Type 31 frigate Venator 110

Type 31 Frigate – unwanted child of austerity or bright hope for a larger fleet?

It is widely accepted that the current total of 19 surface escorts falls far short of what is needed to meet the UK’s strategic aims. With the Type 26 frigate programme now fixed at 8 ships, the only way surface escort numbers are ever going to be increased is to build more of the cheaper Type 31 frigate (General Purpose Frigate – GPFF). The 2015 SDSR committed government to “at least 19” frigates and destroyers but on 4th November 2016, when talking in the context of frigates, the Defence Secretary said “We will have fleet larger than the fleet at the moment”. This is a positive sign and at least suggests intent in government build more than 5 Type 31 frigates.

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Type 26 frigate

Post-SDSR optimism disappearing over the horizon

The November 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review appeared to be a broadly positive result for the RN. Although much of what was promised would not materialise until far into the future, there was an end to the perpetual cycle of cuts and some cautious optimism. 9 months on the feel-good factor is evaporating and there is a rising tide of anger amongst those who understand what is happening to the navy. It is increasingly difficult to have confidence that government promises for the long-term will deliver tangible results when they are failing to deliver in the short-term.

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ships company of HMS Somerset, Malta

SDSR implications for the RN – The manpower situation

It is no secret the RN has been struggling with a serious manpower shortage, particularly with technically qualified personnel. The modest increase of 400 people for the RN announced in the SDSR was greeted with disappointment in some quarters and criticism that shiny new kit was being prioritised ahead of the people needed to operate it. Although the RN would undoubtedly benefit from having more people, the true state of its manpower resources is more complex than may appear.

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