Despite government claims, the Royal Navy isn’t actually growing in size

RFA Cardigan Bay leads the minehunters HMS Ramsey, HMS Shoreham and HMS Quorn and Type 45 Destroyer HMS Diamond during exercises in the Middle East.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said today in Parliament that “a growing defence budget means more ships, more planes, more armoured vehicles and more cutting edge equipment for our forces” but is the Royal Navy really growing?

This statement was preceded by claims that the Government “are investing in a growing Royal Navy by building two aircraft carriers, the new Type 26 global combat ship, Dreadnought and Astute class submarines, and offshore patrols vessels.”

Again, earlier in the year while declaring 2017 as “the Year of the Royal Navy”, Fallon said:

“Britain’s new carriers, frigates, aircraft and submarines begin a new era for the UK, providing unprecedented firepower. We are investing billions in growing the Royal Navy for the first time in a generation – 2017 is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting Britain’s influence globally and delivering security at home.”

This isn’t true according to the the UK Armed Forces Equipment and Formations document released by the Government detailing statistics on vessels, land equipment and aircraft of the armed forces. It states:

“At 1 April 2017 there were 73 vessels in the UK Armed Forces: 64 vessels in the Royal Navy and nine in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA). This is a reduction of three vessels since 2016 following the withdrawal of three RFA vessels: two Small Fleet Tankers and one Forward Repair Ship (RFA Diligence).

Patrol Ships (18 Inshore and four Offshore) make up the largest proportion of Royal Navy vessels, with 22, as shown in Chart 1 below.

The total number of Destroyers and Frigates (19) as at 1 April 2017 are also in line with SDSR Joint Force 2025 commitments.”

Further, according to the Defence Select Committee, the UK has a “woefully low”. Chair of the committee Dr Julian Lewis advised earlier in the year that the Government risked leaving the country with fewer than 19 frigates and destroyers.

“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.”

Additionally, Sir John Parker the author of an independent report on the National Shipbuilding Strategy, has indicated that the frigate fleet will fall below 13 frigates unless the Type 31 Frigate build starts soon, something that appears unlikely for a project described by a minister this month as still in “early pre-concept phase” with no design having yet been chosen.

Julian Lewis asked during a Defence Select Committee session on the National Shipbuilding Strategy:

“So what you are saying—and this is a critical point—is that unless we start building the Type 31e frigates in parallel with the Type 26s, there is little chance of not reducing below our existing figure of 13 frigates all told.

That, I must say, fits in with the projections I have seen and it follows from that, therefore, that we have to consider the best way of building two classes of frigates in parallel, rather than in succession.”

Sir John Parker responded with one word:


13 frigates are due to leave the service at a rate of one a year between 2023 and 2035. There remains serious concern about the funding and timetable of the fleet that will replace them.

Original article: By George Allison, UK Defence Journal.

2 thoughts on “Despite government claims, the Royal Navy isn’t actually growing in size”

  1. It’s a funny assertion that the RN is ‘growing’ – I think a simple count-up suggests the Royal Navy has shrunk dramatically since even the Falklands War. Of course it always has been political – and historically there have been various ‘corrective lurches’ after long periods of decline, I’m thinking of the Naval Defence Acts of 1889 and 1893 (among others). But what would Jack Fisher say? Or Churchill?

    1. I wonder if Fisher or Churchill would even recognise the Navy today. I was having this conversation with my father this week. All of the armed forces are becoming so technologically advanced that the unit cost of each item of kit being produced is sky-rocketing. There are no ‘simple’ surface assets in the Navy any longer. I think that a simple gun-boat or guard-ship that gives the navy a presence in the Falklands or the Caribbean, would be a cost effective way of the Navy fulfilling it’s worldwide duties, give them far more flexibility, whilst they concurrently focus on some core fleet assets like the Type 26 and Type 45 plus the submarine fleet to support the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers – but have these more capable and expensive assets in smaller numbers. Surface ‘Fleet’ ships and surface ‘Patrol’ ships perhaps? Thanks for your input as always Matthew.

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