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In many ways I agree with the article and yet I do wonder if the ship build cycle of the RN is causing more problems than is noticed.
We no longer build ships over a time period or rolling programs but in batch.
What I mean with this is 50 years ago we would have a large ship program such as a carrier or assault ship being built in one yard, another yard would be building destroyers whilst a third frigates possibly a fourth building patrol boats. Now we build a batch of destroyers, then a batch of frigates, then we wait until they are almost at the end of there life then we start again. In the mean time some yards have had to close or cut their skilled work force meaning that when we do need them again they are not there.
BAE on the Clyde is a perfect example, with the delay of the Type 26 the government had to or at least it was a strategic move to extend the order of Batch 2 OPVs from three to five to keep the work force available for the start of the Type 26 construction program. Not only that but it appears that the cost of these vessels is way above what it should be if compared to the Khareef class.
Could Appledore build the OPVs that went to Glasgow yes would they have got the contract that I don’t know. However until the British Government and the MoD stop this build and stop principle then the ship yards will never have a solid base to plan investment and expansion. Not only that but the build cost will become more expensive and take longer as shipyards would need to retool and retrain.
An example of what I mean is the Type 45, well they were built in a batch, now that they are built the destroyer tooling is gone, if we need a new destroyer we need to start again. What in my opinion should have happened is once the first batch was built the MoD should have looked at them in operations and then incorporated either new ideas or improvements and then build say two every five years possibly selling of the first vessels once the new one come on line. This would give a rolling program. By the time the Batch 3 vessels were coming on line Batch 1 would have been sold and the designs for the Type 46 would be completed. Not only would the design have been completed but it would be an increamntale step rather than a block step in the design as the designers would take all of the batch three concepts and use that as the base template.
This gives a steady drumbeat of work meaning that ship yards can plan. It also means that the RN would not face block obsolescence such as it did with the Type 42 destroyer and as it is now with the Type 23 frigate. Yes we have spent a lot in the stealth capability of the QE carrier and the Type 45, but with an escort of Type 23 unstealthy frigates what was the point, we will only have a stealth battlegroup in 2028-2030. By then the Type 45 will be 21 years old and ready for replacement, all six within four years of each other. However will we be able to replace them. I don’t think so as the Type 26 will still be in production and BAE Glasgow seems to be at the moment the only yard able to build complex warships. So it will mean block obsolescence
Something tells me that we possibly need to return to the Royal Dockyard idea where the government owns ship yards to build the ships that the RN need and the private yards to build the one off vessel such as a carrier or increase the capacity of the Royal Dockyards.
We also need to sort out the issue once and for all with Scotland as we cannot have the situation where the RN is being held hostage. Possibly for the next generation of ships it should be suggested that they are built in the other home countries until Scotland makes up its mind what it is going to do.


So what the yard really needed was for Babcock’s sales department to find some/any work in the years from the last Irish order until today. One or two more jobs would have got the yard though to the possibility of U.K. military work.
You do wonder if the yard “was not a priority” of a sales team focused primarily on military support work rather than civil or Mil new small/ medium sized new build ships.


Tim H,
It was a priority. But there are many competitors who fabricate more cheaply by outsourcing to places like Romania. It is very difficult to be competitive when set against much cheaper labour rates and steel prices.


Then is the unfortunate but real situation that the U.K. has to much shipbuilding capacity for the government controlled work.
May be the die was cast when Appledore didn’t win the Polar Research Ship that went to CL? That ship delayed by 18 months would have filled the Gap.


And check this out. The price of a smaller Chilen built Polar ship than the new UK one.


The order went to an Italian Yard. labour rates are higher there and steel prices are steel prices.


Given the willingness for Babcock to do the Shaw at virtually the same price as the contracted 3 P60’s I’d say the sales team was willing and ready to try and get other work (remember without the unplanned Shaw the yard would have been out of work 2 years ago), they were looking at the Maltese OPV order but missed, maybe they were hoping that the Irish EPV would go out to tender?


