During an address to the Royal United Service Institute’s conference on sea warfare, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson warned Britain must build up its military to counter Russian aggression.

“We’re rapidly having to come to terms with this new age of warfare. Look at Russia’s resurgence under President Putin. Its submarine activity has increased 10-fold in the North Atlantic.

That’s not all. In 2010, the Royal Navy had to respond once to a Russian Navy ship approaching UK territorial waters. Last year we had to respond 33 times.

It goes to show the increasing aggression, the increasing assertiveness of Russia, and how we have to ensure we give the right support to our Royal Navy in order to give them the tools to do the job and keep Britain safe.”

Admiral Sir George Zambellas, the former head of the Royal navy, also said in November that the British navy’s antisubmarine-warfare capability was “inadequate” and the force was struggling with its duties amid relatively fewer hulls and capability cuts left, right and centre.

Ministers often spoke in Parliament last year of “a growing Royal Navy” but official figures appear to disagree with those claims. According to the the UK Armed Forces Equipment and Formations document released by the Government detailing statistics on vessels, land equipment and aircraft of the armed forces. It states:

“At 1 April 2017 there were 73 vessels in the UK Armed Forces: 64 vessels in the Royal Navy and nine in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA). This is a reduction of three vessels since 2016 following the withdrawal of three RFA vessels: two Small Fleet Tankers and one Forward Repair Ship (RFA Diligence).

It gets a little muddier though as Guto Bebb, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, recently responded to a written question in Parliament, outlining the fleet size.

“Based on the records held, the number of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliarysurface vessels in each of the last five years was:

YearNumber of Vessels
201378
201477
201575
201673
201772

This would appear to show a sharp decrease in hulls since 2013 and in the period when claims of “a growing Royal Navy” were shouted from the rooftops however Bebb added that current planning will see the number of hulls in the fleet increase:

“On current planning assumptions the number of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary surface vessels in the next five years is:

YearNumber of Vessels
201876
201976
202077
202177
202277

All this does however is highlight that the fleet size is only playing catch-up with where it was five years ago and even then, isn’t going to surpass the 2013 figure.

Mark Lancaster, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, said:

“For the first time in a generation, the Royal Navy is actually growing. It grew in manpower last year and will continue to grow over the next couple of years, and not just in manpower—the size of its surface fleet is also growing. The latest of the offshore patrol vessels arrived in Portsmouth only this weekend.”

According to the Defence Select Committee, the UK has a “woefully low” number of vessels. Chair of the committee Dr Julian Lewis advised earlier in the year that the Government risked leaving the country with fewer than 19 frigates and destroyers.

“The United Kingdom will then lack the maritime strength to deal with the threats we face right now, let alone in the future. We are putting the MoD on notice that it must not let this happen.”

At the conference, Williamson also cautioned against reducing defence spending any further:

“You do not want to be in a position where your only deterrence against threat and against aggressors is a nuclear deterrence. We have got to talk about deterrence being full-spectrum, right across the board.

It is sometimes difficult to explain to people that actually investing in our armed forces is all about making sure that things do not happen. It is about aircraft carriers, it is about a presence in the Pacific, it is a presence in the North Atlantic, it is a presence in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf with conventional frigates and destroyers that are able to say that Britain is interested, Britain cares, Britain will protect our interests and our values.

If we do not have that conventional deterrence and the ability to deter through conventional forces, then what we will find ourselves in is a place that none of us wish to be in and having to turn to the greatest deterrence of them all.”

58 COMMENTS

  1. You have to give it to Gav, he is speaking the truth, something that his predecessors never really did, at least not when in office. He’s invested a lot of political capital in this review and an upturn in overall levels of spending, so it makes you wonder what will happen if it doesn’t materialise.

    • That would be something, although I am not entirely clear on how it benefits our armed forces given they will be built down under. Also grates slightly that they will have more than us!

      • Industry wise I believe the engines will be RR.

        Operationally, it allows a common set of parts to be available across the world and if Canada and/or the US (I know but I live in hope) were to go with it as well then that could make it the F35 of the ocean.

        Also we are starting to integrate more with the ADF and Commonality of platforms, training etc is always a good thing.

        Lastly, having a secondary customer at launch will be good for future export potential.

        Hope this is real, I think it will be a good decision all round if it does realise.

    • I do hope the Type 26 is chosen for SEA5000. It would be a deserved success and a tremendous affirmation of UK shipbuildimg and design capabilties.

      • why is Australia choosing the t26 even remotely positive. They want the hull but want difference radar and weapons, meaning that any future research has to split between British and Australian needs. Added that it will be built in Australia. We are ordering fjrsr and so no economy of scale. To me it all looks negative. Everyone jumps on the export but it isnt always a positive word.

        • I think the ADF’s onto something with CEAFAR and it may be worth us teaming up with them on it.

          At the end of the day there will be more common parts than not, and if this only means that parts are more readily available and cheaper because more ships are in use, then this is good isn’t it Steve?

          • This depends on what the parts are.

            The electronics will be pretty much completely different, the parts that will be common will be the parts that you don’t have lying around and are built to demand.

            A hull part fails and there is maybe 20 or 30 hulls in the world around, means that each nation will be fighting each other for who is the first in line for production of a part.

            There will be some small parts that will be more available due to the increased hull numbers, but whether that is sufficient an advantage who knows.

        • I understand what you say as regards radar and systems etc. But if say the Canadians choose the T26 (hull) they will want a different radar and systems fit again. The symbolism though is key. The prime design work for T26 was done by BAE in the UK. From a marketing point of view the RN, RAN and RCN fleets should be presented as ‘variants’ of a UK designed ship after the style of the MEKO ‘family’. As my grandmother used to say, blow your own trumpet, no-one else will blow it for you.

  2. If 8 asw frigates was deemed sufficient after the Cold War ended, surely if we are experiencing 33 times more activity we should get 33 x 8 t26? Lol

  3. The increased surface activity is due to the Syrian Campaign, so not really aggression.
    Having said that, they still need to be seen as a potential threat.

    Their subs are a different kettle of fish, ASW should never be wanting in Resources, R&D…New Technologies…

  4. I like this Gavin fellow and can see him being a future PM. Nice to hear a Def Sec actually standing up for the forces. I am looking forward to this review with cautious optimism.

      • Just read your comments. I hope you are wrong!

        BTW I don’t actually think we will get any more helos, I just wondered how many we would want.

        From what I have read about this review it seems to be about refocusing our budget but I cannot for the life of me see what we would reduce in order to get more frigates, for example.

        • Infantry Battalions is where I would start.

          Not necessarily for frigates but for extra support arms.

        • I think there will be an increase in the defence budget at some point. But for a given RN budget what is reduced is clearly the specification and cost of each frigate and the crew size. My guess for example is that £250m gets you a 57mm not a 5in on the Type 31 ( or a reused Mk8). And its looking very likely we will see a horses for courses deployment strategy with forward deployed OPVs doing all the constabulary work. And if we want and East of Suez presence it will have to be with cheap and cheerful forward deployed Type 31 ‘patrol frigates’.

          • Agreed that at least the first batch of T31s will be lightly armed patrol frigates. Can’t see ASMs being fitted, more like a 57mm, sea ceptor, GPMGs, and a Wildcat providing ASMs. Perfectly fine for low risk work, as long as MOD mandarins do not mistake them for war fighting ships if we end up in a conflict.

        • Some of the defence modernisation mood music is hinting we might get 8 T31. Notwithstanding that the T31 core requirement does not call for hull quietening it would be interesting is if there is a ‘batch2’ T31 with some ASW capability. The Leander has electric drive, so might usefully tow a sonar array. And we do have 3 spare 2087 sets. The issue would be we would need 3 more Merlins and the T31 hangar spec is sized for a Wildcat.

      • I honestly think that Russia’s behaviour will mean we are not going to see any major hit to capabilities, I honestly think this one will be about rebalancing what we have to more reflect the likely geopolitics of the 20s.

  5. With another Scottish Independence Referendum likely, perhaps the numbers of vessels could be reduced. Scotland will take around 10% after independence which will take a few years to sort out. I think this time round, more are likely to vote to leave the UK.

    • I think that will depend on the next Scottish Parliament elections and whether the SNP retain their control. I don’t think its clear cut at all.

    • The moment I read that first clause I knew who was writing it without looking at the name. The impact of a troll decreases when nobody expects anything else.

    • Speaking to friends in Scotland a “NO” to the UK looks smaller than than the independence referendum. This is a waste of time speaking about, so drop it.

