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Phil Sanders

Excellent article. I was about to ask about the progress of the LIFEX refits. Also noted that Dauntless is being moved back into 3 basin at Portsmouth tomorrow which should be good news.


She is? About bloody time, she’s been sat in a drydock for God knows how long at this point

James Harrington Law

Excellent article, thank you.

Rob Cameron

Poor old girls. They were disdainfully referred to as “Skoda Class” frigates when they were first introduced. They’ve been flogged to death. It’s a credit to the original design, build and the on-going work of the ships companies and dockyards that they have kept going and stayed relevant.


The Type 23’s have served well and have been the workhorse of the fleet ? I personally would keep a couple (in best condition) fpr a rainy day and also to replace HMS Bristol as a training ship as she predates most air defence tech in use (Sea Dart no longer is)


Bristol was stripped of her sensors and weaponry long ago so i wouldn’t imagine Sea Dart’s obsolescence would matter, but i agree that replacing her with one of the Type 23’s would make sense given they will be closer in design to the future classes and Bristol is now 50 years old.

Unless of course the reason she’s be kept as the training vessel for so long is that she weighs in at almost 7000 tons.


The T23s wouldn’t be ideal as training and accomodation ships, they’re significantly smaller than Bristol.

Unfortunately however, Bristol is coming up on 50 years old and in the next few years will either need another major refit or a replacement. Ocean or Illustrious would’ve been perfect due to their size, but unfortunately that options gone. If Bristol lasts another 15 years, then by 2034 HMS Daring will be around 28 and perfect for the role.


HMS Caroline made it to 2011 (from 1914), so at 50 Bristol is still a sprightly young thing and has quite some time to go before she breaks the record for harbour training ship service, that said in Caroline’s day I doubt anyone let grass grow – and getting back to the article I’m stunned that happened, has not a single rating been awarded extra duties in the entirety of the greater Portsmouth area in the last few years, or for that matter not a single cadet TS been down to get some time in on a real ship experiencing navy life?


My CCF cadets (Army Section !!) had a sea day on HMS Kent in June 2017, and for AT weeks had the option of the Bristol, not taken up due to distance to travel from WI to AT events.


Iron duke sounds as though she’s completely knackered. If there are holes in the deck,there will be plenty of nearly holes as well,and I would imagine that it would take a fair amount of water to make her list.If she was in anything like reasonable condition to start off with this shouldn’t have happened.There is a high likelyhood that lots of mechanical parts are seized solid as well. There probably isn’t the manpower anyway, as its needed for the 30% increase required for the carriers.
Seems to me that she should be scrapped now before wasting any more money.


As the article points out, the entire current fleet needs to be retained, otherwise future governments might cut order numbers while claiming to be “maintaining current escort numbers”.


You want to keep something unviable that you don’t have the resources to use, just to make a political point?Something else will have to be cut to pay for it. What do you have in mind?


Do I want to? No, the T23s should’ve started the process of being sold, scrapped, or turned into museums a decade ago, but unless we suddenly place an inordinate amount of trust in the politicians and the Treasury, keeping ships in service so we can get like-for-like replacement is the safest option


Right that’s it, no more money for the navy until they show that they can be trusted with it.Deliberately wasting money on a dump of a ship in the full knowledge that it is going to just sit and rot again is insane.


Deliberately wasting money because government can’t be trusted to replace ships on faith. You can’t blame them for playing the game when it’s the politicians that are making the rules. When the Treasury advances the funding to pay for all 13 planned frigates, THEN old ships that have been laid up can be scrapped.


Playing games instead of purchasing weapons systems-are you crazy?Do the navy really think like this?


Effectively,5 people have disagreed with me and voted down buying new equipment for the RN.I am winning the argument.

Meirion X

if the MoD was to buy a replacement frigate from another navy, it would take over 2+ years for RN to learn how to use it and it’s systems, even before it is to be be deployed. And also to employ former crew of another navy to help with the training.
That is why the MoD refits the existing frigates, because it is still quicker to refit an old familiar frigate!
The RN needs to be familiar with the systems before operating a frigate, and the costs involved in training crew etc.
The proposed Type 31 frigate will also need to be learned on too!

Kevin Hastie

Well you can`t expect to maintain valuable naval assets when you have got to spend £14 billion on foreign aid!

John Hoare

If the UK government are foolish enough to think that the foreign aid doled out gives them an advantage in either sales or world prestige then history reveals they are very much mistaken. With the said aid benefactors taking the offered aid and then going elsewhere for their purchases that’s if the money is not mismanaged or misappropriated .For those who point to the welfare needs, which one can not argue are many, one can’t but notice that the aid being handed out to these various countries that these same countries always seem able to find sufficient funds to buy the latest piece of military kit ,always from someone else of course in preference to feeding or improving the lot of their own people.
What about focus on home seeing as it’s needs are great and if wants to be in a position to champion freedom in the world it needs to give the military the finances to do the job and stop posturing.

Great Pretender

Many thanks for an insightful article. I had no idea in particular how bad Iron Duke was looking.

It would be handy for quick reference to add which ships have/lack the sonar 2087 tail. I believe it’s Montrose, Monmouth, Iron Duke, Lancaster and Argyll that lack it.

Andy Tiller

Well at least this work is carried out in the UK. Let’s hope the R F A solid support ships get built here and not overseas


> When all the ships have completed LIFEX it will be a stretch to find sufficient manpower to form ships companies for them all. At least one frigate and one destroyer have been laid up in recent times due to lack of people and this arrangement is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

This is very important fact. RN cannot man all the 5 T23s when they come back to the front line fleet. Yes, ~2 will be in routine refit, but the remaining ~3 may face big difficulty to find their crew. And still, 1 T45 is in refit (I think routine), and 1 in extended readiness.

At the same time, T23 seagoing days was ~140 days/year/hull on average in 2010-2014, but in 2015-2018 it is reduced to ~80 days/year/hull.

I see no logical problem in selling (at least) two T23 abroad. “19 escort” saga is not important nowadays, when it is clear at least 2 has little crew and the “T23 LIFEX season” is nearing to the end = further hulls will come back (looking for their crew).

If the “19 escort” saga is important, just say it is “gapped for only a decade, until ~2030”.

I think this decision will make RN more strong. No need to pay cost to keep them in “extended readiness” and can get more tighter relation with the exported country (Brazil or Chilli ?). It is time to seriously think “gapping” the “19 escorts”.


I agree that spending money on refitting some of the clapped out older ships doesn’t seem very sensible. I can’t imagine any navy would be interested in buying these ships now. Let’s hope we can get the Type 31s into service although I still believe that program is very vulnerable for the next round of defence cuts.


I haven’t seen iron duke, but I imagine that it’s already been raided for spares for the others and the weathering on Westminster isn’t just surface rust. Seems much more realistic to scrap 1 or 2,probably corporate and political interests are preventing this from happening.

Meirion X

If the MoD had Not sold HMS Grafton in 2004, it would have had a spare frigate to replace HMS Iron Duke with!


There are two “spare” escorts RN can activate quite easily.

Iron Duke status shows us,
– lack of crew causing the ship to be in extended readiness
– how a ship in extended readiness is badly handled, because of no money.

RN lacks crew and money, while has surplus hulls. Keeping them is eating money, which could have been used elsewhere in RN to make it more capable.

Meirion X

As I said in an earlier post, with any new frigate type procured, the RN will need to learn how to use it and its systems, it is Not just testing each frigate, but learning how to use the whole frigate type’s systems will take time, before the frigate series is deployed, which applies to the type-31 and type-26 frigates when built. The lead ship of the series will be a test bed when first put to sea. It is uneconomic for the MoD to buy just one frigate to replace a old frigate.
I do agree the MoD should procure new ships in a timely process.


