Build your Type 26 warships next year? Sure, MoD – now, about that contract...

Despite today's crowing about cutting steel, nowt's in writing

BAE Systems hopes it will start cutting steel on Britain's new Type 26 warships next year – but the contract has not yet been signed, despite lots of positive spin from the Ministry of Defence this morning.

So far, £1.9bn has been spent on the Type 26 programme according to BAE Systems, which included the killer line in its press release: "...subject to final contract negotiations with the UK Ministry of Defence."

A BAE Systems spokeswoman confirmed to The Register that Friday's announcement merely agrees the timescale for building the ships, but does not cover the all-important contract under which construction – initial cutting of steel – will start.

The price has not been finalised either: BAE Systems was unable to tell El Reg what the value of the contract is likely to be.

BAE's current contract with the MoD for various Type 26-related projects runs out in the middle of next year. According to the company spokeswoman, the MoD and BAE are still "finalising details" on the steel-cutting contract, and BAE "does not [yet] have the manufacturing process in place".

This morning the ever-busy defence secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, made the announcement about the planned cutting of steel in several months' time at BAE Systems' Govan shipyard on the Clyde, the historical Scottish home of Royal Navy shipbuilding.

In effect, all Sir Michael has done is make an announcement that a future announcement about the actual contract will be made.

Among the usual blurb about numbers of jobs preserved and so on was the news of an additional £100m contract with multinational European firm Missiles, Bombs and Dangerous Armaments MBDA for their Sea Ceptor self-defence missile system, which will equip the Type 26 fleet.

The ageing Type 23 Duke Class frigates are still the backbone of the Navy’s anti-submarine warfare capability. Though excellent warships, there is no disguising their age – indeed, HMS Lancaster is currently being stripped for spares to keep the other 12 ships running.

The Type 26 was originally meant to replace the Type 23 on a one-for-one basis. However, in last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review the government suddenly announced that the planned second tranche of Type 26s, intended as general-purpose frigates rather than specialised anti-submarine vessels, would not be ordered.

Instead something called the Type 31 general-purpose frigate would be ordered. So far, very few details have emerged about the Type 31, despite close speculation inside and outside the Navy and MoD. ®

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