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It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next few years. On the one hand as the article rightly points out the T23 LIFEX program is coming to an end and the manpower situation has steadily improved, but on the other hand the PIP for T45 coupled with the demands of the CSG and other commitments on an aging frigate force will all present their own challenges.

Tim Hirst

Your last sentence is particularly important. There are a group of commenters who see anything less than 200 days at sea year in year out as unacceptable and a sign the RN is moly codling it’s crews in some sort of woke family friendly agenda. There the ones that are indignant when lots of ships are along side in the summer holidays or over Christmas.


Those who complain about matelots being moly coddled needs (1) read this article and (2) join up.


I agree. Now that many of the previous equipment reliability issues are being addressed, crewing will be the number one issue going forward. In a volunteer navy, it’s pointless to talk about matelots being mollycoddled. Crew wellbeing, both on shore and at sea, is key to R&R. 1SL understands this.

On the plus side the new Frigates should help, due to smaller crews and better conditions on board.


Couldn’t agree more, it’s worth pointing out that the navy would need to have twice the volume of people to meet the same harmonisation guidelines as the RAF.

whilst I do think more sailors should sail, to meet the harmonisation guidelines I think each ship will need 3 crews each in a 4 month cycle. 1 on, 1 working up, 1 training / shore duties.

realistically if the RN are going to become an employer of choice, this is one of the ways they will achieve it.


Interesting, thanks for the comparison. Realistically though, RN are not going to be able to double overall strength, or fully triple crew every vessel.

What might be expedient, is to increase the number of certain senior specialist roles, so these personnel can be rotated more frequently into new shore based roles e.g. training roles (to improve pipeline of new specialists) and sustainment roles (to improve asset availability)

That would encourage junior ranks to stay on (to earn promotion to better conditions, for which there would be more openings) and help reduce VO of the most skilled (who after all have the most options elsewhere) simply because they have had enough, after many years of service.

This would halt the current vicious circle of senior specialists leaving because they get worked too hard, leaving even fewer to take up the slack, who then get worked even harder.

Just an idea, but not going to happen overnight obviously!


Do you think 90 or so Commodores is enough? yes they have that many including legal, medical positions
Generally Its just that sea going positions are under staffed and shore only positions would be at peak strength. Not helped by technical trades easily transferable to civilian world.


Perhaps ‘senior specialist’ wasn’t the best term, but I was talking about sea going roles e.g. the most senior and experienced of the technical trades that you mentioned. It’s these areas where there are the greatest shortages.

The planned reduction in escort numbers should help recover the situation, my suggestion was an idea to put things on a more sustainable footing for the longer term.


US navy has 5 levels of retention bonuses ‘up to’  $30,000, $45,000, $60,000, $75,000 and $100,000. With half up front and the rest over the term


Bonuses are another possibility, but I would guess for many money is not the real issue, it’s also about lifestyle and prospects. Now that recruitment has improved, retention of experienced trades is the key. RN needs to find ways to incentivise these valuable personnel to stay on. Most likely there will be more than one possible solution.

To be fair the current skills bleed spiral is not unique to RN, or even the military as a whole. Similar situations arrise in many civilian sectors, after a downsizing. It’s a very difficult thing to correct, once it starts.

captain p wash

feck me, not again !


I would be interested to see a comparison with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, does the different maintenance support methodology deliver better availability for the auxiliaries over the warships or is it also like the T45s surprisingly the same?

Tim Hirst

I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. Warships have all the ships systems of an RFA (but more densely packaged ) and all the war fighting systems as well. They have a massively high maintenance requirement.


Have we still got RFA,s ? Under-manning seems to be the main reason why some of them are laid up.


I don’t understand why RFA struggle so much with manning. Civilian ships achieve high availability with tiny crews, and it seems that it’s intended to push RFA in that direction. I’m sure outdated vessels with labour intensive systems are part of the problem, but perhaps culture, and pay, is also an issue.


As has been mentioned with HMS Montrose, the outliers are interesting as well as the averages. Dauntless seems the lowest availability with 4 years of zero sea time and just 1 month last year. That sort of it makes it a semi permanent reserve ship and must affect its future serviceability. Yet people still say the RN should have had 10 or 12 T45s

Tim Hirst

The month at sea was to re test the ships propulsion as a base line to compare with the improved system that is currently being fitted by CL. Once the work is finished, tested and the crew is through FOST my bet is that Dauntless will be a very busy ship.

Meirion X

Yes, and Dauntless is struck up in Birkenhead, not sure has PIP has been completed after already a year, and Darling still waiting to go into PIP.


Can you imagine Pompey dockyard today if the Royal Navy had been given 12 Type 45,s !!!

Meirion X

Yes, and it was disappointing that T45 was only given 48 cell silo, instead of 64 cells.

