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Fleet Solid Support Ship

Fleet Solid Support Ship Defence Secretary Ben Wallace on 21 May 2021 launched a competition to build three new Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships to provide vital support to Royal Navy operations across the world. The manufacture contract award was expected to be made within two years, following approvals.

An International Competition for the Design and Manufacture prime contract was started in May 2018 with the expectation that contract award would be achieved in 2020. On 5 November 2019 the Secretary of State for Defence agreed that the FSS competition should be stopped because it had become clear that a value for money solution could not be reached. In April 2020, the Department reviewed its options and the impact on the delivery schedule. It recognised that achieving full capabilities of a carrier strike group depends on the new support ships being available from the mid-2020s. However, by June 2020 the Department expected there will be a delay of between 18 and 36 months to the new ships entering service, meaning the first ship would be operational between October 2027 and April 2029.

Stephen Morgan, Shadow Defence Minister, asked via a written Parliamentary question: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what the timetable is for the Government to make a decision on where new Fleet Solid Support ships will be maintained.

Jeremy Quin, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, responded: The Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ship competition will be launched in the spring. It is anticipated that the competition will require that the winning bidder must be a UK registered company or consortia and a significant proportion of the build and assembly work must be carried out in the UK. We will seek to deliver UK social value in recognition of the opportunities for prosperity and levelling-up that the programme presents. No decisions have yet been taken as to how or where the FSS ships will be maintained. Such decisions will be made at an appropriate time before the ships enter service.

Stephen Morgan, Shadow Defence Minister, asked via an earlier Parliamentary written question. To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to the Answer of 30 November 2020 to Question 120779 on Fleet Solid Support Ships, what recent assessment he has made of whether that target will be met. Jeremy Quin, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, responded: It remains our intention to commence the Fleet Solid Support ship competition during spring 2021.

The Governments procurement plans for up to three new support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary faced opposition from Labour, the SNP and trade unions. The program began the Assessment Phase with the competition expected to be formally launched towards the end of 2018 and a contract signed in 2020. The formal issue of documentation inviting bids for the design and build contract was to be given in December 2018 with a view to awarding the contract in 2020.

The MOD said the contract will be for two ships with an option for a third. Two of the three Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) currently in service will retire in 2023/24. There was ambiguity over how many FSS ships will be ordered. The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review announced that the Government would buy three new Fleet Solid Support logistics ships. A September 2017 MoD procurement notice stated that up to three FSS ships would be procured.

The RFA has three Solid Support Ships: RFA Fort Austin, RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Victoria. RFA Fort Austin was not currently deployed and was alongside in the Liverpool area while RFA Fort Victoria is in refit. Austin and Rosalie were launched in the mid-1970s and in 2011 had their service life extended by a decade to 2023 and 2024 respectively. Fort Victoria was launched in 1990. RFA ships may be armed with an active weapons system for self-defence. Austin and Rosalie are equipped with the Phalanx close-in weapon to protect the ship from incoming missiles or enemy aircraft and a 20mm close range gun. The new FSS ships are likely to have a similar level of protection.

In 2013, the Department delayed funding for the solid cargo ships, only going ahead with procurement of four tankers. Subsequently, as part of SDSR 2015, the Department decided on a new fleet of three solid support ships, to enter service from 2026. Existing support ships are being retired from service and between 2024 and 2026 the Navy will have limited solid support shipping capability. TheDepartment will need to closely manage availability of these ships over this period toensure that it can support the carriers as well as the rest of the Navys fleet.

The Fleet Solid Support Shipping Procurement Strategy intent is to compete non-warships in order to maintain UK competitive edge for shipbuilding. By testing UK yards against foreign competition MOD will be able to ensure that the UK sector remains competitive. The Fleet Solid Support ships will therefore be subject to an international competition which is due to complete by early 2020, in order to deliver ships from the mid-2020s.

The program was finalising requirement setting in 2017, with a focus on ensuring that the military features and standards that deviate from the commercial norms are minimised. In following this approach, the program will expect Industry to be able to consider and offer a number of viable and compliant solutions, which combined with competition, will deliver a cost effective capability. Aside from exploiting commercial opportunities at the platform level, a wide use of commercial equipment is expected and encouraged, with a UK Customisation phase planned if required.

Consideration was being given to introducing a market engagement phase prior to the main competition. This will deliver a closer relationship with Industry, which in turn will provide earlier insight to de-risk solutions and obtain costings. This will allow a better and informed understanding of cost drivers.

The September 2017 National Shipbuilding Strategy launched the procurement process for Fleet Solid Support shipping. Unlike the Type 26 and the Type 31e, the procurement for this ship will be decided by a completely open competition. The step change required by the new strategy is intended to give UK contractors an opportunity to compete for these orders. The national shipbuilding strategy made it clear that, as non-warships, the fleet solid support ships will be subject to international competition. There are clear cost and value-for-money advantages from maximising competition, which remains the cornerstone of defence procurement. UK companies are welcome to participate in the competition. Daewoo, of South Korea, which was currently building the Tide class tankers for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, benefited from state aid assistance from the South Korean Government.

Labour, the SNP and the shipbuilding trade unions argue the contract should be restricted to UK shipyards to support the shipbuilding industry, secure jobs and retain skills. They argue the proposed ships are warships and as such, the Government can use the Article 346 exemption to exclude the contract from EU procurement rules on national security grounds. The Government disagrees, defining warships as destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers, and says all other surface vessels should be subject to open competition.

