Sunday, 21 December 2014
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What's the future for British warship construction?

BAE Systems doesn’t do photogenic, at least not according to Brian Johnson, the company’s UK business development director for naval ships.

Welcoming journalists to the company’s facilities in Glasgow this week, Johnson made his comment in relation to concerns that were raised when cranes were decommissioned at the Govan dockyard last autumn.

The removal of the cranes was seen by many as further evidence of the decline in shipbuilding on the River Clyde – a point that carries weight but doesn’t tell the entire story.

Heritage, claims Johnson, can be something of a burden in a city that made its name as a major centre for shipbuilding. BAE Systems is, however, a high-tech defence engineering company which, like all commercial entities, has to react to the markets it serves.

The decision to cease manufacturing at Portsmouth by the end of this year wasn’t one the company’s most popular decisions but the site will retain around 250 engineers to support the Type 26 and Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) programme.

Similarly, plans are well advanced to compensate for the drop off in work when the two new QEC aircraft carriers are completed and the Type 26 programme comes online.

This will involve consolidation of BAE’s shipbuilding capabilities into its Scotstoun site, where a new landmark - in the form of a 300m long covered dry dock - will form part of a £200m investment designed to bring down the cost the Type 26.

‘We have to prove we’re a business for the next century, in the way the Royal Navy is modernising for the next century,’ said Johnson. ‘We’re proud of our heritage but this is about moving forward to the Type 26 programme.’

The company isn’t in a position to produce a full working prototype of the Type 26 but it is introducing Visionary Render from Virtalis to connect its design teams in Glasgow, Filton and Portsmouth.

Visionary Render – installed in a network that links the three offices - takes Foran CAD files and lets users walk through the Type 26 in 3D, with Windchill PLM software providing total project information for every design iteration.

Working practices are changing too, with production staff employing schedule based working, a system that rewards employees with time off for achieving production targets. Designed to foster greater teamwork, schedule based working has been trialled successfully by around 50 pipe shop workers and is expected to be fully embedded at Scotstoun by the start of the Type 26 programme.

This is quite a significant change among a heavily unionised workforce more used to working core hours – 0730 to 1600 – and being paid overtime for excess hours. Designed with input from union representatives, pay is now consolidated into a monthly salary and employees are subject to performance improvement targets also.

BAE Systems might not ‘do photogenic’, and the redeveloped Scotstoun site will cease the very photogenic practise of dynamic launches. What it has done is adapt, positioning itself for new programmes that will take work at Scotstoun to at least the mid-2030s if the MoD orders an expected 13 Type 26 vessels.

The Glasgow skyline may have changed over the years but its position as the prime site for warship production is not totally diminished.

‘The heritage of complex warship building is all about the Clyde, and has been for four decades,’ said Johnson.

 


Readers' comments (23)

  • A real shame for the ship building heritages of Tyne, Chatham, Portsmouth , Plymouth, Mersey etc and will we live to regret this if Scotland becomes independent of the once proud Great Britain heritage of which Glasgow has whethered only by the heavy investment by the UK Government? Perhaps now ill advised.

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  • Would have thought all bets are off for the future of the Scottish yards until after the Scottish referendum.

    A Yes vote would make it political suicide for a British government to leave the work in an independent Scotland while making remaining UK workers redundant in Portsmouth etc.

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  • It'll be just like the train companies in the 1990's. The Tory government ceased to invest in engines and carriages so the companies folded up. Similarly when we do want ships we will have to buy them from abroad. Scandalous

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  • Sadly the Royal Navy has long been supplied with warships that can sustain very little combat damage before sinking or becoming totally disabled. The RN should look at the Australian-built Austal ship design, whose recent performance, speed, manoeuvrability and ability to absorb punishment and stay afloat has astonished the US Navy..

    BAE, please note..

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  • We don't need any warships. It's time we grew up and stop playing soldiers.

