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Maintaining the ‘woefully low’ number of Navy vessels

21 November 2016

A Defence Committee Report examines the MoD’s plans to modernise the Royal Navy’s escort fleet, including the introduction of two new classes of frigate.

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The Ministry of Defence’s 13 ageing frigates are due to leave service at the rate of one per year between 2023 and 2035. 

Modernisation plans include the introduction of two new classes of frigate; the Type 26 Global Combat Ship and the Type 31 General Purpose Frigate. There will also be an enforced refit of the Type 45 destroyers’ engines. 

The report considers this work in light of the forthcoming National Shipbuilding Strategy. The report calls for the strategy to provide the necessary details on how and when the Royal Navy’s new frigates will be delivered. The building of new vessels will take a skilled workforce and the lack of clarity regarding funding and timing of this project is spreading uncertainty of the long-term stability of the shipbuilding industry. 

Dr Julian Lewis, Defence Committee 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.

The National Shipbuilding Strategy offers the potential not just to manage this work efficiently and effectively, but also to reverse the trend of ever-decreasing numbers. To do this, however, it has to contain the degree of detail and scheduling for which we have asked.

The Ministry of Defence must deliver this program of modernisation on time. If it fails to do so, the Government will break its categorical pledge to maintain at least 19 frigates and destroyers - already a pathetically low total. The United Kingdom will then lack the maritime strength to deal with the threats we face right now, let alone in the future. We are putting the MoD on notice that it must not let this happen."

The report recommends the following:

• A detailed timeline for the delivery of the Type 26 Global Combat Ships and the Type 31 General Purpose frigates
• An assessment of the potential to build new complex warships every two years
• The number of apprenticeships required in each of the key trades and how it will monitor them to ensure there are no longer-term skills gaps.

For more details and to read the report in full, click here.

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