A CONTRACT worth £3.7 billion has been signed to build the first three ships in a new fleet of Navy frigates on the River Clyde.

Work on the Type 26 global combat ships will start at BAE Systems' yards in Glasgow this summer, securing 1,700 jobs in Scotland and a further 1,700 in the supply chain across the UK, the Ministry of Defence said.

A total of eight ships are to be built in the fleet, with the contract for the second batch of five ships to be negotiated in the early 2020s.

Plans to build the new frigates were set out in the UK Government's 2015 strategic defence and security review, although the project has been scaled back from earlier proposals to construct 13 ships.

Fears over the future of the Glasgow yards were raised last year when the Type 26 work was delayed but Defence Secretary Michael Fallon visited the site in November to commit to the programme.

The ships will specialise in anti-submarine warfare and work closely with the Navy's Trident nuclear deterrent and the new aircraft carriers, the first of which - HMS Queen Elizabeth - launched from Rosyth last week for sea trials.

The fleet will eventually replace the current Type 23 frigates and each ship will carry a crew of 118.

Described as "the most advanced anti-submarine warfare ship in its class around the world", the MoD is said to be exploring export opportunities where there is "strong interest from international customers".

Fallon said the Type 26 programme will secure the long-term future of the Scottish shipbuilding industry.

"The Type 26 Frigate is a cutting-edge warship, combining the expertise of the British shipbuilding industry with the excellence of the Royal Navy," the Defence Secretary said.

"We will cut steel on the first ship later this month - a hugely significant milestone that delivers on our commitment to maintain our global naval power.

"These ships will be a force to be reckoned with, there to protect our powerful new carriers and helping keep British interests safe across the world.

"Backed by a rising defence budget and a £178 billion equipment plan, the Type 26 programme will bring vast economic benefits to Scotland and the wider UK."

The MoD said the contract is structured to "motivate both sides to deliver to a successful outcome where both parties share in the pain and gain in the delivery of the programme".

SNP Glasgow South West MP Chris Stephens said the ship building contracts would support skilled jobs on the Clyde.

He said: "I am delighted that sustained pressure by myself, SNP colleagues, and the trade unions has finally paid off.

"The building of these frigates keeps shipbuilding on the Clyde, and will now allow BAE to reach out to the community in Govan as one of the largest employers.

"What is now required is a statement from the Ministry of Defence to commit to procure the Type 31 warships (general purpose frigates), so that shipbuilding on the Clyde will continue for decades.

"The workforce on the Clyde are the best shipbuilders in the world, and it is a pleasure and honour to represent them in Parliament."