The Royal Navy faces a “bloody dangerous” delay in replacing its ageing fleet of frigates because the Ministry of Defence has run out of money to order new ships, a former First Sea Lord has told MPs.
Further delays to the long awaited Type 26 frigates will leave the Navy with a “grossly inadequate” fleet to meet its duties, Lord West of Spithead told the Commons defence committee.
MPs also heard that Britain’s £1bn destroyers are breaking down while serving in the Middle East because the Navy did not order power systems designed for long tours in the heat of the Gulf.
The six Type 45 destroyers are suffering poor reliability and power outages that MPs said risk leaving the air defence ships unable to do their job of protecting the fleet and carriers.
Lord West, who was First Sea Lord from 2002 to 2006 and then a Labour minister, accused the Government of being “being economical with the actualité” about the reasons for the frigates’ delay.
He said: “The reality is that there is not enough money in the MoD this year or next. We have run out of money and therefore they have pushed this programme to the right and that’s bloody dangerous.”
The first new frigate had been due to enter service in around 2020, to replace the ageing Type 23 class as it retires. MPs heard the first Type 26 was now unlikely to be ready before 2025.
Lord West said the Navy’s current fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers was not enough to meet its obligations around the world and delays would make the shortage worse.
Julian Lewis, chair of the committee, said: “What you are saying is the existing total of 19 frigates and destroyers is inadequate for the tasks that are laid upon them.
“So if there were to be any delays in the coming into service of Type 26 that took us effectively below the total of 19 we would be going from inadequate to grossly inadequate?”
Lord West said: “Absolutely.”
MPs heard steel for the ships to be built on the Clyde was not expected to be cut until late 2017 or early 2018.
Lord West said the delay was due to MoD finances.
He said: “There’s almost no money available this year, and we are really strapped next year.
“The Government aren’t coming clean about that.”
“The reality is there is not enough money in the MoD this year and next year.
“We have run out of money and therefore they have pushed this programme to the right and that’s bloody dangerous.”
John Hudson, managing director at BAE Systems, said he was unable to say when building would begin, only that the company was “in detailed negotiations with the MoD”
The committee also heard that problems with the power units of the Type 45 destroyers were partly because the warships turbines and electrics were not designed for the heat of the Gulf.
The 8,000-ton air defence destroyers have a crew of 190 and are designed to shield the rest of the fleet from air or missile attack. They will play a vital role in defending Britain’s new aircraft carriers, but have suffered a string of power outages and are scheduled to undergo a refit costing tens of millions of pounds to put in extra diesel generators.
But executives from firms which built the destroyers said the Navy had not specified the warships would need to be able to operate for long periods in the extreme temperatures of the Gulf.
Mr Hudson said: “I think the operating profile considered at the time was that there would not be repeated and continuous operations in the Gulf.”
Thomas Leahy, a director of Rolls Royce, said the conditions the firm’s turbines were working under were “far more arduous conditions than were initally required by that specification”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson responded by saying said: “We are going to be spending £8 billion in the next decade. That is a considerable sum. That’s what the Royal Navy will be spending on new kit and new warships. Much of that is being manufactured on the Clyde.”
An MoD spokesman added that the Type 45 destroyer was “designed for world-wide operations, from Sub-Arctic to extreme tropical environments, and continues to operate effectively in the Gulf and the South Atlantic all year round”.
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