9 month deployments and the Navy’s sensible response to the manpower crisis

As we highlighted in a recent article (which received the most views of any post on this site in the last 5 years) the RN has been facing serious manpower problems. As the Vice Admiral delicately put it “a number of legacy issues have been building up” – primarily an overworked, under-resourced navy, forced by this government to make 5,000 people redundant in 2010.

The RN has been working hard to address the crisis and although inevitably cannot please everyone, in general this is a sensible, well thought-out response, given the limited resources and current circumstances.

Summary of key changes

  • Frigate and destroyer deployments on Atlantic Patrol Task (South) and Operation Kipion (Gulf) will be extended to 9 months instead of the current 6 months. There will be more leave periods before and after but also a one-month support & leave period mid-deployment. All members of the ship’s company have the option to fly home for 2 weeks at the navy’s expense. This is not just about manpower but allows more efficient use of ships as there is less transit times and a fewer number of deployments overall. The longer deployments will give greater stability and variety in ship’s programmes.
  • There will be “lower intensity periods” with slightly reduced ships complements carrying out training and serving only in UK or European waters. Not really ideal to have undermanned ships and a further increase in turnover of what should be close-knit ships companies, but perhaps the best use of slender resources.
  • There will be even greater use of civilian contractors to support ships both preparing and returning from deployments. Additionally civilians will be flown out to support maintenance periods in overseas ports. This will help relive pressure on the engineers who are particularly over-worked. This is a sensible measure, although perhaps in an ideal world there would be enough RN engineers for the ship’s company to do the majority of the work on their own vessels. “Project Faraday” is also intended to improve conditions and career development for engineers.
  • The Type 23 frigates are ageing fast and this is creating further headaches as they need more time alongside for repair or complex upgrade periods. The first of the Type 26 frigates that will replace them will not be available until at least 2022 so this will become a growing problem in the next decade.
  • There will be a strong focus on submarine manpower issues (no specific details given) in order to man the Astute class and prepare for the Trident successor submarines. All submarines will soon be based in Faslane, providing a single, stable homeport for submariners and their families.
  • With at least 2 RFAs currently unable to put to sea due to lack of engineers, innovative ways of attracting new merchant seamen to serve in the RFA are being studied. There RFA is fortunate in having more options available than the RN for recruiting ready-trained staff.