DE&S has awarded a £1.6 billion contract to Team Resolute to manufacture the vessels providing munitions, stores and provisions to the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates.
Creating 1,200 UK shipyard jobs, hundreds of graduate and apprentice opportunities and an expected 800 further jobs across the UK supply chain, the team comprising BMT, Harland & Wolff and Navantia UK, will deliver three Fleet Solid Support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA).
Set to invest around £100 million into UK shipyards, including £77m of infrastructure at Harland & Wolff's Belfast shipyard, the agreement will see a further £21m invested in skills and technology transfer from Navantia UK. This will be the catalyst for Harland & Wolff to create one of the most advanced shipyards in the UK, which will be significant for future export and domestic shipbuilding as well as offshore opportunities.
With around 900 jobs alone to be created in Belfast, the contract is a welcome boost for Northern Ireland.
The FSS fleet will be the first ships built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast since MV Anvil Point was launched in 2002.
Strengthening shipbuilding in England and Northern Ireland, this contract will complement the existing Type 26 and Type 31 frigate programmes DE&S manages in Scotland.
The majority of the blocks and modules for the ships will be constructed at Harland & Wolff's facilities in Belfast and Appledore, following the British-crafted design by Bath-based company BMT.
Build work will also take place at Navantia's shipyard in Cadiz in Spain, with the final assembly for all three 216m-long vessels to be completed in Belfast.
Aiming to deliver 200 further education opportunities on graduate placements and apprentice programmes, the contract will build on the Prime Minister's commitment to grow the economy by supporting thousands more supply chain jobs across the UK. Harland & Wolff's welding academy is set to train 300 new welders during the contract, with 120 highly skilled jobs supported at BMT.
The ships will be the second longest UK military vessels behind the two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. They will have commonality with the RFA's Tide class fleet tankers, also built to a British BMT design.
The majority of the three ships' build will take place in the UK, and the contract will increase industrial productivity, and develop the domestic supply chain and workforce while improving the industry's environmental sustainability.
Production is due to start in 2025, with recapitalisation and yard improvements starting immediately. All three support ships are expected to be operational by 2032.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who visited H&W Belfast after the contract was signed, said: "This contract is a significant boost to the UK's historic shipbuilding industry, balancing shipbuilding across the Union.
"Creating jobs and prosperity, Team Resolute is bringing shipbuilding back to Belfast, developing a modern, resilient and thriving shipbuilding industry that will support naval and commercial shipbuilding into the future."
Vice Admiral Paul Marshall, Director General Ships at DE&S, said: "Now the Fleet Solid Support ships contract with Team Resolute has been signed, it is time to push on with what is a very exciting programme.
"DE&S looks forward to working with our industry partners to deliver what will be the essential, last big piece of the UK's Carrier Strike Group, which will serve for decades to come."
On behalf of Team Resolute, John Wood, Group CEO of Harland & Wolff, said:
"This is the last chance to capture the excellent shipbuilding skills that remain in Belfast and Appledore before they are lost, and pass them on to the next generation of UK shipbuilders.
"UK Government has seized this opportunity and, in doing so, ensured the long-term survival of our shipyards and significantly bolstered sovereign shipbuilding capability."