Royal Navy warship numbers: falling off a cliff

Sep 1, 2011   //   by NavyLookout   //   Articles, blog, Featured  //  12 Comments

Royal Navy major warship numbers 1990-2012

Click on the image to see larger version (hosted on Flickr).

As can be easily discerned from this chart, the strength of the Royal Navy has been in decline since 1990. The first big reductions coming in the early 90s as a result of the post-cold war so-called ’peace dividend’. However David Cameron’s coalition government has already ‘achieved’ the steepest fall in numbers in a very short time. It is the work-horse frigates  and attack submarines, (arguably now the most important naval assets) that have seen the biggest reductions.

Obviously it’s not just about numbers and this chart doesn’t show how capable the vessels or manpower strength, but it does give a dramatic overall illustration of what’s happened. Don’t be fooled by the nonsense often spouted by MoD spin doctors that imply that improvements in capability of individual ships can compensate for a reduction in numbers. The huge and obvious flaw in this argument is that any potential enemy has also improved their technology and capability over time. The bottom line is that the RN needs hulls in the water and for example 6 “technically advanced” Type 45 destroyers cannot do as much as 12 “obsolete” Type 42 destroyers due to simple physics – a vessel cannot be in two places at once!

What exactly is the cost to the nation every time a frigate or destroyer is axed?

Jul 1, 2011   //   by NavyLookout   //   Articles  //  8 Comments

HMS Argyll, Type 23 Frigates

13 over-worked Type 23s make up the RN’s entire frigate force

The 2010 ‘slash & burn’ Strategic Defence Review, has left the RN with just 19 escorts. The fleet is really now below the ‘critical mass’ needed for a Navy to been seen as a creditable force. A ‘fleet in being’ acts as a deterrent to potential aggressors who know the RN can react to threats at sea. The hatchet-job that this government is doing to the Navy undermines that deterrent and may even lead us into costly conflict that would have never happened if we had kept our forces strong. (eg. Falklands War) History tells us we need to ‘expect the unexpected’ (eg. Libya conflict) and that an accountancy-led defence policy is a recipe for disaster. The bean counters will tell you it costs approximately £25 millon per year to run a frigate or destroyer, but like all defence assets, the benefits can’t be quantified in monetary terms. What we can be certain of, is that the UK is totally dependent on the sea for imports and every reduction in the fleet weakens our ability to protect the sea lanes. For example even a minor disruption to seaborne oil supplies could have a huge effect on our economy, potentially costing £billions. The Royal Navy has been force-fed cuts, cuts and more cuts since 1990 and it’s time that politicians had the courage to look elsewhere for savings. Cutting the fleet  leaves us dangerously exposed, our politicians want the UK to be aggressively engaged in world politics, but now lack the forces to back up their ‘good intentions’. Political egos are writing cheques that our armed forces can’t cash.

“Speak softly but carry a big stick”, Theodore Roosevelt

Royal Navy surface escorts are currently working flat out across the globe, a thin grey line that simply can’t give up anymore ships. Although there are a few commentators on the ‘extreme fringe’ who argue that surface escorts have had their day and are too expensive and vulnerable, this is nonsense and every naval commander from Nelson to the present day has wished he had more frigates to do the multitude of tasks that they are capable of. It is the frigates and destroyers that are the busiest of all ships in the navy and 19 is nowhere near enough. In the 1980s the Tory government was committed to having 50 frigates and destroyers. The cold war is over but the world is actually more unstable and the need for naval forces more pressing than ever. (Interestingly Japan, an island nation similar to the UK, but with far less global ambition maintains a fleet of around 50). Here are some of the many tasks of undertaken by surface escorts:

Main roles

  • Location and destruction of enemy submarines, ships, aircraft and missiles
  • Protection of merchant ships
  • Protection of aircraft carriers and other ships in naval task force (from attack by submarines, ships, aircraft and missiles) We are building 2 large aircraft carriers and they will need surface escorts to protect them!
  • Naval gunfire support – firepower support of troops ashore or attacking targets on an enemy coastline

Secondary Roles

  • Intelligence gathering, surveillance of airspace and electronic transmissions and general reconnaissance
  • Enforcement of blockades – ie. cutting off seaborne supplies to an enemy
  • Anti-terrorism and anti-piracy activities
  • Landing of special forces or small numbers of men
  • Evacuations of civilians in emergencies

Other Tasks

  • Training – regular exercising with other ships, submarines and aircraft to keep all-round naval fighting skills at peak efficiency
  • Representing UK abroad – hosting diplomatic and trade missions
  • Search and Rescue
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