Statements made by the government explicitly claim that the Royal Navy is growing, but are those claims accurate?
Many ministers, press releases, official statements and the like over the last year or two have been found to contain the phrase “a growing Royal Navy”.
Former Defence Secretary Fallon was always especially keen to stress that the Royal Navy was growing:
“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.”
Ministers also often spoke in Parliament of “a growing Royal Navy” but official figures appear to disagree with those claims. 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).“
It gets a little muddier though as Guto Bebb, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, recently responded to a written question in Parliament, outlining the fleet size.
|Year||Number of Vessels|
This would appear to show a sharp decrease in hulls since 2013 and in the period when claims of “a growing Royal Navy” were shouted from the rooftops however Bebb added that current planning will see the number of hulls in the fleet increase:
“On current planning assumptions the number of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary surface vessels in the next five years is:
|Year||Number of Vessels|
All this does however is highlight that the fleet size is only playing catch-up with where it was five years ago and even then, isn’t going to surpass the 2013 figure.
Mark Lancaster, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, said:
“For the first time in a generation, the Royal Navy is actually growing. It grew in manpower last year and will continue to grow over the next couple of years, and not just in manpower—the size of its surface fleet is also growing. The latest of the offshore patrol vessels arrived in Portsmouth only this weekend.”
According to the Defence Select Committee, the UK has a “woefully low” number of vessels. 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 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:
In conclusion, the Royal Navy technically is growing if you can only remember as far back as a couple of years ago but it should be noted that the numbers are playing catch up to where they were five years ago and aren’t going to exceed the 2013 fleet size.
The Royal Navy, overall, has shrunk in the last five years.