Dear Theresa May and Michael Fallon, this is how you should fix the navy… fast

On 25th November the professional head of the Royal Navy delivered a robust defence of the service, upbeat about its current work and its future. He was right to make his point, this is his job and leaders need to show confidence. The sailors of the RN are doing an outstanding job and deserve to believe in their future. In reality they are making do with insufficient ships, submarines, aircraft and people but somehow just about manage to keep on delivering on a daily basis.

The RN has much to be proud of and look forward to. Some fine new vessels are on their way, not least 2 large aircraft carriers, but there are so many dangerous gaps in capability that their fighting credibility is in question. Without enough escorts the carriers are in danger, without enough manpower, mass and appropriate armament the whole fleet is at risk of bloody defeat in a serious conflict. You are in danger of creating a paper tiger. It is time for government to act to prevent disaster.

This is not just the view of a few eccentrics, nostalgic for the days when Britannia ruled the waves, but the opinion of the cross-party House of Commons Defence Select Committee which stated bluntly that “the UK already has a woefully low number of vessels… it lacks the maritime strength to deal with the threats we face right now, let alone in the future”

Trumpeting your achievement in meeting the NATO minimum 2% of GDP on defence does not cut it. Firstly it was set down as a “minimum”, not a target. Secondly, comparing ourselves favourably with Europeans who are even more deluded about defence expenditure than ourselves is futile. And thirdly, everyone knows that to achieve the 2% target has involved disingenuous Treasury accounting tricks which do not translate into much strengthening of the front line.

To be fair SDSR 2015 was better than many previous defence reviews and there has been a small increase in spending. Unfortunately this will not provide the remedy for at least 3 decades of cock-ups, neglect and declining funding that needs addressing urgently. Most if this is not your fault, but as you yourself say, it is the first duty of any government to protect its citizens.

To renew the Royal Navy properly will require a significant increase in expenditure, to pretend otherwise is unrealistic and negligent. This is going to cost real money and impact the public finances – get used to it.

You will have to raise taxes, make cuts elsewhere or increase borrowing and explain this to very sceptical parts of the electorate and media, but that is your job. The good news is you won’t have to continue attempting to deceive the public about the true state of our navy. Plus it will create a lot of jobs and stimulate the economy in places that need it, particularly in Scotland, the North and South West of England. Above all it will start to restore some real security to a nation that is utterly dependent on the sea and staring down the face of growing worldwide threats. The Americans have been paying for much of our defence for a long time but that maybe coming to an end. Finally, learn lessons from history, greater expenditure now will act as a deterrent which may prevent future wars and conflict which would be far more costly in both human life and treasure.

“Nothing is more important than defending our country and protecting our people. With increasing threats to our security” Michael Fallon

Immediate actions

  • Manpower – Funding for an emergency recruitment drive. Above inflation pay rises, at least for ratings. A complete new bonus structure with golden handcuff deals that incentivise experienced people to remain serving, with large retention bonuses paid at 3 yearly intervals. Further improve accommodation and family support where needed. Consider any other radical option that will help recruit and retain personnel. Target minimum strength of RN to be at least 45,000 plus reservists.
  • All 13 Type 23s fitted with towed array sonar, Sea Ceptor and all 13 to have life-extension refits.
  • Purchase of interim canister-launched anti-ship missile to replace Harpoon on all Type 45 and Type 23s.
  • Type 45 propulsion rectification programme to begin immediately. (Starting with HMS Dauntless) and Mk 41 VLS to be fitted to Type 45s at the same time.
  • Upgrade the 12 Merlin helicopters currently in storage to Mk2 standard.
  • Order another 12 Wildcat helicopters and fit all 36 of them with dipping sonar and Tactical Data Link.
  • Additional purchases of key equipment like Phalanx, Torpedo defence system, decoys, etc. End the practice of sharing major equipment between ships. Every ship allocated their own complete set of kit with back-up spares held ashore.
  • Expand missile, torpedo and ammunition stocks. Increase level of general stores, spares and replacement parts and re-establish an in-depth and resilient logistical support system for the navy.
  • The whole defence procurement apparatus to be put into special measures almost akin to a war-footing. All defence projects to have senior managers (Civil Servants and those in uniform) made to stay in post for minimum of 5 years – well rewarded for success or heavily penalised for failure in meeting key performance parameters and deadlines. 
  • Ban all defence lobbying interests from Parliament and MoD. Play hardball with BAE Systems and, if necessary part-nationalise or break up its monopoly, if that is what it takes to make it serve the interests of defence ahead of profit.

