Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Very interesting, if not worrying article. I just hope the T26’s and T31’s are built so well that they don’t get delayed. It’s a disgrace what has been allowed to happen to the RN over the last 40 years.


Fully agree , it’s time our politicians got real and rebuilt our once proud navy to face the threats we are now facing . Trying to keep old ships at sea is just throwing good money after bad


Great article and certainly shows up the nonsense coming out of MOD and the naval leadership. We hear of the threat from Russia (BS in my opinion!) and how ready we are for it.. we couldn’t fight our way out of a wet paper bag.. And all because the people in charge see defence in terms of PESCO and NATO, 2 dreadful ideas


You think NATO, the organisation that ensured peace in Europe from WW2 until Putin, is a “dreadful idea”? You’re in a small minority, that also includes the aforementioned fascist dictator.

The Whale Island Zookeeper

How do you know he speaks for a minority?

Others are allowed to have their opinions. Your MSM propaganda isn’t the only world view out there.

Are you being inclusive by excluding those with whom you don’t agree?


So…there is a doubt that NATO has not held inter country squabbles in check..? The period since WW2 to now has had the least flare ups in Europe in 300 years. NATO as a collateral defence force and unfortunately the EU have stopped feudal wars due to disenfranchised economic entities feeling hard done by.

You are – as I am, perfectly entitled to an opinion …. but because you and or I utter it does not make it a fact. The more we rant into the echo chamber the greater the echo and the more the credibility of an argument becomes diluted.


I think he means Russia is not a direct threat to the UK


Certainly Turkiye , a nato member doesnt see any threat from Russia over the Ukraine situation.


I assume you are being sarcastic, Turkey having invoked exactly that threat under Article 21 of the Montreux Convention to close the Bosphorus to all warships.


All it says that “its a war- somewhere else” , and closes it for Nato ( which it belongs) and Russia.

You have made the ‘its 4 legs it must be a dog’ false analogy

if they were threatened by Russia why restrict Nato warships ?
. Boris would have had the RN there in a week !


This isn’t an analogy of any kind. I admit, to call my Turkish rudamentary would be an overstatement and I’m going off others’ translations, but that was what was reported in the press. Article 21 actually states

“Should Turkey consider herself to be threatened with imminent danger of war she shall have the right to apply the provisions of Article 20 of the present Convention.

[20: ….The passage of warships shall be left entirely to the discretion of the Turkish Government.]”

It most definitely doesn’t say “its a war- somewhere else”! Turkey feared it might get dragged into a war it didn’t want, so closed the straits to warships, as it has every right to do.

Robert Billington

Yeah but it’s all kicking off now with NATO in existence!!


Agreed. I think it is delusional why some on here think there is ‘peace in our time’ now Putin is waging war in Europe?


Its the age old plate spinning exercise that comes with managing a limited asset fleet. What the narrative does show is that incidents were dealt with and decisions made relatively quickly to try and enable a balance between availability and effective repair. There’s no thanks or glamour in the job of naval or any type of planning. The RN and all HM Forces strive to complete their taskings whilst having to chew on the s**t sandwich handed to them by politicians….always have, always will.

Phillip Johnson

A very good article, but a classic demonstration of what is likely to happen when you try to do life extensions on very old ships. Somerset joined the RN in 1989! IF it completes another commission the ship will be served for nearly double of her initial design life, which is absolutely insane.
500 structural inserts says it all. In simply terms that means that at 500 points the ships structure required replacement or reinforcement to do the job required of it.
In short, the ship was a pile of junk when it arrived for refit. When you get to that sort of level of defects, no matter how much you fix. more will break! Which appears to be what is happening.
I hope someone is totaling up the cost of this.


The true cost of delaying the T23s replacements is coming home in the cost of maintaining, repairing, and upgrading these old vessels.

The one relief is that almost all of Russia’s large combatants; carriers, battlecruisers, cruisers, and destroyers are similar vintage or older. Of the two navies I expect the RN takes more care of its vessels and crews, so that doesn’t augur well for the Russians.

Unfortunately most of Russia’s frigates were built this century, and then of course, there’s China…

Andy McG

It is the same as the story about schools and other public buildings with the RAAC concrete. The Country is run in a silly short term penny pinching way! Proper maintenance is essential but costs money. What a shadow of our once great nation we have become.

Supportive Bloke

Most of the RAAC story is nonsense.

Only a very small % of panels that were improperly manufactured and have been dished in water for protected periods historically have failed or are likely to fail.

The key factor is the reinforcement not running to the bearing points (short) or being too close to the surface (oxygen water corrosion) and roof covering being allowed to fail so soaking the panels.

The last point is the most important.

If you let any roof leak for protected periods be it on a concrete, steel or timber structure the structure decays.

BTW it is perfectly possible to check the reinforcement in situ.

Never let common sense and engineering get in the way of a good scare story!


Over 1 million man hours as well, it’s got to be False economy keeping these tired ships going.


Think you’ll find it was 1999, but the point re actual life vs design life remains.

Structural inserts likely to be primarily down to corrosion in the forward and wet spaces, plus some fatigue cracking (known class issue) in the usual places.