  6. Ah yes ‘current planning’, I.e. we’re saying this to get you off our back, we’re fully intending to scrap half of the fleet by 2022 so we can fund another MP pay raise.

  7. Ten fold increase over what baseline? I do wish articles would be precise and objective rather than headline grabbing. The Russian sub surface fleet is a shadow of what it was. It still faces serious geographic disadvantages. Every year that passes the Russian C-in-C adds to the Russian military’s workload by recruiting more and more countries (many former Soviet satellites) to the side of the west. Putin’s political future is going nowhere. He uses the military to intimidate negative opinion at home. Judging by their performance in Syria, that is wise of him.

    • A ten fold increase using the 6-8 operational attack boats could mean we saw 10 boats in the Atlantic last year as opposed to 1. Stats say what you want them to say

  8. At last we seem to have a Defence Secretary in Gavin Williamson who is prepared to fight for a sensible budget for Defence.

  9. It would be interesting to know, of the war fighters, which vessel types represent the best value for money, considering crew costs etc, in other words annual running costs including an annualised cost of the initial build.

    With warfighters i am thinking destroyers, frigates and subs.

    Ok each of these aren’t equal and fight a different part of the war, but would be interesting to know.

  10. Read your history boys and girls of the 20th and this century and you will see why we need a much bigger RN so that our interests can be protected globally whether Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, South China Sea, Antarctic, Arctic, etc with world wide trade. UK trade in SCS area is over £1.2 Trillion per year. So therefore ramp up the heavy industry, shipbuilders and let’s build our RN to cope with its commitments and be proud of it. Up until the end of the last world war tge RN was the biggest in the world with over 1100 warships. This will of course need an increase in tax for the whole country and Brexit gives us an opportunity to expand our Armed forces, so yes agree with Gavin Williamson our Minister of Defence.

  11. The RN needs to be much bigger that is a fact.
    Too many commitments and threats to ignore the current woefully inadequate force levels.
    Type 31 needs to be built to be a capable frigate not a jumped up inadequate overly large opv.
    We need a firm commitment for at least 10 ideally 12-15 type 31s. The decision to cut type 26 numbers to 8 hulls needs partially reversing, say go back upto 10 hulls.
    Astute class we need a concurrent build with the new Dreadnought class of another 2-3 subs.
    If we do all that the and only then will RN hull numbers be able to match current peace time commitments. All parliaments in the last 30 years since the Falklands war have cut back the RN.
    At no time has anyone considered attritional losses in conflict, damaged warships or listened to RN admirals that state on record 26 destroyers and frigates and 9-10 SSNs (astute/ Trafalgar class) are needed.
    On the Scottish independence vote issue I do not think Scotland will listen to the poisoned witch of the North and all her lies.

    • We don’t have the money, the public support or personnel toachebe such a plan.

      Let’s be realistic?

      • Realistic. Exactly.

        While that list is correct an end to cuts, an uplift in manpower and a few more T31 to me is realistic as far as the RN is concerned.

        • Why make t31 when navy didn’t even want river 2? If your talking 500 hulls like USA yes you need a high low mix but the U.K.? No Royal Navy said for 60 years they only wanted a one tier navy? What’s changed? Politics.
          Add 2 % across board to tax high and low(not just the poor) and I’m a low earner
          Tax is at one of the lowest levels ever been in U.K.
          Spend 1% each on nhs military and police. Sure that would generate millions.
          After war tax was what 90%.?

  12. The Australian selection of the T26 who be a huge boost to UK shipbuilding even if they manufactured in Australia.

    A licence fee would be payable to UK government, plus numerous parts within the frigate would be manufactured in the UK such as the Rolls Royce MT 30 gas turbines. Australia would also have to pay for BAE expertise and consultancy in the build process.

    Other decisions would take note of the Australian decision and it would assist in further sales.

    So let’s hope T26 wins, good for the UK good for Australia.

    • Exactly! A win for T26 would be the reinstatement of long lost recognition and affirmation of UK warship design and build skills; priceless assets in the competition for future orders of more than ships.

  13. Having listened to the select committee on NATO, all the defence Secretary repeated was 7 Astute, 8 T26 and 9 Poseidon. He seemed to be emphasizing change of priorities and not increased funding.

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