A letter written by Minister for Defence Procurement Harriet Baldwin in January had denied there are any ‘current plans’ to retire the Albion class amphibious warfare vessels early.
However, the Minister refused to confirm that was still the case during a debate today in Westminster Hall prompting fears this has changed.
The letter deposited in the House of Commons Library in January, was written after the question of the future of HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark was raised on the Floor of the House of Commons.
She said at the time:
“There are no current plans to decommission the ships early, and I can reassure you that their out of service dates are 2033 and 2034 respectively.”
Baldwin, when asked if this was still the case, appeared to entirely dodge the question:
“I can indeed confirm that I not only wrote those words but that I also I recall writing them.”
She later added:
“The work of the National Security Review is ongoing and no decisions have been put to Ministers.”
It would appear that decisions have not yet been made.
Recently 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.
“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.”
It was recently reported by multiple sources that Brazil and Chile have been given notice of “potential availability” of Royal Navy warships.
Most notably reported by IHS Jane’s Navy International, it has been claimed by the outlet that Brazil and Chile have “quietly been given notice of the potential availability of RN frigates and amphibious ships”.
Janes report that UK officials have “discreetly advised” that some of the frigate fleet in addition to the two Albion class landing platform docks could become available due to budget cuts.
Even the Americans have weighed in on the matter with Colonel Dan Sullivan reportedly saying cuts to the Royal Marines and the loss of two amphibious assault ships could impact the defence relationship between the US and UK.
The Ministry of Defence is reportedly examining options aimed at the manpower available to the Royal Marines or cutting HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion.
“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.”