What this illustrates is the difficulty in balancing ship lives vs capital expenditure. When contracted, the T23s were given a design life of 18 years with a single refit period after nine years to conduct refurbishment etc. This was a direct response to the Leander modernisation refits (Ikara/Exocet/SeaWolf) and the associated eye-watering costs. Clear plan being replace before they get really old.

That plan would have required what was T22/23(R), then FSC, then T26 to have been contracted from 2003 onwards (FoC service entry~2008). Trouble was, Treasury will always ask why you need to buy new, instead of running on. Hopefully this will serve as a eye-opener, but not holding my breath.


If the numbers here turn out to be anything like correct it’s easy to see why the Treasury is so keen on T23 life extension. Less than £700m is buying a lot of ship years of extra life. Particularly when you think this is about the marginal cost of 1 extra T26 which it’s self will need quite a few millions spend on maintenance over even its first few years of service.


Which is where it all gets interesting. That budget was not devised by HMT. In all probability it was derived by someone – quite possibly a naval officer – in ABW taking an average of T23 refit costs, uplifting for a bit of inflation but not necessarily accounting for extra work for ageing. It was only when likely time-in-dockyard hands to do that work started to be estimated that people began to see the potential impact. Which was actually one of the unblockers for T26 approval.

Supportive Bloke

That and the ‘extension’ of the V boats……an even bigger lesson in why not to run old fleets on.

It is T23 and V boat extensions that appear to be running RN’s coffers dry ATM.

Gavin Gordon

What’s appears most notable about this and many other similar issues affecting essential RN platforms, and thus maritime war fighting capabilities overall, is they’re taking place in what still counts as peacetime. Desperation to get units to sea & then run them into the ground because you cannot replace them fast enough, are the sort of attrition problems only ‘acceptable’ during conflict.
Yet still HM Governments of whatever hue (yes it is mainly, even if not exclusively, them) would prefer any other option over the basic requirement of adequate funding i.a.w. increasing peer threat levels i.e. whether or not you’re part of a defence organisation, which itself has members experiencing similar problems – including the US when faced with combined large & authoritarian states who’s default is rule by intimidation.

The Whale Island Zookeeper

Not good.


15 years.
Thats how long a ship lasts without major work for obsolesence.
After that it gets eyewateringly expensive.

The only way round it is to keep building in batches, and the older batches get upgraded to new batch standard, that means eveything!, so a major refit.
Refit every 7.5 years to keep up. As the new batch has equipment to replace obsolete items.

Anything with a circuit board will last 5-10 years max. So most equipment now!.
Software and firmware versions become different, new components different fit, wired differently, different software, assuming there IS a replacement.

As soon as the last ship of the last batch gets built youre on a timer to expensive pain.


It sounds like the real problem is wear and tear on the ship rather than obsolete systems.

Supportive Bloke

It is both and the combination thereof.

If you take a ship which is a bit knackered and start cutting it about to fit new systems you discover that a steel you thought was 15mm thick is in fact 8mm thick and can’t take the loads. You then try and replace that steel and find that what it attaches to us all under thickness too.

It can be a real snowball effect.

None of this is very visible until you start checking testing and measuring.

That is how you end up with stupid numbers of structural inserts.

Barry Larking

The 2010 period short sightedness comes home to roost. Fine ships humiliated out of service, and our navy demoralised.


I was laughed at when I said she was in a bad way when she limped into Rosyth last year, (just after her refit) then to watch her loose power in midst of a move was beyond belief.


Bureaucracy at its best, poor decisions, one after another, from defence reviews, politicians to the MOD, a disgrace, will we ever learn!


When I joined the RN in 1978 there were 13 destroyers and 42 frigates. Now in 2023 there are 6 destroyers and 12 frigates. That is 73% reduction in 45 years. Or the loss of 1 ship per year. And with such a pitifully slow replacement programme this situation will get worse. Disgusting failure.


I think we are down to 10 frigates now and only 5 available at the moment. No SBN’s are at sea and only two T45’s are out there doing stuff. It’s a really disgusting state of affairs . On the plus side, at least we are accumulating a growing number of Dinghies from France. No shortage of crew either.


Well, there is always HMS Victory…


Spitfires over yge briney cabbafe crates coming over the drink…

Ahh those were the days

Paul T

Slightly better, Dauntless is over the Atlantic, Duncan in the Med and Diamond should be off to escort QE on her imminent deployment.


I ponder the 1982 Falklands campaign.

Where a missile can be seen to do such damage to a surface ship.

I have seen much of the video footage. If the Argentine military had acquired more missiles, what a different result there could have been.

Is it logical to build new fighting surface ships now? Wait until the first nuclear powered ship is hit.

My knowledge of the present situation is small. Does someone wish to respond?

Make it factual please.


The answer is obvious Royal Navy would have been defeated in 1982. Even 4 Argentinian operational submarines and torpedoes could have sealed it.

Today instead there is evidence of missiles interceptions by other missiles.


The RN just moved its ships further away from the mainland out of range of the Entendards combat radius with a missile.
Sheffield was let down by its poor readiness state in a combat zone-


Well the mission was to invade the islands, so a couple land based Exocet batteries there with Oerlinkon 35mm and some Roland SAM’s and what RN would do?


