Work to build eight Type 26 frigates on the Clyde to begin next summer
Work to build eight Type 26 frigates on the Clyde will begin in the summer of next year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon confirmed the timeframe for the first steel to be cut for the "next generation" Royal Navy combat ships, and said the move would secure hundreds of shipbuilding jobs in the west of Scotland for almost 20 years.
The project had been hit by delays, with plans to see construction begin earlier this year put back, and fears raised over shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde.
Speaking as he paid a visit to the Govan area of Glasgow, Sir Michael said: "Backed by Britain's rising defence budget, the Type 26 programme will deliver a new generation of cutting-edge warships for our Royal Navy at best value for taxpayers.
"The UK Government's commitment today will secure hundreds of high-skilled shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde for at least two decades and hundreds more in the supply chain across Britain."
Ministers' plans to build the eight anti-submarine Type 26 global combat ships were set out in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR15).
The project has been scaled back from earlier plans to build 13 new ships.
Steel-cutting will begin in the summer of 2017 subject to final contract negotiations, the MoD said.
Sir Michael has also announced a £100 million contract with MBDA to deliver the Sea Ceptor self-defence missile system for the Type 26 fleet.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: "This is a momentous commitment for Scotland that will strengthen and secure our shipbuilding industry on the Clyde for the future.
"The UK Government is backing jobs on the Clyde and in its shipyards - and this investment is only possible because of the broad shoulders of our strong UK defence budget."
The UK Government is said to have invested a total of £1.9 billion to date in the Type 26 programme, which will replace the Type 23 frigates.
The ships will be able to be deployed around the world, and be capable of undertaking roles from high-intensity warfare to humanitarian assistance.
Details of the Type 31 - lighter frigates - building programme is still to be laid out, Sir Michael told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme.
He is visiting BAE Systems' shipyard in Glasgow on Friday.
The company said manufacturing contracts are already in place for the procurement of major equipment for the first three Type 26 ships.
There are currently 27 companies in the supply chain, working with BAE to deliver the ships, the firm added.
Ian King, chief executive of BAE Systems, said: "Today's announcement secures a strong foundation for the next two decades of shipbuilding at our facilities in Scotland. It is a vote of confidence in our employees' capabilities in the design, construction, integration and commissioning of warships."
The Defence Secretary has also announced MoD plans to sign a contract shortly to start building two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) by 2019, a move he said will protect jobs on the Clyde before the Type 26 programme gets fully under way. Negotiations are expected to be concluded before Christmas.
GMB Union regional secretary Gary Smith told BBC Radio Scotland the announcement was "fantastic news" but accused the UK Government of not fulfilling all its promises.
"We were told that there was going to be a frigate factory built on the Clyde which would allow us to deliver ships more efficiently, perhaps given us the ability to build ships that could have been exported, and Michael Fallon, in truth, was dragged kicking and screaming to this announcement today after we exposed the fact that his Government planned to move some of the work down south.
"But, cutting through it all, fantastic news for the workforce and the economy of greater Glasgow as well."
The Defence Secretary denied the shipbuilding announcement was pre-empting the potential closure of some MoD bases in the north of Scotland.
He said: "We are expanding our investment in defence in Scotland. We are increasing the number of jobs at Faslane, we are sending an additional Typhoon squadron to Lossiemouth and Scotland will have a third of all our fast jets and be the home of all our submarines.
"Now, all of the defence estate we have been looking at to make sure that it is as efficient and cost effective as possible, and that troops in particular are stationed where they are most likely to be able to put down roots and find employment for their partners."
Unite union regional co-ordinating officer Kenny Jordan said: "We're pleased that the Defence Secretary has finally committed to meeting the promises made to the workforce on the Clyde.
"Our members have been living with uncertainty for too long and this is a testament to the lobbying and campaigning that they have done over the last two years.
" This announcement secures the future of shipbuilding on the upper Clyde, supports skilled jobs in manufacturing and will provide opportunities for apprentices and trainees, making sure that we safeguard skills for the next generation."