Armchair Sailor

Couldnt agree more 48 cells, not a strike length among them. I have heard many reasons around why this number. The T45 for hull size is underarmed, especially with no SSM. I understand the helo only ASW argument, but no SSM’s is silly the MOD has been dragging its heels big time over this. NSM get it fitted stop p*ssing about.


It’s a matter of tasks and operational tempo. How many tasks are gapped today? How many are or destined to be undertaken by a River or at times a RFA? Back in ye olden days ships handed over on station, not now. It isn’t hard to come up with a need for 32 escorts. We are lucky that the carriers will never be operated on an full time operational tempo.


It’s worth remembering that for a substantial proportion of the coming decade there will be fewer operating escorts, as the Type 23s are taken out of service before the Type 26s and Type 31s are commisioned. The same coverage will require a higher percentage time at sea, but that will be easier to achieve. Fewer crew will be needed for the fewer ships, so the issue of insufficient crew isn’t dealt with by more numbers, but by lower requirements.

When the middle of the decade comes around and the new frigates come on stream, that’s when we’ll start to get the information as to whether we’ve built up sufficient numbers to crew the future navy. Even if each platform requires smaller crew numbers (forward basing and multiple crews may belie that), we still don’t really know if we’ll have enough. Even if there are no technical hiccoughs with the two new classes of frigate (despite disparate systems, guns ammunition, etc.), there’s still a possibility we’ll see the percentage time at sea drop in the second half of the decade, awaiting another political fight to increase personnel.


Despite the early withdrawal of Monmouth and Montrose the situation will be mitigated somewhat by Argyll, Lancaster and Iron Duke now remaining in service until 2025-2027. The overall strength of the escort fleet may drop to a nadir of around 15 in the middle and later part of this decade but at least in theory further extending those Type 23’s and getting the first Type 31’s and T26 into service from roughly 2027 will stop numbers going over the cliff and see them steadily increase from that point on.

All depends on getting the new frigates into service exactly when planned with no slippage, which is a big ask for the first in class!

Similarly the smaller crews for the new types should ease the pressure on manpower but it’s as much about having the right kinds of specialists (things like engineers in particular) as it is about overall numbers, and building up knowledge/experience inevitably takes time.


Good points.

One benefit of PIP and PGMU is commonality of the MTU engines with the new Frigates, which should help substantially with ME training pathway. And of course MT30 on the QEs. The gears and electric drive are all a bit different though, on both T26 & T31.


To add to Challenger-san’s comment.

HMS Glasgow (T26-1) and HMS Active (T31-1) will be handed over to RN in 2025. The year of 2027 is the timing of being operational.

Similarly, HMS Queen Elizabeth was handed over to RN in late 2017, and reached initial operational capability on 4 January 2021. The same.

This means RN needs its full crew by then. Also, this means counting sea-going days for these 2 escorts start from 2025, not 2027, although it is 100% trial and operational testing.


Yes. I was also thinking of the increase in crew of HMS QE over the originally advertised numbers. I don’t think we’ll know escort crew requirements for sure until they are working them up. A decision to fly UAVs or install lasers or whatever happens in the next few years could change the equation.

Forward basing and double crewing Type 31s certainly could. Other than Montrose (wasn’t that dual crewed from Monmouth?) aren’t the Type 23s single crewed? I don’t understand the crew rotation system of the Rivers and how it impacts on overall numbers. Perhaps someone knowledgeable here could enlighten me.



River OPVs crews are typically; 1.5 times crew are assigned = only 2/3 of the crew is “onboard” at any moment.

This was how the River B1 are operated, and how River B2 Forth and Medway are operated (at least following the new release). Not sure about Trent, Spey and Tamar, but I understand the same rotation applies, enabling the hull to be “at sea” with long period.


Thank you. So not three crews as I read once, but three half crews. That’s probably not going to work for a frigate then, as presumably you need to be back at base on regular short intervals for crew swaps.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon

It depends on what you mean by ‘back at base for crew swaps’ because that could be a forward base, even a temporary one e.g. friendly civilian port.

My understanding is that RN main goal of proposed permanent forward basing is to reduce/eliminate transit time, which frees up both vessels and crew to spend more sea time on task. The Danish do full swaps with same day handover, departing crew fly back on the same plane. No reason part crew swaps could not be done similarly.


Well, to add to your comment, crew comes together in build, so needed much earlier. However, concomitant with that requirement, more shore time.

criss whicker

With fewer days at sea and fewer ships to deploy, out of interest, how would this compare with say 1980s 2000, with more ships and time at sea,

i guess what im trying to say is with more ships, would the crews spend more or less time at sea.


Three for one may be ‘old fashioned’ but I think it is a good yard stick. But it indicates to me we have no real wiggle room.


