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New ships to support Royal Navy carrier groups

Published: 17 Nov 2022

Three new ships are to be built to support Royal Navy carrier operations into the second half of the 21st Century.

Wherever HMS Queen Elizabeth or HMS Prince of Wales go, they will be accompanied by one of three ‘solid support ships’ – providing ammunition, spare parts and supplies to sustain the carriers and their task groups thousands of miles from the UK.

The Ministry of Defence has selected Team Resolute as the preferred bidder to construct the three vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the Royal Navy’s indispensable supporting flotilla.

The consortium – comprising BMT, Harland & Wolff and Navantia UK – will be awarded a £1.6 billion contract (before inflation) to manufacture the vessels, subject to HM Treasury and Ministerial approval. The contract will create 1,200 UK shipyard jobs and a further 800 jobs across the UK supply chain. 

Head of the RFA, Commodore David Eagles, said: “The Fleet Solid Support contract is a significant step towards the delivery of these ships that are a key part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s continued growth and evolution.”

At present, the RFA operates a solitary solid support ship, RFA Fort Victoria. She was an integral member of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s task group last year, but she’s also almost 30 years old.

Her replacements will be designed and built to meet the needs of a fifth-generation aircraft carrier and its fifth generation F-35 stealth fighters.

Designed to support Net Carbon Zero by the end of their 30-year service lives, the RFA vessels will be equipped with energy-efficient technologies to reduce power demand and will have the capability to reduce their carbon intensity by adopting low-carbon, non-fossil fuels and future energy sources. 

Each vessel will be 216 metres long – making them the second longest ships in the Fleet – and 34.5 metres wide. They will move through the oceans at up to 19 knots.

There will be cargo space for 9,000 square metres of supplies and stores – that’s ten times the size of Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

Her flight deck will be able to host all the helicopters flown by the UK’s armed forces and the hangar can accommodate two Royal Navy Merlins, with additional space for drones/crewless systems. 

The ships will require a crew of just 101, with accommodation available for an extra 80 personnel to support operations or embarked helicopters.

Vice Admiral Paul Marshall, DE&S Director General Ships, said: “FSS will deliver worldwide logistic and operational support to the Royal Navy, including the Maritime Strike Group on deployment.

“Significant investment in emerging shipyards across the UK will also strengthen and diversify our industrial base. Alongside our investment in the Type 26 and Type 31 frigate programmes, this breadth will be vital to grow and support a highly capable and modern Navy.”

The contract will create 1,200 UK shipbuilding jobs as well as generate hundreds of graduate and apprentice opportunities, with Team Resolute pledging to invest £77 million in shipyard infrastructure to support the British shipbuilding sector.

The entire final assembly will be completed at Harland & Wolff’s shipyard in Belfast.  Blocks and modules for the ships’ will be constructed in the same yard, plus Appledore in Devon, and this work, which will also support a significant British-based supply chain, will be undertaken in collaboration with internationally renowned shipbuilder, Navantia. 

Build work will also take place at Navantia’s shipyard in Cadiz in Spain.

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