Easy targets when you have shore batterys
They did have them on shore of course , dont have the range of air launched nor the best target information, but Glamorgan was hit, this time crew werent on coffee break and limited the damage.
For well defended missile batteries just do what any military does , avoid the firing zone. RN had its own exocets to fire at land targets if necessary


I was on Brilliant in 83 operating the video recording equipment for the Exocet vs Sea Wolf trial prior to going south again in March. SeaWolf shot down the Exocet, launched by HMS Jupiter. No mods where needed to allow it to do it. The capability was already there but not physically proven at the time. Other mods where added from lesson learnt for aircraft engagements. Also shot down 4.5 inch shells

Nicholas Bassett

CCH, you’re only considering the surface fleet. When you joined we also had approximately 40 submarines; now we have… 10. So that’s getting on for a loss of two ships, every year, for 45 years!


Defence as portion of GDP is less now, was 4.9% around Falklands time .
NHS was 6% of GDP then, its now 11%+
Defences share has reduced and the government tax take has reduced as UK is 23rd out of 38 in OECD tax to GDP ratio, and is lowest of the major nato countries in Europe

Peter S

It really isn’t difficult to decide a long term plan for surface warships- there aren’t very many and we know how long on average they can operate without major rebuilding. The magic number for years has been 19, the minimum the RN leadership judged necessary for the probable tasking. The new number, thanks to Boris’s T32 announcement is 24. Assuming the effective life is 15 years, we need to deliver a new frigate/destroyer every 8/9 months. With 2 yards now involved, this should be easily achievable.
Just as the army wasted the best part of decade with FRES, the RN also wasted years trying to define requirements – global combat ship etc. We could, like the USN and Arleigh Burke, have continued to build new T23s which have been both successful and relatively affordable to construct.
Politicians are not solely to blame- RN leadership( just like the army’s) has failed to deliver an affordable plan to maintain capabilities, instead frittering away resources and time on over ambitious new designs that may be better but not significantly so.


“The RN also wasted years trying to define requirements – global combat ship etc. We could, like the USN and Arleigh Burke, have continued to build new T23s which have been both successful and relatively affordable to construct.”

This is I’m afraid, a fallacy. The RN did not spend years trying to define requirements. Far from it. The requirement document for the FSC in 1999 was essentially very similar to that for the T26 as contracted. What happened during those years was that the regulatory environment (and consequently MoD policy) changed and the impact of that was to drive size into the ship. Two things then conspired – certain RN VSO and civil servants in MB were absolutely convinced that they knew that the ship could be no heavier than 5-6000 tonnes or it would be “unaffordable” and HMT kept asking the question – “can’t you run the T23 on for a bit longer?” to which the answer was until recently a qualified “yes”.

On top of that you had a Maritime Industrial strategy predicated on ending up with a single complex warship building yard and a TOBA the guaranteed work.

You could not construct a T23 as is and have it accepted by either the DMR or indeed Class – they don’t have grandfather rights. The USN building loads of ABs has actually resulted in the complete atrophy of design capability in the US. Which will have serious consequences.

Mark L

The 5000 tonne limit was being pushed by the Treasury. When the Type 26 design was clearly heavier, George Osborne as Chancellor changed the budget from one 5000 tonne ship per year to one Type 26 every other year. So the Senior Officers and MB civil servants were right to be concerned.


This predates 2010…..


Good catch.
The evidence supports you
“Expectations of a 12-month drumbeat for production of the warships was thrown into uncertainty earlier this year when Chancellor George Osborne announced during a visit to Portsmouth naval dockyard that he had asked officials to look at the possibility of building one complex warship every two years as part of a new national maritime strategy.”


 USN building loads of ABs has actually resulted in the complete atrophy of design capability in the US. “
Not so. Its surprisinging claim without foundation from someone in your position

Zumwalts were complete new designs

LCS – two completely different types into production

Gerald Ford was a complete redesign of the Nimitz class ( another type which was in continuous production from 1968 and 2006 , a 40 yr old design.

like playwrights and Movie franchises and commercial aeroplanes , ship design is more often than thought a continous process building on the past sucesses


Just remembered the USCG Legend class cutters- really light frigates at 4500 t, in production since 2008


Because the Zumwalt and LCS were really successful…..that’s the point. If you don’t do new designs often enough, you institutionally forget the reason behind design choices. They change over time, such that an approach applied to a design may not be appropriate for another one a decade or so later, but if you don’t know the rationale you can’t make the choice. AB designed in the early to mid 80s. Zumwalt LCS designed in the early to mid noughties – twenty years gap.

Surface combatant design is very difficult, not least because you are more space constrained than in other types.

I’m afraid your ship design knowledge is not first-hand, merely second or third hand musing.


Thats not the point . As far as I can see the concept was wrong , not the designers fault

Now you agree they have done major designs since the ABs Ive given 5 AFTER the Burkes

Dont forget it was concurrency that was the issue , production underway while development process was still in final stages. A political-military decision not a design choice

Show your knowledge by not saying silly things.
Caught you out on the Osborne thing and now the naval designs


In all cases, the designers could and should have prevented what happened. That’s why it’s design rather than drafting.