Your comment is correct the unions thought that the sales team weren’t looking hard enough


For strategic reasons, ie the Chinese and Russians, I would say mothballing the yard would cost very little in the scheme of things. We should have already embarked on a major shipbuilding plan, but we will most definitely need to soon.


The cost of keeping the yard in mothballs won’t be small. The company that owns the land will want compensation for not being able to redevelop the site. A housing/marina in North Devon is potentially a very profitable project.


You are right in terms of a peace time economy but unless, primarily Chinese and to a lesser extent Russian aggression are not dealt with now it will be a small price to pay for the precious ship building capacity which we will need.


They, government, never learn it was the same with the railways close many miles down in the 60s now they suddenly find they need to reopen them, what a waste of material and manpower you can’t keep playing around with national assets opening and closing.

Phillip Johnson

The real issue is the loss of people skills. You can lay concrete and but up sheds quickly. What you cannot recreate in a hurry are people skills


It’s a shame, hopefully a new buyer will be found. The only light at the end of the tunnel is I think the Type 31 will be built in Cammell Laird and it will be nice to see an English yard building ships for the Royal Navy again. I also think the solid support ships will be built in the U.K., I think the government will want to be seen to support British industry for once, they will be assembled at Rosyth with blocks built around the U.K.


An informative, well balanced article as ever, thank you.

just an observation or two…

the timing of this action could not have endeared Babcock to HM Government, surely, with the Type 31 decision pending.

could something creative have been done with the contingency funding for BREXIT, to bring back/adapt the batch 1 rivers for border patrol, to keep the yard ticking over (could this be the £60m work proposed?)

Perhaps all is not lost, if the yard is indeed owned by a separate business who might look to sell/lease to another ship builder

The success of the design, build of RSS David Attenborough suggests to me a sister ship would be a way forward,



I’m not sure these ideas would fly. The work needed to adapt the B1 Rivers would be negligible and wouldn’t involve much if any steel fabrication. The is no budget for another big RSS.
Another problem is that without a controversial change in policy Appledore would not be sure to get any work created. Currently new government shipbuilding contracts would need to go out to tender. The government could restrict the tender to U.K. yards but not direct the work to Appledore without a change in the procurement rules.

Paul Bestwick

I would like to see the proposed MCM vessels (steel hulled with remote operated vehicles) piloted with an initial vessel, this type of vessel would seem ideal for Appledore. However I don’t see any enthusiasm in the MOD for MCM replacement atm.


I feel three questions come up for me on this matter:

1) Considering the yard has already gone bust then bailed out more than once and its core business was the shrinking offshore industry and not defence was it really a long term viable business?

2) Babcock is not traditionally a ship building company and with Appledore being a less than ideal facility is it more sensible to invest in Rosyth and Devonport in the longterm?

3) People talk about the National Ship Building strategy and Appledore alongside possible defence orders but is a less than viable yard that has failed more than once really the best place to lay long term investment via the public purse?


In a country with no industrial strategy let alone one for building ships, something you might have thought was important for an island the demise of Appledore is just symptomatic of HMG.

I can foresee some of you saying but we do have a NSS. Do we ? How many ships have been ordered? Where is 10-15 year plan signed off by Parliament committing to
a steady drumbeat of orders over that timescale. Crucially, all signed off by both main parties and not subject to drastic Treasury hatchet jobs.

We of course do have a 5 year spending review but this is too short a timescale for business to commit to upgrade their facilities in the knowledge that this will be rewarded in the long term. Indeed the current approach makes them less efficient, competitive and viable in the long term. The NSS does not address the fundamental problem of too much political interference that focuses on short term issues. The NSS is just warm words.

If we had had a long term plan Appledore would be just about to start building OPVs for the RN for next 3 to 5 years whilst BAE would have launched the first Type 26 from their Frigate factory on the Clyde about 3 years ago.

Finally, unfortunately for the workers of Appledore it is in Devon with no great sway over political issues across the UK. Just imagine if it was in Scotland or even in the North of England! This would be all over the media and the SNP and Labour would be lining up to call it a betrayal of the people of Scotland, nobody cares because we live up North etc etc.

