Navy needs to build more warships to counter future threats, say MPs

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A successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia will bring no advantage to the Navy, MPs have warned, as a new report urged the UK must build more warships to protect the country against an “increasingly hostile and unpredictable international environment”.

A report released on Tuesday by the Commons Defence Committee revealed how at one point last year, just one of six Type 45 destroyers was not undergoing maintenance.

And it warned that a new £250 million “national flagship”, which is expected to replace the Royal Yacht Britannia, would add an “ongoing pressure on an already constrained naval budget”.

Image of new national flagship
An artist’s impression of a new national flagship, the successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia (10 Downing Street/PA)

“We have the shipyards and the know-how to build them: the Government just needs to place the orders and give UK shipbuilding the commitment and confidence it needs to deliver.”

And the report concluded: “Government’s failure to fund the ha’porth of tar the Royal Navy needs has literally spoiled the ships.”

The report said that budget cuts had meant procurement was slow, and then when ships were built and got to sea, they acted “like porcupines – well-defended herbivores with limited offensive capabilities”.

And it said the UK was increasingly reliant on allies to support its capabilities.

Experts had warned the committee that the Navy could be needed in the future to fight for control of the sea, or to deny adversaries access to UK waters.

HMS Queen Elizabeth
The Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth returning to Portsmouth Naval Base (PO Jenkins/MoD Crown Copyright/PA)

“The Royal Navy will be asked to do even more with even less,” the report said.

“This is a clear risk, which those beyond these shores can calculate just as readily as we can.”

And it cautioned that the MPs had received “no evidence of the advantage to the Royal Navy of acquiring the National Flagship” and that the initial cost of £200-250 million, combined with the £20–30 million a year running costs and providing a crew, would pile extra pressure on the force.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in July that he hoped to announce the winning bidder in the competition process to build the ship this month.

Cabinet Meeting
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (Aaron Chown/PA)

The report also warned that in its current state, the Navy would not be able to meet the aim’s of the Government’s foreign policy shift in the Integrated Review released earlier this year, in which it has a “potentially leading role”.

The report said: “The Navy cannot fulfil the full ambition of the Integrated Review with its current fleet. It needs more lower-end, adaptable vessels, like the planned Type 31 frigate, to fulfil the presence operations planned.”

And it said that when compared to peers and adversaries, the Royal Navy was not as well-equipped in weaponry.

Mr Ellwood said: “The Royal Navy has a long and proud history protecting our nation at sea. To maintain our position as one of the leading global navies, the Government must deliver a rapid programme of modernisation and growth.

“The next 10 years will prove a test for our naval fleet. The UK is faced with an increasingly hostile and unpredictable international environment but the Government is still reducing funding, retiring capability and asking the Navy to rely on increasingly elderly vessels for the next five years until new ships come in.

Duke of Sussex at the Veterans Mental Health Conference
Tobias Ellwood MP (Gareth Fuller/PA)

He added: “Of all the services, the Government is most ambitious for the Navy. However, if the Government does not deliver the ships and capabilities the Navy needs, that ambition will be holed below the waterline.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “We are well on track to becoming the foremost naval power in Europe – a carrier deployment and ships operating in several oceans showcases the best of Global Britain.

“This report rightly identifies the judgments the Service must make to deliver new classes of ships, submarines, innovative weapon systems and technologies.

“Investment in Royal Navy shipbuilding will double over the life of this Parliament to more than £1.7 billion a year. As a consequence the Royal Navy’s tonnage is projected to grow by more than 40% from 2015-2030.

“We will consider the Committee’s report and will respond in due course.”

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