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It's Time to Invest in British Shipbuilding

HMS Queen Elizabeth, 3-4-19 Pic courtesy of the Royal Navy in Scotland Twitter account

HMS Queen Elizabeth, 3-4-19. Pic courtesy of the Royal Navy in Scotland Twitter account @RNinScotland

Continuing our Policies to help Build British Independence and Maintain the Union...

We often hear it said that "Britain is a maritime nation". "Maritime" means, "connected with the sea, especially in relation to seaborne trade or naval matters".

This has always been true and it always will be true. It is because we looked out at the horizon and wondered what lay beyond, that the people of these Islands were impelled to find out. It is our geographic reality which helps explain Britain's unique history of exploration and empire-building.

Shipbuilding used to be a massive industry in the United Kingdom. It is smaller now.

But we certainly continue to build ships, and this article advocates a logical programme in areas which will be necessary in the years ahead.

In particular, we look at building ships for the Royal Navy, the UK Border Force, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.


1. Protecting our country, at the same time as

2. Investing in the British Economy and Creating Jobs

Therefore, while it may be necessary for the Armed Services, and Civil Powers such as the UK Border Force, to acquire more capability, we are speaking here only on acquiring that capability which also creates investment and jobs in the UK.


The Royal Navy is a key British Icon. Run down the Royal Navy and you run down Britishness.

Boost the Royal Navy, and you boost British Industry, Research, Science and Services. It's a mutually beneficial partnership. The same is true for shipbuilding of all kinds.

If a national approach is taken then British Defence Strategy can be woven into British Industrial Strategy, and investment in one will help the other.

Investing in the Royal Navy (or the Armed Forces in general) is always a win-win situation. You create long-term jobs and you protect the nation.

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shipbuilding and Ship Repair, report May 2019, p.14.

To illustrate just how this works, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shipbuilding and Ship Repair released a report in May 2019. It listed the "Supply Chain" by Parliamentary Constituency for the Type 26 Frigates (pictured). It found suppliers located in 65 Constituencies in Scotland, England and Wales, even stating, "It should be noted that the table [page 14] records only a limited selection of the supply chain, which is likely to be more substantial." (1)

Let's look at some Royal Navy vessels which could be built.

Destroyers and Frigates

At the moment there is a serious lack of warships. We have 6 Type-45 Destroyers and 13 Type-23 Frigates in total, yet we have two Aircraft Carriers that need protection.

Destroyers are traditionally anti-aircraft platforms, and Frigates are anti-submarine platforms.

A rule of thumb to find the number sea-worthy at any time is to divide the number of warships you have by 3. So we have 19 hulls, or 6 in total which can be put to sea while the others are in port being refurbished.

In order to provide the Carriers with a proper anti-aircraft screen, then each carrier will need at least 3 Destroyers to protect it. Therefore, if they are both out together, there will need to be 6 Destroyers. Same for the Frigates.

Using our rule of 1 in 3 sea-worthy at any time, that means we will need 18 destroyers and 18 Frigates.

There are 8 new Type-26 Frigates which are being built or planned and which will replace the Type-23s on a one-for-one basis. There is also another 5 Type-31 Frigates still at the planning stage. There were originally going to be 13 new Type-26 Frigates to replace the current 13, but the order was lowered to 8, with 5 cheaper and less-capable Type-31s to make up the number.

The consensus, however, is that we should continue with the Type-26 Frigate building since they are top-of-the-range, state-of-the-art vessels.

Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs)

"Offshore" in the context of these boats means able to perform at a distance from the coast, which requires an ability to operate in rough seas. While more resilient than the Inshore Fast Patrol Boats, their hulls are optimised for littoral (close to shore) operations rather than "blue water" (middle of the ocean) operations.

They are used for "Constabulary Duties", rather than for long-range patrol and fighting missions. That is, they are used for protecting fisheries, oil and gas, anti-piracy, counter-narcotics and illegal immigration missions.

