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Royal Navy's newest ship formally named in Glasgow yard

HMS Forth, like the bridge

HMS Forth being lowered into the Clyde. Pic: BAE Systems
HMS Forth being lowered into the Clyde last year. Crown copyright

The Royal Navy’s newest warship, offshore patrol vessel HMS Forth, has been formally named in a ceremony held in Scotland.

The 90-metre craft was christened by Rachel Johnstone-Burt, who broke the traditional bottle of alcohol across Forth's bows – in this case, a bottle of whisky to reflect the ship's Scotstoun, Glasgow origins.

She is due to enter service with the RN in 2018, and will spend the time between now and then on final fit-out and sea trials.

Forth, lead ship of the Batch 2 River-class OPV flotilla, mounts a 30mm cannon. Unlike the original Batch 1 Rivers she also has a flight deck over the stern capable of accepting a Merlin helicopter, though she has no hangar. Her top speed is "around 24 knots" according to the Navy.

"The naming is a significant milestone in the life of HMS Forth and in the wider Offshore Patrol Vessel programme, which is well on track to deliver all five of the new ships by the end of 2019," said Vice Admiral Simon Lister, chief of defence materiel (fleet).

The four RN OPVs are used to patrol British territorial waters, typically on fisheries protection duties. One OPV is permanently stationed in the Falkland Islands, and a couple of years ago one was sent on Atlantic Patrol Task (North), which involves cruising round the Caribbean looking for drug smugglers and generally flying the flag in the Commonwealth states near that part of the world. They are not warfighting ships in the sense of frigates or destroyers: you won't see a River-class squaring up to, say, a Russian or Iranian vessel unless something has gone seriously wrong.

The Batch 2 Rivers are the result of the infamous Terms of Business Agreement (ToBA) between the Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems, which owns large chunks of Scotland's warship building yards. At its simplest, the ToBA ensures hundreds of millions of pounds of public money is paid to BAE Systems not to close the yards, dispersing vital skilled tradesmen, while the MoD dithers over the planned Type 26 frigate. The Type 26 has been delayed and delayed again over the last few years while bean counters, civil servants and naval officers argue over the ship's specifications and costs.

In order to get some kind of return on this "investment" the MoD commissioned the Batch 2 River-class OPVs. They are nominally more capable than the Batch 1s thanks to their flight deck, though the lack of a hangar to protect the aircraft from the elements during maintenance may limit its usefulness. ®

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