DEFENCE cuts have left the Royal Navy so short of engineers it has had to borrow some from the US Coast Guard.
From this month, American servicemen will work as engineering technicians on board Type 23 frigates based in Portsmouth.
If it is a success, there will be a total of 36 American coastguard personnel working in the positions in Portsmouth by the end of 2016.
The navy says the reason for bringing the engineers to the city is because of cuts to staff numbers made in the government’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
But critics say it is a desperate move and highlights the false economy of armed forces redundancies.
In 2011, around 500 engineers were made redundant as part of plans to shrink the navy.
Mike Critchley, a former naval officer and publisher of Warship World, said: ‘It is hugely embarrassing.
‘Bringing them across is a desperate move.
‘It is fortunate that the US Coast Guard has excess personnel at the moment.
‘They have paid off some ships that were very manpower intensive. You can’t just recruit guys off the street and train them, the navy is looking for experience.
‘But I’m sure these guys will do a great job and keep ships at sea.’
From April 2014 to April 2015, the project will cost the navy £187,000. The average pay for each is £35,000.
Admiral Lord Alan West, a former head of the navy, said he thought the move was a sensible one.
‘There is a national shortage of engineers in this country, and that is obviously going to affect the military as well,’ he said.
‘I have served with a lot of Americans and they fit in extremely well.
‘This seems to me a good temporary measure but there does come a stage where we need more people in the navy.’
The navy said it is actively recruiting in all branches, including engineering.
It is not uncommon for servicemen and women from other nations to serve on board navy warships.
The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas said: ‘The professional maritime partnership between the USA and the UK is one without equal and this latest initiative strengthens its authority further still.
‘The navy already enjoys a highly successful collaboration with the US Coast Guard as we fight the war on drugs together.
‘But this agreement takes our partnership to the next level – and beyond – and I warmly welcome that.
‘It is quite true that the navy is under significant manpower pressure in key specialist skills to meet today’s commitments.
‘This is a recognised leadership and management challenge that is part and parcel of the navy’s renaissance and we are working to meet that challenge, but also to chase the opportunities it offers.
‘But I do not expect it to throw us off track.’
The trial partnership will begin this month when four people come to work with the navy.
Another 16 will follow in 2015 and 16 more in 2016, bringing the total to 36.
The first group will be working as Petty Officer Engineering Technicians on Type 23 ships based in Portsmouth.
The navy already has a number of regular and ongoing exchanges with other foreign navies including the French, Australian and New Zealand navies.
Union leader criticises ‘false economy’ after engineer redundancies
CUTS to the navy created a false economy that has ended up costing more money than it saved, according to a union leader.
Around 500 engineers from the naval service were selected for redundancy in 2011 as part of government cuts to the armed forces.
Now the navy is to pay almost £200,000 to borrow 36 US Coast Guard engineers.
Councillor John Ferrett, the Labour group leader for Portsmouth City Council and Prospect union negotiator for civilian staff at the naval base, said: ‘This portrays the lack of strategy from the Ministry of Defence.
‘We have had a huge amount of experts leave the navy.
‘In terms of how this will be managed, it has been a disaster.
‘The Ministry of Defence now does not have the right expertise.
‘I am not surprised to hear this because this is what we have experienced with civilian roles.
‘It is a false economy to make people redundant who can perform roles that are needed.
‘Now they have to pay more money to recruit people from overseas to do the same job these people were doing before they were made redundant.
‘This could be potentially disastrous for the UK.
‘This does not bode well for when the new carriers arrive. Who is going to be working on them?’