Speaking during a debate called by Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, Guto Bebb confirmed that the two Albion class assault ships would be safe from cuts.

Mr Bebb told MPs:

“HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark are safe until 2033 and 2034, which is the current situation. Those are the decommissioning dates for both vessels.”

This comes after recent speculation that these vessels would be scrapped in the next year or two, but what do the ships actually do?

In the words of her operators, the Royal Navy, the role of the HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, is to ‘deliver the punch of the Royal Marines ashore by air and by sea, with boats from the landing dock in the belly of the ship and by assault helicopter from the two-spot flight deck’.

The LPDs can carry 256 troops, with their vehicles and combat supplies, and this can be swollen up to 405 troops.

The ships act as the afloat command platform for the Royal Navy’s Amphibious Task Force and Landing Force Commanders when embarked.

A former Defence Secretary had warned that withdrawing the Albion class would ‘end British amphibious capability’. Lord Hutton was speaking during a debate on British defence forces in the House of Lords where he said:

“I am absolutely opposed to the United Kingdom acting unilaterally—for example, by announcing the end of our effective amphibious capability. I do not believe that the QE2 class carriers—they are brilliant ships and I am proud to see them serving in the Royal Navy—have the equivalent capability. Neither do the Bay class ships. They are incapable of supporting and mounting large-scale amphibious operations with the fighting vehicles that the Army now has.

Our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan led us, rightly, to conclude that they needed to be better protected: they needed to be stronger, heavier vehicles. We need “Bulwark” and “Albion” to retain that capability. So we must tread pretty carefully. I am all in favour of the defence industry co-operating with government in the efficiency review: I think they should. I am certainly in favour of our thinking carefully about how we use the overseas aid and defence budgets together to secure greater security results.

HMS Albion operating at night.

But it is hard to avoid the obvious conclusion that we will need to spend more now to preserve UK effective capabilities. The painful lesson from history is that spending less on defence does not make us more secure; it does not make those threats go away, it just makes us less able to deal with them.”

Lord West of Spithead, a Former First Sea Lord, has argued that Britain’s security and prosperity requires amphibious capability. Writing in Politics Home, the former naval chief argues for the retention of the vessels that rumours say may be axed.

He states:

“Under fire particularly, it seems, is our invaluable amphibious capability. So what exactly is this amphibious capability? Britain’s security and prosperity requires unimpeded maritime access and transit. As an island nation, the country needs a broadly maritime strategy – one that has sea control at its core, but which enables power and influence to be projected inland.

Indeed, being an island, all operations beyond our shores are expeditionary and demand theatre entry. Strike carriers and amphibious forces are the enablers for this theatre entry capability. The true fighting power of a navy is its ability to ensure entry around the world using carrier air and amphibious forces and to cause sea denial using carrier air and SSNs.

Since 1945 this entry capability has been used over 10 times including Korea, Suez, Kuwait (1962) pre-empting Iraqi planned invasion, Brunei, Falkland Islands, Sierra Leone and the Al Faw. And the Royal Marines have been in almost continuous operations consisting of 30 different campaigns.”

American General Ben Hodges, commander of the US Army in Europe, has said that he was worried that British forces were already stretched too far. The General was quoted in the Financial Times as saying:

“British forces have global commitments right now. Any reduction in capability means you cannot sustain those commitments. That creates a gap. I don’t know what the magic number is, but I do know that we need the capability that the British army provides, and any reduction in that causes a problem for the alliance as well as for the United States.”

Hodges served as a battalion executive officer with the 101st Airborne before becoming Aide-de-camp to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe in August 1995. He became a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne in 1997. He was Congressional Liaison Officer at the Office of the Chief of Legislative Liaison between 1999 and 2000.

After graduating from the National War College in 2001, Hodges served at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk. Taking command of the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne in 2002, Hodges led the brigade in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Not long ago, American Colonel Dan Sullivan said cuts to the Royal Marines and the loss of two amphibious assault ships would change the military relationship between the US and UK.

“My message is to articulate how important having that capability in our partner is. And how damaging I think it would be if our most important coalition partner potentially takes the hits that are projected right now. If you want to be decisive you have to be able to project power ashore at some point.

From a military standpoint as the UK continues to diminish and as the Royal Marines in particular take a hit, I think that our view of what we will be able to do together in the future changes.”

52 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderful news if true! Let’s hope it is confirmed in writing for all to see. Daniele, you were right and I was wrong. Never have I been so happy to be wrong.

    • Wow. This is welcome I must say!!

      Cannot see why it would not be for a minister to commit like that.