You”LL note the US is currently buying a Fincantieri frigate, precisely because they can’t do one themselves.


Again you are saying silly things.

The deal was to save time by buying a type already in production. Not ‘because they cant’

I listed all the various combat ship types they have designed – LCS amoung them which is a frigate type. In fact the same yard – under new Fincantieri management- building a LCS version will build the new FFX.


Also the more recent major redesign of the AB Flight III to carry the heavier radar/power supply other changes and keep the design margins for buoyancy meant a new hull form was developed from the existing shape. Something like this would include a complete re design of the existing structure as well- to see what is retained and what is strengthened.
its not a full development of new systems and integration which is time consuming , but increasingly even say the electrical system can be modelled fully as it will be built so that it can be ‘tested while still only software’ . It shouldnt replace full system testing once built but smooths the path. Same goes for other liquids piping such as fire supression or waste water


You still don’t understand what you read on the internet. Those of us who know and understand what has been done to AB III are far less sanguine.


You really are clueless…. But keep talking. It’s funny


There is no power margin left in the AB Flight 3s. The internal equipment is maxed out. To be fair its not much better on the AB 1& 2 Flights. The machinery rooms are like stepping back into a T42 B1&2 and dont get me started on Ticos!

As for LCS…if you think its a brilliant design idea to put critical systems power supply equipment in the bilge area with an IP rating of IP 54…you shouldn’t design ships and ask someone else to do it for you…Which they have.


The LCS designs have been really successful, haven’t they?

Which is one reason why they have a sudden need for a new frigate…….


he RN did not spend years trying to define requirements. Far from it. The requirement document for the FSC in 1999 was essentially very similar to that for the T26 as contracted.”

I think he means the years wasted after 2010 election on a cheaper version – which came to nothing as just before election 2015 the original proposal from around 2009 was back and going to be ordered.

Years and millions wasted in between with the silly OPV contracts to keep BAE yards semi active


Those of us who were involved and have the early designs to hand, also know that the 2015 design bears no resemblance to the pre-2010 versions (such as they were). There was a very large and significant change, which had nothing to do with cost or George Osborne and everything to do with redesign of the hullform.

Remind me again who came up with the ToBA (which led to the RCB2) and signed it?

Paul T

What were the major differences between the pre 2010 and post 2015 designs.?

Paul T

Apart from Hull form if any?.


Basically, the “design” such as it was in 2010 was the end-result of the first stage of NDP development. At that stage it was little more than a general arrangement drawing, a weight estimate, some combat system architecture documents, an initial set of model test results, some survivability studies and an outline propulsion system design.

That was the so-called Stage 0 design done by the NDP with MoD leading to retain the design authority role. The next stage – Stage 1 – was a joint NDP/BAES effort comprising the Assessment Phase to put more detail on that design, to the point a detailed design and manufacture contract (stage 2) could be let at Main Gate. The Assessment Phase contract (for approx £150M or so) was let in March 2010 and the BVT team (as was) started fleshing out the design, producing things like policy docs and subsequently outline designs for the systems, armouring schemes for the magazines etc. There were also some more hydrodynamic model tests done I think.

Trouble was – after spending a significant amount of that money, a capability / performance issue associated with the primary role of the ship became apparent. Contrary to what some think they’ve found on the internet, this issue was nothing to do with trying to make the ship cheaper – it was a fundamental performance issue, that required a major re-arrangement of the ship, because the hullform had to change in part of the design.

However, because the majority of the AP funding had been spent – and also because the MoD/RN wanted as much of the arrangement to remain as approved, the scope for re-arrangement was constrained and the resultant redesigned ship was struggling in a number of areas. In fact, it was struggling so much that literally 2 or 3 months before the Main Gate submission was due (to release the stage 2 funds for detail design), the ships beam had to increase by over 1m and it’s depth increased as well. If you understand ship design at this stage, these are not insignificant changes – and quite understandably undermined confidence in the design. This is where the stand-off between MoD and BVT (soon to be BAES) originated.

In addition, the cost and build schedules were also causing concern, not least because the ship was getting ever bigger (which is what happens when you put extra beam and depth into the ship). The games on what displacements were reported continued,such that some used lightship, some used standard displacement, still others used start of life values (ie without the additional amount that the design included for margins and through-life growth.

The stand-off lasted for two or three years, before eventually a compromise was reached – not least because the awful truth that you couldn’t keep extending the T23 for a few more years (and even doing what was in the programme would result in huge amounts of non-Fleet time upkeep and non availability of hulls) became apparent after some targeted studies.

That was the trigger for the £850M contract awarded in 2015, which included a large chunk of long-lead items to keep both David Brown and GEPC in business (had they folded, you’d need to redesign / respecify the propulsion system) and to allow BAES to complete the design to a level of detail that they could sign a build contract. That eventually resulted in the £3.7Bn contract for build of ships 1-3.


