By Ben Farmer
Telegraph Online – 21 November 2016
The Royal Navy has a “woefully low” number of warships that risks leaving Britain vulnerable to future threats, MPs warn today. The number of frigates and destroyers is “way below” what is needed and could fall further to “completely unacceptable” levels unless the Ministry of Defence quickly presses on with its ship building programme.
The Commons Defence Committee says it has “serious concerns” about the funding and timetable of plans to modernise the ageing fleet.
The Navy's 13 Type 23 frigates are due to begin retiring at the rate of one a year from 2023, but the MoD has yet to agree a deal to replace them with the new Type 26 and Type 31 designs. In total the Royal Navy has 13 frigates and six destroyers, down from a combined fleet of 33 in 2000.
MPs also attacked the MoD for the “extraordinary mistakes” in the design of Type 45 destroyers after it emerged they had faulty engines and will need costly refits. The MPs' 48-page report, called Restoring the Fleet, said it was an “inexcusable failing” that the engines had not been designed to operate in hot regions such as the Gulf.
Dr Julian Lewis, chairman, said:
“For decades, the numbers of Royal 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.
“What remains of our surface Fleet now faces 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.”
Dropping below the current 19 ships even for a short time would be “completely unacceptable” and leave the UK lacking the maritime strength to deal with the threats it faces from areas like Russia, the committee said.
“As an island nation, the importance of the Royal Navy to UK defence must not be underestimated,”
the committee said.
“Our starting point in this report is our conviction that the current number of frigates, destroyers and personnel inadequately reflects the potential threats and vulnerabilities facing the UK and its interests overseas.”
Frigates are due to leave service at the rate of one a year between 2023 and 2035 but MPs said the Government has not set out the necessary detail on how and when the Type 26 and lighter Type 31 replacements will be delivered.
MPs said the delays seemed to be caused by a lack of money. Their report comes only days after it was disclosed warships will be left without anti-ship missiles and be forced to rely on naval guns because of cost-cutting. The Navy's Harpoon missiles will retire from the fleet's frigates and destroyers in 2018 without a replacement, while there will also be a two year gap without helicopter-launched anti-shipping missiles.
An MoD spokesman said:
“We are investing in a growing Royal Navy by building two aircraft carriers, the new Type 26 Global Combat Ship, Dreadnought and Astute class submarines, and offshore patrols vessels. We are also developing new class of Lighter General Purpose Frigate so that by the 2030s we can grow the size of the fleet. This major programme of investment will ensure that the Royal Navy remains one of the world's most modern and powerful navies with a genuine global reach.”