HMS Berwick (F115) and Hr. Ms. Zeeland (D809) in North Sea, Operation Matchmaker, 1967

The British frigate Berwick F-115 (l) and Dutch destroyer Zeeland D-809 (r) in the North Sea in March 1967. A joint maritime task force was tested under the name Matchmaker by the NATO from 1965 to 1967. Troops from the Netherlands, the USA, Great Britain and Germany did participate. The Standing Naval Force Atlantic (SNFL) emerged from Matchmaker, which was an precursor of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG 1). Photographer: Egon Steiner. Copyright: Egon Steiner/dpa/Corbis

HMS Berwick (F115) was a Rothesay or Type 12I class anti-submarine frigate built by Harland & Wolff and commissioned into the Royal Navy on 1 June 1961. She served for 24-years before finally paying off in 1985. In August 1986, Berwick was sunk as target by the submarine HMS Tireless.

Hr. Ms. Zeeland (D809) was a Holland-class (Hollandklasse) destroyer built by Royal Schelde and commissioned into the Royal Netherlands Navy (Koninklijke Marine) on 1 May 1955. She paid off in 1979 after 24-years service.

Decline of Royal Navy frigate and destroyer strength 1983-2013

‘Were I to die at this moment “want of frigates” would be found stamped on my heart.’ Horatio Nelson, 1798.

In 1983, 30-years ago (which scarcely seems credible to this old fart), in the midst of the it-seemed-hot-enough-at-the-time Cold War, in the immediate aftermath of the Falklands Conflict, the Royal Navy planned for a force of 50 frigates and destroyers (HC Deb 28 November 1983 vol 49 cc661-737).

HMS Achilles (F12) Leander-class frigate at HMNB Portsmouth, 1983.

In 1993, post Cold War, already in draw down and reaping the so-called peace dividend, the Royal Navy was facing reductions to a force of 40 frigates and destroyers (HC Deb 25 February 1993 vol 219 c717W).

HMS Amazon (F169) Type 21 frigate sold to Pakistan as PNS Babur (D182) in 1993.

By 2003, in the midst of the Global War on Terror and with the Iraq War coming to the fore, the force had been reduced to 31 frigates and destroyers… of which only 26 were operational (HC Deb 12 May 2003 vol 405 cc47-50W).

HMS Glasgow (D88) Type 42 destroyer at HMNB Portsmouth, 2003. Copyright Kev Slade.

Today, 2013, realpolitik, Spain rattles its sabres over Gibraltar, Argentina remains bellicose over the Falklands, there is continued instability in Libya, Syria and Egypt, there are standing demands for counter-narcotics patrols in the Caribbean and counter-piracy patrols off the coast of East Africa, and the war of terror continues, and there is always the need for a Fleet Ready Escort… well… we’re down to just 19 frigates and destroyers (13 surviving Type 23, 5 Type 45 in commission, 1 Type 45 undergoing sea trials).

HMS Dragon (D35) Type 45 destroyer, off Gibraltar, 2013. Crown copyright.

Just 19. And not a single Type 26 on order. Talked about, but not ordered. Spec’d, but not ordered. Number to be purchased undecided.

Type 26 Global Combat Ship (Copyright © 2013 BAE Systems)

Type 26 Global Combat Ship. (Copyright © 2013 BAE Systems)

I don’t want to think about how things will be in 2023.

Royal Navy stretched too thin, unable to meet NATO commitments

The Royal Navy has made not contribution to STANAVFORLANT since 2009 and no contribution to STANAVFORMED since 2010.

The RN is stretched too thin. It’s as simple as that. It can’t do what it’s expected to do without at least a half-dozen more destroyers, frigates and OPVs.

Royal Navy pulls out of Nato commitments

The Royal Navys Albion Class assault ship HMS Bulwark, which entered service in 2004. Picture: AFP/Getty

DEFENCE ministers have admitted the UK has been forced to pull out of key Nato naval defence groups in a sign of just how stretched the Royal Navy has become.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has acknowledged it has not provided a frigate or destroyer for Nato’s maritime group defending the North and East Atlantic since 2009.

