A combination of mechanical problems, maintenance, holiday leave and a shortage of crew manpower has resulted in all six of the UK's Type 45 destroyers — HMS Daring, HMS Dauntless, HMS Diamond, HMS Defender, HMS Dragon, and HMS Duncan — all being left tied up in Portsmouth harbor.
Similarly the navy's 13-strong fleet of Type 23 frigates are split between Portsmouth and Devonport in Plymouth to allow maintenance programs to be carried out as well as give sailors leave over the Christmas period.
The only vessel still at sea is HMS St Albans, presently on duty protecting home waters. It is scheduled to take over as the British Royal Navy's flagship when HMS Ocean, a helicopter carrier, goes out of service early in 2018.
In an interview, Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at The Brookings Institution, where he specializes in U.S defense strategy and use of military force, admitted the situation was "a bit of an aberration.
"But it is true overall, UK military strength is probably less than half of what it once was, say in the 1980s," he told Sputnik.
Vice-Admiral John McAnally, national president of the Royal Naval Association, described the absence of deployed frigates and destroyers as being unprecedented. He blamed stringent cuts to the defense budget by successive UK governments for the embarrassing situation.
In an interview, he told The Times: "This is an indication that the navy is too small. I am distressed and alarmed. I do not see that it is easily remedied. The only answer is an increase in the defense budget. It is too small to meet what government want the armed forces to do."
Oh Dear..HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's new £3.1bn aircraft carrier, has a leak less than a month after the warship was accepted into the Royal Navy fleet…the UK vanity project! Hey @murdo_fraser How bad is this! NOT SO Strong & Stable now eh!https://t.co/BeAMh9vFG1
— All Of Us First (@_WeAreScotland_) December 19, 2017
Normally there is, at least, one frigate or destroyer deployed to the Gulf on a permanent basis, but HMS Diamond which was due to take up that role, returned to Portsmouth after suffering a propeller fault.
A Ministry of Defense spokesman said: "The Royal Navy is deployed globally on operations and will be protecting our national interests throughout Christmas and the new year."
This latest plight to hit the UK navy comes just days after it was revealed Britain's newest and most expensive warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, has been hit by technical problems, namely a leak around one of its two propellers during sea trials. It's not expected to be commissioned for at least another three years.
Let’s keep things in perspective:
It’s a 65,000 tonne ship taking on a bath tub of water every hr. Not uncommon with big ships-will be fixed https://t.co/wEdag4nyDw
— Tobias Ellwood (@Tobias_Ellwood) December 19, 2017
Tobias Ellwood, the veterans minister, took to social media to reassure people over the problem on board the warship, built at a cost of £3.1 billion (US$4.15 billion). He posted on Twitter: "Let's keep things in perspective. It's a 65,000 tonne ship taking on a bathtub of water every hour. Not uncommon with big ships — will be fixed."
Gavin Williamson, Britain's Defense Secretary, insisted also the cost of the repair will not be met by the British taxpayer but by the companies involved in constructing the aircraft carrier.