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Barrow has a Strategic Role delivering the UK future warship programmes

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Independent advice to UK MoD concluded that:

"Barrow remains an untapped source of production capability and could likely play a significant role in the coming shipbuilding programme" (source : "The UK's naval shipbuilding industrial base" Rand Europe,2005 Report to UK MoD)

Barrow shipyard delivers “fantastic fighting ships” to the Royal Navy enabling it to contribute to the Force Projection objectives in the UK Government’s Strategic Defence Review (1998) and to deliver part of the National Security Strategy.

It is essential that MoD  has a coherent strategy for retaining the capacity and capability to build large warships and nuclear powered submarines in the UK. It can only do this by factoring Barrow shipyard into the surface ship and submarine build resource available to deliver the future fleet.

KOFAC considers that the whole of the future warship fleet could be built using two fully utilized shipyards including the facilities at Barrow and a workforce of around 8,000 people. Barrow should be one of these shipyards.

Barrow - Best in Fleet - Delivering Capability

The Barrow shipyard :

  • Has Built all first of class large warships and submarines since the Second World War.
  • The most current and largest embedded knowledge base in the UK for design, build, test and commissioning of large warships, submarines and ‘warlike’ ships.
  • A Centre of Excellence for nuclear powered submarine building.
  • Unique surface ship build facilities in the superberth, new assembly shop and The Deveonshire Dock Hall, the  largest covered shipbuilding hall in Europe. 
  • Consistently been used to deliver large, sophisticated warships to the Royal Navy. The most recent being the large amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and Bulwark which the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West described as: “ the most fantastic ship…in terms of value for money we have got an amazing piece of kit there. It is a super lot of kit and I am delighted we have got it(Source: First Sea Lord,  House of Commons Defence Committee, 24th March 2004).

Really SMART procurement means adopting, funding and adhering to a regular drumbeat of orders.

The successful delivery of one of the largest ever planned warship building programmes ever seen in Britain, without having to resort to less capable sources located in competitor nations of Europe is the reward for this approach to procurement.

Barrow has also demonstrated its capability to implement effective international collaboration, as the recent example with Electric Boat on the Astute programme has shown.

The  BAESYSTEMS Key Supplier Initiative is a further example of implementing effective supply chain improvements designed to make warships more affordable.

By using Barrow shipyard MoD will benefit from the learning curves already experienced and knowledge-bank accumulated in designing and building the largest and most sophisticated naval ships over recent decades – HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and the Astute class submarine.

Barrow represents a resource probably no other British or European shipyard can offer, a resource which has been described as having delivered to the Royal Navy capability in amphibious capability: “simply light years ahead of anything we have (had), which incorporates the most sophisticated force command system and operations room ..afloat…it will give us the operational edge and permits our forces to reap significant operational benefits”. (Source: Improved Capabilities on HMS Albion, MOD press release, 2001).

Best in Fleet - A critical mass of skills

Skills retention and development availability of suitably qualified and experienced people are crucial for delivery of the naval shipbuilding programmes.

Worldwide there is considerable evidence available to show that as it takes up to 9 years to fully train a skilled shipyard worker(*) to make a real contribution to sophisticated warship production, it far better to keep skills together by either bringing forward design work and shipbuild orders in an imaginative way than to let people leave the industry, perhaps never to return(**). This view was endorsed recently in November 2006 at hearings of the Defence Select Committee in the UK House of Commons of 7 and 21 November 2006

Barrow has probably one of the youngest, experienced, shipyard workforce in the UK (Source: SEMTA) – with potential to provide more working years than anywhere else in the UK – it includes an outstanding range of skills, including:

  • Up to 60% of the UK’s naval architect design skills base.
  • All the skills needed to construct and commission large warships and submarines

As such it is a critically important part of the UK defence industrial base.

It is now internationally recognised that the British Government and UK MoD cannot afford to let a repeat of what happened during the 1990’s occur . Then it let too many experienced naval ship design and build people leave the shipbuilding industry, due to the gap between Vanguard and Astute, and as a consequence lost knowledge, caused delay, increased project risk and generated cost overruns by having to “make do” with an inexperienced less skilled workforce at critical build stages of some warship programmes. Ministers on 21 November 2006 confirmed this view at the Defence Select Committee hearings.

Naval shipbuilding and design skills can only be retained by ensuring a stable workload.

This has long been recognised in USA. Given UK ’s special relationship with USA, and increasing importance of coalition and joint forces operations, it would make sense for UK MoD to adopt a policy which reflects American policy.

Ministers as early as 2004 began to recognise that the Government holds the future of the shipyards in their hands when they stated, "If there were no MoD spending in british shipyards there would be no shipbuilding industry" Rt Hon Adam Ingram 4 November 2004 House of Commons

This view is echoed in USA where it was concluded that “It may be important to also pay the costs associated with maintaining critical design and production skills in a time of change, even if no production contracts are anticipated, than to have to reacquire those same skills should a need arise…this might mean providing direct or indirect subsidies to…specialized firms to ensure important skills do not disappear”, could involve advanced procurement of ships or multi year purchases to preserve critical industrial capabilities. (Source: Center for Strategic and Industrial Studies 1998 report, “Defense Restructuring and the Future of the U.S. Defense Industrial Base”.)

It is in the national interest, and the most cost effective use of public funds to maintain both the physical capacity and capability at Barrow shipyard. It also means advancing design work so that the skilled designers and engineers based in the Barrow-in-Furness shipyards are kept together.

(**) Jerry st Pe, Chief Operating Officer, Northrop Grumman, 4th April 2001: Testimony to US senate sub committee “one lesson we have all learned in the past is that once highly skilled technicians, such as combat systems test engineers, leave our workforce, they do not come back - commercial products just do not require many of the highly technical skills required in building surface combatants””


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"Barrow remains an untapped source of production capability and could... play a significant role in the coming shipbuilding programme."

Source: Rand, page 153 The UK's Naval Shipbuilding Industrial Base (2005), Report to UK MoD

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