This website has been covering the challenges faced by the Royal Navy since 2007 but it is hard to remember a time when there were so many positive developments in such a short period. There are still fundamental weaknesses in the fleet but there is now a little more substance in the claim that we have a ‘growing Royal Navy’.
Yesterday while on board HMS Tyne alongside in Newcastle, the Defence Secretary announced that 3 of the Batch 1 OPVs will be retained in service. This is a reversal of the 2015 SDSR decision that they would permanently retire from service as the Batch 2 OPVs were delivered. In fact, HMS Severn and HMS Tyne had already decommissioned. HMS Tyne was reactivated in July and HMS Mersey is still operational. HMS Severn is currently in Number 3 Basin in Portsmouth, de-stored but reportedly in good condition. We have campaigned for some years to retain these relatively young ships (15 years old) in service and this announcement is a vindication of this common sense.
By retaining these ships and with the addition of five new OPVs, the fleet will actually grow by three new ships above the 2015 plan. (Assuming HMS Clyde is decommissioned). OPVs do not represent significant combat power but they reduce pressure on the force as a whole. Brexit is the prime reason these ships are being retained and it is not entirely surprising, it was announced in March 2018 that £12.7 Million had been allocated to the RN for 2018-19 from the Chancellor’s ‘Brexit preparedness fund’. (The Batch 1 OPVs cost around £6.5 million per annum to operate.) It is unclear at this stage what agreements will be made with the EU on fishing rights but reinforcement of UK territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) patrol capability is long overdue anyway. The Batch 1 OPVs will be retained for “at least 2 years” but it must be hoped that funding and manpower can be found to keep them in service for at least another decade. Post-Brexit it is likely that long-term maritime law enforcement and monitoring will be needed.OPV_Plan_2018-1
In another surprise move, Gavin Williamson also said the ships would no longer use Portsmouth as their home port but will ‘forward-operate’ from around the UK coast in ports appropriate to their nomenclature. HMS Tyne will be based in Newcastle, HMS Mersey in Liverpool and HMS Severn in Cardiff. The ships will be dedicated to UK waters and fishery protection patrols and regional basing will help them react quickly and spend less time in transit. They may need to return to Portsmouth for logistical support at times and presumably will continue to undergo maintenance periods at A&P Falmouth. Portsmouth will be the base for the five new batch 2 OPVs, but the retention of the Batch 1s may allow the new ships to be more frequently deployed for long periods overseas.
There was no mention of the future of HMS Clyde so it must be assumed she will be sold after being replaced as Falkland Islands patrols ship by HMS Forth early next year. Basing HMS Clyde in Faslane dedicated to patrolling Scottish waters would go down well in Scotland, but there is probably insufficient manpower to support this plan. Latest figures show the RN is currently 4.4% below intended strength, short of 1,350 people. A very difficult balancing act will have to be performed to find sufficient sailors to crew the additional OPVs, while bringing both aircraft carriers into service and avoiding impacts on the frigate and destroyer crews.
We have also had the pleasure to report other positive results for the RN in recent months;
- Both Canada and Australia have selected the Type 26 frigate design for their future frigate programmes. UK Industry will benefit to the tune of at least £1Bn from the Australian contract alone, while the figures for the even larger Canadian deal are yet to be worked out. The RN will be able to count on greater interoperability and shared training and logistical and supply chains which will result in reduced running costs and potentially, capital costs for the later vessels.
- After a very successful high-profile visit to New York, HMS Queen Elizabeth has completed the first two phases of F-35B flight trials ahead of schedule and exceeding all expectations.
- The RN participated in two major exercise simultaneously in October. Amphibious ships, Royal Marines and minehunters participated in Exercise Saif Sareea 3 in Oman, while the RN contributed to the anti-submarine and mine warfare elements of NATO Exercise Trident Juncture.
- It has been confirmed HMS Albion and Bulwark are to be retained along with the Royal Marines after their future had seemed in Jeopardy.
- HMS Protector is in currently alongside in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A good sign of improvement in relations that have never properly recovered since the war of 1982 and a recognition of the part played by the RN in the search for the missing submarine ARA San Juan. The wreck was finally located by a US-UK team last week using data and analysis provided by the RN. 800m down, the wreck is unlikely to be raised but photographic survey may aid investigation into the accident and help bring some closure to the families of those lost.
