Multiple ministers, MP’s and other officials continue to insist the Royal Navy is growing, even in the face of upcoming cuts.

Former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said in Parliament that “a growing defence budget means more ships, more planes, more armoured vehicles and more cutting edge equipment for our forces”.

The then Defence Secretary also said it again after announcing the naming of a new frigate in Belfast:

“Thanks to our ambitious new National Shipbuilding Strategy, this shipyard once again has the chance to be involved in building a British warship thanks to the competition to build a new class of light frigates for our growing Royal Navy.

Again as part of another announcement:

“This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.”

I could fill this article with quotes from Fallon and other ministers claiming that the Royal Navy is growing, but you get the idea.

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” number of warships. 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.”

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.

There is also fresh speculation that the Royal Navy will lose the two Albion class landing platform dock vessels. Among other speculated cuts is a reduction of 1,000 to the Royal Marines and the retirement of two minehunters and one survey vessel.

The loss of more ships isn’t growth, no matter who is tallying it up.


  1. You can take almost any measure you want and it will tell you that the Royal Navy is not growing. If we take the Tides and the Carriers alone – these are renewing capability gaps and in the tides case we are getting 4 in whilst 8-10 vessels have left service.

    Sir John Parker has suggested a 30 Year planning horizon for the RN – and if you look at the RN 30 years ago (or 20 or 10 for that matter) the trend is damning.

    Less Frigate, Less Subs, Less RFA and if the press is true -more cuts are coming.

    People should be ashamed of themselves for these lies.

  2. IIRC the old RFAs were retired to free their crews for the 4 new tide class ships, which you have conveniently missed from the count as not yet in service. Once these are in service – as they will be very soon – your numbers of ships argument falls down.

    • the sigma corvette is almost the same as a river, yet it has 13 less crew and boasts, exocet and two quad anti air missile launchers, as well as two trip launch torpedo tube systems, upgrade our rivers with these specs and call them ‘light frigates, stick the 20mm cannon on the archers that they are designed for train them to work as squadrons, and they’ll be able to pick up the anti piracy role, instead of diverting warships to do it.

    • Not to mention that our national debt isn’t actually as high as advertised – some £450bn of it is borrowed from the Bank of England, which is owned by the UK Government. We literally owe ourselves that amount and will obviously not pay it back because that would be stupid.

      Our Debt to GDP ratio is therefore under 70% which is perfectly normal for a country of our size and allows many of our own citizens to hold bonds etc for savings, which they then pay tax on the interest and later spend in the economy.

    • buying foreignisn’t the end of the world, we buy foreign cars in droves, yet we don’t buy warships, aquiring braunschwiegs and sigmas, would grow the navy faster than jock ‘och hoo nicked mae spanna/gun tae/ builds frigates.

  3. The credibility of the RN = the credibility of the UK. Pretend time is over. HM govt need to demonstrate commitment and announce asap that we are retaining Albion and Bulwark and the Batch 1 Rivers and pay to crew them.

  4. We need a more cost effective and balanced naval force.

    Trouble is we have spent £14bn on eight warships 2 cvf and 6 t45. We could have built more flexible platforms at a lower cost that may have been attractive to other nations.

    Cvf and t45 projects were poor decisions.

    Seeing as we have ignored the export market for the past 50 years it is optimistic in the extreme that we will have an impact on that market in the future.

  5. We would be better off with fixed price contracts for ships we need, such as planned with type 31. For too long we have been paying over the odds for ships which are over budget, under armed and late. Who’s to blame? MOD, the goverment, the suppliers or all the commitees who waste a large portion of the defence budget. Time to draw a line and let the relevent service tell the goverment what they want and let industry quote for the requirement and pay for all the R&D and not us the taxpayer. At moment there is more bull from the MOD and certain suppliers than in a can of corned beef!

    • Having a single source ship builder stifles competition and therefore price. Having more shipbuilders will reduce price quite considerably.

  6. Giving birth then administering strangulation, that’s the modus operandi of the MOD. On one hand, they advertise for more manpower, then seriously consider disbanding up to 1000 highly trained Royal Marines? If that weren’t enough, it then cogitates on ways and means of denying them the purpose-built ships in which they operate?
    Coincidentally, the Foreign Office continues to issue support messages through the network of embassies with the promise of financial and military aid?

