NEWS COMMENT: Time to make Portsmouth the home of the frigate

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Any child who has ever played Battleships will have learnt immediately the value of the aircraft carrier.

In a nautical version of chess, it is the carrier that’s king and must be protected at all costs.

So the announcement by defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon, the one-time minister for Portsmouth, that the Royal Navy is to get 13 new frigates, makes strategic sense and should provide a big boost for the city both for its morale and future prosperity.

For it is vital that we provide more escorts as quickly as possible to protect the carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales if they are not to be sitting ducks. For that is a key roles of frigates.

This major piece of government spending should be welcomed, doubly so given that, as now, a proportion of the new generation of frigates will be based in Portsmouth.

But why only a proportion? Here is the next battle to be fought on the political Battleships’ board.

The current frigate fleet is divided between Portsmouth and Devonport – six in the former, seven in the west country.

Portsmouth is not only the home of the Royal Navy, it is also the home of its fighting ships – those carriers, the Type 45 destroyers and some frigates.

Would it not make sense to base all the new frigates here with their associated repair and maintenance work while Devonport keeps the amphibious assault ships, submarines and ice patrol vessels?

Sir Michael is supporting Sir John Parker’s national shipbuilding strategy designed to grow shipyards from Scotland to Merseyside, Belfast to the south-west. Portsmouth is not on that list.

That was a campaign fought and lost here and we must move on.

But if warshipbuilding is to grow elsewhere with the economic spin-off that goes with it, would it not be politically prudent to now make Portsmouth the home of the frigate?