The RN is still far below the strength and capability that it should be for a nation with the aspirations and potential threats faced by Britain, but the OPV announcement is a step in the right direction. Positive news in defence matters is usually accompanied by a realisation that cuts will be made elsewhere, but the modest £500M extra for defence and Brexit funding may have given the Defence Secretary slightly more room for manoeuvre than usual. The Brexit storm and a level of political instability not experienced in a generation mean future projections cannot all be taken for granted, but for now at least, much of the news for the Royal Navy is highly encouraging.
Not to forget the apparent announcement of contracts for the Type 31 in Dec 2018
It’ December 2019 that the contracts are being awarded, not this year
I think those who have campaigned for this, including this site, deserve some credit for this (very gradual) progress.
Currently the announcement is that the B1s are to stay until the B2 are all in service. I wonder when decisions need to be made on keeping them out to their hull life.
It’s in my opinion likely that the announcement of forward basing of the B1s is pure PR. I have seen B1s in various harbours around the U.K. doing crew swaps and loading stores. This announcement sounds just like a slightly more formalised version of that. I bet that the accommodations of the “off duty” part of the crew will remain in Portsmouth and they will travel out to their “home river” when they come “on duty”.
All of this is not to say that keeping the B1s is in any way a bad idea.
The Uk and the Navy need a PM with the courage and intellect to run a strong economy with strong national defence.
Gavin Williamson has possibilities. Navy Lookout has reported possible shouting rows inside cabinet over defence funding. This approach is not necessarily a bad thing. Lord knows there is plenty to shout about. Gavin Williamson is trying hard and we appreciate his efforts.
Does shouting work well within your family or company?
If the situation is dysfunctional and it gets results then it is justified.
Not enough ships?Too many ships that we can’t man?Make up your mind. Still no sign of a plan.
I’m sure that there is a plan, but the strength of our Navy is ultimately dictated by the prosperity of the nation. Ie the overall annual taxation take.
One can only guess at how our departure from the EU will eventually affect this figure, for better or worse. No government is likely to commit to any serious increase in either ships or manpower until this situation resolves itself one way or t’other.
Your not wrong. We have two escorts tied up alongside due to lack of crew already and the Batch 2s need twice the crew of the Batch 1s. It seems what the RN really needs is a calculator.
Thinking about it, maybe the idea is to use the batch 2s as a sort of cardboard frigate in order to cover up the looming capability gap.Maybe some expensive type 23 refits could be cancelled ,perhaps some are more worn out than expected. Less manpower as well.I didn’t say it was a good idea, but what else can they do?
“Batch 2s need twice the crew of the batch 1s”
Do they ?
From Royal Navy site
Tyne, Mersey and Severn have a crew of about 45 sailors, working at least 275 days a year at sea.
Instead of a crew of around 45, Forth and her sisters will go to sea with 58 souls aboard (although they can operate with just 36 crew…and have space for 70).
I think the figure of 58 officers and crew is based on 1/3 being ashore with 2/3 been at sea to extend at-sea endurance. Thus a crew of around 36 for actual operation sounds about right.
From what I’ve heard so far, Gavin Williamson gets my vote and he has managed to reverse many idiotic decisions by the likes of Hammond who only knows the cost of everything (possibly) and the value nout.
I feel sure that a post-Brexit Britain will be challenged on a number of fronts by our former EU members. Fishery protection and immigration patrols are two areas that might see a sharp increase in activity? Especially during the Brexit transition period when the legal aspects of zonal fishing, will still be open to interpretation? In such circumstances, we will need every available hull. If as seen in recent Channel clashes and during the old Cold War confrontations, would it not be wiser to place these older vessels in harm’s way, than the all-new and expensive fleet, currently being built?
Hopefully the manpower shortage will slowly be resolved over the coming years. Efforts to retain staff would be helped if the MOD doesn’t retire any more ships. Men and women who may consider the RN as a career path have to believe their jobs won’t be cut 5-10 years down the road. Also pay and compensation must compete with the civilian market for the best people. Certainly the US Navy is facing similar manpower shortages in face of a strong economy.
The issue of money will need to be looked at but has potential to be very divisive. There will be some trade groups where the RN can attract and retain at current pay rates . And others where it will need to pay very significantly more. How will people react to one PO or Lt Cdr being paid 40% more than an other.
It’s a shame Scotland won’t get a OPV. Their lengthy and geographically challenging coast and resource rich waters need better policing.
