost and extras once the UK yards are gone.
The real test on all this is whether (in reciprocal circumstances) nations so keen to build our warships would allow us to build theirs. The answer to this is invariably “no”.
Yes, building frigates in the UK to a foreign design (such as the Franco-Italian FREMM design) would save on significant first-of-class design costs. But this would be short-sighted and a false economy, as it would decimate UK jobs and the UK’s ability to design ships in future.
It would also result in ships outfitted with French/Italian kit, to the severe detriment of English equipment suppliers, which benefit enormously from an indigenous UK ship design.
It would also wipe out any hope of UK warship export orders. Altogether not a very clever move for UK plc.
(DR) MARK CAMPBELL-RODDIS