With the recent sale of HMS Ocean to Brazil, we take this opportunity to examine the considerable number of RN and RFA vessels that have been sold on for further service with foreign navies and are still operational today.
Upholder class submarines
It is still a source of controversy and regret today but in the early 1990s it was decided to decommission the RN’s 4 conventional Upholder class submarines after just a few years service, as part of the Cold War “peace dividend”. After spending time in storage they were eventually sold to Canada but suffered a tortuous and difficult return to service, not helped by a fatal fire on board HMCS Chicoutimi during her delivery voyage in 2004. It took until February 2015 for the RCN to declare their submarine fleet was operational but the Upholders are now proving to be excellent boats and are deployed globally. HMS Upholder was re-named Chicoutimi and after lengthy repairs commissioned in September 2015. HMS Unseen became HMCS Victoria, HMS Ursula became HMCS Corner Brook and Unicorn became HMCS Windsor.
Type 23 Frigates
The sale of 3 modern Type 23 frigates was announced in the 2003 and was a precursor to many more cuts to the fleet in the 21st Century. Seen in a wider context, the sacrifice of these ships was partly to help fund the war in Iraq and in part the Treasury’s required ‘pound of flesh’ in return for the eventual order for the QE class aircraft carriers. The ships were converted for Chilean service in Portsmouth between 2006-08. HMS Norfolk recommissioned in 2006 as Almirante Cochrane. HMS Grafton recommissioned as the Almirante Lynch in March 2007 and HMS Malborough recommissioned as the Almirante Condell in May 2008. Lockheed Martin Canada has recently been contracted to replace the combat management system with their CMS 330. According to an unconfirmed Janes report in October 2017, Chile is interested in buying additional second-hand Type 23 frigates after the MoD suggested: “up to five ships may become available for sale”. (It seems likely this plan will be abandoned in the MDP 2018 review currently underway).
Type 22 Batch 1 Frigates
The 4 batch 1 Type 22 Frigates were sold to Brazil between 1995-97. Ex-HMS Broadsword became Greenhalgh, ex-HMS Battleaxe became Rademaker – both continue to serve today. Ex-HMS Brilliant became Dodsworth but was scrapped in 2012 and ex-HMS Brazen became Bosísio but was sunk as target in 2017.
Type 22 Batch II Frigates
The decommissioning of the 6 very young batch II Type 22s between 1999 -2001 was mired in controversy as the MoD failed to raise much from their sale, HMS Boxer & Brave were sunk as targets, HMS Beaver scrapped and the others sold at knock-down prices amidst a corruption scandal.
Type 21 Frigates
All 6 surviving Type 21 frigates were sold to Pakistan between 1993-94. Always seen as somewhat under-armed in RN service, they were quickly modernised and upgraded with new weapons and sensors and reclassified by Pakistan as ‘destroyers’. Ex-HMS Amazon, PNS Babur and ex-HMS Alacrity, PNS Badr have now been decommissioned but the remaining 4 ships are still operational.
HMS Dumbarton Castle and HMS Leeds Castle were sold to the Bangladesh Navy in April 2010. These ships were upgraded between 2011-14 and given a new sensor fit, 4 Chinese-made C704 anti-ship missiles and an Ak-176 76.2 mm gun. They are now rated as ‘corvettes’.
Five of the six Island Class OPVs were delivered to the Bangladeshi navy between 2002-04. Ex-HMS Lindisfarne became BNS Turag, ex-HMS Shetland became BNS Kapatakhaya, ex-HMS Alderney became BNS Karatoa, ex-HMS Anglesey became BNS Gomati. ex-HMS Orkney was sold to the Trinidad and Tobago Coastguard in 2001 and served as TTS Nelson until she was decommissioned in 2015.
The 5 RN Peacock class vessels were built to patrol the waters of Hong Kong. When Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1999, 3 of the ships were sold to the Philipines in August 1999 for a bargain $20M. HMS Peacock became BRP Emilio Jacinto, HMS Plover became BRP Apolinario Mabini and HMS Starling became BRP Artemio Ricarte. The Philipines is very happy with the vessels which continue in service with upgrades planned. There were calls for them to be retained for patrolling UK waters but after a period laid up, the remaining two vessels were eventually sold to Ireland in 1989, where they continue to serve. HMS Swallow became LÉ Ciara and HMS Swift became LÉ Orla.
The 12 River class vessels built in the early 1980s were originally designed as minesweepers but were quickly converted to patrol duties and mostly manned by Royal Navy Reservists. In was decided in 1993 that all would be decommissioned and sold off. 4 were sold to Bangladesh, 7 to Brazil and 1 to Guyana. The entire class remain operational with their new owners.
In the last decade, the RN has been slowly reducing its fleet of modern plastic-hulled minehunters. These vessels are an attractive proposition for foreign navies and the 3 Sandown class SRMH and 4 Hunt class MCMVs are frequently seen serving in NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups.
Just one of the Herald Class hydrographic survey vessels built for the RN in the 1960s survives in Indonesian service. 2 of the 5 Bulldog class survey vessels survive but are unrecognisable. Ex-HMS Beagle was completely rebuilt as a motor yacht Titan and ex-HMS Fox has been rebuilt as motor yacht Toy Heaven.
One of the much-regretted decisions of the 2010 defence review was the sale of RFA Largs Bay to Australia for £65 Million. Costing a very modest £25M per year to run, the 3 remaining ships have proved versatile and able to perform all kinds of tasks beyond their primary amphibious role.
Around the world, the “ex-Royal Navy flotilla” consists of something like, an assault ship, 4 submarines, 12 frigates, 24 patrol vessels, 7 mine warfare vessels, 2 survey vessels and 5 auxiliaries. Sales of surplus vessels can generate useful income for the MoD and strengthen defence relationships but some vessels were valuable assets that were disposed of in haste. In the long run, the National Shipbuilding Strategy suggests that the RN offers its warships for sale to overseas buyers at a younger age and replace them with new vessels, providing regular work for UK shipbuilders.