      Unless it is in the wording with “current”

    • (Chris H) Richard – Its better than ‘in writing’ as its a formal statement to the House of Commons which is then recorded in Hansard.

  2. Lord Alan West is correct. The essential defence stance of the United Kingdom should be maritime control and projection of force. Look at an atlas and consider: Our geographic position and the character of the people of these islands gives an answer to the question ‘How comes such a small nation wielded such influence beyond its numbers?”

  3. Nothing he said could lead to your conclusion because all he said was that under current plans they will not be cut. Doesn’t say anything about any future plans after the defence review has finished.

    • I read that differently Ron. It is an unequivocal statement. The current situation he refers to is the existing commissioning date of 23/24.

      The language on a number of issues which has been weaselly is hardening quite substantively.

      Did you see the @conservatives tweet last night? ‘We are buying 138 F-35s’

      I hope this is the beginning of a new era of investment, the MDP awaits.

        • He also said the Royal Navy was growing. Don’t know how he figures that one out. Lowest number of sailors & ships in hundreds of years.

          Politicians always use the “under current plans …” because it means nothing. The plans can change tomorrow.

          If he really meant the ships were to be kept he would have just omitted the “plans” part of his statement.

          • More tonnage… end to end all the ships are longer…
            You can make stats read whatever you want…

    • (Chris H) Ron5 – Well given no Government can bind a future Government then all that can be assumed is as far as THIS Government is concerned but he did restate the de-commissioning date. If Corbyn wins in 2022 then we won’t have a Royal Navy anyway …

      • But a new “plan” will emerge out of the defence review that is current going on. So the current government’s current “plan” only has a few months to live.

  4. Looks as though SOMEONE put their right hand on their left shoulder and GOT A GRIP on reality.

    Super. Hope the trend continues…

    Cheers!

  5. Thank Christ for that i wouldn’t want to have wasted 2 years of my life refitting HMS Albion like i did on HMS Ocean.

    • LOL…I was going to go to Albion but left the RN instead. My time on Bulwark including her refit was great a T23 with an airport and ferry terminal attached is a good description of them.

  6. About time this was bloody made clear.

    I shall give Mr Williamson the credit for this,
    an understated and now seemingly a most capable and most importantly a supporter of our military.

    First the 1000 RM and now Albion class.

    Good to see

  7. A wise decision these vessels are needed, and could not be replaced by the aircraft carriers unlike Michael Fallon claimed. At least Gavin Williamson seems to listen and make decisions, based on defence needs and facts, just need to keep the RM up to full strength now.

  8. Great news. A gut feeling proved right but I would like to think that all the efforts made by a lot of people has at least helped toward this decision. Well done everyone
    The Royal Navy is looking like a very credible and very modern force, the envy of many other countries I would think. We must keep the momentum going.

  9. Great news and a gut feeling proved right which is good. I would like to think that the efforts made by a lot of people here and elsewhere had at least some part to play in this decision. Well done.

    The Royal Navy is now taking on it’s shape for the future. It will be a force envied by many a country around the world but budgets must be maintained to ensure that maximum effect is achieved.

    • Yes, I was having problems seeing new posts on the home page. Can’t be sure but it seemed to happen around the time that UKDJ did the live post when the F35s were transiting to UK–coincidence? Anyway, I cleared my history and new posts instantly appeared. This happened on both my PCs. Hopefully, clearing history has solved the problem but I will have to see over next few days as new posts are created and if they appear on the home page.

  10. Hopefully at some point they will revisit PASCAT and the force protection craft. If we want to keep these assets and the marines safe as well as work with the USA and operate in a real war situations rather than only passive areas or humanitarian aid we have to be able to operate over the horizon – hopefully money can be found….

  11. (Chris H) Forgive my extending the discussion but if these ships are due for retirement in the early 2030s and it takes maybe 10 years (and more) to design, fund and build replacements then we aren’t far away from the start of that process.

    if the MoD was really looking towards some forward thinking they would place the Type 31s with Cammell Laird and friends, the 3 new RFA vessels with Babcock at Rosyth with modules from Tyneside and Appledore and then follow those with 2 (or possibly 3) new ‘Albion +’ Class ships. That creates a long term future for the 3 shipbuilding centres in addition to BAE Clyde and BAE Barrow which did so well on the carriers:
    Cammell Laird (and maybe H & W Belfast)
    Babcock at Rosyth and Devon
    A & P Tyneside

    Given the Albions are some 20,000 Tons and the new FSS ships are said to be some 30,000 Tons we will already have a hull and propulsion basis for a larger Albion replacement which would provide extra capability to amphibious operations. I believe BMT Group have already come up with a vehicle deck version with a stern ramp (not a stern drop as in Albions) capable of use at sea so a lot of work is already in place.

    is it too much to hope that someone will see the benefits of a common hull design and use of larger internal spaces? Let alone lower costs provided by continuous build. Look how much faster HMS PoW was built and the higher state of build at launch compared to HMS QE

    • Couldn’t agree more. It all seems so simple, is there some hidden reason why we aren’t doing this? Steady stream of work = highly trained work force and investment in the yards = cheaper builds = increased capability and exports. Why are they so short sighted!

    • You need a floodable dock. A stern ramp onto a mexeflote is a step backwards and would leave the landing force at the mercy of bad weather.

      • (Chris H) Gunbuster – You are correct of course. I was just commenting that BMT had done a different version of the FSS hull. I am sure its not beyond our ability to design a partially floodable dock version especially as there will be some time before the ships would be built after the 3 FSS ships.

    • I thought the rumours re FSS size is that they’ll be about 40,000 tons. That’s what most of the initial articles on this site have said. Has that changed?

      Tides are 39,000t fully loaded (data from Wikipedia) so the 40,000-ish ton rumour seems plausible to me.

  12. While we are at it, the replacement for the albions should also be armed. Is there a reason they are not that I am ignorant to? If they are the primary amphibious ships then I would think they should be able to conduct fire support onto land and be able to defend against shore based asm’s. Especially as we don’t have many escorts.
    I just hope in 15-20 years we can look at our navy and see something along the lines of:

    Carrier strike fleet: 6x T45, 6x T26, QE & PoW

    Amphib Fleet: 2x Albion or replacement (both active), 2 each of AAW & ASW T31 and 3x Bay replacements and an LPH based on the FSS hull

    Patrol Fleet: 6 Rivers, 5 GP T31

    ASW North Sea Fleet: 2xT26, 3x asw T31

    Submarine fleet: 7 SSN, 6 SSK or a smaller increase in SSN, 3 boomers, multiple autonomous underwater drones.

    Support fleet: 3 FSS, 4 Tides, 1 designated hospital ship based on FSS hull, and renew the repair at sea platform.

    I know, many will say fantasy but look at the additions and over 10-20 years we are talking a no more than an uplift of a couple of billion. If we could get a total budget increase of around 5 billion, we could start rounding out all areas our armed forces and build in some depth again.

    Additional 8-10 T31 @ £400 mill = £4 billion
    6 SSK £750 mill = £4.5 billion
    LPH = £500 mill
    Bay replacements x3 = £1 billion
    Hospital ship =£300 mill
    Unarmed Albion replacements x2 =£1.2 billion
    UUavs = 500 mill to £1 billion

    Total =£12.5 billion. So there, a billion a year could get us in good shape again across all areas for the navy.

    • “Total =£12.5 billion. So there, a billion a year could get us in good shape again across all areas for the navy.”

      Yes, but without extra personnel for crew and shore support plus costs for consumables (fuel, parts, etc) all you’ve done is given the navy some soon-to-be-rusting hulls to tie up somewhere. I accept that some of your list was for replacements so my comment isn’t applicable there but for the additions there is no point adding assets unless the ongoing annual budget increments are there to operate them.

      I will admit though that, looking just at equipment expenditure and my comment above notwithstanding, your list is a pretty startling illustration of just how much £1.25 bn over 10 years (or however else you want to divvy up the £12.5 bn total) could get us.

      • Absolutely there would need to be an increase of personnel. Any increase in hull numbers would have to be done alongside big recruitment drives. But we would have time to do this, as many of these platforms would not be ready for well over ten years.

  13. Interesting that the US military man said: “From a military standpoint as the UK continues to diminish…” He recognises an absolute fact, of course. It is down to finance and a weaker economy certainly lays ahead with retail businesses failing one after another.

    Interesting too to hear on the BBC that the likelihood of Ireland reuniting has increased considerably as a result of Brexit and if that occurs, then another couple of million will be gone along with the taxes and income generated.

    • Flip the coin, and the money spent there by HMG will also be gone.
      Same with Scotland.
      Same with the 13 billion per year to the EU.
      Same with the Tariffs that we constantly hear of that only ever seem to apply to the UK but work both ways.

      There are always two sides.

      • Who knows. None of us know the future so we all have opinions rather than facts. All we can say is that there are a number of factors that could affect UK income and the extent that each of those factors will affect the overall income is unknown. There are also other factors that I suspect might be more significant, namely how urgently other departments need funding which makes it increasingly difficult for HMG to give defence any sizeable increase. To me the NHS seems to be the elephant in the room and I can see that badly affected by Brexit. I personally fear that the funding crisis in the NHS could get dramatically worse over the next 5 years or so and many other departments, including defence, are going to suffer as a result of the NHS becoming ever hungrier for money. (That’s not a criticism of the NHS by the way, I suspect it is becoming subject to factors beyond its control.)

