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Defence: Type 45 Destroyers

Volume 824: debated on Monday 10 October 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether the Type 45 Power Improvement Project (1) is now going to plan, and (2) is producing results that surpass expectations.

My Lords, HMS “Dauntless” has successfully completed rigorous sea trials at the end of our power improvement project conversion. The performance of HMS “Dauntless” demonstrated that the PIP design works well. The ship has now returned to Portsmouth for a scheduled maintenance period. HMS “Daring” is receiving PIP conversion at Cammell Laird, and HMS “Dragon” is receiving her conversion at HM naval base Portsmouth as part of an upkeep programme. Both projects are progressing well.

My Lords, I am delighted to ask the first Question about His Majesty’s ships in this new reign; I may possibly ask some more questions about them in future. I am delighted to hear that the work on “Dauntless” has gone so well. These are the best anti-air warfare ships in the world and it is horrifying that the power issue has been a problem for them. I only wish that they were all at sea now.

However, as we speak, a Type 23 frigate—one of 12 that we have—is looking after our exclusive economic zone assets, such as oil platforms, gas pipelines, fibreoptic cables, power cables, interconnectors and fisheries: what used to be known as the “offshore tapestry”. We have some 300,000 square miles to look after and to guard this, the Navy at the moment deploys three patrol boats. In the 1980s, we had 17 ships doing it. Does the Minister think that three patrol ships are sufficient? What work is being undertaken to review the level of protection of these incredibly important national assets on the seabed in view of the current war in Europe and the possibility of a world war?

Well, I do not completely recognise the figures that the noble Lord uses and he will know the constraint I am under in referring to specific operational activity. However, what I would say is that, as he will be aware, we always keep an eye on operational requirement, which is why we plan scheduled maintenance to make sure that we are always able to maintain the essential task that we require of the Navy.

I know that the noble Lord sometimes wears a mournful demeanour when asking me Questions at the Dispatch Box, but I think he will agree that the shipbuilding programme for the Royal Navy is very exciting. For the first time in 30 years, we are building two types of frigate simultaneously at UK yards.

My Lords, the Type 45 is a crucial air defence platform for the protection of surface task forces, but ships are no use whatever without weapons. So how long would the Type 45s’ current stock of surface-to-air missiles be expected to last in a high-intensity conflict?

I would be reluctant to speculate on a specific answer to the noble and gallant Lord at the Dispatch Box; I need to go away and make some inquiries and I will endeavour to respond to him as best as I can.

My Lords, back in the 1980s, when I was a very junior Minister at the Ministry of Defence, we had about 50 destroyers and frigates available for service with the Royal Navy. How many do we have today?

Again, I would be hazarding a guess as to the total number. It is a healthy number, but I will get a specific answer to my noble friend’s question and write to him.

My Lords, in responding to the initial Question, the Minister pointed out that various ships are in dock having PIP done. That is great—but what went wrong with the original procurement? What went wrong with the Queen Elizabeth class such that HMS “Prince of Wales” needed to come back to dock? Can the Minister reassure the House that, with the current shipbuilding process, ships will be fit for purpose first time round and not have to come back for maintenance quite so promptly?

As the noble Baroness will be aware, the propulsion issue that arose with the Type 45s was a complex technical issue. Indeed, it has been a complex engineering project to rectify it, but, thanks to the evidence through “Dauntless”, we are now satisfied that very healthy progress has been made.

As I have said previously in the Chamber, the case of HMS “Prince of Wales” is unfortunate. I understand that she has now made it to Rosyth, which is good news, and will be going into dry dock. We will then be able to explore in more detail the exact nature of the fault. It is not thought to be a class fault. HMS “Queen Elizabeth” has been inspected and is continuing to discharge her duties in the US in support of the Atlantic Future Forum.

My Lords, in December, in a report entitled We’re Going to Need a Bigger Navy, the Defence Select Committee expressed concern that the Type 45 PIP programme was “slipping”. In February, in their response to conclusion 20 of that report, the Government admitted that barriers to speeding it up included

“constraints of industrial capacity”.

In a letter dated 21 June, they said that they were

“assessing options to accelerate the programme”.

Do those options include addressing the constraints of industrial capacity? If so, what are the constraints and what are the options for addressing them?

The response given at the time was a reflection of both industry and the department doing their best to advance the correction of the propulsion defects. As I have indicated to the Chamber, progress has certainly been made with “Dauntless” and is being made with “Daring” and “Dragon”. We are looking at the options as best we can to accelerate the programme and complete this as early as possible before 2028. However, as I said earlier, that must be balanced against the Royal Navy’s current and future operational commitments.

My Lords, following on from the question asked by my noble friend Lord Browne, that means that until 2028 we will not have a full complement of our Type 45 destroyers. Just a month or so ago, all six were in dry dock. Building on the question asked by my noble friend Lord West, does this not highlight once again that the Royal Navy is now too small? Waiting until 2028 for all six Type 45 destroyers to be fully available to the British Navy concerns us, particularly at a time of international crisis.

Of course, implicit in my answer is that before 2028 we hope to have the ships returning to full working order. As the noble Lord is aware, “Defender” is currently conducting operations and defence engagement in the Mediterranean. We very much hope that the drumbeat of progress on restoring the propulsion system will continue. As the noble and gallant Lord said, these are very important ships. They are hugely capable and much admired across the world, and this improvement of the propulsion system is making them more resilient, adding to their admirable capability.

My Lords, given that India and the UK are currently negotiating a trade agreement, given that the Indians are considering moving procurement away from Russia to the United Kingdom, and given that India has recently launched an aircraft carrier of its own from Kochi, is it under any thought at the Ministry of Defence to outsource the production of ships to the Indians for various reasons, not least speed of production and cost?

As the noble Viscount will be aware from the refreshed national shipbuilding strategy, which is one of the most exciting developments we have seen for shipbuilding in the UK, there is a desire to nourish, nurture, sustain and fortify our indigenous shipbuilding industry. We are very anxious to do that, but we have never closed our minds to procuring elsewhere if that is what is required in the best interests of the country. At the end of the day, the shipbuilding strategy covers commercial activity, not just MoD activity.

My Lords, the Minister said that the work being done on the destroyers will make them more resilient. That is really good, but a few months ago none of them was operational, as other noble Lords have said. We have now got one of our two aircraft carriers with a bent prop somewhere in Rosyth. Have we got anything that works first time these days?

The noble Lord is being slightly mischievous and, as he is well aware, yes, we have a lot of ships that work extremely well. They have been much in evidence, not least when they were supporting the carrier strike group and were part of that global support activity. They have also been active in various arenas, as the noble Lord is well aware. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord West, I cannot comment in detail on operational activity, but we are satisfied that our operational requirements are being met.

My Lords, ships of course need crews to work them. Can the Minister give any indication as to whether the Royal Navy manpower and womanpower is adequate to the task that it is being asked to fulfil?

The noble and gallant Lord poses an important question. As far as I am aware, there is not concern over levels of recruitment. However, I do not have detailed information in front of me. I shall inquire and if I can respond in more detail, I will do so.