Written answers also reveal the Royal Navy stopped providing either of the ships for Nato’s second standing maritime group in the Mediterranean since 2010.

And they show that having previously supported three of four minesweeper groups, it now provides just one minesweeper.

The revelations come just days after First Minister Alex Salmond was accused of talking down the navy, for arguing that its priorities are wrong.

In his speech last week, Mr Salmond said: “At present, what we have, we don’t need. And what we need, we don’t have.

“The navy does not have a single major surface vessel based in Scotland. It is absurd for a nation with a coastline longer than India’s to have no major surface vessels.”

The SNP said the MoD’s written answers showed the First Minister’s comments were justified and described the revelations as “shocking”.

Angus Robertson, SNP Westminster leader and defence spokesman, said: “These answers are truly shocking. The fact the Royal Navy has not provided a single vessel to the Nato maritime group responsible for the East Atlantic since 2009 is beyond belief.

“This lays bare the over-stretch of the Royal Navy and the past UK government’s over-riding concerns about projecting power instead of being good neighbourhood Nato partners.

“We expect that an independent Scotland in Nato would participate the same way our close friends do.”

Speaking about the groups, Nato Allied Maritime Command’s deputy commander, French Vice-Admiral Christian Canova, recently said: “They are not just a symbol but a real force doing real operations. Standing naval forces are the cornerstone of Nato’s maritime strategy, demonstrating the will and presence of the alliance”.

But the MoD said the changes to the UK’s commitment were agreed as a result of the Strategic Defence and Security Review three years ago.

A spokesman last night said: “The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review removed the Royal Navy’s requirement to provide a standing contribution to the standing Nato maritime group 1.

“But, as already stated, the Royal Navy maintains a strong relationship with Nato through the Nato maritime headquarters, based in the UK, which is permanently commanded by a Royal Navy vice-admiral.”

A senior source close to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the SNP was “not being straight” with voters and under the party’s plans Scotland would only have a small navy.

The source said: “The SNP seem to forget under their plans they would only be able to afford 1.6 destroyers or frigates, half an Astute submarine and one sixth of an aircraft carrier.

“The Scottish Government’s defence budget wouldn’t allow Scotland to mount maritime tasks in the Atlantic as well as protect Scottish interests overseas. They still lack a credible defence plan.”

Scotland would need ‘shelter’ from stronger allies in any conflict with Russia, warn academics

An independent Scotland would be “at a deep strategic disadvantage” to Russia in the conflict that is expected to emerge from climate change, according to Icelandic academics.

Scotland would need “shelter” from stronger allies, which will “incur costs different from, and not necessarily lesser than” those of contributing to UK defence, legal and political experts from the universities of Iceland and Akureyri have advised.

But small Nordic states have been living with similar risks for decades while independence would allow Scotland to pursue new tactical alliances more suited to its national interests, they argue in the Icelandic Review of Politics and Administration.

Alex Salmond last week set out his vision for defence in an independent Scotland, which he said would take account of its size and future responsibilities as climate change opens up new shipping lanes and energy sources.

The academics said: “Like all Nordic states, Scotland would be at a deep strategic disadvantage vis-a-vis the main potentially problematic actor in the region, namely Russia.

“It would have less than a 12th of the population of, and far less military strength than, its nearest neighbour – the remaining UK (rUK).

“It would also be more exposed, geopolitically, than rUK to the wider Arctic zone which is expected to witness rapid development and turbulence – if not actual conflict – because of climate change.” The added small states are “disproportionately vulnerable” to external threats.

Replacing the Royal Canadian Navy’s aging destroyers, oilers

If you want an example of a hard-working navy then look no further than the Royal Canadian Navy who still manage to do so much (CMF, SNMG1, etc.) despite having a fleet of aging ships.

Dear Lord! The Protector-class oilers are nearly as old as I am. (Guess on a postcard, please.) Political considerations mean that the replacements will likely have to be ordered from a Canadian builder, which rules out the economies of scale offered by joined the UK’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary in procurement of the MARS tanker.