According to "Save the Royal Navy" website:

Although the English Channel presents a formidable barrier, the UK as whole has 17,820 Km of coastline (the exact figure is widely disputed) and 3,200 sq Km of territorial waters that needs to be kept under surveillance. There are an abundance of quiet harbours, estuaries and beaches which could be used for illicit activities. There is evidence that people smuggling into the UK by sea is on the increase. Besides people trafficking in our waters, terrorist activity, drug smuggling, illegal fishing and waste dumping are a concern. Offshore oil, gas and wind farm infrastructure may also need protection. Even Mumbai-style terror attacks launched from a 'mothership' remain an outside possibility. (2)

It is important to have enough OPVs performing "Constabulary Duties" in order to prevent the necessity of using a powerful ship such as a high-tech fighting Destroyer or Frigate to be "wasted" on such necessary tasks.

By the same token, it is important not to imagine that these OPVs can, or should, substitute for a larger fleet of Destroyers and Frigates.

How many OPVs should we have?

This article advocates a UK-based fleet of 7, and up to 11 in total:

To provide a continuous (at sea) UK EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] patrol presence of three OPVs – one in the Channel, one in the North Sea and one in the Irish Sea / Atlantic – requires five OPVs. Having four OPVs at sea would be preferable given the size of the area of ocean they will be required to cover, and this would require a UK-based fleet of seven. It is worthy of note that France (11-13), Spain (16) and Italy (10 ) all operate substantial numbers of OPV's in excess of 1000 tonnes (and many more smaller OPVs) even though their EEZ's are considerably smaller.

Forward basing of an OPV in Gibraltar, or deployment to the Mediterranean in order to undertake constabulary activities would provide flexibility in preventing migrant trafficking and rescue missions which appear likely to remain a political and compassionate necessity in the medium-term. Forward-basing an OPV in Bahrain to cover anti-piracy operations on the east African Coast and to support mine counter vessel operations in the Gulf may also be sensible at some point in the future, which would require at least one further OPV. Overall, this suggests useful roles for at least nine and up to as many as eleven, OPVs.

The Royal Navy currently has 6 in service, with HMS Tamar and Spey undergoing sea trials and being fitted out, to make 8. However, it is possible that 3 of them (the Batch 1s) will be decommissioned once Tamar and Spey are in service, leaving 5.

Therefore, let's maintain the fleet at 8, and build another 3, or if necessary build another 6 to have (at least) 11 such ships.

These ships should also be fitted with a mini 'flight deck' which can launch and recover Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – surveillance drones – which will increase the area which they are monitoring.

As we point out, though, these must be in addition to fighting ships, and are not an alternative to Destroyers and Frigates.

Inshore Fast Patrol Boats

"Inshore" means close to the land. Inshore Fast Patrol Boats can be used for patrolling coastal edges and firths, and on rivers and lochs which are open to the sea.

The Royal Navy has 16 Archer-class Inshore Patrol Boats, and an additional 2 smaller Scimitar-Class Patrol Boats. These are mainly used by the University Royal Navy Units to give students and junior officers experience. They have limited ability in rough seas and are suited mainly to providing short patrol surveillance. We make no judgement on how many are needed.

"Bladerunner" Drone Speedboat and HMS Archer, the Thames, 5-9-16

Unmanned Craft

Unmanned British-built "Bladerunner" Drone Speedboats, such as this one tested on the Thames on 5-9-16 may well have an important role to play. (The accompanying P264 is HMS Archer, a Royal Navy "Inshore Fast Patrol Boat".)

Similarly, underwater Drones can help monitor Britain's extensive undersea pipelines carrying fuel, power and telecommunications between the UK, Europe and the USA.

This seems a worthy British industry for investment.

The Role of the Royal Navy in Immigration Control

It is not fundamentally the role of the Royal Navy to control illegal immigration around the coasts of Britain. It should not be necessary to have to divert Royal Navy resources in this manner. If that has to be done, then it demonstrates a clear shortage of Civil Power capacity!