Your suggestion to further reduce the the surface fleet from 19 destroyers/frigates to 17 ls precisely why this website is required. Right now would be a good time to start reversing the incessant decline the navy has endured since WW2. Increase the navy estimates and recruit more sailors instead of paying off more ships and foolishly discarding the means to defend ourselves.



But, pricisely speaking, I am NOT suggesting to “reduce” the escort feet from 19 to 17. What I am saying is, RN will better make it clear they “thay have only 17, and not 19 now”.

This is the fact.

Keeping 2 in “extended readiness” (even not calling it reserve) allows others to claim, “RN still has 19 escorts”, which is not true. I think it will make RN claim for “more resouce” less impressive, and hence weaking RN a lot.

Wasting money to keep them, helping others to pretend “RN still has 19 escorts”, no merit I can find here…


The RN will struggle to actually man a carrier battle group and maintain its other commitments.
If the RN do as you suggest then the treasury will see it as a green light to reduce the surface fleet to 14 frigates and destroyers.
We are at 19 because of Geoff Hoon and Gordon Browns decision to build the QEC and buy the F35B but only at the expense of the surface fleet in the long term .
The T26 program was delayed by 10 years because of the QEC program so the costs have escalated to £1 billion per ship a decision taken by Gordon Brown to fund the QEC program.

And Geoff Hoon and Gordon Browns financial ineptitude was magnified by the Hammond and the Boy George slash and burn SDR and clever accounting to suggest we still spend 2% of GDP on defence when we actually spend 1.4% of GDP once you take out all the things the Boy George stuffed in to maintain the illusion.

I predict that once operational the carriers will probably spend 30 days a year at sea because of manning and cost issues.


For the record, I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, but its important to consider WHY the Blair government (Brown came in after the QEC was planned for and designed, he just signed off on it) went for such big carriers at the expense of the surface and submarine fleets.

Labour were very much pro-EU, and in the late 90’s plans were drawn up for a joint naval response force. Europe’s two major naval powers, us and France, were to provide 3 large carriers (2 RN, and the French CdG), while the rest of the union provided the escorts. Hence why so little effort was expended in the T45, T26, and Astutes: in Euroland, the RN only needed a few high-end platforms, the bulk of the carrier group would be German, Dutch, Italian, etc.

So, hilariously, it wasn’t just financial ineptitude that gutted the navy, and armed forces in general. It was actually PLANNED as a way of tying us into the intended EU armed forces.


Utter rubbish , the carriers where designed solely for the RN ,the French dropped out when they realised that they would be conventionally powered and the treasury where pushing for the RAF and RN to adopt the F35B so they would not be cat and traps .
There was never any plan for any eu country to provide escorts to either the rn carriers or French carriers.
The type 45 was cut from 12 to 6 to save costs not because the eu where going to make up the numbers and the type 26 was delayed so the QEC program could be funded and astute program was such a mess that BAe had to get GE involved to get the programme back on track.

Gordon Brown finger prints are all over the decision to build and equip the carriers from the decision to build them on the clyde to the decision to force the F35B on the services to refusing to fund the type 26 program as the price for the carriers.


Try actually doing some research, Andy. In the late 90s Blair committed to the European Union Rapid Reaction Force (see the Helsinki Goals), with the RN and Marine Nationale providing the carriers and the smaller member fleets providing escorts.

The French desire for a second carrier, possibly a QEC derivative, was separate to this, as the Helsinki Goals only called for a single French carrier. They wanted one for the same reason as we got two, for sustained capability, they just couldn’t afford it and didn’t like the final design regardless. At no stage did I say the QECs were designed for anyone else but the RN, evidenced by the lack of consideration of French needs.

As stated in the Helsinki Goals, it was always intended that allies would contribute as part of the European RRF. Even now, current plans for HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first deployment include a Dutch frigate.

I never said costs weren’t the reason for the cuts to the T45 or the various other problems. I said that (because the intention is to usually operate as part of allied task groups) little effort was put in to rectify the issues with these programmes. If the Blair and
Brown governments’ intentions were to maintain the RN as a truly independent force, they wouldn’t have taken the easy option of just cutting ship numbers and pushing back important programmes. I repeat, I did NOT say that costs were the not the main issue, just that there was no political will to resolve the problems.


