In a quiet ceremony in Portsmouth on Thursday two more Royal Navy minehunters joined a long list of their predecessors to be ‘salami-sliced’.
The joint ceremony, which featured former crew members and commanding officers from both vessels, was controversially held behind closed doors with no room for media attendees. HM ships Quorn and Atherstone, both of the Hunt class of mine countermeasures vessels, were identified for premature decommissioning during cutbacks earlier this year. At the time the decision to axe them was made Quorn and Atherstone were both due for refits with provisional work already having commenced.
Just twelve months ago much attention was made when they were the first vessels to be moved into the newly refurbished Minor War Vessels Centre of Specialisation at Portsmouth, expected to provide 190, 000 hours of work and support hundreds of local jobs. The refits, to be conducted by BAE Systems, were scheduled to replace their entire propulsion systems, machinery controls, surveillance systems and include an upgrade of the galleys.
The so called ‘salami slicing’ of mine countermeasures vessels has been a recurring trend in all recent defence reviews, with vessels being taken out of service one or two at a time in nearly every round of cuts. As minor vessels they are often viewed as a less controversial option than scrapping major warships or amphibious vessels and an easy way to make quick savings. After these latest two vessels have decommissioned the Royal Navy fleet will sit at thirteen mine warfare vessels in active service, six from the Hunt class and seven from the Sandown class.
Despite this ongoing trend of cuts in recent years the Royal Navy has managed to retain a senior status in conducting this niche area of operations. The standing deployment of four mine warfare vessels, plus a mothership, in the Persian Gulf has been a highly regarded capability with allied nations – particularly the United States. Now that commitment’s future remains in doubt with indications the Royal Navy may have to drop down to two vessels in the region to ease budgetary pressures. The Royal Navy also commits vessels to both NATO standing mine countermeasures groups; such as HMS Enterprise which has served as flagship for the Mediterranean flotilla for most of this year.
It is unclear what the future will hold for the scrapped vessels. Their sister ships decommissioned in previous rounds of defence cuts have been sent in pairs to the Greek and Lithuanian Navies with a fifth, the former HMS Brecon now serving as a training ship at HMS Raleigh. Other decommissioned minehunters from the Sandown class have gone on to see service with the Estonian Navy, so sale to a foreign navy is possible.