The UK Government has officially launched the national flagship project and is now seeking UK designers and shipbuilders to construct the vessel.
The competition inviting bids was launched on July 28 at an industry event at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. It comes after the project was first announced in May 2021.
Setting out the timetable of the project, defence secretary Ben Wallace revealed that the tender will run until the end of October, with winners announced in December 2021.
Construction, which Wallace said will take place at a British yard, will begin “as early as next year” with the “ship in the water by 2024 or 2025”.
Wallace was transparent about the challenges of the project, describing it as an “ambitious timescale” for an “ambitious project”.
“[This is] the chance to break the mould and break some records and get things done in the national interest,” he said. “I’m a great believer in the power of competition to deliver results and I’m also confident that in the UK, we have the talent to succeed in that competition”.
The project, which was first announced with a £200m price tag, will now cost up to £250m, which Wallace described as a “firm price”.
He emphasised however that if the project is “done right” it will “pay for itself over and over again”. This was echoed by prime minister Boris Johnson in a video message, in which he declared the project at the “beginning of a journey that will cover its costs over and over”.
Wallace also revealed that a national flagship taskforce housed in the Ministry of Defence will oversee the programme and “make sure the vessel comes in on time and on budget”.
The project and design principles and an outline of the task force’s requirements have also been set out. The flagship must be the “greenest ship of its kind,” Wallace said, being “environmentally and ecologically advanced and maximising the use of sustainable fuels and materials.”
The intended use of the vessel was also explained, with Wallace describing the flagship as a “floating embassy to promote the UK’s diplomatic and trading interests in coastal capitals around the world.”
Johnson agreed, describing it as a “new aquatic forum, a conference centre, a marketing suite that the world’s top investors will fall over themselves to visit.”
But more importantly, Wallace said, is that the project becomes “the vanguard of the 21st-century shipping technology – British made, British-led design and built by British hands.”
Describing the flagship “as inspiring as Nelson”, Wallace said he hoped the project would reignite the UK’s shipbuilding industry for years to come.
“I want our shipbuilders to be, not just more productive, but to prove themselves more competitive, innovative, ambitious and enterprising,” Wallace said.
“[The flagship will be] the source of a legacy for regional and national regeneration, creating more apprenticeships and opening up more opportunities for a new generation to develop highly-skilled, exciting, and varied careers in shipbuilding. As such our new national flagship will be the jewel in the crown of our upcoming national shipbuilding strategy,” he added.