Britannia doesn’t rule the waves.
The Royal Navy has a “pathetically low” number of warships and lacks the ability to respond to future threats, a committee of MPs said.
The Royal Navy has 19 frigates and destroyers compared with 35 in 1997.
That number could fall further if the government fails to stick to deadlines on its ship-building program, the Defence Select Committee warned in a report published on Monday.
“For decades, the numbers of Royal Navy escort vessels have been severely in decline,” Julian Lewis, the committee chairman, said.
“The fleet is now way below the critical mass required for the many tasks which could confront it, if the international scene continues to deteriorate,” he said.
The UK is about to embark on a major modernisation of its fleet.
Earlier this month UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon announced the construction of eight Type 26 global combat ships from BAE Systems would start in summer 2017. The Type 26 is considered one of the most advanced warships in the world but won’t be in service for years.
“Notwithstanding the Committee’s concerns that the number of ships is at a dangerous and an historic low, it is a programme which has the potential to deliver a modern navy with a broad range of capabilities,” the MPs said.
But there is potential for delays. “The MoD’s announcement of a summer 2017 start date for the Construction Phase for the Type 26 relies on a successful conclusion to negotiations on both the contract and the design of the ship,” the report said.”
Meanwhile, the Royal Navy’s six destroyers are about to undergo a re-fit of their engines, leaving the UK vulnerable.
“The ships have suffered from serious engine failures as a result of shortcomings in specification, design and testing,” the committee said. “Blame for those failures can be attributed both to the MoD and its contractors, but the taxpayer will have to foot the bill.”
If the Ministry of Defence slips on its timetable for modernisation, and balks at the costs, the consequences could be grave, Lewis said.
“The United Kingdom will then lack the maritime strength to deal with the threats we face right now, let alone in the future. We are putting the MoD on notice that it must not let this happen,” Lewis said.