The chart appears to show that even the basic three for one is not being met. It does rather illustrate how perilous the situation has become, because the system relies on moving quickly beyond three for one to boost numbers in a crisis e.g. pushing vessels in work-up into service faster. So indeed no wiggle room.


Its not really interesting that the Royal Navy took five years to realise that its sailors were leaving due to less time at home but it is shameful that from the 1st Sea Lord downwards all the senior officers allowed the shore based jobs for sea-weary matelots to be given to private contract over the years prior to 2012, apart from Admirals driver of course. When is it going to be discovered that all submariners are fed up with speaking Scottish as a first language[nothing against the Scots] The greatest threat to the future nuclear deterrent isn’t Sturgeon, though her success would make matters interesting, it is under-manning. Its all very well telling us all that eight new classes of ships are being developed/built during the next decade which will create a golden time for British shipbuilding but they cannot all be unmanned radio controlled mini warships, and its all very well telling the success story of second -crewing a frigate up the Gulf but forgetting to mention that 25% of Type 23s are alongside the wall completely empty of crew. Also I suspect that a sigh of relief went up with the agreement to actually start work on the Type 45 regeneration and henceforth the availability of a ships crew for other manning, or one of this class would have gone permanently.


I remember when I first started spending time in navy shore establishments and the food was lovely. Then “civilian-isation” happened and it went all a bit yuk. Sometime really yuk. Really, really yuk…..

Meirion X

“…and its all very well telling the success story of second -crewing a frigate up the Gulf but forgetting to mention that 25% of Type 23s are alongside the wall completely empty of crew.”

Three T23s are in a shed undergoing LIFEX, and 1 outside completing refit.

And two T23s with CSG on long deployment.

Last edited 2 years ago by Meirion X
Meirion X

Glad now HMS Portland is back at sea after the long absence of undergone LIFEX.

I think HMS Westminster is taking a break after returning from a long deployment in April.

Last edited 2 years ago by Meirion X

How does all of this square with the availability of tankers and replenishment ships?


I believe that the planning assumption for RFA availability is 90% of the time i.e. 330 days a year.

From experience the Op Kipion tanker generally spent approx. 270 days a year at sea.

However this isn’t comparing like with like, the ships and equipment are very different with the auxiliaries generally being much simpler and of course they have the major advantage that with crews rotating there is no worries about harmony time and there doesn’t need to be the same focus on R&R.


How the US Navy uses retention bonuses to maintain enlisted critical skills

Bonuses are set at five ‘maximum’ levels — $30,000, $45,000, $60,000, $75,000 and $100,000. The level depends on the need in a given skillset. Half the bonus is paid upfront in a lump sum and the remainder is paid in equal amounts spread over the remainder of the contract”


The % spent away on a 3 year sea draft (which usually ended up getting extended anyway) was calculated at a ratio of , if I remember correctly, 35 – 65 with 35 being base port time and 65 being away from base port over the three years.
The figures above don’t really reflect what the Surface fleet does.
On a deployment you are away from your base port. It doesn’t really matter if you are away for 3, 4, 7 or 9 months and having a great runs ashore in some tropical paradise , It’s still days away from home. Alongside for say 5 days you can expect to be working 2 days duty and probably have one lazy day where you don’t need to get up at call the hands. A ship alongside will remain at a low number of Notice for Sea hours and can depart if needed in a couple of hours. For most runs ashore night leave is cinderella and everyone is back onboard between 0001-0200 anyway.

Time away is time away…irrespective of if it’s at sea or not.


And the other side of that is that a ship at sea is wearing itself out.


What would be really interesting how that availability rate matches with our allies and potential adversaries around the world. The data woul dprobably be impssible to get, but would be interesting to have a gauge. For most people here, 25% or 35% may seem outrageously low- but if that’s the world standard for a complex warship then fair enough. A project for a future article perhaps, @Navy Lookout?!


Interesting to compare with others but that’s really two different questions IMO.

With regards to allies the question is ability to support standing commitments, which for RN includes supporting BOT/Commonwealth and NATO etc. It appears that currently this is barely scraping by and if the UK intends greater international involvement in ‘Global Britain’ it’s not going to get any easier.

Regards potential adversaries the question is ability to respond to a crisis, alone if required. This would likely involve pushing everything possibly available into immediate service. Not looking at all hopeful at the moment! But it has to be gauged against what a possible adversary could muster in the same place, on the same timeline.

Despite the obvious lack of mass, what RN does have going for it though, is that what’s left, is probably at as good or better readiness, than anyone else, regards training, effective weapons, asset condition etc. And let’s not forget logistics – RN has a clear lead here over many potential adversaries and even in the current diminished state, is arguably still managing better here than similar peers e.g. France.


I don’t believe these figures for one second. I did an 8 month deployment in 2018 and it only has 4 months worth of figures for the ship I was on. Go figure that out????