The fate of HMS Westminster, a Type 23 frigate, was a focal point of discussion in a recent Defence Select Committee session.
The deliberations featured Rear Admiral Steve Moorhouse and Admiral Sir Ben Key and shed light on the challenges of maintaining an aging fleet amid transitioning to newer vessels.
During the session, Mark Francois MP raised concerns about the longevity and maintenance of Type 23 frigates, particularly HMS Westminster. He highlighted the extensive time and cost involved in refitting such vessels, questioning the economic viability of refitting HMS Westminster, given its advanced age and condition. Mr. Francois pointed out that “Some of them [Type 23 frigates] will have to serve for 35 years in order to make everything fit, and that is way beyond their service life.”
In response to inquiries about the status of HMS Westminster, Rear Admiral Steve Moorhouse acknowledged the challenges but clarified that “Work continues today with Westminster in preparation for her upkeep. No decisions have been made.”
The discussion also touched on the broader issue of fleet renewal. Admiral Sir Ben Key addressed the balancing act between maintaining operational fleet capabilities and transitioning to newer ships. He noted, “It is going to be a minimum of four years to refit Westminster, we think, but that work is going on at the moment. That takes us to 2027.”
Mr. Francois also expressed frustration at the slow pace of shipbuilding and refitting, suggesting a more efficient approach. He criticised the prolonged refit times, asserting, “Four years to refit a frigate—even by British standards, you could build one from scratch in as much time.”
“There are strong rumours that HMS Westminster will not be refitted, because she is in such a poor condition. She is so old—poor thing—after many years’ loyal service to the Crown that you have written her off, because it is not economical to repair her, so we are down to 16 [escorts] for the next few years.”
Back in September, I reported that Type 23 Frigate HMS Westminster’s refit and future status had sparked queries in the House of Commons. The Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, John Healey, sought clarification on the vessel’s status and the plans for its modernisation.
HMS Westminster played a significant role in Operation Atlantic Thunder 22 in September 2022, where it discharged two Harpoon missiles in collaboration with US forces, leading to the sinking of the decommissioned US frigate, USS Boone.
Regarding the status of HMS Westminster, John Healey asked the Secretary of State for Defence, “To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what the status of HMS Westminster is; and whether his Department has made a decision on modernisation.”
In response, James Cartlidge, the Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, stated, “HMS Westminster remains in Devonport dockyard and is part of a modernisation programme being implemented to all Type 23s that are in upkeep. We do not disclose the fine detail of forward availability forecasts to preserve the operational security of the Fleet.”
Adding to this context, HMS Westminster was recently moved from the Frigate Support Centre to 4 Basin in Devonport. This move, likely for a long-term lay-up, signalled a possible decision on its disposal.
This development followed reports from 2023 suggesting that the ship’s intended two-year refit, started in October 2022 to extend its service until 2028-29, was abandoned. The decision was attributed to prohibitive costs and the deteriorating condition of the vessel.