A lifeline for a sinking industry
A lifeline for a sinking industry AFP / PAUL FAITH

Britain on Thursday awarded a £1.3-billion ($1.5-billion, 1.4 billion-euro) contract for its new fleet of warships to a UK firm that will keep jobs at historic but struggling yards.

The Babcock International consortium said it will begin manufacturing the five Type 31 general-purpose frigates in 2021 and deliver them in 2027.

The ships will be assembled in Scotland and involve supply chains throughout the UK.

"The UK is an outward-looking island nation and we need a shipbuilding industry and Royal Navy that reflect the importance of the seas to our security and prosperity," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

"I look forward to the restoration of British influence and excellence across the world's oceans."

The contract delivers a potential boost to the under-threat Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast -- builder of the Titanic -- which entered into administration in August.

The Babcock consortium also includes Ferguson Marine Engineering -- a Glasgow shipyard that was effectively nationalised by the Scottish government to save it from collapse.

"Arrowhead 140 will offer the Royal Navy a new class of ship with a proven ability to deliver a range of peacekeeping, humanitarian and war-fighting capabilities whilst offering communities and supply chains throughout the UK a wide range of economic and employment opportunities," Babcock chief executive Archie Bethel said.

The UK shipbuilding industry has been in decline for decades due to growing competition from Asian rivals in places such as South Korea.

Britain's withdrawal from the European Union has further fuelled employment concerns.

Type 31 frigates are a smaller version of the Type 26 warships used by the navy today.

Each one is expected to cost around £250 million.