UK’s “woefully low” escort fleet could shrink even further, report says

A UK Defence Committee Report has said that the Ministry of Defence will have to devise a sound plan for replacing its 13 ageing frigates while maintaining the already low number of operational vessels in the fleet.

The report calls for the National Shipbuilding Strategy, due to be published this week, to provide the necessary detail on how and when the Royal Navy’s new frigates will be delivered.

Without that information, the Strategy can be little more than a collection of aspirations, the report says.

The Defence Committee further called for the upcoming Strategy to set out a detailed timeline for the delivery of the Type 26 global combat ships and the Type 31 general purpose frigates. It suggests a comprehensive assessment of the potential to build a new complex warship every two years should be made.

The Royal Navy’s existing Type 23 frigates will be replaced by eight Type 26 and at least five general purpose frigates. The first Type 23, HMS Argyll, is due out of service in 2023, followed by the other twelve at annual intervals until HMS St Albans is withdrawn in 2035.

The Type 26 programme has already experienced delays and if further occur, the current total of 13 frigates—already an historic low—will fall even further, the report noted.

The Defence Committee has also asked about how the construction timetable for the general purpose frigate will align with that of the Type 26. It added that it was vital to know which European examples, whether it be the French Aquitaine-class, or the Danish Absalon-class frigates, the MoD has considered as being suitable templates for the GPFF.

The fact that the MoD is being forced to refit the engines of all six Type 45 destroyers following a series of engine failures which resulted from major shortcomings in specification, design and testing for which blame can be attributed both to the MoD and its contractors, the report said adding that the taxpayer will have to foot the bill for the work.

Dr Julian Lewis, Defence Committee chairman, said: “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 programme 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.”