The U.K. Royal Navy intends to purchase up to six new-build multirole support ships (MRSSs) as well as provide its future Type 26 and Type 31 frigates with ship-to-shore land-attack capabilities, per an announcement by Defense Secretary Grant Shapps on May 14.

The new MRSSs are intended for the Royal Marines and will provide littoral strike capability, including maritime special operations. These vessels will serve as versatile platforms designed to carry aircraft, vehicles, insertion craft and unmanned systems while also operating in a hospital-ship capacity. Once constructed and commissioned these ships will replace the Royal Navy’s current amphibious support ship fleet in the early 2030s. Those ships consist of three Bay-class landing ship docks (LSDs) – Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s (RFA) Lyme Bay, Mounts Bay and Cardigan Bay – as well as amphibious flagships HMS Albion, HMS Bulwark and littoral strike ship RFA Argus.

Currently the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) is in the concept phase of the MRSS program.

Alongside this acquisition will be the equipping of incoming classes of frigates with land-strike capabilities. The need for this capability has been demonstrated by the military operations in the Black Sea (Russian naavl warships participating in the invasion of Ukraine) and in the Red Sea (the U.S.-led Operation Prosperity Guardian counter-terrorism effort against Houthi forces).

In total, the Royal Navy is seeking to acquire 28 new ships to bolster its current fleet and reverse decades of shrinking vessel numbers. The fleet is down to 19 warships, but under the outlines of the Defence Command Paper (released in 2021 and refreshed in 2023) the number will dwindle to 17 as the Royal Navy will lose two of its older Type 23 warships early. That total will not be reversed until the arrival of newer classes of ships, starting with the lead Type 26 frigate HMS Glasgow, due in 2027.

Shapps has been quoted as pledging that the new ships will all be built in the U.K. under a drumbeat of work orders that will usher in a “new golden age” of British shipbuilding. Much of this, however, will require follow-through by whichever party or parties leads Britain after the coming general election, which is due to be held no later than January 2025.

Previous declarations made by the former government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson – such as the theretofore unheard-of Type 32 frigate announced by Johnson on November 19, 2020, as part of his Defence Investment Pledge to top-up overall defense spending with an additional £16.5 billion over four years – will require ring-fenced funding and unwavering political commitment in order to avoid the chopping block.

Also of importance will be support for domestic expansion of shipbuilding capacity, which Shapps has said will come from establishment of a shipbuilding academy in Scotland that will utilize the Type 23 Duke-class frigate HMS Argyll – set to be decommissioned this year – as a training vessel.