Medium term actions

  • Build the 13 Type 26 frigates on the Clyde as originally planned and deliver at least one ship a year from 2022.
  • Start Type 31 build program with target of at least 8 ships. Bring the best design proposal to maturity as soon as possible and utilise any available shipbuilding capacity, primarily in England.
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth & Prince of Wales to be fitted with Sea Ceptor as soon as possible.
  • Cooperative engagement capability to be fitted to Type 45, Type 26 and Aircraft Carriers and integrated with F-35.
  • If possible, accelerate purchase of F-35s so we have at least 75 in service by 2025.
  • RN to be given full operational control of all F-35s, with QE aircraft carrier tasking given first priority.
  • Purchase Tomahawk Land Attack missiles to be carried by Type 45 and Type 26.
  • Purchase SM-3 or Aster 30 Block1NT missiles to give Type 45 anti-ballistic missile capability at earliest opportunity. 
  • Retain all 4 Batch 1 River class OPVs to be dedicated to UK territorial waters patrols and recruit additional reservists to man them.
  • Upgrade all 5 Batch 2s OPVs with lightweight towed array sonar, Phalanx and UAVs and deploy one of each permanently in the Falklands, the Caribbean, Gibraltar and Bahrain
  • Purchase LRASM and ASROC for Type 45 / Type 26.
  • HMS Ocean to go into reserve in 2017 but begin immediate work on like-for-like replacement, built to merchant standards, probably in overseas yard.
  • Large budget to be dedicated to purchase and develop unmanned systems and operating doctrine. Aim that RN should become a world-leader in unmanned naval technology by 2030 (with attendant benefit for UK industry).
  • HMS Bulwark to be returned to service with HMS Albion as soon as refit complete.
  • Purchase and begin merchant ship conversions to replace RFA Diligence and RFA Argus.
  • Create a black projects fund for classified naval projects likely in the realms of, underwater warfare, special forces, electronic and cyber warfare.  

Long-term actions

  • Build an 8th Astute class submarine if it can be fitted around Dreadnought class construction schedule.
  • Begin purchase, lease or license-build of at least 6 AIP conventional submarines from Germany or Sweden.
  • Integrate widest possible range of missiles and munitions for F-35 including an anti-ship missile.
  • P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft put under RN operational control and fully equipped with ability to drop Stingray torpedos and fitted with an anti-ship missile
  • Negotiate for 2nd batch of P-8s to bring strength up to 18 aircraft.
  • Investigate purchase of V-22 osprey for possible air-air-refuelling of F35, carrier onboard delivery and amphibious assault.
  • Begin building 4 x solid stores support ships at Babcock Rosyth as soon as HMS Prince of Wales is complete.
  • Replace LCUs with faster craft and upgrade Royal Marine vehicles as needed.
  • HMS Albion & Bulwark to be replaced with LHD (similar to Spanish Juan Carlos).
  • MHC programme fully funded to develop new generation of mine warfare vessels and unmanned minehunting systems.
  • Expand naval science and research, work with US on development of rail gun and laser technology.


This ‘shopping list’ is a guideline only, there are plenty of well qualified people who could to refine it further. Broadly speaking this builds on the existing equipment plan and capabilities. This is not a radical departure from current structures or strategy, rather a series of fixes to repair a badly hollowed-out fleet and give more strength in depth. It would be erroneous to perceive this an unjustified major re-armament programme, in reality it would only restore the strength of the RN to approximately what it was in the late 1990s.