Philip Dunne is the MP for Ludlow and Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology.
Yesterday the Prime Minister announced a £859 million investment in the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, the Royal Navy’s next generation Frigate.
It will replace the class of Type 23 Frigates, which have been the nation’s safeguard and protector against submarine attack – and much more – since the early 1990s.
The contract – to be signed with BAE Systems – will sustain 600 jobs on the Clyde and 800 in the supply chain across the UK. It covers a Demonstration Phase and includes investment in essential long-lead items through the supply chain, shore-testing facilities and the analysis of the potential shipbuilding facility investment options.
This is an important step forward in the incremental programme to begin manufacturing in early 2016, with the aim of seeing the first vessel delivered to the Royal Navy in 2022.
The current planning assumption is to replace the Type 23 with the Type 26 GCS on a one-for-one basis – resulting in a class of 13 ships. We are assuming at this stage that the ships will be base ported split on the current allocation between HM Naval Bases Devonport and Portsmouth, but these arrangements will be finalised after the main investment decision.
This announcement is but the latest in a long line of investment under this Government in the Royal Navy’s next generation capability, particularly in the last 12 months or so.
In January last year the last of the six Type 45 Destroyer class came into service.
July saw floating up of the Royal Navy’s flagship Queen Elizabeth Carrier, followed by our decision in September that it will be joined in service by the second operational aircraft carrier.
Then in October, steel was cut in the Clyde yard for HMS Forth, the first of three new Royal Navy offshore patrol vessels.
Beneath the oceans, we launched HMS Artful, the third of seven Astute-class submarines, and awarded a £270 million contract to upgrade the Royal Navy’s Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes.
Meanwhile work continues around the Successor strategic deterrent programme – the like-for-like replacement for each of the four Vanguard class submarines – with the Main Gate decision in 2016.
Also last July the Royal Navy deployed its first unmanned air system on operations, when Scan Eagle first flew from HMS Somerset, in the Gulf.
This long and impressive list of next generation capability, when taken with other existing naval systems, forms an efficient, carefully designed and credible whole. This will ensure that with the men and women who operate it, our Navy remains one of the most formidable and capable in the world.
The T26 Frigate will become the workhorse of the Fleet, conducting joint and multinational operations across the full spectrum of naval tasking, including complex combat operations, counter piracy, drug interdiction, humanitarian and disaster relief work.
Powered by a combined diesel electric or gas turbine system, it will be able to reach high speeds while also being able to cruise along in near silence.
An accoustically-optimised hull will produce a low wake, while angled sides and an enclosed upper deck will reduce its radar signature – both key to its anti-submarine function.
Its unique flexible mission bay will be able to carry a range of payloads, from medical supplies for disaster relief to small boats for maritime security, to unmanned underwater, surface and air vehicles.
Its modular design and open systems architecture will help future proof the class, ensuring it can be easily upgraded as new technology develops during its service life.
This Frigate programme represents a major milestone for the Royal Navy and for the 1,400 defence industry employees – from across the UK – whose jobs it will sustain for years to come.
But, it has broader significance too – marking how far UK Defence acquisition has come during five years of radical reform under the Conservatives in the MOD.
Firstly, it reflects just how effective that reform has been in driving financial and procedural rigour into the MOD procurement system.
The contrast with Labour’s legacy couldn’t be starker: where there was a £38 billion budget black hole, now there is a balanced budget; where there were cost-overruns, now there are cost savings; where equipment deliveries were years late, now they are either on time or a few months behind. In short, where there was chaos, now there is competence.
Gone are the dark days of 2009, when the top 15 defence projects were a staggering £4.5 billion over budget and 336 months overdue – with the Carrier and Astute programmes responsible for the majority of this chaotic cost increase.
Instead, last month’s NAO Major Projects Report for 2014 confirmed the top 11 defence projects were collectively £397 million under budget and in aggregate only 14 months over time.
For the third consecutive year, we’ve published an affordable Equipment Plan, worth £163bn over ten years, with substantial headroom and flexibility built in, including for that part of the Manufacture Phase of T26 which falls during this period.
Only through sorting out Defence Acquisition have we been able to progress this key capability investment.
Thanks to these changes our Royal Navy, UK defence industry and the taxpayer can rest assured this is a fully-funded commitment, anchored firmly in reality, as opposed to the fantasy of Labour’s so-called Defence Industrial Strategy.
So, with Type 26, we have learnt the lessons from Labour’s poor procurement practices. We are placing contracts incrementally, and will place the build contract once the ship design is sufficiently mature, the supply chain is fully mobilised, and a full joint analysis of programme risk has been completed.
The upshot is that we take fewer risks with taxpayers’ money, while ensuring that any risk remaining is shared more equitably in partnership with industry.
So yesterday’s announcement is far more than just another item in a long list of new maritime capability.
It also represents a new paradigm for defence procurement that is finally fit for purpose. It will help sustain and strengthen our UK maritime defence industrial base, which can play its part in the long term economic plan. It will equip our world-class Royal Navy with world-class platforms needed to undertake tasking around the world.
The Type 26 will form a core element of the maritime defence capability required to secure Britain’s future.