Rigging the frigates?

F35 Lightning II jet Image copyright PA
Image caption The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) reports that purchase of new F35 Lightning II jets is to be speeded up

Strike brigades. Lightning and Typhoon squadrons. Poseidon surveillance. Hunter Killer submarines.

There's more.....

  • Destroyers. Apache and Wildcat attack helicopters
  • The Space Operations Centre.
  • Watchkeeper drones.
  • Brimstone missiles.
  • Five Eyes intelligence.

This Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) can be made to sound terrifically exciting, in a Commando magazine way.

It points towards mighty aircraft carrier battle groups bristling with fire-power and lethal force projection, capable of delivering ferocious counter-punch around the globe, backed up through cyberspace and outer space.

We're talking rapid deployment (though, er, that'll be ready in about 10 years time).

By then, the £50m found for school cadet units should have square-bashed the next generation into fighting fit form.

Maritime Moray

Less adrenaline-soaked are the jobs behind all this. Such reviews represent a substantial part of the UK government's industrial and regional policy.

This is one important way in which the government spreads money around the country. So Moray gets the return of maritime surveillance, to Lossiemouth, and quite a few jobs and financial firepower to go with it.

Cumbria should be relieved: not only are there to be four new nuclear-armed submarines built at Barrow, but the price tag has gone up to £31bn, with a contingency of £10bn.

Strategic Defence and Security Review

Where will jobs go?


civilian posts in UK


to be cut

  • 4,000 civilian posts in Scotland

  • 1,200 to be cut

Experience suggests that you might as well kiss goodbye to any contingency reserve on Ministry of Defence projects. But the Treasury has insisted that, this time, things are going to be different.

A strike brigade of accountants is being deployed to bring the overspends under control, possibly with extreme book-keeping prejudice.

Amid austerity, all the military force is being partly funded with a different type of fire power - a cull of civilian jobs. Out of nearly 60,000, 30% are to go. That's 17,000. Yes, seventeen thousand, some tasks to be contracted out to private companies.

Scotland has 4,000 civilian MoD posts, many in back office functions rather than high-tech, higher-value roles. So a share of that would mean 1,200 fewer jobs, having already lost more than that in the past four years.


As so often in Scotland, though, it's the shipyards that catch the attention. The workforce at Govan and Scotstoun has fallen from nearly 4,000 to 2,500. Aircraft carrier work will fall away sharply in the next few months.

They've got work on three Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) for the Royal Navy. As of this week's review, another two are to be ordered. That could rise to a maximum six OPVs in the Royal Navy.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Clyde ship yards were a focus of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR)

These orders seem to have more to do with keeping the Clyde yards busy than with any strategic military priority. In MoD-speak, it "maintains the drumbeat".

The order for those two extra OPVs hints heavily that there's a delay afoot in the start of work to the Type 26 replacement for the current fleet of frigates.

A deal was due to be struck on these by the end of last year, but it was postponed while the SDSR pitted Royal Navy spending priorities against those of the other services.

As a result, one of the main announcements with the SDSR is that there are to be only eight such frigates, instead of the 13 anticipated.

More affordable

Another new class of ship is to go through concept stage, then design and construction. At least five are to be built, we're told.

With six destroyers and eight frigates, the intention is to have 19 warships supporting two aircraft carriers. Hence, the need for five to fill that gap.

The new class is described as being lighter, flexible, general purpose and more affordable. It won't have the anti-submarine capability of the Type 26.

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Media captionPM David Cameron says investment is needed to "ensure our future prosperity and security"

Of course, if you're spreading the design and fixed costs for 13 frigates over only eight, then they are very likely to look less affordable.

That's how it was with the Type 45 Destroyer programme, which came down from 12 to six vessels, with the budget soaring.

The new class of ship is also being targeted at exports. The MoD is being told to treat exports as one of its core tasks.

If this looks like a new idea, it's not. The Type 26 was meant to be designed flexibly, so that it would sell to countries around the world that have less demanding design spec than the Royal Navy.

There's some interest in it, but mainly in exporting the design rather than the Clyde shipbuilding skills. Countries expanding their navies in Asia and South America want also to build up their shipbuilding capacity.

Constitutional prism

It's no surprise that this has sparked denunciations from supporters of independence. They point to the 13-frigate plan being claimed by their opponents as justification for staying within the UK in last year's referendum vote. There's talk of "betrayal".

And because this is seen through a constitutional prism, we have Scotland's one Labour MP and the GMB union enthusiastically endorsing the Conservative government's announcement of eight ships. Strange days.

Nationalists are told that they're mischief-making. It's claimed there were only ever going to be eight ships in the first order, and more will surely follow. But will they be on the Clyde?

The briefing from Whitehall is that the five extra ships are bound to be built in Glasgow, and that the new class of flexible, fiscally-friendly frigate could have at least the same hull design.

Having closed Portsmouth's shipyard, there's nowhere else in Britain to build them. And the Royal Navy is committed to building its "complex warships" in the UK. (It is allowed to avoid EU tendering under a military exemption.)

Yet David Cameron said there is the "possibility" of building the five extra ships on the Clyde "if the conditions are right".

Why the doubt? It could be constitutional politics. It could be that Swan Hunter on Tyneside could build less complex ships.

But it's more likely to be that awkward relationship between the Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems.


The MoD depends heavily on BAE to make its equipment in Britain and to employ lots of people. BAE depends rather less on the MoD, but it has to keep close and friendly.

Eight years ago, the MoD insisted on a corporate merger of Britain's remaining naval shipyards.

Along with BAE, it chose closure of BAE's Portsmouth yard, and consolidation at Govan and Scotstoun on the Clyde. Given that orders won't go abroad, it looks like BAE Systems in Glasgow has a pretty strong negotiating hand.

The company already has a contractual agreement with the MoD to continue the flow of work for another 11 years. In 2009, it was agreed this would maintain the workforce to 2026, and deliver 13 ships.

But now, the Treasury has insisted on a new way of procuring equipment when there is only one supplier. It's called the Single Source Regulations Office, or SSRO. The nuclear-armed submarines and the Type 26 will be its first major projects.

Matured design

Last January, George Osborne went further than the 2026 horizon, declaring in Portsmouth that he had asked naval planners to come up with ways in which a ship every two years could be delivered for 25 years. You'll recall there was an election looming.

The SDSR talks of the new class of ship allowing for an expansion of the fleet of destroyers and frigates in the 2030s.

A programme to 2040 requires a National Shipbuilding Strategy, which the SDSR says should be published next year.

This could mean even more delay to the start of building the Type 26. Or as the SDSR puts it, until "we have further matured the design".

"We will compete elements of the manufacturing work so that the programme delivers on time and to cost," it warns its dominant supplier, with a promise to small and medium-sized enterprises that they are to get a piece of the action across MoD procurement.

The review will have to negotiate its way round the power of BAE Systems, the monopoly of the Clyde yards, inter-service rivalries in the MoD, and, of course, the Clyde's complex constitutional politics. It should make for an interesting read.

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