Published 15 May 2024

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DE&S will procure up to six new Multi-Role Support Ships for Royal Marines on special operations around the world.

Speaking at the annual Sea Power Conference in London, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps announced the maximum number of vessels for the first time, and that the programme has moved into its concept phase, meaning there are now up to 28 warships and submarines planned or in build for the Royal Navy.

DE&S is also procuring eight Type 26 frigates, being built by BAE Systems; five Type 31 frigates, being built by Babcock International; and three Fleet Solid Support ships, being built by Navantia UK and Harland & Wolff to BMT’s design.

DE&S CEO Andy Start said: “With the MOD’s new Integrated Procurement Model in place and DE&S undergoing its biggest transformation in a decade we are aiming to be faster, more efficient, more innovative, more integrated and more productive when delivering new equipment such as the Multi-Role Support Ships for the Royal Marines.

“Our MRSS team has already begun engaging with the potential shipbuilding market to lay the groundwork for this versatile and essential future capability.”

HMS Bulwark at sea

MRSS will be flexible warships able to deploy on a wide variety of operations, designed to carry vehicles, aircraft, insertion craft and a broad range of uncrewed systems for complicated missions. They will also be able to act as primary casualty receiving ships, providing urgent medical care to our forces wherever they are deployed.

In line with the National Shipbuilding Strategy, they will replace current capabilities including the two Landing Platform Docks of HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, three Landing Ship Docks (auxiliaries) and the Aviation Support Ship RFA Argus, in the early 2030s.

The Defence Secretary announced that HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, which are currently used to deploy Marines, will not be scrapped or ‘mothballed’ before their planned out of service dates of 2033-2034, as was previously speculated by media.

Mr Shapps said: “With up to 28 ships and submarines being built or in the pipeline, this is a new Golden Age for British shipbuilding.

“The new vessels for the Royal Marines will help our brave Commandos fight the conflicts of the future.

“This is all possible because this government has committed to spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade, as part of our plans to deliver a more secure future for you and your family.”

HMS Bulwark at sea

Mr Shapps also announced that Type 23 frigates HMS Argyll and HMS Westminster, which a combined service of 63 years, will be retired. HMS Argyll is being sold by our Defence Equipment Sales Authority to BAE Systems to be used support apprentice training in line with the Government’s agenda on skills and shipbuilding capacity.

Admiral Sir Ben Key, the Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord, said: “I am delighted that the Secretary of State has cemented the future of our Royal Marines by committing to this new class of up to six amphibious vessels.

“These will be the most capable amphibious warships the nation has ever owned, designed to be fully interchangeable with our closest allies in Europe, and in NATO.”