BAE Systems will not lead a consortium bidding to build Britain’s newest frigate, the first time in three decades that its shipyards have taken a-back-seat role on a new warship.
The UK’s biggest defence company has instead struck an alliance with Birkenhead-based shipyard Cammell Laird to bid for the £1.25bn contract to build five Type 31e warships. It is expected to compete against a consortium led by Babcock International, which is in discussions with naval designer BMT.
Cammell Laird, which is building the £150m RRS Sir David Attenborough arctic survey vessel, will be the prime contractor, with BAE Systems providing warship design, engineering capability and combat systems expertise as a subcontractor.
John Syvret, chief executive of Cammell Laird said the consortium would involve the A&P group of shipyards in construction and members of the broader UK supply chain. If successful, the consortium could show the way for commercial shipyards to get more involved in naval shipbuilding. Mr Syvret said the Royal Navy had requirements beyond the Type 31e, such as the vast Fleet solid support vessels which will be put out to international competition. “We see this as a real opportunity for the company and the broader UK supply chain to play a significant part in naval shipbuilding going forward,” he said. “We see this [Type 31e] as a foundation contract that provides us with an opportunity.”
European aerospace firm Airbus is to take a majority stake in Bombardier’s C-Series jet project. Bombardier has faced a series of problems over the plane, most recently a trade dispute in the US that imposed a 300% import tariff.
Bombardier’s Northern Ireland’s director Michael Ryan said the deal was “great news” for the Belfast operation. About 1,000 staff work on the C-Series at a purpose-built factory in Belfast, mostly making the plane’s wings.
Airbus and Bombardier’s chief executives said the deal – which will see Airbus take a 50.01% stake – would help to boost sales. The deal also gives Airbus the right to buy full control of the C-Series project in 2023.
Airbus thinks it can solve the C-Series tariff problem by assembling the plane for US customers inside the US at its factory in Alabama. Davy Thompson, from the trade union Unite, said the deal was a “welcome development… My understanding of the deal, and what it means for Belfast, is the supply chain still seems to be what it is today, which would mean Belfast is integral to the overall process.”
Bombardier was accused of anti-competitive practices by rival Boeing, which complained to the US authorities. Boeing accused the Canadian firm of selling the jets below cost price after taking state subsidies from Canada and the UK.
The firm said the agreement with Airbus “looks like a questionable deal between two heavily state-subsidized competitors to skirt the recent findings of the US government… Our position remains that everyone should play by the same rules for free and fair trade to work,” it added.