We all know that the Sun news paper has chequered history, of stretching the truth, to make a headline or article. And this article titled “HIGH & DRY Royal Navy’s most powerful warships spend years stuck in port with maintenance problems” (published 30.05.21) is no different.
Am I qualified to analyse and comment on this article? I served 15 years in the Royal Navy as a Marine Engineer Mechanic, at various shore positions and on various ships based at Portsmouth and Plymouth. So yeah, I think I am.
Before I begin to break down this article, I’d like to point out a few things. Only one of the ten reference links they have used, actually links to a page you can use as a reference. The remaining 9 reference links, link to a sub section and not a specific article. The information might be there, but you will have to dig really deep through all of the articles to find it. The way some of the sentences are written, is to miss-lead the reader into thinking that one ship is the same as another. I left the Royal Navy 7 years ago, therefore I can’t comment on each ship mentioned in the article and what precautions the Navy have taken, regarding the pandemic.
Ok, lets get into this and break down this article…
- “TWO of the Royal Navy’s most powerful warships have spent the past year stuck in port with maintenance problems, defence chiefs have admitted.” Some maintenance periods, can take up to 2 plus years to complete.
- “The £1billion Type 45 destroyers have been docked in Portsmouth while Russia steps up its hostile presence around British waters.” Due to the maintenance schedule as previously mentioned and leave periods. Yes, even the Navy are entitled to have some time off when home. This could lead to both ships being mored up at the same time. Russia are constantly conducting operations in British waters and have done so for years. “steps up” could simple mean one more support ship than normal.
- “HMS Daring has not spent a single day at sea since 2017, when it sailed for a total of just 85 days.” After reading HMS Daring’s Wiki page, yes the ship was laid up from 2017 to 2020, when a refit started in 2020. This was probably due to lack of money released from the government, to conduct the refit. Refit’s are very expensive and timely. They are not like a basic car service.
- “Its 8,000-ton sister ship HMS Duncan was also confined to Portsmouth for the whole of 2020.” This was a scheduled maintenance period. HMS Duncan was due her refit after years at sea.
- “Navy chiefs discovered problems with the engines of the six Type 45 destroyers in 2016 but it has taken years to solve the issue.” It can take years to discover a fault and even longer to implement the fixes, due to the deployment commitments, budget, the severity of the issue etc etc. Undergoing main engine fixes, can be very costly and are only done when the ship is in for a major refit. Which reduces costs.
- “The ships’ engines were breaking down in warm waters making it difficult for them to serve in the Persian Gulf.” This is a common fault on nearly every ship at sea. Operating in these wasters, there are more sea life: jelly fish, crabs small fish, that get sucked up by the water cooling for the engines and the stainers and filters can easily and very quickly get blocked, thus stopping the engine/s for routine cleaning.
- “Contractors claimed at the time that the MoD did not tell them the Type 45 destroyers would be spending a long time operating in warm waters.” The ships primary role are usually changed to suite the demand. As in the case of the Type 23 ships. They were designed to work in the North Sea environment, but they were all re-tasked to operate in the waters of the Persian Gulf.
- “Latest MoD figures show all six destroyers spent a total of 339 days at sea for the whole of 2020.” The link to the figures does not exist. The link goes to a subsection. As we are well aware, the lockdown crippled every industry, including our forces. Ships staff also had to take quarantine measures just like any other industry. But the Navy would have had other ships out at sea, like the a Type 23, to cover for the shortfall of the Type 45’s.
- “Four of the Navy’s 13 Type 23 Frigates also spent last year in port while a another only managed 10 days at sea.” Again, these ships could be laid up for maintenance period or because of the supplying manpower to other ships, to cover people that were quarantined. The play of words to imply that the ship was only at sea for 10 days. As previously explained, some refit periods can take years and the ship could be going in or coming out of such a refit.
- “HMS Portland had not left harbour since 2018 and has only been at sea for 41 days in the last four years and HMS Somerset has been stuck in port since 2019.” Both ships are in refit.
- “The ships are some of the armed forces most expensive assets and have annual running costs of between £11 and £13 million a year.” From what little research I can do on this, £11M for a Type 23 and £13M for a Type 45, but from experience, these figures have reduced over the years to what they are now.