Read Hansard


The European Union to provide escorts for the QE’s, I’ve never heard this before. Where did you get this


Are you referring to the original plans or Queen Elizabeth’s first deployment?

For the former, it’s covered on the QEC Wikipedia article. If you want more information have a look for the Helsinki Headline Goals, specifically 1999 but the follow on covers it as well I believe.

For the latter, it’s been covered on various pages, including this one, that a Dutch frigate will be joining Lizzie on her first deployment in 2021.


Okay will take a look at it, thanks Callum.


It was in one of the regular EU grandiose statements to justify a summit at the eu taxpayers expense, just like the recent German/franco agreement to a EU army which has been announced and announced over the years and is meaningless.

David Stephen

I predict you will be proved wrong, lets wait and see shall we.

David Stephen

What if we break one of the 17? We would quickly find the merit in keeping them.


Because 5 T23 in refit, with no crew, are eventually coming back. After LIFEX, 2 other T23 will be in routine refit, but the crew for the remaining 3 is not existing.

In other words, if LIFEX ends and still all T23 be retained, number of escorts in extended readiness will be much more than 3, even 5 at most. This is why I say leaving 2 now has zero negative impact to RN, while has clear merit on diplomatically point, and also in money.


Type 31 Frigate is the only thing to be positive about in terms of the number of ships declining being reversed. Unfortunately further declines are pretty much inevitable in order to pay for the carriers, Trident, F35 and Type 26 Frigates, most of which are being built by a privately owned monopoly company in a very cost and time inefficient way. Even if defence funding were increased, it wouldn’t be enough to stop the decline. Some more money would be sent to BAE Systems, although it wouldn’t increase capability that much.

Ultimately at some point in the next 5-10 years, someone will finally have the courage to admit that the Navy can’t afford the carriers or F35, because there is nothing else left to cut, although there is still likely to be further damage done before that point.

David Stephen

Stop bashing BAE. The build schedule is set by the MOD. BAE could punch out 8 Type 26 in 8-10 years but the RN can’t afford that. And the products are not over priced either, If you want the worlds best AAW or ASW platform and then build them in small numbers expect to pay top dollar. Look at the price of other comparable warships like a Burke.


The Brazilian article is very interesting.

It looks like to help pay for the F35 and mega-carriers, in addition to HMS Ocean being already sold, Admiral’s first choice was to gut the Royal Marines and get rid of the ships that they needed to operate (Albion and Bulwark). This option appears to have been rolled back (at least for the time being) by politicians.

It looks like now essentially every other capability in the surface fleet is up for grabs in terms of further cuts. One can probably expect announcements for a range of further sales over the next couple of years in terms of Frigates, Patrol Boats and Minesweepers. These ships being smaller probably do not give us much savings on a one-for-one basis as cutting Albion and Bulwark (plus marines), so it is highly likely that more than two ships will go (perhaps a combination of all three).

The Brazilian Navy is in my opinion a very prudent buyer of ships and gets very good value for money. A good example is the fire-sale price that they got HMS Ocean for. Perhaps if the Royal Navy looked at second-hand ships rather than buying very expensive systems from a private monopoly (BAE Systems) it would not be in such a steep rate of decline.


Reading the article, it seems that Wave Ruler is nailed on for the Brazilian navy.


I am not sure I agree about Ocean. She was only built with a 20 year life span to commercial standards. I was talking to someone who serverd on her and she told me the ship was falling to bit and on at least one occasion broke down for several hours. She was of the opinion that getting rid of HMS Ocean was the best thing we could do.


I know a contractor who worked on HMS Ocean and he said much the same thing that the ship was worn out .


Type 23 was designed for a 20 year life as well.


Most surface ships are designed for 20 to 30 year lifespans but the type 23 have been used hard and are a tribute to the ship designers and the dockyard workers and sailors that have kept them operational.

