Is the Royal Navy Escort Fleet Becoming Too Small?
The UK House of Commons Defense Committee has called for a renewed commitment to fielding a capable Royal Navy escort fleet, with more destroyers, more frigates and more of the capable personnel needed to man them. The Royal Navy’s escort fleet is down from 35 destroyers and frigates in 1998 to just 19 vessels now.
To solve the problem, the Committee wants to see the swift construction of a replacement for Britain's aging Type 23 class frigates, which are approaching the end of their service lives. The start date for construction of their replacements – the Type 26 – has been long delayed, and the series has been scaled back to eight ships from an original 13.
In addition, the committee called for the government to set a steel-cutting date for the future General Purpose Frigate (GPFF, or Type 31).
The GPFF is a more economical alternative to the scaled-back Type 26: First Sea Lord Adm. Sir Philip Jones describes it as a "much less high-end ship" based on low cost commercial design. The committee called for specifics from MoD regarding how the construction of both classes will dovetail (both will be built at the same yard); how they will be funded; and what the GPFF’s minimum capabilities will be.
In addition, it called for regular reports from the government on the progress of repairs to the new Type 45 destroyers, which have suffered from sporadic turbine generator shutdowns. In order to fix the problem the Type 45s will have to have additional diesel generator sets installed, which will require drydocking and cutting open their hulls.
"The Ministry of Defence must deliver [its] programme of modernisation on time. If it fails to do so, the Government will break its categorical pledge to maintain at least 19 frigates and destroyers – already a pathetically low total," warned Dr. Julian Lewis, Defence Committee chairman. "The United Kingdom will then lack the maritime strength to deal with the threats we face right now, let alone in the future. We are putting the MoD on notice that it must not let this happen."
The committee did not directly address the question of arming the Royal Navy’s surface combatants, which are set to lose their anti-ship missiles next year.