At a ceremony in Rosyth today, the Defence Secretary (and ‘shipbuilding Tsar’) Ben Wallace conducted the first steel cutting, signalling the start of the Type 31 frigate construction programme.
HMS Venturer is scheduled to be structurally completed and in the water by 2023. All five Type 31s are planned to be delivered to the RN by 2028 with the final ship, operational by 2030. The design work has progressed well but the project is now entering the most challenging phase, promising to build major warships more rapidly than anything attempted in the UK for several decades. A respected defence journalist recently remarked to Navy Lookout “The next two years or so are crucial for Babcock – in cricketing parlance, they will have to hit straight sixes with every ball if they are going to deliver what they are contracted to do”.
The newly constructed assembly hall will be named ‘The Venturer Building’ after the lead ship of the programme. The 147m x 62m x 42m structure has space for two Type 31 frigates to be assembled in parallel and is part of a recent £60M investment in the facilities in Rosyth. A further £100M was spent over the last decade, primarily to support the construction of the aircraft carriers. Around 1,250 people will be employed on the programme at its height, including 150 apprenticeships, and a further 1,250 in the supply chain.
Type 31 has provided an opportunity to install new advanced new manufacturing equipment including panel lines with robotic welding capability, as well as other semi-automated machines at the site. Digital shipyard technology enabling a rapid design to manufacture process should create significant efficiencies in the build schedule.
The steel cutting ceremony comes just one week after Babcock announced that it had secured the first export contract for its Arrowhead 140 frigate through a design licence agreement with PT PAL Indonesia (Persero) for two frigates and the design has also been shortlisted for Poland’s Miecznik (Swordfish) frigate programme.