“Specifications for a new type of British warship designed by BAE Systems will be scaled back to shrink costs, which could prompt the country to order more ships, defence sources said on Monday.
The new Type 26 frigate, due for delivery in the early 2020s, is being developed under Britain’s Future Surface Combatant programme. The vessel’s specifications will be lowered partly to save money as Britain tackles a record budget deficit.” -Reuters

They did play the look at cheaper options card , – a smokescreen to avoid placing a contract – and lo and behold 2015 election nears and the pre 2010 version is contracted for after all and contracts for long lead items and construction design are signed , while they quibble over the details and numbers in the batch


You do realise all your little links originate from the same single source? They’re not multiple independent confirmations.

What was going on with T26 was never going in public domain

Those who were there, know. Those who weren’t……


“. We will embark on a new programme of less expensive, modern frigates, more flexible and better able to take on today’s naval tasks of tackling drug trafficking, piracy and counter-terrorism.”

SDSR 2010

BAE has cleverly cleansed even the wayback archive of its warship construction news from 2010 to 2015- page cant be found

Digging deeper for impeccably sourced long history including Commons questions/answer finds that that the FCS design development was delayed even back in 2005

Mr. Ingram: The Future Surface Combatant (FSC) programme has not been cancelled. Some of the assumptions associated with this project, which is still at the concept stage, have changed as a result of the MOD’s recent planning rounds. As a result, it was decided to disband the FSC Integrated Project Team and transfer the programme to the DPA Future Business Group.”
Assumptions from planning rounds i.e. cash meant that the programme was transferred to the Defence Procurement Agency’s Future Business Group, otherwise known as the long grass.

Initial Gate for FSC, previously intended to be 2008, was again moved, to 2009.
The In-Service date was also slipped, from mid-decade to late in the decade.”

BAE Surface Ships were awarded a four-year, £127m, Assessment Phase contract in March 2010 to design the Type 26 Global Combat Ship. [just 3 months before the 2010 election]
Janes :
Officials expect the so-called ‘combat ship’ – the larger of two Future Surface Combatant (FSC) designs for the RN – to pass the MoD’s main gate milestone towards the end of 2013, ready for production to start. 

According to a timetable set out by the FSC Team at the MoD’s Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) organisation, steel for the first vessel will be cut in late 2015 or early 2016, a keel-laying ceremony will be held later in 2016

Instead of these contracts and T26 build starting it was more OPV
Aug 2014
s the Secretary of State for Defence announced in the House on 6 November 2013, Official Report, column 252, the Ministry of Defence has signed an Agreement in Principle with BAE Systems to order three new Offshore Patrol Vessels for the Royal Navy, based on a more capable variant of the River Class,

all these links from the well sourced


You keep posting links from the internet, which you think you understand in context. The trouble is, you don’t have that context.

Some of us – who were there – do have that context. Indeed, we can explain precisely what happened to the design and why and how that impacted on the timeline.

For example, your “revelation” that the FSC was delayed in 2005 is something I’ve previously alluded to (as well as the 1999 and 2003 failures to pass initial gate).

The 2009 Initial Gate is what triggered the Assessment Phase contract (initially £127 but ending up around £150M), which would – as I’ve previously outlined – take the stage 0 FSC/GCS design from NDP into a joint NDP/BVT construct, the so-called stage 1 design.

The purpose of that stage 1 design was to mature what was a very immature design (see earlier) to a level where it could be costed to sufficient accuracy to allow a demonstration and manufacture contract to be let. That D&M contract would then move to stage 2 detail design and beyond, which would include developing the detail and production design information to enable manufacture to begin.

You persist in believing that there was a design ready to go and that somehow George Osborne decided to do something else and then miraculously recant in 2015 for some electoral benefit. The “design” for GCS in 2010 was very different from the current T26 – for exactly the reasons outlined up-thread. The major change to fix the capability issue – which distinguishes the designs – didn’t occur until ~late 2011 and had nothing to do with cost.

Peter (Irate Taxpayer)


I don’t normally ask somebody to answer a question that looks back about quarter-of-a century.

However you might be the person who knows the answer to one question about the RN frigate fleet, one which has frankly baffled me for many years.

By the late 1990’s / early 2000’s, various UK yards had been building the Type 23 frigate fleet, at the very-approximate production rate of one per year, for well over decade. The RN seemed to be happy with the end product. All in all, the T23 seem to have matured from its original intent (i.e. its originally-planned ASW specialisation) into a very good and well-liked all-round warship.

Even at its very earliest conceptual stage, all of the key RN-specified end-user requirements for the FSC (Future Surface Combatant) seemed to offer no improved / extra capabilities (i.e. FSC compared to the already-in-service T23).

Therefore, can I ask you why the Navy put “all its eggs” into the FSC programme and continued for several years working on the FSC design studies?

regards Peter The Irate Taxpayer

Peter S

I didn’t actually but kind of you to think so. I actually meant the years from 1997 when a successor to T23 was first considered. Whatever changes occurred in the regulatory environment, years were spent on FSC/GCS/ global Corvette without a single new design being finalized never mind actually built. In the same way, the army wasted years on FRES and related projects without a single afv actually built. However difficult the political/ financial background, these failures are largely the fault of the senior leadership of the respective services.


How can this be seen as the fault of the service leaders?

If the Treasury won’t release money to build new ships no new ships get built. Decisions at this level are taken by politicians not military officers.

