Diverse consortium formed to bid for Type 31e frigate contract

Babcock Marine has announced the formation of a consortium of shipbuilders and designers who will bid for the Type 31e Frigate. Design and construction of the 5 Royal Navy ships is worth around £1.25 Billion but a major goal of the programme is to attract export orders.

Babcock will be the lead contractor for the consortium called Team 31, with Thales BMT, Harland & Wolff and Ferguson Marine participating. It was clear from announcements as DSEI in September 2017 that BMT and Babcock would be co-operating but the partnership has expanded so there are now 4 shipbuilding facilities that could be involved if Team 31 are the winners.

It is possible that sections of the frigate would be constructed at the smaller yards owned by Ferguson on the Clyde and by Babcock in Appledore and then taken by barge for assembly at larger facilities, either Harland & Wolff in Belfast or Babcock in Rosyth. Harland & Wolff possesses the world’s largest dry dock and their two 1600-tonne capacity Goliath cranes are more than capable of lifting blocks for assembly. Their inclusion maybe somewhat politically motivated as they not been involved in shipbuilding for many years, concentrating instead on engineering for the offshore energy sector. With the DUP holding the whip hand on the government, providing naval work in Belfast could be advantageous when government is considering the bids. Alternatively, blocks could be assembled by Babcock in Number 1 dock in Rosyth, although the Aircraft Carrier Alliance seems intent on selling the £12.2 million Goliath crane they imported from China to assemble the aircraft carrier blocks.

By creating a broad consortium of companies, Team 31 may gain a useful political advantage by distributing work across the UK. The involvement of Ferguson Marine in Glasgow may also help defuse Scottish Nationalist complaints about the reduction in the number of Type 26 frigates being built on the Clyde. Team 31’s main competitor is the BAE Systems / Cammell Laird consortium which probably plans to do the majority of work in Birkenhead, possibly with some work subcontracted to A&P Tyne. To coincide with the Team 31 announcement, the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is due to visit Babcock’s Appledore shipyard in Devon today to reiterate government commitment to the Type 31e programme.

BMT and Thales add significant warship design and systems integration experience to the capabilities that Babcock already possess. It is unclear whether the BMT Venator-110 concept will have any influence on the final offering or if the Babcock Arrowhead concept will be the foundation for the design offered by Team 31.

Type31e- Procurement Timeline

MoD timeline for the Type 31e procurement process

With the first Type 31e required to enter service with the Royal Navy in 2023, progress on this project is going to have to be refreshingly rapid in a way that those involved with large defence procurement projects are quite unaccustomed to. The competing consortiums will have to present their final design and tender documents to the MoD by the end of 2018, with the contract to begin construction to be placed just over a year from now.