Building the FSS in the UK will help protect the UK shipbuilding industry, protect jobs and retain skills: GMB estimates up to 6,500 jobs could be created or secured, including 1,805 shipyard jobs. No-one in the potential competition has the experience of building large, complex military vessels in the way that the UK has through the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA). To place the contract with an inexperienced yard would bake in risk. The UK has a fully functioning yard big enough to build these ships at Rosyth, but the site is running out of work. FSS could smooth the workload and maintain an important facility. Rosyth shipyard will have a gap between the completion of HMS Prince of Wales (the second aircraft carrier) in 2019 and the expected refit of HMS Queen Elizabeth (the first aircraft carrier) in 2030, and FSS work could keep the shipyard operational in between these dates.

The Ministry of Defence rejects arguments that the Fleet Solid Support (FSS) Ships are warships: "The procurement of the Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships through international competition reflects the fact that they are Naval Auxiliary Support Ships whose primary role is the replenishment of naval vessels with bulk stores. They are non-combatant ships, manned by civilian Royal Fleet Auxiliary crews and are equipped with weapons solely for selfdefence. We are clear that FSS ships are not warships. We are therefore required by law to procure them through international competition, under our obligations set out in the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011 and as outlined in the National Shipbuilding Strategy."

The four major European support ship requirements similar to FSS werent competed, or were competed in such a way as there were no chances for an external bidder. The Government states that it is because of EU rules that it has to have an international competition for FSS: this doesnt seem to have been the case in France, Italy, Germany, or Spain. EU law requires most government contracts to be procured via an open, competitive process. The main EU legislation in the defence domain is the Defence and Security Directive 2009/81/EC, transposed into UK law by Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011. However, Article 346 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides for an exemption to the procurement rules where a country considers it to be necessary for national security.

In November 2018 the Ministry of Defence announced five firms had been shortlisted to submit a tender for the competition. However, Finantieri (Italy) and DSME (South Korea) were reported in May 2019 to have withdrawn. Naval Technology reported in November 2019 that only Navantia (Spain) remained of the international bidders. The owner of Belfast-based Harland and Wolff signed an accord with Navantia in November 2019, prompting hope the yard could be in line to work on the contract. A British Shipbuilding team, called Team UK, was also in the running for the contract with a plan to split the work between BAE Systems, Babcock, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce. In October 2019 the MOD said: We anticipate that a design and build contract for the Fleet Solid Support ships will be awarded in 2020, for a class of up to three ships.

However, the Government unexpectedly suspended the competition in early November 2019, shortly after Sir John Parkers review was published, on the eve of the dissolution of Parliament. The MOD cited value for money reasons and said the current approach will not deliver the requirement. The decision from the MOD came one day after it published Sir John Parkers review of the National Shipbuilding Strategy where he criticised the decision to possibly build the ships abroad.

Parker wrote: There is significant parliamentary, industry and public interest in increasing the number of categories of ships eligible for UK only competition. While I do not wish to delay or damage the procurement of the Fleet Solid Support ships. I recommend that UK-only competition should be considered for future defence-funded vessels including amphibious vessels and mine countermeasure vessels.

Contracts were awarded 01 September 2021 to four consortia, all of which include significant UK involvement, to develop their bids to build three new Fleet Solid Support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Navy. The award of the Competitive Procurement Phase (CPP) design contracts, each initially worth around 5 million, means the Fleet Solid Support competition has successfully moved to the next stage.

The contracts, negotiated with industry by Defence Equipment and Support, the procurement organisation for the Ministry of Defence, deliver on the UK Governments promise to progress the design and build of the FSS ships to support the Royal Navys Carrier Task Groups. The final manufacture contract will be awarded to a UK company acting either solely or as part of a consortium.

Welcoming the news with industry leaders at a CPP kick-off event, Defence Secretary and Shipbuilding Tsar Ben Wallace said: "I am proud to see UK companies stepping up to the challenge of the Fleet Solid Support competition as we begin the next chapter of this British shipbuilding success story. I wish all the competitors well as we work towards realising a programme which will deliver ships essential for the UKs security as well as vital jobs and skills.""

The contracts will enable bidders to develop their design proposals and the next stage will seek details of how they would fulfil the wider delivery needs of the programme. Assessment of these proposals will lead to the selection of a preferred bidder and award of the manufacture contract. The FSS competition remains on track to deliver the ships the Royal Fleet Auxiliary need to support the Royal Navy, whilst maximising the social value contribution shipbuilding can make in the UK, including encouraging investment in domestic shipyards, whilst balancing the need to deliver value for money.

The commitment to this vital capability was outlined in the 2021 Defence Command Paper and is supported by the 24 billion uplift to the defence budget over the next four years. The FSS ships will increase the capability and development of the Carrier Strike Group to operate globally by replenishing its stores and ammunition.

The four consortia awarded CPP contracts are (in alphabetical order):

  1. Damen [a shipbuilding company of the Netherlands], which includes UK company Serco Group plc, a leading provider of public services, to include the Defense sector.
  2. Larsen & Toubro [a shipbuilding company of India], which includes UK company Leidos Innovations.
  3. Team Resolute, which includes UK companies Harland & Wolff and BMT.
  4. Team UK, which includes UK companies Babcock and BAE Systems.

British trade unions accused the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of forsaking the UK's shipyards amid a row over the construction of Royal Navy supply vessels. The uproar came after the MoD announced that several foreign companies are being considered to build a new generation of Fleet Solid Support (FSS) vessels.

Trade union officials were quick to argue that the government faces the risk of squandering a chance to strengthen the nation's shipbuilding industry.

Ian Waddell, general secretary of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, for his part, insisted that "[prominent British businessman] Sir John Parker was very clear when he recommended in the national shipbuilding strategy that a UK-only competition should be considered for defence-funded vessels". Waddell recalled that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had categorised the FSS as a warship, which is why "it is unclear why overseas involvement continues to be encouraged in this programme". The union chief added "it is vital that the government gets a grip and builds these ships in Britain".

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Page last modified: 27-09-2021 16:39:16 ZULU