A new report by MPs on the UK House of Commons Defense Committee has said the program to replace and modernize its Royal Navy fleet must deliver on time, otherwise the Government will break its "categorical" pledge to maintain at least 19 frigates and destroyers-already a "pathetically low total."
Third Report: 'Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy' published today https://t.co/aL5A26Aq2l— Defence Committee (@CommonsDefence) November 21, 2016
It warns that: "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."
"For decades, the numbers of Royal Navy escort vessels have been severely in decline. The Fleet is now way below the critical mass required for the many tasks which could confront it, if the international scene continues to deteriorate. What remains of our surface Fleet now faces a prolonged period of uncertainty," said Dr. Julian Lewis, the Defense Committee chairman.
However, supporters of the Royal Navy have criticized politicians for short-sightedness in the procurement programs that have led to delays, cost-overruns and — in some cases — major failures that have led to long-term problems with new equipment.
"I don't think politicians have any idea of the concept of strategy or even care about it. They care about the next election and whether they're going to be re-elected into office. They only think about defense matters for the present day, not for the future," former Royal Navy officer, Rear Admiral Chris Parry told the BBC.
A particular program that has come in for severe criticism is the new Type 45 Destroyer program which has seen around 50 design changes between delivery of the first and last of the new ships, despite which many of which "continue to suffer from reliability issues including major power failures," according to the report.
The committee concluded that: "The Type 45 has had a long history of significant engine failures. The Ministry of Defense's (MoD's) Power Improvement Plan is designed to rectify these problems and put an end to the reliability issues which continue to limit the availability and dependability of the Type 45. The MoD has assured us that there are sufficient funds available for the refit program. However, it has yet to set a start date."
"If we're not careful, we're going to have a navy that can't fight and won't fight in future simply because we'll pick the fights that will be easy ones. Our [aircraft] carriers will go cruising round bullying people we can — they won't be able to go in harm's way," Rear Admiral Parry said.
"It's not just a question of numbers, it's a question of quality, in terms of our ships, our submarines and our people, who are woefully undermanned at the moment," he added.