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  • Britain isn't alone as there are a number of countries including the United States that may have a problem with Naval warship design and construction as this would mean more joint ventures with a single ship design serving multiple nations as this would reduce design and construction cost.

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  • Good to see everyone so cheery at the start of a bank holiday weekend! Jason it must get quite tiring writing articles and then just being bombarded with negativity! Sorry about that, personally I would have loved to have had the opportunity of visiting the shipbuilding facilities with you. The fact is that Scotland is still part of the UK and hopefully always will be. The people who build our warships on the Clyde can be justifiably proud of what they acheive, and I for one cannot wait to see the fruits of their labours. If you were to ask those workers if they would also like to see shipbuilding continue in Portsmouth and other shipyards throughout the UK they would most certainly agree, as would the management of BAE and anyone involved in British shipbuilding. The point for me is that some serious investment has gone and will go into building the aircraft carriers, the type 26 and new submarines. Let we as a nation be positive and use this as a springboard to produce high value commercial ships as well as complex warships. That would be doing justice to all the hard work of those involved. I also firmly belive the Type 26 will attract export orders. Contrary to the various trends with super sized OPV's and LCS's the fact is a multipurpose frigate with the adaptability of the Type 26 is I believe the most usefull ship a Navy can deploy. The Australians, Brazilians and even the US could do a lot worse.
    Marcus Gibson. I am not really sure what you mean by ability to absorb punishment when no major warship has seen action since the Falklands war. Also this is not a decision for BAE, rather the RN/MOD. If armoured ships are required then this will be part of the spec! Rather Naval doctrine is (rightly or wrongly) that the design should be to not be hit in the first place!
    Galathumpian. I wish I could agree, but sadly I think there is simply too much conflict in the world to do without. The Royal Navy's motto is 'If you wish for peace, prepare for war' and throughout this nations history they have been called upon to do just that. Even if we did not go around picking fights sooner or later one would appear on our doorstep. The fact that we are a trading nation with commercial interests throughout the world only makes this more likely and that is precicely why we need warships. (I presonally believe that merchant ships, built in the UK are also vital to our island nations prosperity and security).

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  • Unfortunately each new generation of warship costs proportionally more than the last due to the top brass wanting to cram more and more technology and roles into one vessel type. At the same time budgets are shrinking leading to the ultimate end game of fleet shrinkage and the reduction in the number of yards required to build and maintain them.

    In some cases for marginal savings in costs more and more new build is now being sent to the Far East e.g. the latest fleet of RFA tankers paid for by our taxes at the expense of our jobs.

    These policies are leading to ridiculous situations where the world's most advanced class of warship our Type 45s are used for basic Somali pirate and West Indies drug traffic monitoring duties.

    We need advanced warships but let's see a balance with a larger fleet of basic low tech/cheap plodders that can do the donkey work and provide sufficient numbers to help the RN do all its global roles.

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  • "Growing up" includes recognising that the world is not ideal. Armies and navies always have been and always will be needed, unfortunately.

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  • as most of my ancestors served in WW1 (a few were killed as well) and my father was killed in WW2 (along with those of most of my thousand or so contemporaries at school) perhaps as a generation we have some voice in this debate. I do not wish to appear unpatriotic...but surely almost every conflict in which our Nation has been engaged for the past century has only started to go 'our-way' when the old military professional thinking (suitable for the last, certainly not for the present and definitely not for any future scrap) is replaced by that of civilians co-opted into the military. By what stretch of who's imagination is it believed that the design/specification/construction and use of equipment for the Services -the subject of this debate- (and designed by persons well into the past!) is somehow exempt from similar misplaced ideals!

    Think outside the box- think of turning plough-shares into swords [its an artistic analogy? but most will get it] as and when required and above all, pay for the conversions with real, not imaginary money. Walk softly and carry a big stick? (or log in the case of something that floats?) Are you sure. If I can estimate how you (my potential enemy) are thinking, I can have an aswer even before you have posed the question. Mind over matter, if it does.
    Best
    Mike B

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