UK defence issues and the odd container or two

A Sad Day

Sad news, the final Prince of Wales block was rolled out.

Sad news because it marks the end of shipbuilding in Portsmouth, or perhaps more accurately, the end of the BAE shipyard. The BBC have reported that the yard will be taken over by the MoD by the end of the year with disposal to one of a number of interested parties soon after.

I think people always knew this would happen, TOBA meant consolidation of construction facilities and the obvious choice was Scotland, whatever the political dimension.

Read more here

Here are a few picture from BAE

HMS Prince of Wales LB021 740x493 A Sad Day
HMS Prince of Wales LB02
HMS Prince of Wales LB02 740x493 A Sad Day
HMS Prince of Wales LB02

About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

25 Comments

  1. as

    The question is how long is it till we give up ship building all together?
    Cheaper and faster to get it built in Korea or Germany sad though that is.

  2. Ian Hall

    A very great shame, especially when you consider the political situation. If sanity does not prevail in Scotland then hopefully it will not be too late to undo the damage. It would be politically unacceptable to build even a rowing boat in Rosyth in=f Salmond and Sturgeon get their way.

  3. as

    It really is about the Scottish question now.
    As far as defence is concerned the big questions are:-
    where are future ships going to be built?
    where is trident going to be based?
    and who gets what in the divorce?

  4. Challenger

    All the polls and other indicators currently point to Scotland voting no next month so i wouldn’t worry too much about the potential headaches of a divorce settlement between them and the rest of the UK just yet.

    What’s really distressing is this endless contraction of the shipbuilding industry. Just when you think rationalization has got everything back to an acceptable level and things are moving forwards on an even keel something else pops up and another move to cut things back is made.

    Similarly it doesn’t take long after the partial resurrection of smaller companies like Cammel Laird before something like Ferguson’s going into administration happens, reminding us of the continual battle British companies face against fierce competition from abroad. Their just isn’t enough work left outside of the very tight MOD demands that can sustain anything but a minuscule industry.

    I mimic ‘as’ when i say how long before their is nothing left?

  5. El Sid

    TOBA meant consolidation of construction facilities

    No – TOBA is just process, it’s just some lipstick on liabilities that the MoD had anyway thanks to Yellow Book rules. What’s causing the consolidation is a lack of work for the RN in a post Cold War world. Just do the maths – take our current fleet and divide it by a lifespan of 25-30 years. 19 escorts means we build less than one escort per year, our sub fleet works out at a mix of one SSN every two years or an SSBN every three years, plus about 5000t/year each of major units, naval RFA and commercial RFA.

    That’s why we need fewer shipyards – plus a single site is more efficient than carting blocks from one end of the country to another. Qv what’s happened to train building in the last 40 years.

    @as
    Cheaper and faster to get it built in Korea or Germany sad though that is.

    Not necessarily so. Look at the recent survey of manufacturing costs by BCG:
    https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/lean_manufacturing_globalization_uk_manufacturing_cost_competitiveness/

    Relative to US manufacturing costs of 100, the UK is 109, lower than anywhere in Western Europe and comparable to much of Eastern Europe with the exceptions of Poland (101) and Cz (107). Korea is 102, Japan 111, China 96, Germany 121, France 124, Australia 130.

    So there’s no reason why it should be cheaper to build in Germany – it just comes down to how well organised a particular business is. Obviously Korea has an advantage in shipbuilding just in the scale of its yards whereas the US has the opposite problem. Cheap energy, economies of scale and good productivity should make it a cheap place to do business, but their yards and toxic political culture, along with a Gucci-plus policy means their ships are always expensive even if their economy is a relatively favourable place for manufacturing.

  6. MattyB

    I am concerned that such skills and facilities will be lost. It’s a shame we have not marketed our ship building more aggressively…

    It’s easier to downsize than upscale and I fear that we lose the potential capacity.

    Now I don’t think what happened in 1982 in the South Atlantic will be repeated, but if a similar conflict occurred the RN could not sustain the loses.

    It may just become necessary to find money to build new ships but without the dockyards how would we build them.

    The promise to never build high profile military vessels outside the UK may have to be reconsidered, then once that barrier is broken!

  7. mickp

    Realistically, and ignoring any Scottish / England issues (i.e. looking at UK combined), 1 high end warship construction yard (Scotland / Rosyth), one submarine construction yard (Barrow), one High end DD/FF refit / maintenance yard (Portsmouth) and one other yard for MCMs / Patrol / sundries (Appledore??) and large RFAs overseas seems a decent and minimum plan but it needs real buy in and a steady stream of work to maintain a drumbeat and skills base (in all of them). It’s in the national interests. If it means an extra Astute or OPV then I think it is a small price to pay in the long term scheme of things

  8. H_K

    In hindsight does this invalidate the CVF build strategy?