- “The vessels are also vital to the security of the UK sea lanes” – Every Naval ship is “vital to the security of the UK”. The Navy have been saying this for hundreds of years.
- “Labour last night claimed the problem was putting a massive strain on Britain’s sea defence capabilities.” Labour started the unnecessary decommissioning of ships when they were in government and the Tories have followed suite. Reducing the ships and demanding that the reduced amount of ships, take on the increasing the workload around the globe.
- “Shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey MP, said: “Russia has stepped up its hostile presence around the UK’s waters, yet ministers are failing to keep these vital ships at sea. Destroyers can’t do their job defending Britain from the dockside.” My previous comment also applies here. Instead of cutting the forces budget, try increasing it and they may be able to install better equipment, which will last longer, i.e. spending less time in maintenance periods trying to fix old outdated equipment.
- “The Defence Secretary has serious questions to answer on why these destroyers now spend so much less time at sea and why he’s sending two around the world when defending the UK should be top priority” – Again, my last comment applies here. When a ship is commissioned, most of the equipment onboard, is already out of date and needs replacing. But the crew still keep them running. There are always ships deployed around the world to protect British colonies and interests: oil fields, trade routes, pirate defence.
- “The Royal Navy is understrength and needs another 1,600 personnel before hitting its workforce target of 30,730 troops” – The Navy has been “understrength” since the early 90’s, but yet, the government keep on reducing the ships and increasing the workload, which means longer time away from home port for ships and personnel. And as the older generation of sailors retire, there are not enough people being recruited to replace the people leaving. Most leave due to constantly being away on deployments, anything from 4 to 9 months at a time and increasingly, back to back deployments.
- “Experts say some of the difficulty with getting the vessels out to sea is caused by a lack of crew members, meaning they have occasionally been used as training ships.” I’m Not sure what experts they been talking to, but HMS Bristol has been laid up in Portsmouth and was used as a training ship.
- “Last year Lord West, a former head of the Royal Navy, said the shortage of available ships had been due to manpower and maintenance issues.” I have covered these two issues previously, but when the government cut the various maintenance budgets, more and more things will break over time.
- “He said: “Ship availability has been a burning issue for the Defence Secretary.” The simple answer is to stop decommissioning/selling off the ships. This will reduce the workload and therefore reduce the maintenance required on them.
- “As a result of the Integrated Review we will lose a frigate a year from 2025 onwards meaning we will only have 11 frigates from this year and 10 in 2025 , nine in 2026” – These ships are only designed to last a certain period of time. But in most cases, the life expectancy of the ships have been extended 2, 3 or more times, to meet the increasing workload that is put upon the Navy. New ships should be priority as some ships are nearly 30 years old. Think about it. How many 30 year old cars do you still see on the road going around as if it was brand new? Ships are no different.
- “The delay in ordering new frigates is the core of the problem.” If the government didn’t reduce the budget, that “problem” would not exist.
- “An MoD spokesman said: “The Type 45 is a world class Destroyer and the Type 23 Frigates are the core of the front-line fleet.” I agree, that they are and I cannot argue with that. But they are not the “Swiss Army Knife” of the Navy. They are not designed to do every role in the Navy, but they are expected to do so.
- “Both are playing a key role in the Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike capability, they make an enormous contribution to the defence of the UK and our international partners who hold them in the highest regard.” When an air craft carrier goes to sea, it requires other ships like the Type 23 and 45 for defence. Depending on the operation, there could be up to 4 or 5 different types of ships and even submarines to accompany the carrier. So, there could be up to 10 ships in the flotilla.
- “All Royal Navy ships rotate through planned operating cycles involving routine maintenance, repair, training, deployment, leave, essential modification and upgrades and will, therefore, be at varying levels of readiness in accordance with Defence requirements.” There’s nothing I could add to this, as it’s a correct statement.
As you can see from the above, only 3 of the comments made, are truthful and 2 of them were made by a MoD spokesman. It’s surprising, that I could easily pick apart this article. Anyone can spend little time researching on the internet to find out the information and do the same.
In summery, don’t believe everything you read. Starting this article, I honestly thought, that I could only comment on a few of the statements, but as you have seen, I have picked apart nearly all of them. And as someone who worked in the Navy for 15 years, they cannot say that I’m not experienced in this field.
Article by Ted Jones – V.o.W