Lord Adonis has incorrectly proclaimed that “Britain’s navy is now smaller than Italy’s!” in a now viral Tweet.
This article is part of our effort to correct online misinformation, we believe that no matter the party, organisation or individual making the incorrect claim, the claim must be challenged.
Britain’s navy is now smaller than Italy’s!
Maybe that’s why, for the first time ever, Britain didn’t send a minister to the annual Munich security conference. Our defence minister stayed in London for the reshuffle, unsure if he might be sacked while on the plane to Munich
— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) February 17, 2020
So, what’s the issue? It’s simply wrong and as a result it’s misleading.
There are over 184 vessels in service with the various branches of the UK’s Naval Service and supporting organisations, including; 75 commissioned ships of the Royal Navy, 33 landing craft of the Royal Marines, 63 auxiliary vessels of Marine Services and 13 auxiliary ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
The Italian Navy meanwhile maintains approximately 181 ships in service, including minor auxiliary vessels.
While on the surface, the numbers are broadly similar it is important to remember that unlike the Italian Navy, the Royal Navy is a blue water navy capable of prolonged and significant global deployment with high end assets like large aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and an extensive logistics, amphibious and sealift fleet.
Ocean going Italian ships include 2 light aircraft carriers, 3 small 8,000 tonnes amphibious transport docks, 4 air-defence destroyers, 3 general-purpose frigates, 9 anti-submarine frigates, and 8 conventional attack submarines. Patrol and littoral warfare units include one light patrol frigate, 10 offshore patrol vessels and two corvettes. In support of the fleet there are 10 mine countermeasure vessels, 4 coastal patrol boats and a small number of auxiliary ships.
For the Royal Navy, 23 are major surface combatants (6 guided missile destroyers, 13 frigates, 2 amphibious transport docks and 2 aircraft carriers), and 10 are nuclear-powered submarines (4 ballistic missile submarines and 6 fleet submarines). In addition the Royal Navy possesses 13 mine countermeasures vessels, 22 patrol vessels, 4 survey vessels and 1 icebreaker. In addition there are 13 ships belonging to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, 6 tankers, 3 replenishment vessels, 3 large Bay class auxiliary landing ships and 1 aviation training & primary casualty receiving ship.
Both navies are designed to do very different things and comparing them is of course like comparing apples and oranges but let’s make sure we get the number of apples right first.