The role of the Royal Navy, regarding immigration control around the coasts of Britain, should really only be to provide protection and help to the Civil Power where that is deemed necessary.

In that regard, when we are talking about border control, then we are talking about boosting the official law enforcement organisation currently known as "UK Border Force".


This is a law enforcement "command" within the Home Office, intended to "secure the UK border by carrying out immigration and customs controls for people and goods entering the UK" and to do so at air, sea and rail ports in the UK.

In August 2016 the Home Affairs Select Committee reported that "the number of Border Force vessels in operation is worryingly low to cover 7,820 miles of UK coastline" (according to ).


Border Force has 5, 42m long "Cutters". They are not armed. They patrol territorial waters to detect prohibited and restricted goods, prevent tax fraud, illegal immigration and people-trafficking. Each "Cutter" has a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) for boarding duties.

Coastal Patrol Vessels (CPVs)

They also have 6 smaller 20m long "Coastal Patrol Vessels". CPVs can move fast, can venture into shallow waters and get closer to vessels in a way which larger ships cannot. The Cutters have the ability to venture further out to sea than the CPVs, but both work together.

For example, the Daily Mail (4-3-20) reported that "Her Majesty's Cutter Seeker" picked up 14 people, at the same time as "CPV Alert" picked up another 14 - making 27 men and 1 woman in total who were delivered into the country courtesy of Her Majesty! (4)

How many more Vessels are Needed?

It is clear that Brexit was a vote to see Britain's borders enforced – by which was meant – keeping people out, not bringing them in!

When people think of building ships for the Border Force we tend to think of their ability to deter and "keep out" illegal immigration; and catch and punish the wrongdoers.

In reality though, we could build a massive fleet of Border Force vessels only to find that we have just created "The World's Greatest Illegal Immigrant Ferry Service" – making it easier and safer to enter Britain illegally – which is the exact opposite of what we have in mind when we advocate boosting the Border Force!

So first ask, "What is the Purpose?"

Therefore, such a programme of shipbuilding needs to be set within a clear Policy for Border Control.

This Policy would prioritise overt deterrence, including finding, preventing access and turning away. This is because once these people set foot in the UK, it is extremely difficult to return them to whence they came, even if it is only to another safe country in Europe.

Such a Policy would also include secure detention (which in itself would represent a form of deterrent - give each person a mobile phone so they can phone-home to tell their friends not to bother), fast-tracked applications and appeals, and international cooperation for deportations.

It would also emphasise catching and convicting the people smugglers, and much stronger criminal sentencing than we have at present (5); and it would be set within a moral framework such as our Declaration of Moral Principles for a Sustainable Immigration Programme.

Until such time as this Policy is clear, and until we know what the purpose of the vessels would be, then we are reluctant to advocate a specific programme of UK Border Force shipbuilding.

However, there is certainly no question that the UK Border Force is under-manned and under-equipped at present, and would benefit from considerable investment.


According to the Royal Navy website, "The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is a Merchant Navy organisation that is made up of civilian-crewed ships operated by the Ministry of Defence." It keeps the Royal Navy supplied and supported, with medical care, kit, fuel and other essentials. (6)

All Royal Navy warships are built in Britain – for "National Security" reasons. However, support ships from the RFA have been contracted to be built abroad. The Government's reasoning is that they are not warships and "do not meet our criteria for preserving National Security" which comes from building them in the UK. (7) This reasoning is devoid of concern for the wellbeing of British Industrial Strategy.

In early 2019 there was a proposal to build 3 new "Fleet Solid Support" (FSS) ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The Government put this £1 billion contract out to international tender.

