Engineering giant Babcock has been named the preferred bidder for the £1.3 billion contract to build a new fleet of Royal Navy frigates.

The five ships will be assembled at its Rosyth Dockyard in Fife and will involve supply chains throughout the UK.

More than 2,500 jobs across the UK are expected to be supported as a result of the Type 31 programme, including 150 jobs for new technical apprenticeships.

The firm said work on the fleet will begin immediately once the formal contract is awarded later this financial year, with detailed design work first and manufacture starting in 2021.

Archie Bethel, Babcock chief executive, said: “Driven by innovation and backed by experience and heritage, Arrowhead 140 is a modern warship that will meet the maritime threats of today and tomorrow, with British ingenuity and engineering at its core.

“It provides a flexible, adaptable platform that delivers value for money and supports the UK’s National Shipbuilding Strategy.

“Arrowhead 140 will offer the Royal Navy a new class of ship with a proven ability to deliver a range of peacekeeping, humanitarian and war-fighting capabilities whilst offering communities and supply chains throughout the UK a wide range of economic and employment opportunities.”

The Government has committed to buying at least five of the low-cost warships for the Royal Navy, with the first vessel expected to be in the water by 2023.

The average production cost is £250 million per ship.

Type 31 frigate
An artist’s impression of the Arrowhead 140 warship (Babcock/PA)

The Ministry of Defence aims to award the contract by the end of the year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the announcement as he visited NLV Pharos, a lighthouse tender that is moored alongside HMS Belfast on the Thames for London International Shipping Week.

He said: “We’re here to announce that Babcock is the preferred bidder to build five new Type 31 frigates and I’m so excited by that because I see the UK as a great shipbuilding nation – we already are but we want to expand it.

“And what it delivers is high quality jobs for young people – really high-skilled jobs for young people in this country – but also massive export opportunities of vessels that not only help to keep the peace but tackle piracy, help dealing with immigration issues across the seas, all sorts of ways which UK naval vessels are really helping the modern world – and they’re a fantastic export for our country.”

The PM has appointed Defence Secretary Ben Wallace as the Government’s new shipbuilding tsar to enhance the UK’s production.

Type 31 frigate
The Arrowhead 140 has been described as a ‘new class of ship’ (Babcock/PA)

He will look at how the Government can use further education, skilled apprenticeships and graduates to achieve a sustainable skills base for British shipbuilding across the UK.

Mr Wallace said: “These mighty ships will form the next generation of the Royal Navy fleet.

“The Type 31 frigates will be a fast, agile and versatile warship, projecting power and influence across the globe.

“The ships will be vital to the Royal Navy’s mission to keeping peace, providing life-saving humanitarian aid and safeguarding the economy across the world from the North Atlantic, to the Gulf, and in the Asia Pacific.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The vessels will be fitted with the world-leading Sea Ceptor missile system, a range of highly advanced weapon and sensor systems and a combat system with a 4D air and surface surveillance and target indication radar.

They will also have capabilities to operate with a Merlin or Wildcat helicopter.

Scotland’s Economy Secretary Derek Mackay said: “This contract will secure work at Rosyth for the next decade and the awarding of this contract is a testament to the skilled workforce and expertise which we have in Scotland.

“I have spoken with Babcock this morning to assure them they have the full support of the Scottish Government.

“Once the final details of the contract are announced, we look forward to discussions on the role that Ferguson Marine could play alongside other suppliers in Scotland.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “Scotland has a world-renowned reputation for quality shipbuilding and I very much welcome the announcement that Babcock is the preferred bidder to design the MoD’s new Type 31 frigates.

“The Type 26 programme has already secured 4,000 Scottish jobs and 20 years of work on the Clyde and I’m looking forward to Babcock – including its key Rosyth yard – keeping Scotland at the forefront of a renaissance in UK shipbuilding.

“This is a clear show of support for the UK defence sector, the role it plays in keeping the United Kingdom secure, and its contribution to Scotland’s prosperity through high-skilled employment and investment.”