MoD awards £1 Billion Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship support contracts

Today the MoD has announced the award of the Future In-Service Support (FISS) contracts worth a total of £1Bn to provide maintenance support for 17 vessels of the naval service. For the RN this is broadly good news, efficiently sustaining a large part of the fleet, strengthening shipyards while offering greater competition and diversity amongst its suppliers. 

Maintenance support for the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary has been successfully provided over the last decade through ‘cluster contacts’ awarded to Cammell Laird and A&P Falmouth. In 2018 the MoD requested tenders to renew these contracts for the next 10 years (from March 2019 to June 2028). For the new competition the 13 RFA ships, together with HMS Scott, HMS Protector, HMS Echo and HMS Enterprise were grouped into four different ‘lots’.

The new deal will improve how spares, repairs and refitting work is conducted and should sustain ships in service and maximise availability. Besides scheduled refits, the contractors are expected to provide teams to send overseas for operational defect rectification when needed. They are also responsible for equipment obsolescence management, surface coatings and furnishings. The MoD claims this the FISS project will deliver £100 million of savings over the next 10 years (although it does not say what this figure is in comparison with). 700 jobs at shipyards across the country will be secured.

The contract for the ships of lot-1 (RFA Fort Victoria, Fort Austin, Fort Rosalie, Wave Knight and Wave Ruler) has been renewed with Cammell Laird and has an estimated value of £357 million. The MoD has denied rumours that RFA Wave Knight or Wave Ruler will be sold to a foreign navy and the value of the lot-1 contract suggests that at least their future maintenance has been funded. (Currently, RFA Wave Ruler is laid up in Royal Seaforth Dock due to crew and cash shortages while RFA Wave Knight completes refit.)

Experience and detailed knowledge gained from already working on the vessels suggested that the incumbents were likely to retain their existing work share. There are now long-standing relationships between the contractors, the MoD and RFA that have helped drive value for money through a deep understanding of the engineering requirements.

The slightly more surprising news is that CL have also won the new £262 million contract for lot-3 which comprises four newly-built Tide class tankers (RFA Tidespring, Tiderace, Tidesurge and Tideforce).

A&P Falmouth is just completing the UK Customisation, Capability Assessment Trials and Support (UKCCATS) work to fit the Tide tankers class with naval equipment after their construction in South Korea. RFA Tidesurge is currently conducting sea trails and work is well underway on the final ship, RFA Tideforce in Falmouth. A&P would have been hopeful of winning lot-3, but at least retain lot-2 which comprises RFA Cardigan Bay, Lyme Bay, Mounts Bay, RFA Argus and HMS Scott. Babcock in Rosyth is currently undertaking the major refit of HMS Scott but future support will be done in Falmouth.

A busy summer at A&P Falmouth. RFA Tideforce and HMS Enterprise in dry dock while RFA Argus, Tidesurge and Lyme Bay complete their refits. This level of naval work for Falmouth will not be sustained in future.

UK Docks Ltd have a long-standing relationship with the RN but the award of the £150 million lot-4 contract is their largest so far. Their Tyneside facility will support the survey ships HMS Echo and Enterprise and the Antarctic patrol ship, HMS Protector. Until now A&P Falmouth maintained HMS Echo and Enterprise and all 3 ships are nominally based in Devonport (although are often deployed overseas for up to two years). For the ship’s company, Babcock (Devonport) would have been a preferable winner but they were obviously beaten on price. From a political perspective, splitting the work across 3 contractors helps to share the economic benefits more widely around the country and may also further underpin the revival of UK commercial shipbuilders and repairers that the Queen Elizabeth class carrier project helped to stimulate.

Cammell Laird gain momentum

Cammell Laird will further strengthen its position as the leading English shipbuilding and repair yard. The major refit of RFA Fort Victoria is almost complete as she is set to rejoin the fleet and will be ready to provide support to HMS Queen Elizabeth when she deploys operationally in the next few years. RRS Sir David Attenborough has now been launched and is fitting out. Starting next year, CL will also welcome the first of the six Type 45 Destroyers which will have major engine upgrades over the next five years. This growing confidence and experience adds impetus to their joint ‘Leander’ bid with BAE Systems to win the Type 31e frigate competition. Since 2008, CL has been able to invest £500 million in its workforce, apprenticeship programme, facilities and supply chain. Now responsible for work on nine RFAs, the company will be able to take on another 20 new apprentices a year. The mood at A&P Falmouth is unlikely to be so bullish, they have been exceptionally busy with naval work over the last few years but have lost the work on Echo and Enterprise and failed to win the work on the Tide class tankers.

RFA Fort Victoria Cammel Laird

RFA Fort Victoria in the Cammell Laird wet dock soon to sail on post-refit trials. Brtish Antarctic Survey support ship RSS Sir David Attenborough is in the adjacent dry dock fitting out.

(Main image: Richard Graham)