Peter S

Because they are the experts in what their service needs. It is their job to define requirements, make them realistic in the overall financial context and attempt to persuade ministers to approve. If the senior military leaderships can’t finalize and articulate what they need, what do you expect an amateur politician to do?
The army had the excuse that UORs for Afghanistan took precedence. But the navy has operated in a fairly benign environment. I suspect that re generating carrier capability took most of their attention. Letting the frigate fleet rightly described as the backbone of the RN, fall into such a state is inexcusable


You can’t finalise new designs if you keep failing Initial Gate (which means you don’t get to Main Gate), which FSC did in 1999, 2004 and 2006. The reason it failed was largely because the answer to the HMT question “can’t we just run the T23s on?” was generally a qualified “yes”.

Whether the projected costs for running T23 on were sufficiently beefy is down to MoD, but were largely produced by CAAS (the cost assessment assurance service) which scrutinises all such submissions to make sure projects aren’t taking the p1ss.

It was only in 2011-2012 or so that people really started looking at both the likely run-on cost and more importantly the time in hand to do Lifex. At that point, the qualified “yes” started to become a lot more like “yes, but we’ll spend literally billions and only get a handful of extra years in service”.


There is no reason that RN Type 26 which is an ASW could not be 5-6000t ship, it do not have Aster AAW capability, radar is a simple rotating one compared to a Constellation, FREEM.

One of the reasons is the mission bay that increases its size, But must have other reasons.


Compare the crew living quarters on a T23 and T26 for starters. Then add the requirement for a Chinook capable flight deck and you get a big ship.


Plus escape and evacuation routes, removal routes, ergonomics policy. All mean you need more internal deck area and volume, which drives you towards a bigger ship.


This isn’t just a British thing. Looking around the rest of Europe replacement classes of escorts are bigger than the ships they are replacing.


Remember a Leander was 2,400 tons and 260 people. Try doing that now


Which is why they basically had to design the astute class after the major failure because the UK couldn’t do it. The US problem is not design. It’s no guidance as to what the hell they actually wanted.
And they still wander around in the dark not knowing what they want to build but just spending billions doing it


If you want to see what a REAL retention crisis looks like ask RN crews to live on an AB type ship. Living conditions are squalid at best.


Yep they are awful. Worked on a number of ABs, Tico and one LCS. USN dont do creature comforts.They also have forgotten how to design ships with survivability .


Good article. Interesting and disturbing at the same time. Am reminded of Ben Wallaces final commons speach as Def Sec warning those who come after him and cough cough maybe even the Treasury that constantly moving programmes to the right to save money now will come back to bite you in the derriere in the future. We are in this mess thanks to 25 years of zero new frigates (2002 – 2027) That must never ever happen again.


Words fail. A shambles. We need every ship available for service. The service the RN get from so-called repairers, maintainers whatever, is beyond parody. It’s like a rudderless ship…..


Or one with a leaky rudder stock…


Great article.

Typical example of “great idea to save money and time” caused more money and time to be wasted.

Do it properly. Although it looks like costy at the first look, it is in many cases the cheapest option. In other words, do not be optimistic on these costs. Be realistic, or even pessimistic, so that you can decide to pay for the “needed” plan.

This means “cut”.

  • Stop saying “more frigates” = officially bann T32. Stop saying “more SSNs”. Just try to keep current number and invest on it.
  • T31 capability insertion period must be as short as possible. At least T31-hull1, 2 and 3 must be happy with “only 24 (or even just 12) CAMM” = no Mk.41. RN needs these hulls as early as possible.
  • Never say “efficiency savings”. If you need “efficiency savings” to earn some procurement program, it means you cannot buy it. Simple. Not enough number of docks, not enough spare parts, I understand all these came from “efficiency savings”, and actually costing more to RN.

Just my thought.

The Whale Island Zookeeper

I still think T32 became a thing because Doris cocked up saying T31.


Except PMs all over the world ‘mispeak’ often and its usually corrected
This one wasnt corrected
New T32 … confirmed,” tweeted Adm. Tony Radakin, the First Sea Lord. Radakin offered no further details.

Thank me later for fixing that up for you


I think T32 will turn out to be another of the A140 variants (as is T31). It is the quickest way to produce more frigates. Don’t do a competition as such, it will just waste time. Build a variant of what is already in production. Replace all 13 of the T23 frigates with T31 & T32 frigates as quickly as possible (to get ships at sea & to stop wasting money on ships that were never designed to last this long). T26 (& later T83) are more complex warships & are unlikely to be able to be built at the speed achievable with A140 designs. It doesn’t matter how good the T23 is at ASW if it can’t get to sea. There are ASW options for A140 which while not in the same class, will at least be able to get to sea till the T26 numbers build up.

You can build an all new A140 quicker than you can rebuild a T23.


There is no point ordering more ships for the RN until it shows it can recruit and retain the people needed to crew them.
Today people are a far bigger issue for the RN (and the services in general) than ship numbers.


Crew retention is not helped by the likes of T23, in the state they are in. Join the navy & see the world only has meaning if your ship/sub can actually leave port.


This reflects first rate incompetence from our politicians, finance managers and engineers.


