The Ministry of Defence announced yesterday that it is to go ahead with the purchase of four new tankers for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, under the MARS programme.
The contract for the four 37,000 ton vessels has been placed with Daewoo Shipbuilding in Korea. They are expected to enter service in 2016. They are badly needed and should represent excellent value for money, at £452m for all four. They will have double-skinned hulls, to comply with new international regulations.
There have been numerous comments, in various newspapers and on forums and on twitter, as to why the contract was not awarded to a British company. Put simply, there is not a British company capable of building them. And thats before we even consider BAE’s dubious project management track record. The MARS ships are, essentially, of a commercial design, of which Daewoo have much experience.
The MOD confirmed that no British company actually bidded for the contracy. They were actually designed by BMT in Bath, so one would imagine that at least some of the design work stayed in this country. £150m of associated contracts have been awarded to British companies. It is good if defence work can stay in this country, but the armed forces should not be a monopoly for over-priced, under-performing companies.
One of my regular correspondents has raised the interesting question, what are the ships going to be called? The RFA tend to follow RN convention by choosing historical names – the Leaf, Rover, Bay, Point, Ness, Wave, Fort and Round Table classes are all examples. Perhaps as they are tankers they might take on the Tide names?