    • (Chris H) TH – Typical misrepresentation from the Village Idiot:
      * The UK does NOT have a ‘weak economy’. We have a smaller economy than the USA
      * We don’t spend 3.5% of that smaller economy on defence.
      * Retail outlets are ‘failing’ because of changes in people’s buying preferences and nothing else
      * The BBC discusses many things. It does not make it fact. Unless you want it to be so to suit your confirmation Bias.
      * Northern Ireland costs the rUk some £9 Bn a year in deficit costs (Scotland by teh ways costs rUK £15 Bn a year)
      * Eire could not afford Northern Ireland and does not want its fearsome politics
      * The decision on reunification lies with the people of Northern Ireland not the EU much as you would like it to be.

      And as you mentioned it I guess you support Scottish Independence as that would save us £15 Bn a year? Some of us have a wider perspective and believe in the United Kingdom regardless of what it costs

      What Brexit has done is to show how deep and entangled the tentacles of the EU have enmeshed themselves into the UK, its politics and its economy. We never voted for it and why most of us want out of being controlled by a foreign power. As a member of the Taxpayer Allowance I would have thought that you would be pleased to stop spending £13 Bn a year on the EU with the likelihood of some extra income from import tariffs.

  14. The question is whether additional money has been found or whether keeping these means extra cuts somewhere else.

    I am not sure the army could take another major cut and not sure what other capability we have to cut.

    • Comments about the e-3 sentries being outdated and potentially vulnerable, could be a way managing the negativity for a potential cut in that capability. Just a thought.

  15. @TS. Couldn’t agree more, but would correc you and say this is £500m p.a. As the NSS should be a 25 year endeavour with year 13 being the one and only refit and a clear end of life after 25 years.

    So actually for £1bn pa we could build and resource the RN properly. My own estimates indicate that the RN needs around £10bn pa to function at the level of tasking our govt regularly commits and I think this is doable (inc Successor)

    Additionally, I would like to see our solid support ships be far more than just solid stores and really do think our foreign aid budget should be 75% humanitarian aid with the remainder funding those successful elements we are already involved in (like the Gates foundation). This would mean that we could have a large fleet of humanitarian aid ships and a large helicopter force that could be re-deployed in a national emergency but would be doing good in their day to day roles.

    A fleet of 8 Karel Doorman style vessels would do the job nicely (albeit we may have 4 with docks and 4 without), these could replace the bays(3) albions(2) and Forts(3), but give us far more utility than we currently have and reduce the need for having these alongside as we could provide NATO with its Atlantic supply fleet, when not operating in other roles. Add in 4 more tides and the picture is complete.

    This will allow us to build a tide class (style) hull every 18months in the UK for 25 years, maintain an effective support and amphibious capability and have the volume of multi purpose assets that we really need.

  16. Thank god for that.
    I was desperately worried we were about to scrap a key military capability and a key humanitarian disaster relief and rescue capability.
    Heavy lift amphibious landing ships are an expensive resource to regenerate should we stupidly scrap them to save 20-30 million a year operating costs.
    Each of these ships will cost around £460-600 million to replace.
    The damage to our credibility as a capable military power and ally would have been inconceivable.
    We need more money pumped into defence. We have to get to 2.5% now and aim to build upto 3%. Unfortunately Trump is right on defence. European NATO powers have cut too much, spend too little and rely on the USA to defend them and safeguard their democracies.
    Time the EU including the UK got serious about defence and our alliance. It is not the EU that has guaranteed peace inEurope for the last 70 years it is NATO.

  17. Excellent news. Simplifies the design for the FSS ships which now do not need to be pretend amphibious landing ships. But the LPDs are expensive to run so this does put pressure on meeting the budget for Type 31. Just need the 3rd FSS to be an Ocean replacement and the future for the RN is looking good.

  18. Paul.P

    We really dont need a replacement for Ocean, its time has passed. We dont have enough aircraft for the assets we have, why build another ship to hold more. What we do need is the ability to have POW and QE at sea both at the same time (if needed). Carrier strike is just so much more than what we have now, as a fallback Albion and Ocean both at sea far more is also good news.

    We dont need Ocean once we have POW – what we do need is 2 Carriers and 2 of these amphibious (more would be nice). I like the balance of what we are starting to get and would say we just need another 10 T31 and everything will be great.

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