In remarks that have surprised no-one, Former First Sea Lord West also warned that the UK is moving into an “area of great danger” owing to a diminishing Royal Navy fleet.

His comments came after the Sun newspaper reported that HMS Cattistock was deployed to escort two Kilo-class Russian submarines and a Silva-class support tug through the English Channel.

Confirming the “glass-reinforced plastic” hulled Cattistock was tasked with the escort, a Royal Navy spokesman said it was the “most appropriate vessel for this particular task at that time.”

“There is always one Royal Navy ship that is designated as the Fleet Ready Escort (FRE), although there are always a number of Royal Navy units available in UK waters that could conduct this role depending on the tasking.”

However with With just one ship usually available for the FRE which this time was on another tasking, Lord West said this highlights how stretched the Royal Navy has become.

Recently, Type 23 Frigate HMS Westminster sailed to escort Russian vessels through the English Channel. This came not long after HMS St Albans escorted a Russian warship through the North Sea and areas of UK interest on Christmas Day.

The Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigate was called upon to sail on 23 December and keep watch on the new Russian warship Admiral Gorshkov as it passed close to UK territorial waters.

HMS St Albans remained at sea on Christmas Day to monitor the Russian frigate, keeping track of its activity in areas of national interest.

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Dave Branney

Andy, the report you’ve hyper-linked is quite worrying. This is probably the way the Treasury thinks regarding how they value our Armed Forces. The report is written by an economist who knows nothing about tactical or strategic thinking (warfare). An example being where they look into “substitution” by replacing troops in Germany with aircraft or frigates with MPA. An aircraft can dominate an area of ground /sea for a limited period due to the amount of fuel and payload it can carry. When the said aircraft has expended this it must return to base to either refuel or re-arm. To… Read more »


My thought is you need a standing defence committee with representatives from all 3 services and MP’s of longstanding and suitability. Post to be for min 6 years.
The Civil service could also have a representative but they usually have a negative dog in this fight unfortunately being crammed with young green BBC types these days so it seems.
These people chaired by the Defence Minister would run the Defence of UK. Treasury would be tasked to fund them not always reverse as happens now.


this government and the idiots in charge of running and procuring equipment are just killing of our defence especially that idiot Hammond…we always have big holes in the defence budget but yet they do not think twice about increasing foreign aid or like last week giving 45 million to France and 50 million to Africa more annoying is as soon as Macron got 45 million he then gives 250 million euro to Tansania Because they have financial difficulties so no doubt that,s where our 45 million went..when will these muppets ever learn this money is not there,s it,s ours the… Read more »

Stephen G.

Exactly, I am sick to death of simply giving £billions of our hard earned money away to foreign countries. We are basically being mugged. That is our hard earned money, we want that spent on improving our country.

andy reeves

i’m beginning to think that all these rumours of a marinas,paras merger are just the tip of a far bigger iceberg. maybe the government look at a similar programme of a total merger of all the forces into a Canadian type defence force(u the canadian armed force c(af) is 40 years old this year.


This is why the UK needs to start building more River class OPV’s and even start building more Type 31’s to cover their Home waters when the rest of the fleet is overseas.

Callum Manning

Oh god, not more OPVs. Honestly, we need the order of T31s increased to a bare minimum of 8 ships, and preferably 10-12. That would give us enough light surface combatants to cover most of our standing deployments, and just as importantly would allow us to preserve the high-end specialist escorts for carrier duties and North Atlantic ASW patrols.

Of course, the news that the T31 programme hasn’t even been included in the planning assumptions for the next 10 year budget are incredibly worrying.


My fear is that the budget for Type 31 is already allocated …to River 2


it’s pretty clear to me what has happened. the plan is to build the type 23 first and then the 31, taking us past the 10 year planning cycle.


Assume you meant Type26; I think you might be right. If we retain the LPDs we could be looking at a ‘frigate’ force of 8 Type 26 and 5 River 2s if the Treasury have their way.

andy reeves

i’ve my doubts about the type 31 actually happening.


I have to say that T31 is the answer to the RN’s problems – if, and it is a big if they can build to combat survivability standards and stop the instinct to gold plate. The T23 is a great ship and no one is complaining about its performance per se – it is just old, so why we need to replace it with a vessel that is 20% larger is beyond me. The T31 if built properly and to a budget no greater than £500m each (I know the plan is £250m) will allow the RN to build in… Read more »


Don’t waste your breath no one is listening. They are about to sell off two amazing assault ships, so they don’t give a fig about the small craft in the fleet.


