Navy to cut its fleet by half
Daily Telegraph Link
Daily Telegraph Link
Royal Navy commanders were in uproar yesterday after it was revealed that almost half of the Fleet's 44 warships are to be mothballed as part of a Ministry of Defence cost-cutting measure.
Senior officers have said the plans will turn Britain's once-proud Navy into nothing more than a coastal defence force.
The Government has admitted that 13 unnamed warships are in a state of reduced readiness, putting them around 18 months away from active service. Today The Daily Telegraph can name a further six destroyers and frigates that are being proposed for cuts.
A need to cut the defence budget by Â£250 million this year to meet spending requirements has forced ministers to look at drastic measures.
MoD sources have admitted it is possible that the Royal Navy will discontinue one of its major commitments around the world at a time when Sir Jonathon Band, the First Sea Lord, has said more ships are needed to protect the high seas against terrorism and piracy.
News of further cuts to what was once the world's most formidable fleet comes as critics say failings across the Services are becoming increasingly apparent.
More details are emerging of the near-squalor that soldiers are forced to tolerate in barracks when they return from six months of dangerous overseas operations.
Questions have also been raised about the poor pay for troops and equipment failures which continue to dog operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The six warships to be mothballed are the Type 22 frigates Cumberland, Chatham, Cornwall and Campbeltown and two Type 42 destroyers Southampton and Exeter.
It is likely that they will eventually be sold or scrapped. There are also fears in the Admiralty that two new aircraft carriers, promised in 1998, might never be built.
Meanwhile the French navy, which will be far superior to the Royal Navy after the cuts, will announce before the April presidential elections that a new carrier will be built.
Two of eight advanced air defence Type 45 destroyers on the Navy's order books will not be bought, defence sources said. The order is already six months behind schedule and Â£157 million over budget.
A senior officer, currently serving with the Fleet in Portsmouth, said: "What this means is that we are now no better than a coastal defence force or a fleet of dug-out canoes. The Dutch now have a better navy than us."
Defence sources said it would be unlikely that the Navy could now launch an armada of the kind that retook the Falkland Islands in 1982.
Steve Bush, editor of the monthly magazine Warship World, said the MoD was bankrupt following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"After 10 years of Labour government, the Royal Navy is on its knees without immediate and proper funding. I cannot see how it can recover âespecially if Mr Brown becomes the next prime minister," he said.
There are already reports that ships on operations are ignoring faults to weapons systems in order to save money but will spend cash if it is a health and safety issue.
The Navy is expected to lose one of its three carriers, Invincible, which has been laid up in Portsmouth. One of the three major ports is also under threat of closure. It is believed that the historic Navy headquarters of Portsmouth is most vulnerable.
Two unnamed mine counter-measure vessels and two Royal Fleet Auxiliary tankers, Brambleleaf and Oakleaf, are also under threat.
Adam Ingram, the defence minister, admitted in a Parliamentary answer last month that 13 ships were at sea with 18 in port at 48 hours notice to deploy. The decision to tie up another six frigates will mean the Navy has just 25 warships left. This would mean giving up a major commitment such as the anti-drugs and hurricane support role in the Caribbean.
To protect Britain from attack today, the country has the frigates Monmouth and Montrose available with the carrier Ark Royal about to re-enter service after a lengthy refit.
The MoD said yesterday that it had no plans to cut the destroyer and frigate fleet but it "routinely reviewed" defence capabilities "to ensure resources are directed where our front line Armed Forces need them most".
A spokesman said: "We are some way from any decisions and just because a proposal is looked at does not mean that it will be implemented"
A final decision on the cuts is expected next month.