I am pleased to inform the House that we have taken a major step towards the procurement of new naval tankers, as part of the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) project, to support the Royal Navy on global operations worldwide. We have set a worldwide competition for the design and build of these new fleet tankers and have now selected four companies with whom we look forward to working to develop our plans further. We urgently need new double-hulled tankers and recognise that UK capacity may not be available. The four companies that will work alongside the Department over the coming months for the new MARS fleet tankers are: Fincantieri (Italy); Hyundai (Republic of Korea); Navantia (Spain); and a consortium of BAE Systems (UK) with BMT DSL (UK) and DSME (Republic of Korea).
Following the competition, the MOD will make a final decision in 2009 to select one of the companies/consortia to design and build these new ships.
The new fleet tankers, the first element of the MARS programme, will comply with the highest international environmental standards, provide a much improved working environment for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel, and allow the full range of Royal Navy operations to continue around the globe for 25 years from their launch.
Later elements of the MARS programme may provide opportunities for UK industry but no decisions have been made on how these later ships will be procured.