Royal Navy Still Sinking: Eight More Warships to Go


Categorie: Alliances, Naval |


In 1997, the British government said the Royal Navy needed 32 frigates and destroyers to protect the country’s interests. Today, the Royal Navy has just 22 surface warships. With the Type 45 destroyer program cut in half to just six vessels, surface combatant numbers will drop again, to as low as 14 under current plans, when old Type 22 and Type 23 frigates begin paying off in six years.

The Royal Navy is already too small. Consider that, in order to send a ship to patrol for Somali pirates as part of the E.U. naval force, London had to pull a frigate from the regular South Atlantic station. There is no “flex” in the fleet as it stands. With further cuts, core missions will inevitably drop away.

The fleet’s only hope is a vaguely-defined program to build a family of small warships to replace the four Type 22s and 13 Type 23s that comprise the majority of the surface fleet. The “Future Surface Combatant” program is supposed to build up to 18 “modular” ships optimized for Anti-Submarine Warfare, land attack and patrolling, with the first ship to join the fleet around 2019. That’s four years after the Type 22s begin retiring. Type 23s pay off starting in 2019.

“Given the current funding situation, we should be aiming to support the build of a new combatant about every 12 months or so,” Commodor Steve Brunton, one of four officers assigned to study FSC, wrote this year. If the Royal Navy gets one FSC (concept art pictured) per year starting in 2019, the fleet will drop to 14 surface combatants by 2023, since Type 23s will initially retire faster than FSCs can be built. After 2023, fleet numbers might creep up to a new peak of 24, comprising 18 FSCs and 6 Type 45s.

And that’s the best-case scenario.

Under current plans, the Royal Navy circa 2020 will be a very strange force. There will be just six high-end warships to protect two 65,000-ton super-carriers, plus a mixed flotilla of old Type 23s and FSCs numbering just over a dozen. It’ll be a top-heavy force with too few destroyers to escort the carriers into a shooting war, and too few frigates to perform day-to-day patrolling during peacetime. It’s a fleet optimized for nothing.

(Art: Vosper Thornycroft)


28 Responses to “Royal Navy Still Sinking: Eight More Warships to Go”

  1. Vman says:

    A dismal situation that will only get worse with the Financial crisis. The Royal Navy is dead in the water and unable to undertake her tasks. In this state it should be considered to either cancel the carriers or new boomers. There is no point in having carriers with no money or task force to protect them.

  2. TEJ says:

    Do you see a future where the European (NATO?) navies can only work via coalition? E.g. I’ll send my carrier and you send a frigate and a destroyer and you over there send a sub and we’ll all sail to the gulf.

  3. David Axe says:


    You’re not wrong, and we’re already seeing the germ of that in the new E.U. naval force off of East Africa. NATO, too, long has operated on that principle. But many Brits resist the idea of an E.U. fleet. If they were to embrace it, then the U.K. could become the provider of certain large vessels — carriers, tankers and amphibs — while smaller navies pony up escorts. The big problem there is that most European navies have cut escorts in recent years, including France and The Netherlands.

  4. Jon K says:


    On the other hand many European navies have upped the capabilities of their forces. For example, Danish and Norwegian navies have built up a five-frigate force instead of small navies of the Cold War. The capabilities of smaller European navies are going up instead of down. However, you’re right that in order to utilize the non-balanced RN European (and/or worldwide) co-operation is needed.

  5. Jon K says:

    To add to the comment, sure, ten frigates provided by Danish and Norwegian navies, for example, seems small by Cold War standards but as you write, even the once mighty RN will have just circa 20 surface combatants.

  6. Prestwick says:


    This isn’t the case of entire European surface fleets being decimated by lack of investment, this is a wholely British problem.

    The fact that they’ve let the surface fleet fall to such levels is a scandal. This is even worse than the self-inflicted crisis during John Nott’s tenure as Defence Minister in the months running up to the Falklands.

    As of now the RN is a joke. Continued cut backs, embarrasing episodes with ships being confined to port as well as a humilating tenure for a select few cabbage and fish heads as guests of Iran for a couple of weeks have confined any sort of respect the international community ever had for the RN to the bin.

    Heads should roll but as always, they seem to get Knighthoods instead.

  7. Matt says:

    So why does the RAF need 232 Typhoons when we (US) cant even break 200 F-22s? I feel bad for the RN, however, I think they were dreaming when they asked for 2 huge carriers almost the size of the Nimitz class. They should have gone with 2 multirole carriers like the Spanish and Italians have done. Now they are risking their future fleet for 2 new carriers that can barely be defended.

