Offshore Patrol Vessel Excellence Now In-Build for the Royal Navy

Globally deployable and designed to be primarily used for offshore constabulary duties, confirmation on Friday that BAE Systems has officially cut steel on the first of three Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV’s). Ordered by the MOD, this is excellent news for the defence industry for the retention of skilled UK jobs and importantly, for the improved maritime defence capability that the ships will eventually provide for the Royal Navy. Given that the UK has already achieved success selling River Class OPV’s internationally, I suspect that the MOD decision to acquire the not dissimilar although slightly larger ships will also provide a significant boost for future exportability.

Continuing a two hundred year tradition of excellence in the construction of ships for the Royal Navy, the three OPV’s are to be built by BAE Systems’ two current yards on the Clyde. The ships will be known as HMS Forth, HMS Medway and HMS Trent and are I understand slightly larger than the existing River Class OPV design of ship that are already in service with the Brazilian and Thai Navy. The new OPV’s for the MOD are representative of a class of ship and pinnacle of design that BAE Systems hope will attract further significant export interest.

To be built at Scotstoun and Govan the three OPV’s will directly and indirectly sustain many hundreds of jobs across the region and within the rest of the UK. Fast, efficient and with a displacement of 2,086 tons, a maximum speed of 24 knots and range in excess of 5,000 nautical miles each ship will be capable of carrying a Royal Navy Lynx, Wildcat or EH101 Merlin helicopter on board. Designed for a very specific purpose and only lightly armed, the primary role of the three Royal Navy OPV’s will be to support counter terrorism, counter piracy and anti-smuggling operations in UK territorial waters. They will however be able to be quickly deployed to all areas of the world if and when required, able to carry troops and other equipment that may, for instance, be used in providing natural disaster assistance. However, being only lightly armed, what they certainly are not in terms of the capability they provide is a frigate replacement.

To that end, as I detailed in a separate commentary piece three weeks ago, the superb Type 26 ‘Global Combat Ship’ design has been planned to replace the existing fleet of thirteen Type 23 frigates from the early 2020’s. The nature of the frigate role is of course completely different to that of the OPV’s. There can be no doubt that the addition of the three much needed OPV’s will provide significant and much needed additional capability for the Royal Navy to conduct the wide range of offshore and international constabulary duties required of it.

Part of a £348m investment by the MOD, the first of the three OPV’s ordered from BAE Systems is due to be delivered in just three years. The ability of the company to achieve delivery of the ships in a relatively short period is primarily due to the experience gained by BAE Systems in building River Class OPV’s. BAE Systems has invested significant funds to make its maritime shipbuilding facilities far more efficient. As I detailed in the separate Type 26 commentary piece, the company plans to invest significantly more in its Scotstoun facility on the Clyde to build Type 26, making the yard the most modern in the world.

As previously mentioned, the River Class OPV is already in international service in Brazil and Thailand and I genuinely believe that this class of lightly armed fast ship and patrol vessels designed by BAE Systems really do have excellent export potential. Investment combined with a change in the approach to design of building of navy ships over recent years has boosted what can now be achieved and the ability for BAE Systems to compete for international work. Expressions of interest from potential international customers have already been seen and in the years to follow I would be very surprised if the excellent BAE Systems OPV ship design does not enjoy further export interest.

In the world that we now live in when the need for fast efficient ships able to police the seas and those that have been specifically designed to assist in the counter terrorism, counter piracy and anti-smuggling role provide desired capability and excellent value for money. They are not warships in the same sense as frigates and destroyers and they certainly don’t pretend to have anything like the amount of capability required for the very much larger defence and attack roles. But OPV’s do have a very significant and increasing role to play in the future policing and protection of the nation and of our dependent territories.

CHW (London – 13th October 2014)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Tel:  07710 779785


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