The Iroquois-class destroyers are also showing their age – launched between 1970 and 1972, and commissioned in ’72. These workhorses have been in commission for over 40-years and a replacement is long-overdue. Again, domestic political considerations mean that any replacement will have to be built (or led) by Canadian yards. This prevented the RCN from procuring either the Royal Navy’s Type 45 or the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class.

So what will Canada buy… and when?

Canadian government to make decision on shipbuilding projects in the fall

The Canadian Coast Guard is also designing a new polar-class icebreaker, the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker, to replace its existing heavy icebreaker, the Louis S. St-Laurent (pictured), which is due to be retired in 2017. Photograph by: Handout/Fisheries and Oceans Canada , Postmedia News

OTTAWA — The federal government will decide in the fall whether resupplying Canada’s navy or Arctic sovereignty is more important.

The Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard have been in fits in recent months as each has major shipbuilding projects scheduled to be ready for construction at the same time around 2015.

But the Vancouver shipyard slated to build them can only handle one project at a time, meaning work on either the Navy’s new resupply ships or the Coast Guard’s new polar icebreaker will have to be delayed.

Senior officials briefing reporters on background on the government’s $35-billion national shipbuilding strategy Friday confirmed the conflict and said a decision is coming.

“It is clear that the decision will require that the production and delivery schedule for one of the projects be adjusted to accommodate the construction of the other,” said one Public Works official who could not be identified. “The final decision as to which project goes first will be made in the fall of 2013.”

There are major ramifications associated with putting off either project.

The Navy’s existing 50-year-old resupply ships are environmentally unsound and prohibitively expensive to maintain, while the Coast Guard’s existing heavy icebreaker is also near the end of its life.

In addition, a delay to either project will have financial repercussions because of inflation and other increased costs, which means the government will have to either put in more money or accept fewer or less capable ships.

National Defence, the Coast Guard and the Public Works department will spend the summer assessing the potential impacts of delaying either project so an informed decision can be made.

“The decision will be based on a comprehensive assessment that will consider operational impacts such as the need to include ship-life extension and refit costs for existing vessels,” the Public Works official said. “The assessment will also include the readiness of each ship design, schedule optimization and risks.”

One Coast Guard official, who also could not be identified, said a study is already looking into what work will need to be done to keep the 44-year-old Louis S. St-Laurent heavy icebreaker in the water past its 2017 retirement date.

“That’ll involve some investment in that vessel if we are to keep her in service should we not be the first of the large shipbuilds,” he said.

University of Calgary defence expert Rob Huebert said the Louis S. St-Laurent is nearing the end of her life and desperately needed, but so are new resupply ships, especially as Canada looks to increase its military presence in the Pacific Ocean.

“So there isn’t an obvious clear answer as to which should go first,” he said. “The answer is both of them should go first, but you can’t do that. So there’s going to be some real hard decisions.”

The government officials maintained, however, that both the Navy and Coast Guard are not contemplating stabbing each other in the back to make sure their ships are chosen first.

“It’s important to understand that we’re working on this together,” said one naval officer. “It is the government’s fleet … We’re just at the beginning of the detailed work on that, and we are working together to produce it and to come up with the best options, the best solution for Canada.”

Meanwhile, the officials maintained confidence the shipyards in Vancouver and Halifax responsible for overseeing the majority of work associated with the $35-billion shipbuilding plan will be able to scale up and begin cutting steel soon.

Physical work on the first offshore fisheries and science vessels is scheduled to begin in Vancouver in 2014 and 2015, respectively, while the navy’s new Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels are to start coming together in Halifax in 2015.

A schedule for work on the first replacements for the Navy’s existing destroyers and frigates, which will also be built in Halifax, hasn’t been decided yet.

The government also announced $488 million for about two-dozen smaller Coast Guard lifeboats and science vessels earlier this week, contracts for which will be bid on by shipyards that aren’t part of the larger shipbuilding work.