Britain eyes deal to build warships for Ukraine

President of Ukraine's visit to the UK ramps up hopes of a boost to British shipbuilding

A Barzan-class warship 
A Barzan-class warship of the type thought to be under consideration by Ukraine 

Britain is seeking arms sales to Ukraine that could result in warships for the former Soviet state’s navy being built in the UK.

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the Royal Navy’s Portsmouth base on Wednesday and is understood to be meeting British defence companies including BAE Systems to discuss how they can work together to bolster his country’s military.

On Tuesday Mr Zelenskiy told Ukrainian television he had secured £1.25bn from Britain. 

However, UKEF - the government body that underwrites export sales by British companies - said the amount was actually Britain doubling the amount it was willing to offer in support for exports. 

It was reported in Ukraine media last month that a deal could see the country’s navy buy eight fast attack ships, with the first few being built in Britain before work is relocated to Ukraine.

UK defence industry sources said one design being considered is Barzan-class missile boats, a type of vessel last built in Southampton by Vosper-Thornycroft for Qatar in the 1990s. 

Vosper-Thornycroft was later absorbed into BAE, which now owns the design, though it is understood it would need to be updated to meet modern requirements.  

Building the first few vessels in the UK would be a boost for Britain’s struggling shipyards, which have little in the way of foreign contracts ahead of them.  

Peter Sandeman, of lobby group Save the Royal Navy, said: “The Barzan would need to be modernised, and you could see that work go to a British company.

“The actual construction of ships is not the high value work. It’s the integration of the weapons and systems, which is complex and valuable and that might need to be done in the UK.” 

Britain and the Ukraine are also understood to have signed a “memorandum of intent” setting out how the two nations can co-operate on strengthening their military ties.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace visited the country in August and announced Britain would lead a multinational naval training scheme for the Ukrainian navy, which lost much of its capability when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

The Department for International Trade is expected to detail later on Wednesday how the £1.25bn of support will be structured.

The Ministry of Defence and Department for International Trade did not respond to a request for comment.