Construction of the second new River-class Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) began on Monday by BAE Systems. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was present at the event and symbolically made the first cut of steel using a plasma-cutter.
The new vessel, HMS Medway, is part of a three unit order of patrol boats intended to supplant the current River-class OPVs already in service. The three vessels have been purchased at a fixed price from BAE Systems of £348 million the contract for which was signed in August 2014. Thanks to this fixed price contract it is likely the new ships will survive the latest round of budget cuts but it is quite likely that some of the first batch ships already in service may be sold or put in reserve once the new batch becomes operational in 2017.
The improvements the vessels hold over the older OPVs include greater emphasis on deploying globally on anti-piracy and drug smuggling interception missions. The vessels will be able to accommodate the Royal Navy’s fleet of Merlin helicopters, currently the largest helicopter the service operates although it is most likely the smaller Lynx Wildcat will be the more usual aircraft embarked.