    The sprinkling of blocks around the country always was politically motivated, ended up costing more money, and helped kill collaboration with the French.

    For what sustainable advantage?

  9. Not a Boffin

    Mick

    Rosyth is not a build yard. It has little capacity for steel fabrication, unit and block assembly undercover. All it has is the big dock in a secure facility. If there is a single high end warship yard it will be on the Clyde, or depending on the referendum in Portsmouth. Appledore will not be a specialist sundries yard, sadly. You don’t need one. You’re also forgetting about Devonport.

    H_K

    No it doesn’t, no it wasn’t, slightly but unavoidably and no it didn’t. Once the real Swan Hunter had gone in 1994 and H&W had flattened most of its sheds by 2000, there was no single facility with the capacity to build the ships in any sensible time frame. As it is there will be equipment items and systems that will have been in the ship for 5 years before they start set to work and commission.

    The French were never that interested and almost certainly were never going to have the money to build one or more.

  10. Mickp

    @Nab, thanks yes I meant the Clyde my mistake. Seems we have enough yards then just need to keep them busy to maintain and develop core skills. Need to get the T26 design fixed and right and steel cutting. On Barrow I wonder whether we should or could squeeze another Astute or two in there and push successor back a little even if we drop to 3 v boats for a short time to ensure the skills base and design are fully mature. Successor has to be right and free of any first of class issues that hit Astute.

  11. Red Trousers

    NaB, is it feasible to build T26 in Portsmouth? I know nothing about ship building.

    If so, in the event of the Scots choosing independence next month (which I doubt that they will), I can see immediate Government pressure on BAE to reopen it. What BAE might then do with their yards in Scotland would be up to them. Once the POW is complete (which might neatly coincide with the year independence is actually achieved in 2017), then no more MoD work north of the border.

  12. Not a Boffin

    IN a word – yes. The Portsmouth “Ship Factory” was designed and built by VT to allow them to produce entire T45, which they couldn’t do in the Woolston yard in Southampton. The shed has since been extended for the QE/PoW block build.

    It might not do it as efficiently as the new facility they want to put in Scotstoun, which is in essence one huge covered building dock in which they can sequentially build DD/FF sized ships. But that said, there’s a lot you could do for £200-300M with the Portsmouth facility which would get pretty close if not equal.

    Unlikely to happen though, unless the yes campaign pull off a spectacular.

  13. DavidNiven

    Portsmouth shipbuilding never had a chance

    http://www.shephardmedia.com/news/defence-notes/portsmouth-shipbuilding-never-had-chance/

    ‘She argues that the Portsmouth Shipbuilding group’s proposal for taking on one of the OPVs was based on known quantities with the team at the yard and the facilities, and ‘in short all that was required was commitment from the government’, which was not forthcoming despite a promise by prime minister David Cameron to keep the shipyard open in an open letter in January.’

  14. Not a Boffin

    The simple fact that Ms Stanton was unaware of the ToBA and it’s implications for BAE shipbuilding throughout the UK, should tell you all you need to know about the level of expertise involved here. There were never going to be OPV orders for Portsmouth, because the ToBA committed BAES to rationalising its facilities to a level where they could deliver the agreed drumbeat of orders with MOD. BAES and MoD (under Paul Drayson) committed to matching the UK shipbuilding capacity (essentially BAES) to that single customer. Once they chose the Clyde, that was that. Rightly (or IMHO) wrongly it was always out in the open and has been for about five years.

    Nor are phrases like “ripped out all the equipment” consistent with the photographs of the PoW block exiting the shed which clearly show the overhead cranes still in place. I can believe that the steel prep equipment and panel line may have been dismantled, but they were the only other major items of plant in the facility. Interestingly, the prospectus for sale states that the steel fabrication, plate and stiffener forming and welding plant (the panel line) is part of the facility being offered.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/288181/20140310-Shipbuilding-HM-Naval-base-Portsmouth.pdf

  15. Challenger

    @Mickp

    ‘On Barrow I wonder whether we should or could squeeze another Astute or two in there and push successor back a little even if we drop to 3 v boats for a short time to ensure the skills base and design are fully mature. Successor has to be right and free of any first of class issues that hit Astute’

    Absolutely agree, i’d rather take the calculated risk of temporarily running with 3 CASD boats if it meant a secure skills base, a continuity of work and that the design for successor is properly mature. Astute being plagued by multiple issues as it entered service was bad enough, but with the successor the stakes are immeasurably higher.

    It’s been said from multiple sources that a minimum of 12 nuclear boats are needed to keep production flowing and avoid the loss of skills and cost hikes that stem from gaps or intentional delays. So based on that i’d definitely look to squeeze another Astute in.

