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.”
This also comes as multiple ministers, MP’s and other officials continue to insist the Royal Navy is growing, even in the face of upcoming cuts.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said in Parliament that “a growing defence budget means more ships, more planes, more armoured vehicles and more cutting edge equipment for our forces”.
The Defence Secretary also said it again after announcing the naming of a new frigate in Belfast:
“Thanks to our ambitious new National Shipbuilding Strategy, this shipyard once again has the chance to be involved in building a British warship thanks to the competition to build a new class of light frigates for our growing Royal Navy.“
Again as part of another announcement:
“This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navythat will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.”
I could fill this article with quotes from Fallon and other ministers claiming that the Royal Navy is growing, but you get the idea.
This isn’t true 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).
Patrol Ships (18 Inshore and four Offshore) make up the largest proportion of Royal Navy vessels, with 22, as shown in Chart 1 below.
The total number of Destroyers and Frigates (19) as at 1 April 2017 are also in line with SDSR Joint Force 2025 commitments.”
Further, according to the Defence Select Committee, the UK has a “woefully low” number of warships. 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.”
Additionally, Sir John Parker the author of an independent report on the National Shipbuilding Strategy, has indicated that the frigate fleet will fall below 13 frigates unless the Type 31 Frigate build starts soon, something that appears unlikely for a project described by a minister this month as still in “early pre-concept phase” with no design having yet been chosen.
Julian Lewis asked during a Defence Select Committee session on the National Shipbuilding Strategy:
“So what you are saying—and this is a critical point—is that unless we start building the Type 31e frigates in parallel with the Type 26s, there is little chance of not reducing below our existing figure of 13 frigates all told.”
Sir John Parker responded with one word: