The new vessel, to be operated by the British Antarctic Survey, will replace the UK’s two current polar exploration ships, which are nearing the end of their lives.
Although primarily for research, the government said the ship would also allow Britain to “maintain our presence” around the British territories in the South Atlantic.
Tensions have been mounting in the Falklands over recent years. Earlier this month Argentina accused the UK of provocation over plans to hold military exercises in the Islands.
China is also eyeing up Antarctica, which is rich in oil, coal and mineral deposits, for resource exploration, something that would be stiffly resisted by the West.
The ship will have on-board laboratories and carry technology including robotic submarines and “underwater gliders” to gather data on marine biology and ocean conditions.