I think we are going around in circles.
Maybe some context would help the debate,
donald_of_tokyo wrote:I think you ignore design+initial cost.....Ignoring design+initial, a 2nd-tier frigate option becomes attractive. But, design+initial cost is huge...
I am not ignoring anything, I have already stated that HMG should invest further in the T26 design and that an overall rebalancing of the fleet will cost more money if the 24 escort/patrol target is to be met.
It isn't just a lack of money, it also a lack of value for money. Everything we build in the British shipbuilding sector is too expensive and the T26 is no different. Put simply the current UK model for naval shipbuilding isn't working. Let's be honest, it's a mess. It's isn't providing value for money for the tax payer, it isn't providing job security for the workers and most importantly it isn't providing the right vessels at the right price so the Royal Navy can live within its means. So what's the solution?
There are no easy answers but if we look across to our nearest European neighbours we see thriving naval and commercial shipbuilding so why not in the UK? Why is Damen so successful? Why are the French building so many vessels for so many countries? How can the Italians have a shipbuilding operation on the scale of Fincantieri and the UK can't? How strong and competitive will the joint venture between Naval and Fincantieri actually be going forward?
It's clear that with the NSS, HMG are at least half interested in addressing some of the problems that have hampered the UK shipbuilding industry since the 1970's and 1980's. But realistically will HMG commit to supporting a UK producer the size of Fincantieri for the long term? If the answer is no then nothing will change and any renaissance in British shipbuilding will be short lived. If the answer is yes then how does HMG go about it? How many yards can RN and RFA work realistically sustain going forward? Is locating all complex naval surface ship building in Scotland sensible or should an English yard now be given at least a portion of the complex work to offset the threat of independence? Is it now time to start thinking about returning to the south coast with the possible closure of Appledore? Should certain yards be supported from a commercial standpoint whilst being able to bid for complex blocks as and when the work is available. Should HMG renationalise one or more of the yards to achieve continuity of supply?
Lots of questions and the NSS tried to address a lot of them but as ever it was a Government review wrapped inside a fiscal envelope. The NSS is in danger of failing before it has even started.
I think with the current debate we are in danger of being so fixated on the fine details and the in-year budgets, weapon systems and capabilities vs cost that we are not giving enough regard to the wider structure of the British shipbuilding industry and how it needs to be supported and organised going forward to ensure the RN and RFA gets what it needs. Without an efficient an cost effective shipbuilding industry RN will never get what it needs at a price the taxpayer can afford. The decline will simply go on and on and everyone will be left scratching their heads as to why we receive so little for such a massive amount of money.
So before looking at budgets and individual vessel designs in my opinion we need to focus on how ships can be built in the UK more efficiently and cost effectively to provide the highest value for money for the taxpayer, and provide RN with what it needs on time and in budget. How do we achieve this?
Some prefer the single, all encompassing mega yard with everything required on a single site. This is undoubtably the most efficient way to build ships but it's also the least cost effective when the work dries up and the massive overheads still have to be paid. When that happens it government bailout time and HMG aren't big fans about getting involved with that sort of thing.
It's controversial, but I don't think the single mega yard format is the right choice for the UK at this present time and the reason for that is pure politics. Where would we build it? No site in the UK currently has the infrastructure without massive investment and building it north of the border I think would be too risky now.
It is for these reasons that I think the NSS got it right by recommending a distributed build strategy but I think the UK needs three centres of excellence namely three yards specialising in three distinct areas.
1. Complex Frigates and Destroyers, both Tier1 and Tier2.
2. Survey vessels, OPV's and Corvettes.
3. Commercial vessels, Auxiliaries and Amphibs.
(I am not anticipating the construction of any further CVF's in the foreseeable future)
Other commercial yards could still bid for blocks if the order books are healthy enough to warrant it.
The strategy of a centre of excellence at Barrow is working well (despite the political interference) and although nothing is ever straightforward with the construction of SSN's and SSBN's it appears the yard is performing well, helped by a continuous drumbeat of work. I would seriously consider expanding the infrastructure at Barrow to increase capacity and start producing British designed and built SSK's. Why let the France, Germany and Japan have the submarine export market to themselves? A steady drumbeat of SSK's leaving Barrow for the export market can only be a good thing for the UK but BAE are unlikely to get into the SSK sector unless it is fully funded, at least initially by HMG through an RN procurement programme. Are RN ready to re enter the SSK game? I don't see any prospect of it at present as it would require a large investment in facilities, a large increase in manpower and a corresponding increase in budget. Highly unlikely which is a pity.
Where the 3 surface orientated yards that I proposed above are situated is of course open for debate but at present I feel its highly unlikely that complex shipbuilding is moving from the Clyde so HMG should fulfil the promise that was made and build the frigate factory, instantly improving efficiency and lowering build costs which will mean more T26's for RN and more competitive pricing and build times for the export market. It should be made very clear when the frigate factory is built that if Scotland ever votes to leave the Union, the frigate factory will be leaving as well.
The yard best suited for building the survey vessels, OPV's and Corvettes is Appledore in my opinion. Some criticise Appledores lack of capacity but in reality it's the small footprint and low running costs that make Appledore ideal for building these various types of modestly sized vessels. It's the highly focused approach on each individual vessel coming out of Appledore that make the yard so efficient and the quality so high. There is nothing wrong with Appledore if HMG would only hurry up and give it something to build.
Again, it's clear, a highly organised build schedule backed by a reliable drumbeat of orders is key. If organised correctly HMG can keep a yard like Appledore ticking over perfectly happily with an RN order book with no need for exports. I would resist the temptation to expand Appledore much further to chase the export market as any expansion in facilities and workforce will also increase overheads which will hit the yard hard if the exports dry up. I would be inclined to keep the survey vessel, OPV and Corvette yard highly focused, highly skilled, highly efficient and highly cost effective. In my opinion Appledore is the perfect fit.
The commercial yard is again an extremely easy choice for me as it has to be Cammell Laird backed up by H&W. The combined capacity of these two yards is massive and it is very unlikely we will ever see them building at full capacity ever again. Cammel Laird continues to do very well from the RFA maintenance contracts. This regular support has turned CL into a thriving enterprise which is fantastic to see but it could be doing ever better. Cammell Laird would have been the perfect yard to have built the Tides and should now be gearing up to build the FSS ships along with any Argus replacement and/or the Points when the time comes. How much better would the wider economy of Birkenhead be doing if CL was being fed a steady drumbeat of RFA orders? How much more efficient and competitive would this yard be if backed by HMG with a steady stream of regular orders? Cammell Laird has the capacity to take on other commercial work even with one or two RFA vessels under construction simultaneously but if a bottleneck did occur H&W could float blocks across to speed up the build schedule. If HMG really wants to support the British shipbuilding industry it must stop sending the RFA orders abroad. A regular drumbeat of orders to build RFA vessels would safeguard the future of CL easily until the mid 2030's when the Amphibs start being replaced. This secure future for Cammell Laird would help solve the next problem - Rosyth.
Trying to maintain BAE's yards at Govan and Scotstoun as well as Rosyth is giving Scotland a bit too much of the wider UK naval shipbuilding work share in my opinion. I think this can be solved by giving Rosyth the maintenance contacts that Cammell Laird currently profits from. Rosyth is an important facility and should be supported but I think Cammell Laird backed by H&W is a better fit for the RFA and Amphib construction going forward.
I firmly believe that without this secure industrial base, UK shipbuilding will never be truly competitive, RN will continue to pay vastly more than necessary for each vessel and the majority of RFA vessels will be built abroad. In other words any renaissance for RN or UK shipbuilding will be short lived. It is not beyond HMG to implement a 3 yard plan (4 with Barrow) in my opinion, and with the upcoming build programmes on the near horizon now is the perfect time to do it. HMG must prioritise support for British industry over in-year budget spreadsheets. We only need to look to France and Italy to see how the supported model can work and help build export momentum and confidence that will ultimately lead to a healthy tax receipts for the exchequer.
So back to where we started. The Type T26 and the numbers the UK can afford.
I believe that the T26 design could actually be the one thing that provides the catalyst for the resurgence of British naval shipbuilding. It's a world beating design, but it's very expensive, so not for everyone. The obvious challenge now (to me) is to make it simpler and cheaper to widen the export market towards the Tier2 price point to take on both the FREMM and FTI priced vessels. At the same time work needs to start on making the T26 even more complicated with a Tier1 AAW variant so that the transition from the T45 to its eventual replacement is as seamless as possible.
This is probably were I look at things differently to most. The popular argument is, rather than investing further at this stage in the T26 hull, we could just build a few more T26's with the same amount of money so why bother? This in my view is far too simplistic and shortsighted. If we do that the T45 replacement, even if built on a T26 hull, will cost billions to design and get into production. And it will probably be late. More overpriced OPV's to bridge the gap?
Why not make the same investment slowly over time to gradually evolve the T26 design into multiple variants. In effect there would be no stopping T26 production and starting building the T45 replacement, it would just be a production line working to a steady drumbeat, producing whatever variant that RN requires at the time. This steady drumbeat of manufacture would need to be backed by a steady drumbeat of real money and this is where I think Tempest414 has got it bang on. A confirmed UK shipbuilding budget of around £1bn per annum, adjusted by inflation annually and ideally agreed on a cross party basis would solve a lot of the current problems. A cross party consensus should be possible as I see no reason why the SNP or labour would object? They might criticise but I don't think they would object.
With all this in place, what might be possible?
A few points to consider,
1. With the Frigate Factory built and the artificial brakes removed from the T26 build schedule, how much would hulls 4 to 8 or 4 to 12 actually cost?
2. With a very basic weapons fit (76mm, 2x30mm, 24 CAMM, Artisan, 2150 and 2087), how much cheaper would an unaltered T26 cost if ordered as hulls 9 to 12?
3. How much would a goalkeeper version cost with 76mm, 2x30mm's, 96 CAMM quad packed, Artisan and 2150 cost if ordered as hulls 13 and 14?
4. What would a UK built export variant look like? How much cheaper can follow-on T26's be before really having to start altering the existing design if the goal is to manufacture a £500m/£550m variant? CODAD, CODELOD? Mission Bay?
5. Would adding 4 or 5 extra T26's into the build schedule to increase build speed and efficiency, built specifically for export and to be sold on at cost actually bring down the cost of UK's 8 hulls? Could these extra hulls be retained if the financial situation improves or be sold to an export customer if they don't ?
None of this affects the T31 programme but the answers to these questions may have a bearing on the final design that is chosen for the T31. If 5x cheap patrol vessels have to be built to provide a maritime security presence and bridge the gap then that is the way it has to be but the longer term strategy is the critical factor in my opinion.
That's a reasonably long way of explaining my position but concentrating on the minor details whilst ignoring the major issues is almost pointless in my view. The UK needs a coherent and fully funded naval and commercial shipbuilding strategy first and foremost. Until we get it, boom will be followed by bust again and again and RN will be the loser. Further shrinkage and decline will be the result. I think the T26 hull with further investment could provide the pathway to stop the rot and halt the decline.
With the Frigate factory up and running and a clear forward looking industrial strategy in place how far could the £9.25bn actually go? Wouldn't it be interesting to find out.