UK to order four new RFA tankers


The United Kingdom Ministry of Defence will buy four new 37 000-tonne tankers for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) to support future Royal Navy operations around the globe.

The new Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) tankers will maintain the Royal Navy’s ability to refuel at sea and will provide fuel to warships and task groups, the MoD said.

They will support deployed amphibious, land and air forces close to the shore, will be able to operate helicopters, and are planned to enter service from 2016, replacing existing Royal Fleet Auxiliary single-hulled tankers.

At over 200 metres long, the four tankers will be approximately the same length as 14 double-decker buses and be able to pump enough fuel to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools in an hour.

Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, announced that Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) is the Government’s preferred bidder for the deal. This represents the best value for taxpayers’ money, with £452 million to be spent on the four new vessels.

A number of British companies took part in the competition, but none submitted a final bid for the build contract. In light of this, the best option for Defence, and value for money for taxpayers, is for the tankers to be constructed in South Korea by DSME, the MoD said.

UK companies will, however, benefit from £150 million of associated contracts comprising:
— £90 million on UK contracts for the provision of key equipment, systems, design and support services. The winning design is being provided by UK company BMT Defence Services
— £60 million investment in the UK from customisation, trials and specialist engineering support.

The tankers are part of a multi-billion pound investment programme for the Royal Navy, which includes Type 45 destroyers, Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and Astute Class attack submarines, employing thousands of people in the UK.
“Over the next decade, the government will be investing billions of pounds in our maritime capabilities to ensure that our Royal Navy remains a formidable fighting force. This project will inject up to £150 million into UK industry, and support and maintenance will also be carried out in the UK. The Government remains committed to building complex warships in UK shipyards,” Luff said:
“We are delighted the RFA will be able to operate these world class vessels,” said Commodore Bill Walworth, Head of the RFA. “These fleet replenishment tankers will be flexible ships, able to operate with the Royal Navy and Armed Forces in conflict, and are designed to allow for upgrades and emerging technologies, meaning that they have been designed with the future in mind.”
“The competition for the contract sought to engage shipbuilders from across the globe. I believe the winning bidder’s solution will offer the UK the best value for money,” said the Chief of Defence Materiel, Bernard Gray. “The MARS tanker is an exceptionally versatile platform; able to simultaneously refuel an aircraft carrier and destroyer whilst undertaking helicopter resupply of other vessels. I am looking forward to the award of the contract and the work that will follow in the lead up to the delivery of the ships.”

However, not everybody is happy about the decision. “This is more bad news for British industry. First we lose out to France over fast jets [to India] and now we lose out to South Korea over Royal Navy tankers,” said Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary.
“The Government do not have an active defence industrial strategy. I’d like to see more of our defence industry with a ‘made in Britain’ stamp on it. The country will want the Government to do more to support British industry.”

According to South Korean media, the contract is the third-largest order for defence-related exports, following an order for US$1.08 billion worth of submarines from Indonesia, and another for K-9 self-propelled artillery from Turkey worth US$1 billion.