When they were first unveiled, the country, the city and the navy had high hopes for Type 45 destroyers.
Their capabilities were immense – the Daring class are able to deploy 3,000mph Sea Viper missiles at targets 70 miles away and, so the story goes, are so sophisticated that each ship would be able to take over air traffic control duties for England if needed.
Admiral Lord Alan West claimed in their early days that they would be the navy’s most capable destroyer ever, and the world’s best air defence warship, and it was said that their presence in Portsmouth would make us the best-protected city in the world. And sadly, as we report today, that has come to pass, as the Type 45s have spent an inordinate amount of time both here and in other UK ports – significantly more than they have spent out on deployment.
Firstly, a bit of perspective. We totally recognise the necessity of maintenance for ships, and leave for ship’s companies. Nobody is saying that the warships should be out 365 days a year (although minehunter crews may beg to offer a different opinion about that).
Regardless, it is outrageous that four of the six Type 45s have spent more than 300 days in a calendar year in a UK port. Originally, when the ships were first mooted, we were to have had 12 of the class – that, as we all know, was steadily reduced until only six were actually built, at a cost of £1bn each. But perhaps it was for the best that there are not more, as they might have also been turned into training ships, the fate of HMS Dauntless.
We know the stories about the unreliability of the engines, and the problems with propulsion. The important thing now is what is learnt. At their best the Type 45s are stunning ships –seemingly hand-picked by the US Navy to accompany aircraft carriers, as is happening now with Daring. But as is suggested today, it points to a wider dearth of engineering skills in the navy, leading to longer spent alongside. This needs to be rectified, and soon – the Type 45s’ time in port may make our city safer, but it does nothing to make the world a less dangerous place.