UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has announced a New Years' resolution for his ministry: the expenditure of an additional $1.2 billion on equipment, including new patrol ships and early warning systems. "We are investing billions in growing the Royal Navy for the first time in a generation with new aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates, patrol vessels and aircraft all on their way," Fallon said.
Fallon predicted that 2017 will be a year of positive milestones for the Royal Navy. The carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will debut later in the year with sea trials based out of Portsmouth. She is also expected to conduct warm water exercises in the Mediterranean and may transit across the Atlantic for further trials off Florida. Her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales will go down the ways this year, and in addition, construction on the long-awaited Type 26 frigates will begin on the River Clyde sometime this summer.
However, Fallon did not mention the recent criticism of Royal Navy funding levels and procurement outcomes. Skeptics observe that the service’s frontline vessel count has fallen by half since the Falklands war, and that it has had no carrier-based fighters since 2010 (though this will change in 2018). It will also lose its ship-launched surveillance drone program this year due to a funding shortfall.
But the most troubling development of all, many defense experts say, is that the Royal Navy's escort vessels will lose their Harpoon anti-ship missiles in 2018, with no replacement in sight. This will leave the Royal Navy's destroyers and frigates with deck guns and helicopter-borne munitions alone. "It's a significant capability gap and the Government is being irresponsible. It just shows that our warships are for the shop window and not for fighting," said Rear Adm. Chris Parry (ret’d), speaking to the Telegraph.
These shortcomings are taking their toll on morale and recruitment. The service is 1,000 sailors short of its authorized staffing levels, leading to higher workloads for current servicemembers. With more work per person and less opportunity, one in three Royal Navy sailors said that they would quit if they could in the service's most recent survey.
Despite these difficulties, Fallon declared that this year will be a turning point for the service's capabilities, with extra investments and major progress on vessel construction programs. "2017 is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting Britain’s influence globally and delivering security at home," he said.