UK plans to retire three naval vessels without proper replacements

The UK plans to decommission two naval vessels from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and one ocean survey vessel, but without proper replacements, the report published by the UK’s House of Commons Defence Committee reveals.

As disclosed, the vessels in question are RFA Fort Victoria, RFA Argus, and HMS Scott.

RFA Fort Victoria is an auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) ship, offering the capability of both stores ship and fleet tanker. It was originally designed to support frigates on anti-submarine warfare patrols.

The vessel is fitted with four central replenishment rigs, so it can replenish two warships simultaneously with fuel and stores. What’s more, the unit has another refueling rig at its rear. It also has a large flight deck, hangar and maintenance facilities for helicopters.

RFA Fourth Victoria; Photo by Royal Navy

On the other hand, RFA Argus is a primary casualty receiving ship of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. With a 100-bed medical complex on board, the 175-meter long ship acts as a floating medical facility during times of crisis or war. It features an emergency department, resuscitation and surgical facilities, and a radiology suite complete with a CT scanner. The navy plans to decommission the vessel in 2024.  

RFA Argus; Photo by: Royal Navy

The third ship the navy plans to retire is the largest survey vessel in Western Europe, and the fifth largest vessel in the Royal Navy, HMS Scott. Built as an ocean survey vessel, HMS Scott was specially designed to carry the modern high-resolution multibeam sonar system (HRMBSS). This swathe echo sounder is capable of collecting depth information over a strip of the sea bed several kilometers wide. Named for the famous Arctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott, the unit also has an auxiliary role as a mine countermeasures vessel.

HMS Scott; Photo by: Royal Navy

HMS Scott, built to replace the navy’s survey ship HMS Hecla, is currently the only vessel of its class. It was commissioned on 20 June 1997, while the planned out-of-service date is 2022.

Once these vessels are retired, the navy will likely lose its current ability to provide medical care, replenish vessels at sea, and monitor the sea bed, the report emphasized. This leads to the navy’s fleet becoming increasingly reliant on allies for many capabilities, with a limited scope to act independently. To solve these problems, the UK’s government needs to do more at the political level to ensure this support will be provided when needed, according to the report.

One of the challenges that the report also pointed out is the number of escort vessels and submarines in the navy’s fleet. The officials called for the UK government to double the escort fleet and increase the size of the attack submarine fleet.

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“The next ten years will prove a test for our naval fleet. The UK is faced with an increasingly hostile and unpredictable international environment but the Government is still reducing funding, retiring capability, and asking the Navy to rely on increasingly elderly vessels for the next five years until new ships come in… “Of all the Services, the Government is most ambitious for the Navy. However, if the Government does not deliver the ships and capabilities the Navy needs, that ambition will be holed below the waterline,” Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP, concluded.

Photo: Illustration; HMS Scott, photo by: Royal Navy