UK: Royal Navy signs contract to get three naval support ships

According to information published by the UK MoD on January 18, 2023, work will begin in two years’ time on a trio of ships to support Royal Navy carrier and amphibious task groups around the globe after a £1.6bn contract was signed with a British-led consortium.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Artist rendering of a future naval support ship. (Picture source: UK MoD)

The order for the Fleet Solid Support ships will deliver three ships to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary by 2032, providing ammunition, spare parts, replacement jet engines, food, and provisions to sustain large-scale naval operations hundreds or thousands of miles from the UK.

The role is currently performed by a solitary ship, RFA Fort Victoria, which accompanied HMS Queen Elizabeth and her carrier strike group on her maiden deployment in 2021.

She’s over 30 years old and despite receiving a major overhaul once again, ultimately needs replacing – and needs sisters to spread the workload.

Beyond a reinvigoration of the RFA, the as-yet unnamed ships/class remark a major investment in UK shipbuilding, with millions pumped into improving facilities at two yards and the creation of 1,200 jobs, three quarters of them in Belfast, plus an anticipated 800 further jobs across the UK supply chain.

As part of the contract signed with Team Resolute – comprising BMT, Harland, and Wolff, and Navantia UK – £77 million will be invested in infrastructure at the former’s Belfast and Appledore shipyards, and a further £21 million in skills and technology transfer from Navantia.

The deal also brings naval shipbuilding back to Belfast after a break of nearly a quarter of a century.

Built to a design by Bath-based BMT, with many common systems, equipment, and features as the Tide-class tankers already in service, at 216 meters, the new support ships will be second only to the UK’s two aircraft carriers in length.

The majority of the blocks and modules for the ships will be constructed at Harland and Wolff’s facilities in Belfast and Appledore, some construction work will take place at Navantia’s Cadiz yard, with the three vessels assembled in Belfast.

Work to revamp the two yards and training/upskilling workers will begin immediately. Production is due to start in 2025, with all three support ships expected to be operational by 2032.