Exclusive: Junior Defence Minister opens up about his shipbuilding heartbreak

On the day HMS Forth is launched we managed to get a transcript of this exclusive interview. Freddie Hackworthy, former defence reporter for the Daily Star talks with Defence Procurement Minister, the Right Honourable Graham Gittins, MP.

Thank you Minister for sparing some of your valuable time to talk about Britain’s newest battleship HMS Forth.

The Navy doesn’t have battleships anymore, fighting ships are generally referred to as warships.

So what kind of fighting will this ship be capable of?

Ah… this ship is not for fighting, she’s an OPV – HMS Forth is an Offshore Patrol Vessel for patrolling offshore, er… as opposed to inshore or even onshore.

Don’t all the Navy’s ships go offshore?

Well yes, but HMS Forth will be used to patrol UK territorial waters. She is going to replace one of the three Batch 1 River Class OPVs that stay close to home, permanently dedicated to keeping our waters safe, apart from the times when we send them overseas to the Caribbean or the Aegean.

Why are you getting rid of three OPVs we already have when they are less than 15 years old? As we are leaving the EU, won’t protecting our fish and migration patrols actually need more ships?

We are absolutely committed to securing our maritime borders. HMS Forth and the new OPVs are a big upgrade on the old OPVs. She has a flight deck and the bow is a much nicer shape.

So does HMS Forth have any weapons?

Yes she is equipped with the very latest 30mm gun.

Gosh, 30mm that really is a very short gun, I could fit that in my pocket.

I’m told 30mm is the width of the barrel, not the length of the barrel.

Why is she called HMS Forth, is she the 4th of her kind?

She’s actually the 5th River class vessel.

So she’s being built on the River Forth?

No we don’t build ships on the Forth, apart from aircraft carriers, she is being built on the Clyde.

Why not call her HMS Clyde?

We already have an HMS Clyde – she was built in Portsmouth.

Make sense, so how much will building HMS Forth cost?

HMS Forth will cost £116 Million, Britain can be proud that the Royal Navy will own the most expensive OPV in the world.

So why does this little ship with 1 small gun cost so much?

Back in 2009 the Government signed a binding agreement that guarantees that BAE Systems will keep making profits. Unfortunately we are obliged to keep ordering ships from them even if they are the wrong type of ships and grossly over-priced. But those kind of mistakes are all in the past now and this government is fully committed to getting the best possible deal for the taxpayer.

If HMS Forth is not a fighting ship, what ships do the fighting?

We have 19 frigates and destroyers to do the fighting. In addition to all the new OPVs, our wonderful new frigate program is going to deliver 8 Type 26 frigates and at least 5 Type 31 frigates.

Tell me about the Type 31, is it like an OPV or even or corvette?

Corvette is a dirty word which I thank you not to use in polite conversation. No, the Type 31 GPFF will be a cheap, yet credible frigate will a full range of fighting capability. British industry will benefit immensely because the Type 31 will have huge export potential.

But the design doesn’t actually exist yet…

No, but never-the-less it has huge export potential. With the Type 31 we may even be able to afford more than 13 frigates one day.

I thought the Type 26 Frigate was supposed to have great export potential and be affordable because it re-uses equipment already on our old frigates?

It has transpired that the Type 26 now occupies the higher end of the surface combatant cost spectrum which has disincentivised overseas interest and required some fiscal recalculation.

So why haven’t we started building the Type 26 frigates yet?

It is vitally important we get the best possible deal for the taxpayer. The MoD has hired some consultants who are really playing hardball with BAE Systems, they have already agreed to knock £500 off the cost of each frigate. We are hopeful of driving the cost down even further if we hang on for longer.

So when will work on the Type 26 frigates actually begin, is it because you don’t have the money?

Of course we have the money, as I’ve said many times before, this government is committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence! I couldn’t possibly say when the work will begin as that is commercially sensitive, you understand – maybe next year or the year after.

But what about the shipyards and the workers, what will they do in the meantime?

We are going to order even more OPVs.

Won’t building more OPVs the navy doesn’t really want cost a lot of money plus you’ll have to pay even more to keep old ships going to cover the delay?

We have to be seen to be getting the best possible deal for the taxpayer…

So wouldn’t it be better to get on with building the Type 26 right away?

Come now, we seem to be going around in circles…

Yes minister we do.

 

 

Main image: BAE Systems. HMS Forth rolled out of construction shed at Govan, Glasgow, 13th August 2016, ready to be lowered into the Clyde.

 

 

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