Royal Navy: MoD confirms new Royal Marines support ships will be built amid Russia-Ukraine war

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New drone-carrying ships for the Royal Marines are set to be built in a bid to bolster the UK’s forces.

Defence secretary Grant Shapps said the vessels will draw on lessons learned from the Ukraine war and the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. The Defence Secretary confirmed that up to six multi-role support ships (MRSS) – designed to deliver commandos onto coastlines around the world to conduct special operations – would be built.

Mr Shapps said “we will definitely build the first three” vessels for the Royal Marines and will plan to construct the next three. “What we’re trying to do is create a multi-role ship which they can use in all different circumstances,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Actually, interestingly, we’re learning from what’s happened in the Black Sea in Ukraine and learning what’s happening in the Red Sea currently to make much more flexible ships capable of carrying out a lot of different types of tasks.”

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Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said the new ships will have multiple roles and be used in different circumstances. The move follows drone attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen on British ships, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said the new ships will have multiple roles and be used in different circumstances. The move follows drone attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen on British ships, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said the new ships will have multiple roles and be used in different circumstances. The move follows drone attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen on British ships, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Mr Shapps said the UK was now operating in a “new military age” and that going forward, all future Royal Navy frigates would be equipped with “land strike capability”. He claimed the UK was experiencing a “golden age” of shipbuilding, with up to 28 Royal Navy vessels either being constructed or planned. Russia’s Black Sea fleet has proved vulnerable to attacks from Ukrainian missiles and drones. In the Red Sea, Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen have used weapons to target merchant vessels and international warships protecting the vital trade routes.

The MRSS vessels are designed to carry a “broad range” of unmanned drones along with vehicles, aircraft and insertion craft. They will also be able to act as primary casualty receiving ships, providing urgent medical care. First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Ben Key, said: “I am delighted that the Secretary of State has cemented the future of our Royal Marines by committing to this new class of up to six amphibious vessels.

“These will be the most capable amphibious warships the nation has ever owned, designed to be fully interchangeable with our closest allies in Europe, and in Nato.” Prime minister Rishi Sunak said he plans for the UK to increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2030. The government said this will amount to an extra £75 billion, though that figure has been disputed by economists and political opponents.

In a speech at Lancaster House today, Mr Shapps urged Nato allies to meet the target, saying it would “put us in an immeasurably better position.” He added: “Remember, we already outrank Russia… I just think we need to make sure that it is put beyond doubt, because when you deter adversaries, you don’t end up having to fight a more expensive war down the line.”

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Asked during a media Q&A afterwards how the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would find the personnel to man the new warships and whether he would like to more manpower, Mr Shapps said: “Would I like more personnel? I’m the Defence Secretary, of course. Sure I’d like more of this, that and the other, including personnel, but actually what I really want to do is take this extra £75 billion and make sure we spend it in a way that provides the ultimate and best protection for us as a country and for us to do good in the world.”

He added that armed forces applications have gone “through the roof” recently and that he believes the UK has “finally got onto the right track” as far as training new recruits is concerned. Asked whether he would be happy for British weapons to be used on Russian soil, Mr Shapps said: “As you know, we have provided permission for weapons to be used in the territory of Ukraine, including Crimea… I won’t go beyond that in talking about tactics, but I will tell you that we will always only allow our weaponry to be used in full compliance with international humanitarian law, in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

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