British firms are battling to win a £1.5billion deal to build supply vessels for Royal Navy warships.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace today formally launched a competition to build three Fleet Solid Support ships.
But the Ministry of Defence left the door open to foreign firms benefiting from the lucrative contract, saying only that “a significant proportion of the build and assembly work” must “be carried out in the UK”.
“The successful bidder can work in partnership with international companies but would be required to integrate the ships in a UK shipyard,” it said.
The announcement paves the way for Spanish giant Navantia to compete for the deal after it linked up with Belfast-based Harland & Wolff to table a joint bid.
Mr Wallace said: “As Shipbuilding Tsar, I am delighted to launch the competition for these crucial Fleet Solid Support ships.
“These vessels embody our commitment to a truly global presence by supporting the Royal Navy’s operations around the world.
“The competition reaffirms our dedication to invest in shipbuilding and support jobs across the UK maritime industry.”
The Mirror exclusively revealed yesterday how industry insiders believed Mr Wallace was poised to announce the tender launch.
The 40,000-tonne Fleet Solid Support vessels, which will be part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, will resupply Navy warships, including the £6.2bn Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, with food, ammunition and explosives while at sea.
The competition is set to become a tussle between a UK group of companies backed by the Keep Britain Afloat campaign – which includes Babcock, BAE Systems, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce – and Navantia.
The contest for the contract was initially offered worldwide, with companies from Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea shortlisted, along with a UK consortium.
But the tendering process was halted suddenly in November 2019 – raising hopes the terms could be reset to boost British firms’ chances of winning the deal.
The Ministry of Defence triggered fresh dismay last August when foreign companies were invited to take part in early plans to build the vessels.
But in October, Mr Wallace delighted campaigners by officially designating them as “warships” – meaning they can be built in Britain without allowing overseas firms to bid.
Defence Equipment and Support’s director-general (ships), Vice Admiral Chris Gardner, said today: “The launch of the Fleet Solid Support competition presents a really exciting opportunity for the shipbuilding industry to support the design and build of a new class of ship that will primarily resupply our Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
“It is also another step in implementing the National Shipbuilding Strategy and increasing our domestic maritime construction capacity and capability alongside the Type 26 and Type 31 programmes already underway.”
It will be another two years before the winner is declared.