They should have been replaced by the type 26 by now but that was delayed to build the white elephants and now will cost 25% more and deliver 50% less hulls and take 50% longer to build .
One giant job creation scheme for the clyde shipyards and nothing about providing the right ship for the RN.


I can’t comment on the break downs, although it had just completed a very expensive refit before the sale.


I suspect it will be the dedicated minesweeping force that will take the hit when the current ships come up for replacement. I suspect the aim will be to replace them with anti-mine modules that can be added to the T31e when required to fulfil that role. Probably utilising anti-mine drones etc.
It theory it would provide enough crews to man all the frigates and destroyers in the fleet. It also seems to save money by not having dedicated vessels to buy/maintain for the role. However a ship can’t be in two different places fulfilling two different roles simultaneously. Ultimately what we need is increase funding, particularly towards the navy and air-force.


And the army all three services are below critical mass and are not capable of the roles they are tasked to do .

We need to spend at least 3% of GDP on defence and probably 4% long term and be realistic about where our priorities are and plan accordingly.

The RN ideally wants more frigates and subs ,the raf more fighters and tactical bombers and helos and the army needs more of everything.

I know we protest about the lack of funding for the navy but the army is probably in a worst state , it would struggle to put 5000 men into a medium intensity campaign and support them for 28 days .


In 1990 the British Army had 800 tanks, today 156, very sad.


Russia has 2,562 tanks plus around 12,500 in reserve despite spending a similar amount on defence to the UK.


Russian defence spending (2017) is a third greater than the UK.
With a land border of some 12,600 miles to defend, Russians no doubt feel justified in maintaining tanks at those levels.


Here are some other interesting statistics to compare to the UK’s 156 tanks:

Kazakhstan – 650
Belarus – 515
Iran – ~950
Israel – 2760 (around 1000 maybe in storage)
Turkey – ~2500 (significant percentage probably in storage)
China – ~6800 (some probably in storage)

Based on these statistics, it is completely absurd to describe the UK as a “tier one” military power. A respectable number of tanks would offer far more useful capability to the UK’s military than jump-jets, mega-carriers or nuclear submarines.

Meirion X

World War 2 proved that a sizeable airforce and Navy was more useful to a island nation like the UK from being invaded. Sizeable tank forces are only needed by landlocked or continental
nations surrounded by hostile nations.
The UK by having a capable Navy and Airforce will still make us a ‘tier one’ military power.
I do agree we have run down the tank forces too much!

Meirion X

Neither does the USA need huge tank forces! The USA can project it’s milltary power using the largest Navy and Airforce in the world!
So those 18 USN carriers are very useful!
The Gulf War’s have proved that airpower and naval force is the most crucial in winning a war. The Iraqi tank forces out numbered the USA’s at that time!

Bobs Baradur

The Russians are worried the Germans will invade, if the US can convince the Germans to rearm. The last time Russians had to disarm the Germans they had somewhat more tanks iirc.


I wonder how many of the 12500 in reserve are in running condition let alone able to fight.


And only 36 are operational


I agree unfortunately. In the eyes of Admirals of many navies, minesweeping is a task that is not “sexy” or prestigious. Hence it is often neglected. In reality, one could argue that minesweepers are actually the most important capability of the Royal Navy. The way that technology has evolved means that it is much easier to deny someone access to the sea through mines or submarines rather than seeking to project power through a massive, expensive battlegroup. Simply by laying mines around a few of the UK’s major ports, it would be possible to cripple the economy for a large period of time. It is more necessary than ever to invest in minesweepers, although the unfortunate reality is that this capability is likely to be crippled over the next few years.


Spot on. Who knows what ‘the enemy’ is up to even now in peacetime. As you say mine warfare is a big threat and opportunity.


could you imagine if a terrorist group instead of bombing innocent civilians, laid a mine or two in the entrance to major commercial trading dockyards around Europe. the amount of financial pain that would cause the western nations would be massive. Dear fascist western pig dogs we have laid a mine (stop chuckling at the back) in one of the inlets to your dockyards, we are not going to tell you where it is, go and find it, or pay us billions and we will tell you. that ladies and gentlemen doesn’t bear thinking about.