  8. UNRR says:

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 2/287/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  9. MagicLine says:

    So we can expect the Falklands, er…I mean the Malvinas, to be firmly in Argentine hands by, say, 2015?

  10. Flt Lt Gale says:

    Let’s face it everyones feeling the pinch. No other European force has the ability to fight a high intensity war on both land, sea and air as does the UK.

    It’s open to debate if the UK should have heavy tank divisions, large carriers and top notch aircraft all under one roof when their is no additional back-up.

    It is criminal at how bad the RN has become but then perhaps if some of the European countries pulled it’s weight a little more in policing the world then we wouldn’t have to ensure we have kit that’s available 24/7.

    The UK is the ONLY European country that has a heavy lift capability (shocking when Europe was trying to form a RRF). We are the only country to ensure we have carriers that can perform out of area ops on long term (you are incorrect David when mentioning Europe’s older MR carriers as these are next to uselss on large scale operations we are now seeing) and an AFV force that has been invested in heavily to ensure the troops have the most modern and best protected armour.

    It comes at a cost and the cost is Labour penny pinching but with very few countries in Europe to take up the slack!

  11. Flt Lt Gale says:

    Sorry I meant that comment at Matt not David.

  12. Cortland says:

    So they need another Jackie Fisher? Who among those now serving might meet THAT demanding requirement?

  13. New Wars says:

    Royal Navy’s Time of Testing…

    If you study most any analysis on the lessons of the 1982 Falklands Conflict, you will likely decide that the UK did almost everything wrong in the decades during which it transformed from a global empire into a regional arm of NATO. This view is espec…

  14. [...] Imagine the fleet built with the popular view, that the Falklands War proved the essential need for costly supercarriers and her equally pricey missiles escorts. The 40 or so RN warships required to take back the Falklands would alone dwarf the future Royal Navy plans, with 2 aircraft carriers and 20 or so escorts. That 40% is starting to look pretty good! [...]

  15. [...] The Royal Navy, recently the world’s second navy after the U.S. Navy, has seen ruthless cutbacks in recent years to fund the U.K.’s contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The British fleet is down to just 22 surface warships, 10 shy of the late-’90s requirement. Anti-submarine skills are said to be waning. And for years, British amphibious ships and carriers have often sailed without significant numbers of Marines or jets aboard, as those forces are tied up in Afghanistan. [...]

  16. [...] Related: Royal Navy Still Sinking: Eight More Warships to Go The Hollow Fleet Royal Navy: Sunk! Sea Harrier Myth Shot Down No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  17. Jowann says:

    Good. The way ahead is to dispense with the Royal Navy and all other armed forces. That will stop the ‘boys and their toys’ playing in foreign wars which are not wanted by the bulk of people. Why delay the inevitable further. get rid of the whole rotten lot and spend the money on important matters like health and education. I rejoice at the cutbacks – hopefully more will follow.

  18. [...] USS Independence (LCS-2) – Der Prototyp für die Littoral Combat Ships der Independence-Klasse. Es ist das sechste Schiff der United States Navy, das diesen Namen trägt. Um die “Schiff-Zahlen” zu erhöhen, ohne viel mehr Geld auszugeben, setzt die U.S. Navy auf eine alte Idee, die der “Modularität”. Während sich die U.S. Navy Modular denkt, haben andere Marinen einen anderen Weg gewählt. Seit dem 2. Weltkrieg waren amerikanische Kriegsschiffe fähig, Waffen und andere technische Einrichtungen schnell aufzunehmen oder abzugeben. Alte “Four-Stack Destroyer” aus dem Weltkrieg konnten Waffen und Antriebs-Systeme in gerade einmal vier Wochen getauscht bekommen, so der ehemalige Marineanalytiker Bob Work, zurzeit Navy Undersecretary. Ein halbes Jahrhundert später kauft die U.S. Navy mehr als 50 Einheiten der 3.000-Tonnen-Littoral Combat Ships – in zwei grundlegenden Ausführungen – plus ein Bündel von “Combat Modules”, die für verschiedene Missionen optimiert sind. In seinem 2004er Bericht bemerkte Work: “Die LCS werden einen Grad der Modularität erreichen müssen, der ohne Vergleich ist”. Diese beispiellose “Swap-Abilityā€¯ (Tausch-Fähigkeit) wurde eigentlich gewählt, um die Gesamtkosten des LCS Programms zu drücken. zum Artikel Geschrieben am 1. September 2009 von frecker. Kategorie: Technology [...]

