All six Type 45s in Portsmouth – rare but not an indication of something sinister

National media has reacted to the observation that all six of the RN’s Type 45 destroyers are in Portsmouth this weekend. Although a rare occurrence, it is not unprecedented. The propulsion issues that have dogged the class have been widely reported in the media and their operations and whereabouts now attract an unusual amount of attention. Apart from HMS Dauntless, in long-term lay up as training ship due to manpower shortages, all the Type 45s are in a normal operating cycle.

The fact they are all in port this weekend (and have been a couple of times in the last few weeks) is really a coincidence. Ship’s future programmes are not normally published in advance but the Type 45s have recently been active and during June, four of the six ships were all at sea simultaneously.

HMS Daring – test-fired Aster missile 11/7/16. Due to deploy to Gulf soon?
HMS Diamond – completed Operational Sea Training. Has just returned from Scottish waters.
HMS Dragon completed major refit, recommissioned 8/7/16 and has just returned from visit to Ireland and then Amsterdam.
HMS Defender – undergoing routine maintenance after returning home on 7th July from successful 9-month deployment to the Gulf.
HMS Duncan – Completed Gulf deployment last year. Been in UK waters and led Jutland 100 commemorations in May. Now in refit.

Living with propulsion problems

The very serious problems with the innovative Integrated Electric Propulsion that can cause the complete propulsion and power failure are explained in more detail in a previous post. By applying a mixture of temporary fixes and operating restrictions, the RN has managed to keep the ships going and breakdowns are now almost eliminated. The situation is a scandal for which successive governments must take the blame, but a permanent cure will be applied. The MoD is unfortunately fully responsible for the risky decision to use untried WR-21 gas turbines and the taxpayer, not the builders or engine manufacturers will have to bear the full cost. Project Napier, which was set up to look at the options, has recently made recommendations about the best solution and the MoD is now in discussions with contractors to undertake the work, although it may not be started until 2019.

Even as HMS Defender was conducting a highly successful deployment in the summer heat of the Arabian Gulf, media outlets all over the world were running dumbed-down stories about how “Type 45s break down in hot weather”. As ever the situation is more complex that this. Heat does adversely affect the efficiency of all gas turbines and exacerbates the existing issues with the Type 45. Nevertheless the ships are active, regarded as one of the best air defence platforms in the world, recently operating as trusted escorts to US aircraft carriers in the high-threat environment of the Gulf.

People matter most

The summer leave period may also contribute to more ships alongside than usual. The 5,000 redundancies forced on the RN by the 2010 SDSR have left a disastrous legacy and it is no secret there is an ongoing manpower shortage. Critical to the future of the navy is retaining its best and most experienced people. The RN leadership is trying to create predictable programmes for ships and ensuring promises about leave are kept. This has meant more ships kept alongside or in UK waters that in the past would have been rushed off on deployment as soon as possible. This situation is far from ideal but is the right policy in the face of a toxic legacy of underfunding and over-work.


Keep calm and carry on.