Poor availability of the Type 45 destroyers has been a source of frustration for the navy and attracted plenty of negative, and often ill-informed media coverage over the last decade. Measures to remedy the complex issues have been on-going for several years and there are now real signs of progress. The Defence Secretary has announced that from 2021, four of the six ships will be available for tasking and the varying levels of readiness will continue to improve.
Type 45s went to sea with 80% of their equipment new to Royal Navy service and many of their advanced systems lacked resilience. As has been well documented previously, there was a particular problem with the gas turbine intercoolers and the Integrated Electric Propulsion system (IEP) design. The initial shoreside support arrangement for the class was not ideal and relied on a contracting-for-availability approach for the first eight years. This has a now been re-negotiated with BAE Systems and the Common Support Model is now addressing poor in-house stores, tools, training and technical documentation issues. The Equipment Improvement Plan (EIP) has implemented design changes to the ships, helping restore resilience and allowing them to deploy on operations all over the world.
The excellent recent TV documentary on Channel 5 Warship Life at Sea (available to watch online here) showed HMS Duncan on operations in the Gulf in 2019. She experienced a partial loss of propulsion caused by the intercoolers failing in hot conditions in the Red Sea. Work done under EIP has helped prevent total loss of propulsion events experienced by Type 45s in the early days and Duncan’s engineers demonstrated their preparedness to recover the situation quickly. While manageable, this situation is not acceptable and the long term solution is the Power Improvement Project (PIP).
HMS Dauntless will be the first ship to undergo the PIP work at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead. The project will involve dry docking, cutting the ship’s side open and removing two diesel generators. Three more powerful diesels will be inserted allowing the ship to cruise on diesel power instead of the gas turbines as originally intended. Cammell Laird was expecting to begin the work in late 2019 or early 2020 but Dauntless’ departure has been delayed by three months for reasons best known to BAE Systems.
Dauntless is set to sail for the first time this month after more than 4 years alongside (over two years laid up due to manpower shortages and then about 18 months in refit). She will depart under her own power for a short period at sea to baseline existing machinery performance before arriving on Merseyside for her surgery. It is expected the project will be completed by the end of the year and it is possible she could be one of the two Type 45s selected to join the Carrier Strike Group deployment in May 2021. During her Portsmouth refit, Dauntless appears to have received the Shaman communications electronic support measures (CESM) upgrade first fitted to Defender.
The EIP and hard work by contractors and engineering staff across the RN has seen the availability of other Type 45s at readiness increase, now being consistently above 80%. HMS Defender spent 270 days at sea in 2019, including 93 days on operations in the Gulf with no days lost to defects. HMS Duncan was available to be sent at short notice to the Gulf because despite having completed a six-month deployment in 2019 she returned to the UK with a much-reduced number of defects. The Type 45s will undergo the PIP, fitted around their normal maintenance and deployment cycles over the next five years. By the late 2020s it is hoped that all 6 ships will return to normal operating with increased reliability and availability.
At the time of writing, HMS Daring has begun a major refit in Portsmouth after being laid up since June 2017. HMS Diamond has almost completed lengthy dry docking and refit period that included repairs to a long term issue with her propellor shafts and should return to sea in the coming months. HMS Dragon is undergoing Operational Sea Training based in Plymouth. After sustaining several years of high tempo operations, HMS Duncan is now in dry dock in deep in refit in Portsmouth. HMS Defender is on her way home from her deployment in the Gulf and due in Portsmouth next week. In the short term, during 2020 destroyer availability will continue to be low but in 2021 and beyond it will improve significantly.