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.