British MoD to invite RFP for Royal Navy’s support ships

LONDON (GDC) — British MoD is set to restart a competition on September to build up to three large logistics ships to support deployment of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier fleet, having suspended the procurement effort last year said Defense Secretary Ben Wallace at the parliamentary Defense Committee.

“It will be, I think, in September, but I can correct that if I am wrong. We are hopefully going to reissue the competition sooner rather than later,” he told lawmakers. A Defence Committee spokeswomen said the panel is still waiting on a concrete date from the MoD.

“Following the session with the secretary of state for defense, Ben Wallace, the committee wrote to the department asking for clarification on a number of issues, including the timing of the Fleet Solid Support program. The committee has not yet heard back from the Ministry of Defense,” she said.

The competition to build up to three 40,000-ton vessels in a requirement known locally as the Fleet Solid Support program was expected to have been worth as much as £1.5 billion (U.S. $1.9 billion) at the time the competition was unexpectedly terminated November 5.

The MoD said at the time that it took the action due to a failure to find a value-for-money solution in negotiations with shipbuilders. In his evidence to the committee, Wallace described the program as “ effectively delinquent.”

The warships, which will be operated by the Royal Navy’s logistics supplier, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, are a key element of Britain’s plan to replace aging Fort-class ships with modern support ships to supply ammunition, dry stores and spares to aircraft carrier strike groups and other maritime task groups.

Ministers and procurement officials argued they had no choice but to follow European Union competition rules, which say logistics ships are not warships and are therefore subject to regulations requiring open competition.

Industry executives suspected the the cash-strapped MoD was running an open competition to keep the procurement cost to a minimum, following in the example of its purchase of four new fleet oilers for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary built by South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering.

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The MoD declined to answer Defense News’ question on whether the new competition will be held under EU rules, or whether the U.K. will exempt itself from the rule, opening up the possibility for a British-only bid.

Defense Procurement Minister James Heappey told Parliament this year that the MoD is reviewing the procurement strategy, the requirements and the schedule ahead of the competition restart.

The review, conducted by former shipbuilding chief executive John Parker, said Britain was not currently adopting “the right strategic approach” in allowing ships like the fleet solid support vessels to be built overseas.

By the time the MoD suspended the competition, two of the five short-listed bidders remained: Navantia of Spain; and Team UK, a consortium of BAE Systems, Babcock International, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.

A BAE Systems spokesperson told Defense News on Wednesday that the company is waiting for the MoD to show its hand on the procurement process, and in the meantime remains focused on its commitment to build Type 26 frigates for the Royal Navy.

“We are engaged with our U.K. partners and await guidance from the MoD on next steps in the procurement process for the Fleet Solid Support program. We have a long-term commitment to shipbuilding in the U.K. with continuity of production in Glasgow through into the 2030s, and we are focused on delivering our existing commitments,” the spokesperson said.

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