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


  • […] of the declining frigate fleet. Their contribution has been immense, overall they have more than repaid the money invested in building and maintaining […]

  • […] 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 […]

  • I fail to understand why others can’t see the ‘cycle’ of Government that bedevils our lives. The LEFT has elected itself the denizen of social justice and has deemed that wealth should be redistributed to ‘balance the scales’. The LEFT is very good at spending other peoples’ money in order to woo society’s less fortunate and generally wins a couple of terms in power before the wheels start falling off as the credit card is maxed to the hilt. The RIGHT then takes power and, after the country’s ATM flashes an ‘insufficient funds’ message across the screen, is forced to adopt austerity measures in order to recoup the LEFT’S overspending. The moment this becomes a real problem is when those measures are aimed at Defence, Health or Education. Hands off the essentials Mr Cameron, unless the following is no longer applicable…”The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”.

  • It beggars belief that today,s Brit,s sit by and accept the destruction of their jobs,their Country,their institutions by a minority Government hell bent on tying Britain to Europe in defiance of the majority people,s wishes.I would urge you to fight with every means at your disposal as you signed on to do,and cast that rubbish Cameron and Co out.Australia is building a bigger ,more modern Navy with New ships,it needs skilled People now and we are not going to “join Europe”,worth a thought

  • As the final cost of the new carrier(s) has now apparently ballooned to £9-10 billion, more destroyers and frigates will be decommissioned without replacement. Don’t expect any more than 8 Type 26s to replace an already depleted force of 13 frigates, reducing the future escort force to just 14 ships (possibly only 12). There will be further cuts to amphibious forces (another Bay Class to be sold, Ocean to be scrapped without replacement, maybe more). On top of this, replacements for ageing RFAs and, in the longer term, MCM/patrol/hydrographic vessels will be delayed and reduced in number.
    The pay-off for this will be one carrier available for ~60% of the time and a handful of RAF F-35s, if the resources can actually be found to put the the thing to sea. Perhaps the name “HMS Harbour Queen” and a future as a floating amusement park might be on the cards?

  • Writing as an American with an avid interest in the Royal Navy, I am grateful to see there are still those in the mother country who still see the value of naval power. The Royal Navy is (or I may woefully say was) one of the most competent, credible, and potent forces in the world. I was saddened when HMS Ark Royal was sent to the scrapheap. Because of the shortsightedness of politicians your nation has lost what is truly its first line of defense. Was the savings from the decommissioning of Carrier Strike better spent on international aid given to such staunch allies as Pakistan? Forgive the note of sarcasm. As an island nation, the UK needs a powerful and multi mission capable Navy, with a healthy number of ships and aircraft. I wish nothing but the best to you my honored brothers in arms.

  • I doubt that we have long left as an independant sovereign country since this Government has basically disarmed our country.

    Utterly reckless and totally ignorant of history and the lessons it teaches.

  • I greatly desire to provide pithy and insightful comment, however, the monumental lack of understanding – substitute for stupidity – the previous and present governments have shown relating to naval projection of power and presence is astounding.
    The PM clearly does not realise that the UK will be feeding from the scraps of international defence tables. UK no longer has the might to back the position in the world the PM so desires.
    A nuclear arsenal does not place you at the head of the table, ask India, Iran and possibly Syria. Denying an island state the ability to defend its assets, people and even dependent territories is tantamount to foolhardiness to an outstanding degree.
    Should piracy off the east coast of Africa seize oil/LNG tankers bound for the UK, the Navy no longer has the resources to effectively combat the situation. Having a frigate ‘contribute’ to anti-piracy missions as it passes through the region is hardly what one would consider strategic thinking. Yet the cost of providing ‘air power’ over Libya has most decidedly cost the MoD a great deal more than if a carrier or landing platform had been situated in the theatre.
    When nations which are in dire financial difficulties can continue to maintain their navies at larger numbers than the UK, it is definitely time to change the lyrics… “Rue Britannia”.

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