    Plus as with a lot of things the RN is desperately short of SSN’s anyway so it’s not like an extra boat would be superfluous. How it’s expected to fulfill multiple commitments and plan for the unexpected with just 7 boats (and actually just 6 in the short-term, 4 of which are currently 25+ years old) i don’t know.

  16. Challenger

    @Everyone

    Out of interest how many T26 sized ships can Govan, Scotstoun and Portsmouth build at a time? Kind of hard to tell based on recent work seen as T45 and CVF were constructed in blocks all over the place.

  17. Peter Elliott

    You would imagine if we staffed up and really got motoring they could spit out one per year each.

    Not that I can imagine the circumstances at the moment that we would do it. Combining that rate of production with the planned OOS of T23 would give us a huge manpower bulge that would be very costly to meet. Nothing short of an eathquake in the status of Defence within HMG would deliver that sort of funding uplift. And if there is that sort of uplift there are probably other things to deliver first: things with wings, tracks and wheels of which we would also be desparate need if a big bad threat were suddenly looming at us.

  18. mickp

    @challenger – In my view the silent service SSNs / SSBNs is once of the few areas in defence where we are right at the top table and is a vital national asset. We, me included, talk a lot about frigates and destroyers and CVF battle groups but a sole SSN can do precision land strike and be a key threat to any surface fleet. If we ever find any money down the back of the sofa for the RN, then I’d rather put it in SSNs than expanding the surface fleet. I’ve always thought 9 SSNs and 3/4 off the shelf SSKs should be the objective. The argument for the SSKs being EEZ patrols, submariner training to allow skills to be honed prior to SSN deployment and provide experience for the surface fleet in dealing with SSKs

  19. Not a Boffin

    “Out of interest how many T26 sized ships can Govan, Scotstoun and Portsmouth build at a time?”

    Scotstoun as is would struggle to build T26. Do-able but issues on size of sheds (length and height). Likewise Govan – would have to build in two halves and erect on the outside berth. Portsmouth could build a single one undercover, but might need a two-part mast unit due to the clear height in the shed.

    The real issue is not RN manpower, it’s shipbuilding manpower, which is the whole underlying issue behind the ToBA and rationalisation. HMG and BAES have decided that they’ll only pay for the absolute minimum required to meet the base loading, which is about 1600 all told.

    Swan Hunter built three T23s in the early 90s, with each one taking about 30 months from cutting first steel to delivery. That was with a workforce of between 3000 and later down to about 1600 and eventually much less after the receivers came in, bearing in mind we were building other ships in parallel earlier on.

    In essence, something like a T23 took on average 2 million manhours to construct, excluding design and design support tasks. You’d be looking at something similar for T26 – it’s bigger, but some of the productivity improvements and system components now take less manhours. Downside is there’s far more systems engineering – some of which is valuable, some of which is process make-work, all of which means more design and design support manpower, but certainly should be less than 1.5m hours for the class as a whole.

  20. Challenger

    @Peter Elliot & NaB

    I’m sure that in some kind of earth shattering national emergency far more ships could be quickly churned out but I was just wondering how many T26’s are likely to be under construction at any one time in the current circumstances. Barrow for instance seems to have three Astute’s at various stages of construction at once.

    So with Portsmouth out of the equation and only the two Clyde yards capable of producing high-end warships are we going to to see two T26’s being built at a time, one at Govan and one at Scotstoun? Isn’t some extra money going into the Clyde yards now that Portsmouth has been sidelined?

  21. Peter Elliott

    My understanding is that it will be a single production line. But how many ships, part ships, blocks or sets of major componants will be on site at any one time must depend on what delivery schedule HMG asks for.

    And I suspect that will come down to the unit price. If (as NAB seems to suspect) they are going to come in more expensive than the currrent estimate then expect to see production slowed down and spaced out.

  22. Challenger

    @Peter Elliot

    Comparing with the build program for the T45 and using back of a fag packet sums it looks to me that up-to three would be in various stages of construction at any one time, with new ones being laid down one at a time as each gets launched.

    But that’s assuming they stick with the ‘one a year’ commitment in order to replace the T23’s on time and on a one to one basis. As you say if the unit price goes up (which sadly seems likely) and/or the overall order gets reduced then all bets are off.

  23. Not a Boffin

    Naughty, naughty BAES.

    My sources tell me that BAE have ripped out the panel line and steel forming plant in Portsmouth and done so in a way that makes their re-instatement much more difficult. Leaves the DIO prospectus somewhat at odds with the actualite and much harder to restart shipbuilding in Portsmouth.

    I wonder why they would have done that…….

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