Technically we no longer have minesweepers.
The HUNTS only mine hunt nowadays. The mechanical sweep, acoustic and magnetic components that made up the combined sweep system are long gone.


Sorry, but a simple comment.

RN bought a mine sweeping USV set, last year. So, back again on sweeping (in addition to hunting). Interesting.

By the way, I agree mine terrorism can happen, and as such “Q-route survey” (frequent charting of important shipping zone) by mine hunters or side-scan sonar (either from small boat or USV) will be important.


don’t forget the Sandowns, wont be long and minehunting for the RN will be automated in any case

Meirion X

Usually buying cheap second hand warships don’t last long and will have incompatible systems for the RN to use, so to upgrade will cost a lot of £! An exception is ex USN warships, because the USA spends top dollar on their vessels!
They last a long time too!


Its no used moaning about how we got into this mess. Its up to the voters to take control. The priority is to get the propaganda media outlets like the BBC to educate the public better which once upon a time they were good at.
Uk is always going to be a frontline nation in the defence of the democracies because of geography, ability and world wide friendships.
The Treasury needs to cordinate this effort rather than paring everything to the bone in a dead hand sort of way.
I think we are very poor at seizing opportunities and until the central paymaster ie the Treasury starts to look at things with an opportunistic outlook we will continue to diminish.
Come on Hammond man up! you should be fully aware of all this through your time as defence minister. Get with the RN assist National Ship Building Program and also support the RAF or move over and let someone else do the job.
The French are annoyingly good at seeking national advantage in Defence purchases.
And Hammond! I’ve got you down to chip rust; so get out your Rust Hammer and go chip paint on the Iron Duke in Plymouth this weekend.


If you ever meet Hammond you will understand what Churchill meant when said up pulled a empty taxi to 10 downing street and out got Clement Attlee .

He has zero imagination and no grasp of defence and diplomacy and how the two work together.


On this and other issues, I think I’d be planning based on the assumption of armed conflict with Saudi while the cousins are engaged in China so can offer us limited/no help. May sound crackers but the parallels with Iran in the 1970s are remarkable: We’re arming the to the teeth because we have cordial relations with their government – At The Moment.

Wonder if an envisaged QEC battle group fight and win in these circumstances, with the numbers and kit they have. Reminds me of a passage in Sandy Woodward’s excellent autobiography where he describes having wargamed a conflict with Argentina back in the mid 70s. Hopefully there’s still a department doing that.


Very good post. I don’t think history will ultimately judge UK/US arms sales to this despotic family in good light. We saw what happens in Iran when the western backed dictator eventually falls out of favour with the local people. The Saudi Royal family’s power is a mile wide and an inch deep. Perhaps a Saudi equivalent of Ruhollah Khomeini will come knocking in the next decade.


Sadly, I fear Type 26 delivery rate will be extended to help reduce MOD ‘Black Hole.’ Worst still, if a labour government under Corbin is thrust upon us, we might see Type 23’s withdrawn without a direct one for one replacement even within the eight planned Type 26 & 31’s, Just a hunch.


Based on the ability of the current government to govern, Corbyn is almost a 100% chance of winning the next election. I suspect he would be more likely to go after the carriers or nuclear submarines, although only time will tell.

paul carling

ha ha really …..

j. adams

I can not understand why we did not just build new updated type 23’s arming them with 5 inch gun, captor quid packed in a 8X3 mk41 launcher, and fitting 2 more mk 41 launcher of 8×3 for LRASM, AREOSOC and TOMERHAWK. 16 0f each. Than we may have been able to get 18 to 24 frigates.


Primarily because the last Type 23 was built 18 years ago, we are at the point now that you are better off setting up build of a new class.


My interest and working with them at sea over the years make these ships the best ever I have encountered they are no SKODA unless Jaguar have taken the over


What’s wrong with SKODA anyway?