Not completing a frigate between 2002 and 2027 whilst continually reducing the fleet and expecting the Royal Navy to carry out the same tempo of operations has created a predicable and worrying mess!

A vicious circle of placing more and more pressure on fewer and fewer numbers with little-no flex in the system when ageing vessels need extra TLC and virtually no choice but to stump up larger and larger amounts to keep them going.

Apparently it’ll take over £100 million to sort Westminster out! That’s a huge figure and means having her in refit for several years for not much more service…..but without that the fleet shrinks yet again and loses one of the precious ASW frigates that were supposed to be in better shape and last into the 2030’s.

With more in service and hot/continuous production lines the material problems wouldn’t be anywhere near as bad and a replacement a year or two away, giving so many more options when it comes to long-term planning.

To be honest with the commitments the RN is expected to keep and the sheer level of activity it’s a minor miracle the older T23’s have lasted this long!

The only way some other navies keep vessels in service for 40 or 50 years is to have them tied up alongside doing nothing for the majority of the time and accepting greater degrees of obsolesce, lower standards of training and accommodation etc than we do.


Resilience costs money, and is an early casualty of ‘fat cutting’ in efficiency exercises imposed upon the Services for many many years by multiple governments (blue and red). Until a disaster happens and the pain from this changes society’s priorities nothing will change. Unfortunately that disaster will likely cost many service personnel their lives. ????


The Paxman engines are mentioned, which is a well known British diesel engine builder, bought out by MAN
For general information theres an interesting history online from enthusiasts and heres a link to their engines since 1934

Other pages cover more general history etc


Detecting a hint of frustration from Navy Lookout in this excellent article.Good thing too!!Nothing to be done is there…RN will struggle on with 5 or so 23s available until the 26s and 31s trickle through..Exquisite CGI and mock ups for the Type 83s will be presented and swooned over…2, maybe 3 by early 2040s and £2bn a pop?Meanwhile the Chinese churn out destroyers,frigates and LPDs in double figures every couple of years.UK will have to leave Indo-Pacific deployments to the B2Rivers and the USN.Wont be enough hulls to support a CSG soon,could the RN deploy one with all escorts non RN?


By the look of it by 2040 the Chinese Expeditionary Fleet will be bigger than RN.


Are you saying that the Chinese Expeditionary Force isn’t already bigger than the Royal Navy?


Why are we spending money on expensive refits/upgrades just to have them sat in docks . All the money spent on lifex would probably have paid for a couple of brand new ships

Paul T

The New Builds were delayed to such an extent that LIFEX refits for existing Ships was the only option.

Oliver Gilkes

Rather frightening tale of error and other issues. I know these are complex systems and are rarely operating at 100% efficiency but…..really? ‘Structural inserts’? Ships integrity deemed at risk in other words. Much of this is simply governments kicking the can down the road intil they realised they actualky need a navy.


Structural inserts are where parts of plate have corroded below their minimum thickness when surveyed. Corrosion happens, despite best effots with coatings and cathodics. The chain locker is guaranteed to have plenty of corrosion simply because of it’s location, usage and nature.

So structural inserts in themselves are not unusual. It’s the extent of them, which reflects a ship going beyond it’s design life. The corrosion margin on plate reflects expected service life, so if you run the ships on longer, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll be doing lots of inserts.

Nor is this a new phenomenon. Leanders, T42, LPDs (Fearless!) and similar all spent some of their latter years with ballastcrete in some of their wet spaces, partly because they too were corroded.


In the “good old day’s” it was acceptable for a frigate/destroyer suffering major defects to be removed for repairs, or even to be placed in reserve. It’s stating the obvious I know but the Royal Navy has less than half a dozen battle-fit frigates to fulfil ALL of it’s commitments and even these are just about past their sell-by-date. We are in a dreadful, very precarious state, and even if the building of Type 26 and 31 frigates was vastly speeded up where are the crews to come from? Who in their right mind would entrust their career to the sinking ship that is the Royal Navy?


I have put inserts into Montrose and othe rRN ships when in the gulf. Usually small afairs , a couple of square feet. The Civvy ships my yard get inserts measured in 100s of tonnes of steel.
Steel wastes away.
You replace it when you need to.


Almost unbelievable. Who had Project Management responsibility? Oversight of repairs? Cheaper and more effective option/decision making much earlier? Appalling story rightly made public. UK defence eroded beyond fit for purpose? Similar stories must be elswhere too. Talk about ‘nothing working ‘ in UK…..


Austerity has come home to roost … death by a thousand cuts
Royal Navy
NHS front line staff.. not managers
The Court buildings 40% gone
No cuts to MP numbers though
Both parties participated in these cuts

Richard Oliver

Who signed off this crock of s**te?

Tom Smith

Thank you for another excellent, thoroughly researched article.

I used to feel a bit envious of my friends that are still in. But now, both reading these articles and hearing from them, I increasingly feel sorry for them. It seems that the service has fallen below a level of funding and manpower where it can continue to look after itself. So depressing.

There's Grey In My Beard

The quickest way to do something, is to it right first time.


