By Larisa Brown, Defence Correspondent
Daily Mail – 21 November 2016
The Royal Navy has been shrunk to a “dangerous and historic low” and now does not have enough ships to combat global threats, MPs warn today. The naval force must be increased if the country is to continue to protect its shores and the Falkland Islands, while contributing to Nato and other commitments, they caution.
The current fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers – of which only 17 are usable – is “woefully low” and to cut it any further would be “completely unacceptable”, a report concludes. And it is an “inexcusable failing” that Britain's most modern ship – the Type 45 destroyer – cannot operate off the coasts of hot countries for long periods without its engine cutting out, they say.
Compared to 35 ships in 1997, the Fleet is
“way below the critical mass required for the many tasks which could confront it”,
the review by the Commons Defence Committee found. The cross-party MPs said:
“As an island nation, the importance of the Royal Navy to UK defence must not be underestimated. The current number of frigates, destroyers and personnel inadequately reflects the potential threats and vulnerabilities facing the UK and its interests overseas.”
The dire assessment comes weeks after it emerged the Ministry of Defence has to refit the engines of all six Type 45 destroyers because they cannot cope with warm seas. The new report noted:
“Blame for those failures can be attributed to both the MoD and its contractors, but the taxpayer will have to foot the bill.”
MPs said this was a “startling error” given that the Royal Navy had undertaken significant operations in the warm seas of the Gulf for decades. The report said:
“The UK's enduring presence in the Gulf should have made it a key requirement for the engines. The fact that it was not was an inexcusable failing.”
In October, a Russian fleet including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, sailed through the North Sea and English Channel en route to the Middle East. The MPs warned that although the MoD said the ships were "man-marked” all the way, it was a
“stark reminder why the UK needs enough surface ships to present a credible response”.
The Royal Navy has to protect British waters, and also has commitments in the North and South Atlantic, the Falkland Islands, the Gulf and contributions to the four Standing Nato Naval Task Groups, the report noted.
“We are of the opinion that the Royal Navy requires an increase in the number of frigates, destroyers and personnel if these standing commitments are to remain sustainable”,
Tory MP Julian Lewis, the Committee chairman, said the surface fleet was at a “pathetic low”.
“For decades, the numbers of Navy escort vessels have been severely in decline. The Fleet is now way below the critical mass required for the many tasks which could confront it, if the international scene continues to deteriorate.”
He said the surface Fleet faced a
“prolonged period of uncertainty, as the frigate class is replaced in its entirety and all our destroyers undergo urgent, major remedial work on their unreliable engines”.
If the Government fails to deliver the programme on time, the UK will
“lack the maritime strength to deal with the threats we face right now, let alone in the future”.
Under current plans, the 13 Type 23 frigates will be replaced with eight new Type 26 Global Combat Ships and at least five new General Purpose frigates. But MPs said they were concerned at an apparent degree of complacency and lack of urgency' when it came to building the Type 26.