    You could not write such nonsense as fiction.

  7. Put the Bay class, and number of heavy lift helicopters and the 1000 booties under the overseas aid budget as it seems that when not on combat ops they are used for humanitarian operations. Then whilst on this budget they can be utilised for counter narcotics in the Carribean. Mean while look at procuring a new type of vessel which troop and equipment capacity exceeds the Bulwark, Albion Argus and Ocean, say 3 to replace the four, but still gives helicopter ops, hospitals and well decks and comonality of spares to keep cost lower.
    Modern vessels with reduced crewing requirement and fantastic capability which exceeds the current vessel.
    A career in the Navy isnt what it used to be maybe there should be a overhaul of career paths as well.

  8. Depends on how you count it, as the carriers are so much bigger than anything before them, the tonnage is definitely growing and so the physical size of the RN is growing.

    I am not sure this will hold up if the news stories are true and the ocean / 2 albions go out of service.

  9. Steve, tonnage does not equate to platforms. No LPD’s, no marines. Two pointless CVF’s for all the aircraft they will ever carry. Hopeless politicians of all colours and a procurement office that has not been fit for purpose for decades. The money is there but we have neither the will or the skill set to do what is required for the minimum defence of the realm and British interests abroad. We will continue to hide behind the US’s skirts who cannot believen what a parlous state we really are in.
    Renew Trident? Now I’m not so sure.

      • Yup. Just look at the US’s new failed littoral ship program, they don’t want them but have to keep building them. The ships are no longer fit for purpose and attempts to upgrade them have proven troublesome and expensive. They are now looking at a completely new frigate program to replace the canceled hulls with.

  10. It is becoming clear that the current arguments as to whether the Navy is getting bigger or smaller cannot be correctly ascertained until the definition of the words big and small, relative to the Navy, has been established. Ranting about this is really a waist of time until this issue is defined. The conundrum is clear but the answer, at least to me is a bit of a puzzle. Does big and small refer to number of ships or tonnage of ships or even firepower of ships?

    An simple example of this problem appears in a comparison between the new Queen Elizabeth Class and the old Invincible Class carriers. Here the two QE carriers displace approx. 70,000 MT and can carry up to 60+ aircraft each and the three Inv. Class carriers displace approx. 23,000 MT and can carry up to 22+ aircraft each. So which class is biggest the QE’s with only 2 ships but displacing approx. 140,000 MT or the Inv’s with 3 ships displacing approx. 69,000 MT. With regards to firepower it might well be assumed that the QE’s fewer F35Bs are more powerful than the Inv.’s more numerous Harriers.

    This same conundrum appears in many other classes of warships i.e. 8 Type 26s at 8,000 MT each or 8 Type 23s at 4,900 MT each which is an increase of nearly 25,000 MT over the same number of the old Type 23s. Provided the new Type 31s are the same size as the old Type 23s then this represents a sizeable increase in the overall Type 23 class replacements.

    I realize there is an obvious political element here and I am not taking sides, other than having a natural desire to see a stronger RN however I cannot help thinking that continuous ranting with a obviously questionable argument will not achieve a desired outcome unless a proper viable reasoned argument is forthcoming.

  11. Number of vessels doesn’t cut it in terms of bigger and smaller, it’s quality, purpose and balance.

    For instance, in place of just 2 carriers, for the same price the RN could have had 60-70 more OPVs, and nearly douibled the fleet size. Add in a couple of dozen small patrol vessels at £25m each, and there you go, over double. But that’s hardly balanced!

    Much is made of the absence of sufficient escorts for the carriers. Well, if the UK is going to go off and take on the Russians, Chinese and North Koreans single-handed with one hand behind our back, then this is indeed a worry. But that wouldn’t happen, in such operations there’d be escorts from the US, Australia and NZ, plus European nations, and in the Gulf or Med even if the US wasn’t involved there’d be European escorts, and if in the Arctic there’s Noreweigan, Danish, Dutch and perhaps Swedish escorts to draw on.

    The point being that such single nation activity is largely in the past for the UK, it’s as part of multi-national forces the carriers would be used, and a huge contribution they wil be to them.


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