MP calls for RFA vessels to be classed as warships

TRURO and Falmouth MP Sarah Newton is pressing the MOD to class Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships as warships.

Mrs Newton said: “I have consistently asked the MOD, in future procurement to reclassify RFA vessels as warships. This will enable them to be more easily built
in Britain. I was delighted that last week, during an Urgent Question on the situation on the Gulf, I was able to secure this positive answer to my question.”

Addressing the then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Mrs Newton said: “I welcome my right hon. Friend’s prescient remarks in recent weeks about the need to expand our naval presence. To help with that, will he ask the Defence Secretary to change the
classification of our much-valued Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships to warships, as our allies classify them, so that we can bring forward the building of planned new ships in the UK?”

Mr Hunt replied: “I have just asked the Defence Secretary that very question, to which the answer is yes.”

Is an RFA ship a warship? Some pundits claim they are, with RFA personnel undergoing Royal Navy courses, the fitting of Phalanx guns, helicopters and small arms. The government until now strongly disagreeing, claiming the RFA ships are non-combatant
vessels.

Government policy is that defence procurement should be subject to open competition except when the UK judges it needs to protect its operational advantages and freedom of action for reasons of national security. This was outlined in a 2012 White Paper and,
regarding surface vessels, reaffirmed in the 2017 National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) report.

“For reasons of national security, all Royal Navy warships (destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers) will continue to have a UK-owned design, and, will be
built and integrated in the UK. Warship build will be via competition
between UK shipyards.”

The two Fleet support ships (FSSS) planned for the RFA are at the heart of the NSS report. The £1billion order for the ships that will service the UK’s £6.3billion Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers will provide work for 16,000 people.

Under current legalisation the ships are exempt from EU procurement rules. The MOD has consistently said that it will run a full international competition to build the ships which are not classified as warships as such.

In another debate the National Shipbuilding Strategy was discussed along with the future procurement of the planned Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSSS) for the RFA and through life contracts with UK shipyards.

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, said: “It is important to highlight that the industry
also has spin-offs into other sectors. When people see a ship being built, they concentrate on the hull and superstructure—what they can see—but the real value and expertise in a complex warship today are in not only what it is made of, but the through-life support.
That creates jobs in a whole range of sectors and ensures that those jobs are maintained over the life of the ship. We must protect skills; the sector cannot be successful,
and we cannot keep our sovereign capability, without investment in skills.”

Mrs Newton replied : “I am very proud that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is based in Falmouth. As he says, we have a valuable throughlife contract. I wholeheartedly
agree that the ships should be built in the UK, and we are proud to have the opportunity to service them.

“It is vital to have such highskilled, well-paid jobs in a peripheral area such as Cornwall, which has low wages. Those jobs are vital to our local economy. When decisions are made about procurement, they should be about not just the price tag on the vessel, but the contribution that those industries make to the regional economy.”

Written by David Barnicoat. First published in the Falmouth Packet 31/07/19

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