The UK MoD is to spend £452 million on a new class of naval tankers for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The decision to proceed comes nearly four years after rival bidders were first shortlisted to design and build the ships as part of the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) programme.

It was clear then that none of the vessels was likely to be built in British shipyards, and that has proved to be the case, with South Korean Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering selected as the preferred bidder. Although no UK shipyard submitted a final bid for the build contract, British companies will benefit from £150 million worth of associated contracts from the supply of equipment, ship systems, design and support services.

The as-yet unnamed MARS tankers are due to enter service at yearly intervals from 2016 and will replace the single-hulled tankers Orangeleaf, Black Rover, Gold Rover and Fort Victoria. At 201m by 29m, and displacing 37,000 tonnes fully-loaded, the new ships are marginally bigger than the current Wave class tankers and will become the RFA’s largest ships.

The original MARS programme had planned for 11 naval support vessels of three types comprising Fleet Tankers, Fleet Solid Support ships and Amphibious Combat Support vessels, to be procured incrementally. However, this has since been pared down following progressive budget cuts and the gapping of the Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike capability.

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