UK to beef up its naval fleet with £38.1 billion investment plan

UK Ministry of Defence has published a new update of the “Defence Equipment Plan” which includes a significant increase of budget spending to boost its future naval fleet.

The Ministry of Defence (the Department) has published its Equipment Plan each year since 2013, setting out its intended investment in equipment and support projects for the next ten years. As part of its global defence policy, the UK has also focused on establishing a balanced equipment program.

Over the next ten-year period, the government plans to invest £238 billion in equipment procurement and support, which represents an increase of £48 billion from last year’s report. 

As for the navy’s plans, the investment will go up to £38.1 billion, which represents a significant increase compared to £30.6 billion at the end of the previous planning period.

Navy’s new investment is focused on improving the sustainability, lethality and availability of the
fleet and delivering a more modern, high-tech and automated navy.

The lethality of the surface fleet will be increased by upgrading the air defence capability, Sea Viper, on Type 45 destroyers.

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Defence company MBDA UK has been awarded an 11-year contract to integrate the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM) program, often referred to as Sea Ceptor, into the Type 45 destroyers’ Sea Viper weapon systems. The first Type 45 destroyer is expected to have been overhauled by summer 2026.

The navy is also investing in a new lightweight torpedo for the ships and aircraft to replace the current Stingray weapon. The plan includes the purchase of a highly capable ship-to-ship missile to replace the current Harpoon missile system which will go out of service in 2023.

Together with France, the UK is working on the future cruise/anti-ship weapon (FC/ASW) program which aims to replace Storm Shadow/ SCALP air launched cruise missile in operational service in the UK and France as well as Exocet anti-ship missile in France and Harpoon anti-ship missile in the UK.

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Additional investment has allowed the Merlin helicopters to be extended in service from 2029 until 2040, the officials noted.

The “we’re going to need a bigger navy” plan

The most significant investment in the navy comes in the form of the shipbuilding pipeline. A
strategic and long-term investment will increase the capability and size of the Royal Navy’s
surface fleet and allow the development of new classes of vessels.

Last October, UK’s Defence Committee published the report “We’re going to need a bigger Navy”. The report finds that in 2027 and 2028 the navy plans to introduce three new classes of vessels (Type 26 frigates, Type 31 frigates and Fleet Solid Support ships) simultaneously. These projects must all be delivered on schedule in order to exit the period of risk that budgetary restrictions have placed the navy in.

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Other changes to planned spending this year include increases in the cost of the existing program, such as reprofiling of Type 26 and Type 23 refits. The latter reflects adjustments in the building program as a consequence of COVID-19 related delays.

However, the navy expects that the future frigate availability will be improved over the next period, by extending the life of three refitted ships, with two of the oldest Type 23 Frigates being taken out of
service.

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Other significant changes included an increase in Queen Elizabeth Carrier support costs as a result of improved knowledge of the work required to support and maintain these platforms, the officials emphasized.

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The construction of a new National Flagship, announced by the Prime Minister on 30 May 2021, will be also delivered by Defence, but was not included in the previous costings.

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Photo: Royal Navy