A massive shortage in the number of sailors has meant that four of the UK’s major warships did not take the waves for a single day in 2018, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD)
The findings, which were presented in a UK parliamentary session and reported on by the Telegraph newspaper, say that in an effort to make up for the shortfall of naval personnel, the Royal Navy has extended the standard deployment period from six to nine months for its officers. This has however meant that many of the warships end up sitting idle in the dock for longer maintenance periods when personnel return home. Some simply aren’t even deployed.
Another cause of the problem, reports suggest, is that the Naval authorities have continually extended the lifespans of the UK’s so-called ‘Duke Class’ of type-23 destroyers. First commissioned in 1989, the warships had a planned 18-years long lifespan, yet the ongoing extensions mean that the ships are slowly withering, and needing to spend much more time at the dock for heavy maintenance.
The findings come on the heels of a report back in April which showed that the Royal Navy was beset by a manpower shortage of about 16% between 2016-17. That number is believed to have since risen.
The revelations have however come at a time when the British media has churned out a slew of reports that seriously call into question the way that the country’s armed forces, and its Royal Navy, in particular, are being managed.
The Type-45 Debacle
London’s type-45 destroyers, costing a whacking £1 billion each and described as the ‘backbone’ of the UK’s navy, spent about 80% of 2017 in the dock, it was widely reported in June of this year.
Embarrassingly, it was found that two of the fleet’s leading warships — which are stationed in the Persian Gulf — HMS Dauntless and HMS Defender, did not take to the high seas at all in 2017.
Unbelievably, it was also widely reported in British media that all six of the ships which make up the fleet were designed using engine systems that cut out in warm waters — not exactly ideal for the Persian Gulf, where the average water temperature is said to range between 24 to 32 degrees.
According to reports, one of the ship’s engines cut out in the dead of night as sailors were making their way through the Gulf, leaving them stranded in darkness.
Daily Mail reported back in June 2018 that the engines had been built by Rolls-Royce who allegedly claims that the MoD did not tell them that the 8,000-ton ships would be spending prolonged periods of time in warm waters, leaving them unable to cope in such environments.
Back in 2017, the ultra-large aircraft carrier, the ‘HMS Queen Elizabeth,’ was championed by the Royal Navy as the “most powerful” ship it had ever built.
Yet, an aircraft carrier is little good without a functioning crew.
Reports have consistently leaked out into the UK’s media that a steady trickle of sailors has continued to abandon the vessel due to issues over morale, with many reportedly expressing their boredom at being out to see for long periods of time.
Based on reports, it appears that once again, the issue had to do with personnel being expected to stay out at sea on longer dispatch periods to make up for the sailor shortages.
At the time, one retired commander was widely quoted as saying that sailors lives were getting “dull” and that many were “fed up and depressed.”
Lack of Personnel
The National Audit Office (NOA) released a report back in April 2018 that found personnel shortages are a major issue bedeviling the UK’s armed forces across the spectrum, from its conventional ground army to its air force.
The Navy was no exception.
The report found that in addition to a manpower shortage of 16% — which allegedly shows no signs of abating — there are massive holes in other areas too. Perhaps most alarmingly, it was found that the Navy lacks in thousands of weapons technicians, many of whom are needed to ensure that heavy artillery is ready and equipped to defend the ship in the event of an attack.
An earlier report by NATO had also found that the navy was being plagued by a major shortage of spare parts for warships and submarines. This led to an epidemic of what the office described as equipment “cannibalization,” where parts were being stripped from other vessels and used to mend broken ones. At its height in 2017, such conduct had allegedly increased by about 49% compared to the previous year.