Warship Technology – Jul/Aug 2021
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has launched a competition to build three new Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships to provide support to the Royal Navy, but a Contract Notice reveals that the final ship in the class will not be delivered until 2032, compared to the original timetable of the mid-2020s.
The FSS ships will provide support to carrier and amphibious task groups at sea. Operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the vessels will provide munitions, food, stores and provisions. The civilian-manned Royal Fleet Auxiliary provides logistical and operational support to the Royal Navy worldwide. Its fleet includes the FFS ships, which supply ships at sea with food, ammunition and spares (‘solid cargo’); fuel (liquid cargo) is carried by dedicated tankers.
This is the second time that the Ministry of Defence has attempted to acquire the vessels – an initial, highly controversial procurement ended in failure in 2019 when the Ministry said it has been unable to obtain what it described as a ‘value for money solution’ in its negotiations with shipyards.
The original procurement was also politically controversial because the government decided to open an international tender, rather than ‘buying British.’ At the time, with the UK still in the European Union, ministers argued that they needed to comply with EU competition rules. Those rules required non-combatants to be the subject of open competition, they argued, although other states in the EU have excluded foreign competition from similar procurements.