The immediate solution is to retain the batch 1 Rivers and to use the River 2s for UK fleet ready escort x2, Carribean hurricane season, Falklands and the Med.

Geoffrey Roach

Very sensible…if only.


Can see where FSL is coming from though. Once the treasury see you can use 5 OPVs where you said you needed 5 frigates Type 31 is brought into question, and the national shipbuilding strategy with it. My judgment of the political mood in the country is that if the decision is taken not to increase the RN budget then HM Gov will choose to build the Type 31. Job creation ( and on the Clyde) and the prospect of a larger fleet and exports will win out over the raw emotion of RM storming beaches.

Daniele Mandelli

He already implied as such in the Gallipoli speech weeks ago.
T26 T45 for core tasks like carriers and Trident, T31 and Rivet for other tasks.

The other solution is not deploy so much and deploy only as a purpose built task group. Pretty much what they’ve implied already.


I guess I don’t have a problem with Cattistock being the surface escort, as long as there’s an Astute lurking about.


Fleet ready escort is all about visible presence. This is what an OPV is for….patrolling. No getting away from the fact that sending a mine hunter is embarrassing.


Remarkable how the well-pensioned brass only manage to find their protesting voices AFTER they’ve retired.


I completely agree. Why didnt they do something when they were in a position to be listened to.

Geoffrey Roach

One little piece of news. According to a parliamentary answer we now have ten less commanders and captains than we did in 2013. The Royal Navy now has “only” 1030 commanders and 270 captains. Anybody got a calculator? I reckon at least £100 million.

Mr Bell

Geoff Roach is right. We should not have a commodore or Admiral grade for every single ship in the Navy. Promotions should only occur when someone has left their command and either retired, died or resigned. That way we do not get thousands of highly paid career posts that are actually not needed. Same goes for Army and RAF. There are huge potential efficiency savings available in the MOD, including having a bonfire of the quangos. The retired naval commander is right but definitely should have gone public and become more vocal whilst actually still in post. Everyone knows now… Read more »

Dave Branney

Unfortunately, without a Government review there will never be a cull on Senior Officers. It feels like throughout history, Parliament/MPs have thoroughly distrusted our Armed Forces. You just have to look at the pre WWII state of the Airforce and Army, again due a lack of funding. The Navy was kept out of most budget cuts due to ensuring that the commercial sea lanes were maintained, hence the high number of light cruisers. Then look at the military draw down of the nothing “East of Suez” decision by the Wilson Government. It reduced the Army’s strength by half, scrapped a… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Subs used to be tracked by the JMF St Mawgan amongst other places. There will be satellites, electronic surveillance, Sigint and all sorts if stuff not seen watching Russian vessels.
The MCMV, or even an escort lime GRE is a token jesture only.

Daniele Mandelli

Damn phone that should say ” escort like the FRE”

Mr Bell

Sorry Daniele I have read and re read your post several times and still cannot get my head around it. I think you are saying….and correct me if I am wrong that Russian subs are tracked and we know precisely where they are at all times and do not need escort warships, MPAs, ASW helicopters etc? Nothing could be further from the truth. The Russian navy is MASS producing new series of very quiet diesel electric kilo 2 class and replacing it’s Soviet era SSNs and SSBNs with advanced designs. They are ultra quiet and most importantly can only be… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

No of course not Mr Bell! Nothing is fool proof! NATO, the US, UK have intelligence on other nstions assets whereabouts. SOSUS, it’s new version and other assets like the JMF, which moved to America by the way, are all used. Of course it dies not give foolproof coverage and of course escorts and asw are needed! And in numbers! I guess my point with these 2 subs was I assumed they were on the surface and thus NATO is well aware where they are and night be moving to and thus a T23 or even a MCMV is suitable… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Also agree with everything you said Mr Bell about what the UK needs! I’m not TH for gods sake!!!!

andy reeves

take for instance the newest sigma corvette is 10 meters longer than a river, 8 knots faster, needs 20 more crew, yet comes with a main 76mm gun, 4 exocet ,two triple torpedo launchers, two quad anti air launchers. if a platform of the size of a river can be fitted to these standards a weapon retrofit to the operational o.p.v’s, call them light frigates and the r.n would be 5 ships larger, in double quick time


Why Foreign Aid 0.7% GDP is enshrined in statute and 1.7% ( true figure) on Defence, shows the UK has taken leave of its senses.


Should read ..’ and 1.7% (true figure) on Defence’…is not, shows….