Work on the new Type 26 frigates started earlier this year

A new fleet of multimillion-pound warships could be built in blocks across several British shipyards and then assembled at a central hub, the Defence Secretary has announced.

The plan represents an overhaul in the UK shipbuilding strategy with the first batch of new Type 31e frigates being built with the export market in mind.

Sir Michael Fallon said the UK shipbuilding industry could potentially serve both the Royal Navy and navies of allies and partners.

As part of this approach, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that the first batch of five Type 31e frigates could be built across different shipyards, before being assembled at a central site.

This modular construction process was used on the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

The cost of the new Type31e frigates would be capped at no more than £250 million each.

Sir Michael Fallon said the first of the new ships are due to be in service by 2023 and shipyards would be encouraged to ensure the vessel was competitive on the global market by working with "global partners".

He said: "This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.

"Backed up by a commitment to spend billions on new ships, our plan will help boost jobs, skills and growth in shipyards and the supply chain across the UK."

Nia Griffith MP, Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary, responding to the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, said:

"I welcome the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy and the commitment to the long-term future of our shipbuilding industry.

"But as well as investing in our naval fleet, we must also invest in the men and women who serve in our Royal Navy.

"Despite warnings over many years, our Navy is facing a crisis in recruitment and retention. The Government is on course to miss its own target for the size of the Navy and we simply do not have enough sailors to crew our naval fleet.

"Experienced personnel are leaving the Navy because of dissatisfaction with pay and conditions. If the Government was serious about properly resourcing our Royal Navy it would lift the public sector pay cap and pay our servicemen and women properly."

The new national shipbuilding strategy accepts the recommendations of an independent report into the industry by Sir John Parker, the chairman of mining giant Anglo American.

In November, Sir John said the Navy fleet was being depleted by a "vicious cycle" of old ships retained beyond their sell-by date, and found that the procurement of naval ships took too long from concept to delivery compared with other industries.

He recommended a "sea change", with "pace and grip" from the Government so that British shipyards could compete to win contracts.

Sir John said: "I am very impressed by the courage that the Secretary of State has shown - and the Government - in adopting my recommendations, which were very extensive, and will change the shape of naval shipbuilding over the country in the future.

"The next challenge is to come up with a world-leading design; one that can satisfy the needs of the Royal Navy and the export market.

"We have the capability to do that, the will is there and it is a tremendous opportunity for UK shipbuilding.

"I see no reason why industry will not rise to that challenge.

"There is an incredible keenness from around the country, from Scotland to Merseyside, to the South West and over to Belfast."

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