Ultimately, its mostly politics and strength of the economy that decides geopolitical questions. Look at Gibraltar, whose future will be decided by Spain because they threatened to veto the Brexit agreement unless we agree to share it.
The Scottish Marine Compliance Agency [which took over from the old Scottish DAFFs ] run three modern OPVs and are responsible [since 1882] for fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance in Scottish waters. These ships run with crews of between 15 and 17, as is normal practice in non-naval fisheries protection vessels.
I served in Island class OPVs when I was in the Fish Squadron, and occasionally we patrolled north of the Shetlands, but never over on the West coast. The RN Island class OPVs were based on the Scottish Islands Class, and the RN ran the Scottish OPV Jura for circa 14 months prior to the completion of the first RN Island, HMS Jersey.
As BAES still own HMS Clyde, I hope she might be transferred to Border Force when she returns to the UK from the Falklands.
Straws and how to clutch them. The Navy is at least 5000 people short of what it needs to operate the ship’s it has. Does £500 million buy us 5000 people and pay them enough to keep them?
My guess would be about £100,000 each on average it sounds about right.So what has happened to the half a billion pounds we are saving every year?
Maybe worth catching up on these previous articles.
Uparming River OPVs are really bad thing when it comes to Fishery protection.
Figure of merit of a warship is its armament, sensors, speed and endurance, but that for fishery protection and EEZ patrol vessel is “sea-going days”, in addition to endurance.
Currently a River OPV can be “at sea” nearly 300 days a year. This is unmatched by any escort in RN. For example, it is 2-3 times longer than T23’s sea-goind days.
If we add armaments, the OPV will need more maintenance and more enhanced training, so sea-going days on patrol per hull will significantly decrease. It will also require more man-power, and the hull number will decrease.
If it comes to war-fight, it differs a lot. But, I bet this decision is based on fishery protection and EEZ patrol requirement. The issue is, how many RN will need?
On the other hand, if the warfighter number to decrease and River OPVs need to “change their job”, then up-arming will be needed.
If it comes to proper fighting, the rivers will be sunk even with a bigger gun.The only way it might help is if you run into another OPV or or a lesser opponent.
Sending a river to “relieve pressure”on frigates and destroyers just means leaving them in mothballs on the dockside,gradually becoming obsolete and requiring expensive refits without having been used.It would save manpower and some wear and tear,but that’s all.The obvious logic then would be to scrap them and save money on the refit.I suspect that this is the plan.
Don’t agree. There are many levels of “war fight”, so a River B2 added with a gun and a CIWS can contribute a lot in some theater, Hoichi forces, for example.
OPV added with helicopter and a network can contribute a lot for Indian ocean anti pirates operations, as Spanish OPVs are doing.
The matter is, how many assets are needed for what level of threats.
A helicopter is definitely a huge asset on anti piracy ops. But you don’t need to up gun. The advanced 30mm that’s can be carried on the B2 outmatches any pirate ship.
So HMS Mersey is going to where HMS Eaglet is, HMS Tyne is going to the same city as HMS Calliope and HMS Severn is going to Cardiff where they are building a fancy new building for HMS Cambria. What does everybody think is going on there then?
First of all it is good news to hear that the RN may be retaining some ships ( even though they are not major combat ships ) whilst still planning for more ships for the future , at least it is a small start to future growth of the RN . Ships still need to be staffed with well trained and qualified personnel , so regarding the manpower crisis within the Royal Navy . It is hard to believe that in this day of multi media advertisement campaigns , that we as a nation cannot come up with some relevant advertising for our Armed Forces without having to resort to and be submissive of the dreaded PC Brigade . I mean come on folks the latest recruitment advertising campaign to make it inclusive to muslims and gay groups was a total embarrassment ! I have spoken to a large number of serving personnel who have said how worthless and embarrassed it makes them feel . As if ! , as it shows in animated form a muslim soldier stopping his patrol (wherever it is supposed to be ) and making one of his five daily religious accrutements ! REALLY ! I think not , I as an ex soldier would not be too pleased and I don’t for one minute believe that any other soldier worth their salt would accept this either .
so please if you must include the minority groups within the actual advertisements then do so with a great deal more credibility than this and instead of being led like donkeys by weak willed politicians , listen to the real people who matter , yes the Servicemen and women themselves and their families .