My Lords, the Type 26 global combat ship programme is currently in its assessment phase. As is standard practice with equipment projects, the final design, equipment fit and build programme will not be set until the main investment decision has been taken, when the design is more mature. This decision is expected towards the end of 2014. Our current planning assumption is for the construction of 13 Type 26s with a planned service life of around 25 years.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the reply, and for letting me have sight of it before today. He will be aware of the force-level formula which relates build rates to the planned life of a warship. Although this Answer undoubtedly raises a whole raft of questions, not least those relating to manpower and shipbuilding, I want to focus on just one. Have we really decided that this great maritime nation of ours needs only 13 frigates? Only four years ago, 18 was considered too risky; at the time of the Falklands, we had 40. Has there been a realistic, in-depth study of the requirement for the number of frigates—I am talking about frigates, not destroyers or other things—or is the number 13 based purely on an arbitrary cost figure? In the final analysis, defence of the nation is the top priority for any Government of whatever hue, and I believe that we are standing into danger.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that defence of the nation is absolutely the top priority of the Government. That is why we are undertaking the Type 26 global combat ship programme. The Type 26 will become the backbone of the Royal Navy from around 2020, and the programme will help sustain surface warship capability in the United Kingdom after the construction of the carriers. This multibillion-pound investment will secure thousands of skilled shipbuilding jobs across the UK for decades to come.
My Lords, the Type 26 is a credible export design and there are likely to be three export variants—general purpose, anti-submarine warfare, and air defence—all sharing a common acoustically quiet hull to realise economies of scale. It is not expected that the UK will build export variants, but international interest in the design is unprecedented. It should be stressed, however, that the Type 26 is neither dependent upon nor funding the export campaign.
My Lords, having recently been on a Type 45 destroyer and been briefed on its capability, which is enormous, may I ask what the Type 26 will do which the Type 45 will not be able to deliver, mindful of the fact that one is a destroyer and one is a frigate?
My Lords, although sharing a common acoustically quiet hull, the Type 26 will be delivered in two variants: a force anti-submarine warfare variant and a general purpose variant. All will employ a tailored-mission approach to operations, allowing equipment and crew to be reconfigured to meet changing operational requirements and the future demands of the maritime and joint environment.
My Lords, it is absolutely intended that that is one of the roles that the Type 26s will be used on. We are building a complement of Type 26s that, from the initial ship right through to the end of the class life, will provide us with the flexibility to respond to a wide range of tasks.
My Lords, the build location will be confirmed after the main investment decision point. The UK Government are not planning for independence. Should Scotland decide to separate from the UK, it would no longer be eligible to bid for those contracts that are subject to exemptions from EU procurement rules to protect essential national security interests and are therefore placed or competed for within the UK. All the UK’s new complex warships are being built in UK shipyards, and we remain committed to using UK industry in this area.
The Minister has just described the Type 26 as the backbone of the Royal Navy. The problem is that there are only 13 of them, and there does not seem to be any planning beyond that. I think that most of us are concerned about the long-term view of the Royal Navy for us as a maritime power, as was indicated in the first Question. Thirteen is not the backbone of a major maritime power.
My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord. The First Sea Lord has some very exciting plans for the future of the Royal Navy. The Type 26s we are planning, the three OPVs and, of course, the Type 45s which my noble friend mentioned, are all part of those exciting plans.
My Lords, in the context of Scotland, the UK has a number of commercial yards involved in building military warships which have been involved in the building of the carriers. It is recognised that these yards would need additional investment to enable them to participate in the building of the Type 26.