Yes, Devonport is in Devon but it is has several marginal seats surrounding it so both Labour and Tory tend to tread carefully around this one.

As a Devonian and supporter of the RN all very sad but predictable.


And yet all we hear about is how the Clyde is “betrayed.”
High time we stop pandering to the ungrateful scots and protect English yards as Well!


Oh,so that’s your sophisticated political ,industrial and military strategy.


Still waiting for something from you beyond negative griping and “I don’t know

Oh wait well never get that because you’re a moron.


Yet more thoughtful comment


If there is any substance to the third bidder for the Type 31e, there now is a yard available as Babcock are announced they are not renewing the lease in March.


The UK naval shipbuilding industry is currently in encountering what the Americans call an acquisition death spiral.This where the equipment price increases so much that numbers have to be reduced causing the unit price to shoot up because of the need to absorb development and learning curve costs. The type 45 has expensive new bespoke systems that hadn’t been developed for 30years and the tech hasn’t been used other than in 6 ships.Whatever your veiw about the carriers,they made the situation much worse by sucking up all the cash and filling the void with something that we only made 2 off and apparently are supposed to last 50years.Building the fleet support ships will involve setting up a whole new industry for a few ships.Another problem is that the programmes are so long that obsolescence is becoming an issue.
We need to produce at least 1 ship a year,and ideally more in order to support systems development, spread risk, keep the various specialities intact and busy and aviod an absolute monopoly. As the most optimistic projection for fleet is 13 escorts we can’t do it alone and are going to have to cooperate with other nations with the same problem.Bae have an unassailable political position which can only be broken up by building more ships and not handing them all the crucial systems.
This discussion needs to focus more on the systems, as that’s where most of the value and important tech is.
The type 31e is a crash programme that isn’t really going to help most of these issues, isn’t going to be very good and won’t be exportable.


Yes, and I would bet that would be the much talked about protected UK content? Regarding the Carriers. It did sseem that when Shipyards were awarded the actual shipbuild bits, they were normally in the 10s of millions, not 100s. I wonder if an actual “shipbuild” excluding systems etc, is known.


This is just one problem we face. Just look at these European company’s websites and see how slick they are compared to any UK shipyard website. The first one is the firm who won the order for the Maltese OPV and don’t forget Malta enjoys eu funding for defence. The shipyard becoming a marina is such a pre 2007 thing and a nightmare we cannot return too. But it is clear that there is not Shipbuilding Strategy. One. it is only for warships and came from the MOD and Two. you cannot have one when you abide by eu laws but use an excuse that is is for value for money.


I don’t think Appledore fails, it is used then disposed of with. Appledore needs a dedicated proper dynamic shipbuilder of small-medium ships, that can also build sections for bigger projects, MOD and Commercial. Babcock, as I say, is similar to BAE, but will not asset strip this one as BAE did with Portsmouth and it’s steel production facilities to make sure there was no future competitor there. The future is not a marina for this still modern all covered ship factory. Lose this yard and lose an economy.
Also. It could well be an excuse too in the sick future of the MOD government to use the excuse and engineer (ironic) that due to lack of capacity (Appledore may not be able to build full FSSS ships, but help in the builds as with the Carrier Bow sections as an example) and timing of these contract to coincide with a little blimp in increased UK shipbuilding activity, that the FSSS will be lost to a foreign bidder, even though more is lost than gained. You do the hokey kokey, then you turn around and that’s what Political BS and undermining UK industry is all about! I will repeat too, Malta gets many funds from eu (which mean the UK as eu has no money itself) for defence. When news papers say the contract was lost due to BREXIT, who is at fault or being the bad guy? Not Britain!

Meirion X

Appledore is big enough to assemble the Type-26 Frigate in a covered yard. So why not ship out sections made at Govan for Final Assembly at Appledore and to be fitted out there?? Type 26 Frigates are to be assembled uncovered at Govan. Of cause, Govan maybe the ideal place to manufacture sections of warships! Maybe assembly at Appledore wiil allow other work to take place at Govan unhindered?