4 Type 22 frigates on ‘death row’ Devonport, July 2011, Photo: Keith Reed
The harsh reality of the government’s “strategic defence review”. Amongst the most depressing sights in the UK today, HMS Campbeltown, Chatham, Cornwall and Cumberland lie at Devonport in various stages of dismemberment being stripped of secret formula radar-absorbent paint, weapons and other useful or sensitive equipment ready for scrapping. With at least 5-10 years good service left in them (HMS Campbeltown had multi-million£ refit as recently as 2009!), they were suddenly axed by a government with a dogmatic fixation on short-term cost savings and no understanding of maritime power. Although these ships date from the 1980s and were designed incorporating lessons from the Falklands War, they were still very capable warships and until recently were serving around the world protecting Britain’s interests. Devonport naval base, the largest in Western Europe, lies half-deserted with few ships to support or refit. Its skilled workforce shrinks and another valuable national asset built up over centuries is left to wither. While many countries are investing in their navies and recognise the importance of maritime power, Britain which once dominated the globe through sea-power is self-destructing, slashing its Navy and throwing away assets and trained people that it may never be able to replace.
The demise of these 4 frigates would be fairly unremarkable if there were replacements ready to come forward but there are no frigates under construction in the UK only the vague promise of the Type 26 Frigates which are supposed to start arriving in around 9 years from now! BAe Systems, the corporate giant that has the sole monopoly on UK warship construction, was awarded the contract to begin design of the Type 26 Frigate in March 2010. There are plans for ‘up to 18’ of these ships including an ani-submarine version and a more general purpose version. Given BAe System’s track record and an MoD that has consistently over-complicated and moved the goals posts during big procurement projects, it will not be surprising if costs spiral, delays occur and the Royal Navy receives less than the 18 promised.