This received a lot of criticism. A Parliamentary Petition in February 2019 raised over 14,000 signatures urging the Government to build them in the UK. The Government's negative response was based largely on the fact that these were not warships. It can be read at

Yet, there are plenty of reasons why they should be built in Britain:

1. It is not necessary to designate them as "warships" in order to build them in the UK. They can remain "civilian" in that regard. This civilian status can be useful since it allows them to enter foreign ports without the lengthy negotiations which warships are required to engage upon.

2. The £1 billion expenditure will be spent largely in the British economy, go into the pockets of the British public, and circulate at home, instead of leaving the country and going into the pockets of South Koreans (or whoever). That alone is a massive injection of funds into the economy which will help the economy at all levels.

3. A proportion of that money will return to the Treasury anyway, when people pay tax on it.

4. It will support and bring new jobs to British yards, and it will help them to maintain and improve their skills.

5. It could represent a bridging programme between the end of the Carrier programme and the first overhaul of HMS Queen Elizabeth or HMS Prince of Wales.

6. As suggested by the All Party Parliament Group on Shipbuilding and Ship Repair, the ships could be "block built" in the manner of the Carriers – that is, in different yards, and then assembled in one, thereby spreading the work throughout the UK. (8)

The good news is that the international tender is presently on hold.

It was put on ice a day after the MOD published Sir John Parker's review of the National Shipbuilding Strategy on 4-11-19. In it he expressed concern at the decision to possibly build the ships abroad. (9)

He 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."

A Force For Good believes there should be no question that all RFA contracts should stay in the UK, as a matter of deliberate policy! We advocate that all RFA ships should be built in Britain as a matter of principle.

After all, "the Free Market" is not a flawless ideology. The world is not a level playing field. Other countries may be subsidising their industries, and have lower costs and lower wages. Of course we agree that state support is not suitable in every case, but there are times when it is – this being one of them.

If the Government is looking to demonstrate a benefit of Brexit, then this is surely a wonderful and very obvious opportunity!


1. Build another 12 Type-45 Destroyers to make a fleet of 18, enabling at least 6 to be sea-worthy at any one time in order to provide the Carriers with sufficient anti-aircraft protection.

2. Build another 10 Type-26 Frigates to make a fleet of 18 which will entirely replace the current fleet of 13 Type-23s, enabling at least 6 to be sea-worthy at any one time in order to provide the Carriers with sufficient anti-submarine protection. This is regardless of whether or not the Type 31 programme continues.

3. Build at least another 6 Offshore Patrol Vessels, suited for protecting fisheries, oil and gas, anti-piracy, counter-narcotic, and illegal immigration measures in order to free up the Destroyers and the Frigates to concentrate on defending the Carriers.

4. Investment to be directed into British-built Unmanned Craft, above and below surface.

5. Increased numbers of UK Border Force Cutters and Coastal Patrol Vessels could be built, but only within a coherent Policy which is deliberately intended to deter and punish illegal immigration.

6. All Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships to be built in the United Kingdom as a matter of principle.


(1) All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Shipbuilding and Ship Repair, Inquiry into the National Shipbuilding Report, May 2019. Download at



(4) The Daily Mail, 4-3-20,

(5) "Fighting the people smugglers" is an idea that people can get behind. However, sentencing for such smugglers appears very light.

For example, in the Daily Mail article above, it states that Tony Eastaugh, Home Office Director for Crime and Enforcement, said: "One of the highest priorities for law enforcement in the UK will always be to protect the lives of vulnerable people, and arrest and dismantle the organised crime gangs who are prepared to gamble with the lives of others. And that priority is equally reflected by the French and Belgians. Since we intensified our work against people smugglers 16 months ago, the courts have convicted 110 offenders and sentenced them to over 350 years of imprisonment."

That means the smugglers were sentenced to an average of just over 3 years each?


(7) See the Government's response to the Petition at

(8) APPG, op cit


Further Reading:

a) Alistair McConnachie The Royal Navy: Another Union Positive for Scotland published on our Legacy Site on 6-2-13.

b) Alistair McConnachie Building up Britishness in Scotland 19-2-19.

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