  19. K Straw says:

    Let’s face it, the UK is smaller than some US states and is in danger of breaking up into countries smaller than some US counties! It is time to realise that we should not be invading other countries, when we cannot defend our own mainland. We do not need the major armed forces that we pretend to maintain now. Remember, we curently have more admirals than we have surface units! We should concentrate on local forces that are able to mesh with those of our immediate neighbours. The only overseas capability we require is to deal with piracy aginst our shipping and our remaining post-Empirial commmitments such the Falklands. The FI can be handled by air power and local patrol craft alone. All of which will be much cheaper than just one of the proposed carriers and continued nuclear forces that we will be unable to deploy to hostile theatres for lack of escort vessels.

  20. [...] Not Ranked  :  +0 / -0  0 score      Re: Type 23 maybe The highest number of Type 23 in service with the Royal Navy at any given point was 16. The first three of these have been sold and are now in Chilean service, together with a Type 22 (more of which have found their way into the Brazilian [4] and Romanian service [2], while 2 have been sunk as targets and 1 has been sold for scrapping ). This leaves 13 in service in RN today. The Type 23s make up about half the RN’s frigate and destroyer strength today. In addition, there are 4 Type 22 frigates, 6 Type 42 destroyers and 1 Type 45 destroyer. The “Future Surface Combatant” program is supposed to build up to 18 “modular” ships optimized for Anti-Submarine Warfare, land attack and patrolling, with the first ship to join the fleet around 2019. That’s four years after the Type 22s begin retiring (2015). Type 23s pay off starting in 2019. Surface Fleet : Operations and Support : Royal Navy War Is Boring I seriously doubt any possibility of Type 23 to PN before 2019. [...]

  21. West says:

    Since the dawn of time the three services have fought over the limited resources with which they can obtain the men and material in order to carry out the mission. Almost without exception we have never been properly equipped or prepared in one way or another. This will never change as long as there are more important govornement projects to fund and in particular British industry to support. The solution is simple we either walk away from our role in world affairs or we start buying equipment from countries that offer a sensible price, quality and delivery timescale. Again very unlikely. As a serving officer I have been exposed to the decision making processes and the true state of affairs and it is grim to say the least. Any future conflict will cost lives because of the poor support and funding of today.

  22. [...] The world will discover, as the Royal Navy bottoms out, just how much it has relied on British warships and staff officers to safeguard world security. Northumberland, for her part, was the first warship on the scene in December when the E.U. flotilla opened up a southern flank in the war on piracy. Earlier, pirates had seized the supertanker Sirius Star, laden with $100 million in crude oil, in unprotected waters south of Mombasa, Kenya. Northumberland’s presence made a repeat of that bold hijacking unlikely. [...]

  23. [...] Warships International Fleet Review: Royal Navy is the Security Glue Royal Navy Still Sinking: Eight More Warships to Go Royal Navy’s Secret Harrier Reserve 0 Comments No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS [...]

  24. [...] these have been sacrificed on the alter of carrier airpower. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the Royal Navy spent the bulk of its funds on [...]

  25. PG tips says:

    Good. The way ahead is to dispense with the Royal Navy and all other armed forces… Why delay the inevitable further. get rid of the whole rotten lot and spend the money on important matters like health and education. I rejoice at the cutbacks ā€“ hopefully more will follow.
    Comment by Jowann 06.21.09 @ 2:38 pm

    Clearly more must be spent on education. Jowann shows that there is a lot of ignorance over the purpose that UK armed forces serve. I’d like a minimum of 3% of GDP dedicated to defence as a matter of peace time routine and 7% of GDP on education. It is a good investment in an added value economy.

  26. Anthony says:

    The royal navy is so old fashioned. if it does not get some modern ships soon the UK will have no defence round the sea. We need the aircraft carriers because the invincible aircraft carrier are old and where made before the mobile phone and the internet. we also need the destroyers but the price for this equipment is alot of money and the cut backs are not helping.

    In world war 2 the royal navy had 900 war ships and now is left with very few war ships. the funding for the navy should stay the same if they say they can afford the new destroyers, aircraft carriers and new nuclear submarines.

  27. Steve Gooding says:

    Yet again a British government is making a grave mistake by not learning from history. The world as I see it is slowly descending into a free for all, as raw materials are more difficult to come by due to the economic rebalance of world economies. When the inevitable hits the fan we will be asking where’s the navy (and the rest of our forces) by that time it’ll be too late.

  28. [...] it it’s obvious that they will have major implications for the balance of world naval power.Ā War is Boring has a good older post on their significance. “Under current plans, the Royal Navy circa 2020 [...]

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