BRITAIN’S £6bn fleet of naval destroyers is spending more time berthed in UK military ports than on active duty defending the nation, The News can reveal
Damning statistics have revealed that during a year-long period, the six vessels spent a combined 1,515 days in the UK, with four of the state-of-the-art ships notching up more than 300 days in British ports.
We desperately need to get the destroyers out and doing their jobAdmiral Lord Alan West, former First Sea Lord
And many of the vessels have faced significant periods of maintenance and refit, with one – HMS Dauntless – now being relegated to a £1bn ‘training ship’.
The figures, obtained through a freedom of information request, have angered a former head of the Royal Navy, who has called on urgent action by PM Theresa May to resolve the problem.
It comes as the navy faces an engineer recruitment crisis, delays in the replacement programme for the aging Type 23 frigate fleet and on-going issues with the Type 45s’ unreliable engine system.
But the Ministry of Defence today insisted the fleet was not ‘sitting idle’ and was meeting ‘operational tasks’.
However, First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord Alan West was not convinced and said more needed to be done to improve the situation.
‘We desperately need to get the destroyers out and doing their job,’ he said. ‘We are using Royal Fleet Auxiliary and offshore protection vessels to do jobs that historically would have been done with frigates or destroyers.
‘It seems to me that because we have so few ships that the “get-well package” for the destroyers needs to be implemented with absolute full speed to get them fully available for operations.’
Lord West denied claims the heavily-armed air defence fleet was ‘stagnating’ in UK ports.
But he said the navy was faced with a critical shortage of manpower and cash that urgently needed to be addressed.
He added: ‘There is clearly a real problem over money in the navy – there’s not enough of it. There is a shortage of money and the government has got to come clean about it.
‘We need to get cracking and do the repair work that is needed.’
Maritime expert Mike Critchley is the former publisher of Warship World.
He said the figures show the situation with the destroyer fleet had worsened.
The Lieutenant Commander, of Gosport, said: ‘This has been going on forever. It’s just getting worse as the days tick by.’
Mr Critchley added a ‘desperate shortage’ of naval engineers was compounding the issue.
‘If we had more engineers in the navy we could have these ships out at sea,’ he said. ‘But you can’t just click your fingers. This is a long-term issue that needs a lot of planning.’
The ship to have spent the longest time in a UK port between April 2015 and 2016 is HMS Dragon, which was based at Portsmouth Naval Base for a total of 330 days – but this came after a nine-month deployment.
HMS Daring – which sailed from Portsmouth on a nine-month mission this month which will see her joining the fight against Isil – spent 319 days in the UK.
And after completing a five-month tour in May of last year, HMS Dauntless spent seven months in refit and has been not left Britain since, now operating as an engineering training vessel.
HMS Diamond, which deployed to the Mediterranean this month, also spent more than 300 days in the UK, in maintenance and refit before spending two months from May to July on operational sea training and further maintenance.
HMS Duncan and Defender spent the least amount of time in the UK, with 125 days and 132 respectively, after having both recently returned from nine-month missions.
An MoD spokeswoman added: ‘We are meeting all of our operational tasks and our destroyers are not sitting idle.
‘Ships operate out of ports while they go through high-intensity preparations for operations and while they conduct crucial defence engagement.’
Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP and former armed forces minister, said: ‘The situation has improved considerably over the last year, latterly with only one ship in at a time for maintenance. Some ships in harbour have been doing training alongside, and we want to see as many out on ops as possible.
‘The improvements have come with better management of spare parts and an improving manning situation. Resolving the problems of the Type 45 engine and propulsion systems has also assisted greatly. I expect to see these ships spending less time in our harbour and out doing the Royal Navy’s mission in future.’