On initial examination, it appears that the RN has secured an absolute bargain – Four large (37,000 tonne) tankers for barely £400 million is a genuine result. These ships will be vastly more capable than their predecessors, and mark a shift away from the previous ‘three tier’ tanker strategy of fleet tankers, light fleets and support tankers, which in itself necessitated some complex programming and running of multiple supply chains to keep ships going. Instead the RN is essentially ending up with six large tankers, each of which will be able to do a range of roles, and by the looks of things provide wider military functionality as well. This is absolutely brilliant news for the RN, and this author is sure that there will be real delight in the RFA and RN at the news of fleet regeneration finally going ahead.
The project also serves as a wider wakeup call to British industry – the days of the UK Government placing orders for warships with UK yards should no longer be taken as a given. That these ships have been ordered from Korea not only bolsters our relationship with the far east, but also sends a shot across the bows. In future, if the price is not right, then the contract will not go to the UK yards. Although BAE did not bid for the final project, this will definitely be of concern to them – why invest in shipyards when the UK government shows no inclination to order from these yards? This order appears to be the first visible manifestation of the new defence industrial strategy, in which orders will go to the best bidder, not the British bidder.
Finally, the author must note with resigned frustration the utter hypocrisy of the Opposition attacking the award of this contract to a foreign shipyard. When the current Opposition were in power, they were responsible for launching the competition and going to external bids in the first place – to claim otherwise is just plain denial and politics at its most hypocritical.
Let that not detract from a very good news day for the RN though – this coupled with the deployment of the T45s, and rumours of funding confirmation for T26 means that the RN regeneration programme continues, and that by investing in this capability, the RN is now moving forwards to a much brighter future.