If MOD and Parliament can’t be bothered to fund a proper Royal Navy (ie, one capable of blue water operations and overseas power projection), then the powers that be should sell the carriers and build a submarines-frigates-and-corvettes fleet and have done with it. Stop screwing around and blah-blahing about “Global Britain” but never paying for the kind of military that is unquestionably necessary to have a legitimate say in world affairs. Just accept being a regional power and build accordingly and otherwise shut up.


Why must the torpedo magazine launcher be tested in calm conditions? Does anyone think a modern Battle of the Atlantic would conveniently take place in summer?
Do any of our syastems ever get tested in Force 8 and a high sea state?


Because it’s a functional check to make sure that after a long upkeep, the various bits of the system all work as they should. Does the handling system in the mag align/index properly with the torpedo racks. Can it pick up the training round, move it to the tubes, align and insert the round? Does the round accept info from the Combat system? Do the safety interlocks work? Does the round launch? Then recover the training round.

Sea state bouncy doesn’t help that


Do you mean first test after major overhaul or final test once it’s believed all the bugs have been worked out?


You cannot recover the TVT if its rough…( drill torpedo) the sea boat is limited by sea state.

Just curious, who does the work? Is it private contractors or the MOD?


an earlier story 2018 said
The Type 23 LIFEX programme is being run by the Surface Ship Support Alliance (a partnership between the MoD, Babcock and BAE Systems)”

I presume its still the same

Ian Donald

Someone in MoD Equipment Authority hasn’t a clue.. It would have been quicker to build a new ship.


15 to 20 years to design a new ship. Even the T31 a redesign takes over 5 years


It takes nothing like that timeframe.

You can design a new ship within 3-5 years, from scratch.

The extended time in the UK is fighting it – and usually the budget rather than requirement or design – through the approvals system.

Peter (Irate Taxpayer)


I don’t normally ask somebody to answer a question that looks back about quarter-of-a century.

However you might be the person who knows the answer to one question about the RN frigate fleet, one which has frankly baffled me for many years.

By the late 1990’s / early 2000’s, various UK yards had been building the Type 23 frigate fleet, at the very-approximate production rate of one per year, for well over decade. The RN seemed to be happy with the end product. All in all, the T23 seem to have matured from its original intent (i.e. its originally-planned ASW specialisation) into a very good and well-liked all-round warship.

Even at its very earliest conceptual stage, all of the key RN-specified end-user requirements for the FSC (Future Surface Combatant) seemed to offer no improved / extra capabilities (i.e. FSC compared to the already-in-service T23).

Therefore, can I ask you why the Navy put “all its eggs” into the FSC programme and continued for several years working on the FSC design studies?

regards Peter The Irate Taxpayer


Something doesnt add up

The story says Somerset was just getting refurbished Paxton engines rather than the new MTU versions as intended and done for some T23 and as used in T31

But this news release some time back (2015) , says they contracted for 4 sets each for 12 frigate lifex

FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany –– Rolls-Royce is to supply a total of 48 MTU diesel gensets, worth approximately €90 million, for 12 Duke-class (Type 23) frigates used by the UK’s Royal Navy. It is the first time that MTU engines will be in use with the Royal Navy in combat ships.

The diesel gensets, which each deliver 1,650 kW, will be delivered from late 2016 to Devonport Naval Base, where the repowering work is being carried out by Babcock Marine. The deal also includes a comprehensive logistics package for the provision of spare parts and introductory training package. The MTU brand is part of Rolls-Royce Power Systems within the Land & Sea division of Rolls-Royce.

Have some of ‘the 48’ been pinched for the T31 ?


Are you sure the T31 uses the same version of MTU’s engine as the T23 re power? I don’t think the do.


What an absolute sh**t show. Unbelievable. Someone, or a few people should be fired. This has become common in the RN – a great navy with a wonderful and glorious legacy. This is simply unacceptable.

Alba og

So how long overdue and how much extra in costs?
Just we keep hearing about delayed ferries in Scotland and nothing about the likes of this farce or the aircraft carriers.

Allan Desmond

decade after decade of British failures on ship construction, failures in Low grade Union workmanship, all have become a bit Boring.


Not another ‘HMS FITTED FOR BUT NOT WITH’ warship! At this moment I could not care less what is projected to happen with the Royal Navy and its ships in 5 years time but if orders for Type 26 and 31 aren’t at least doubled and building them and properly equipping them NOW isn’t dramatically increased over the present crawl- which could mean constructing a ship-builders yard outside of Scotland! then we may just as well roll up our hammocks and go home. No escorts in sufficient numbers for carrier groups or submarines, insufficient numbers of B35b,s to properly equip a strike aircraft carrier[ notice the singular], no protection for the Merchant Navy throughout the world, the UK Dependencies the Persian Gulf. Goodbye Gibraltar, goodbye Port Stanley. Thank you China for supporting these small countries now that we have deserted them, they all needed really vast concrete airfields and ports capable of taking in very large warships and military aircraft, don’t we all!!
My hammock, from the late 60’s, very early 70’s[ HMS CAMBRIAN] is preserved, if that is the word, in my airing cupboard, can’t say that I am very fond of it but it is part of my past.
Rather me than you!!!!!