It was widely reported this week that Royal Navy ships will be left without ASuW missiles and forced to rely on naval guns. The Navy’s Harpoon missiles will retire from the fleet’s frigates and destroyers in 2018 without a replacement, while there will also be a two year gap without helicopter-launched anti-shipping missiles.
Harpoon missiles are unlikely to be replaced for up to a decade, naval sources said, leaving warships armed only with their 4.5in Mk 8 guns for anti-ship warfare. Helicopter-launched Sea Skua missiles are also going out of service next year and the replacement Sea Venom missile to be carried by Wildcat helicopters will not arrive until late 2020.
A Naval source said the new helicopter-launched Sea Venom missile will have a shorter range than the Harpoon and helicopters are also vulnerable to bad weather and being shot down. Rear-Adml Chris Parry, said: "It's a significant capability gap and the Government is being irresponsible. It just shows that our warships are for the shop window and not for fighting." Lord West of Spithead, a former First Sea Lord, said: “This is just another example of where the lack of money is squeezing and making the nation less safe. We will have this gap of several years without missiles. Well, that’s fine if you don’t have to fight anybody in the meantime.”
A naval expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Britain was cutting its anti-ship missiles just as America had decided they were becoming more critical to maritime fighting.
“It must be a great concern that this capability is going to be removed without immediate or direct replacement because we are moving into an era of concern about a more contested maritime environment,” he said.
A spokesman for the Navy said: “All Royal Navy ships carry a range of offensive and defensive weapons systems. Backed by a rising defence budget and a £178 billion equipment plan, upgrade options to all our weapons are kept under constant review.”
This latest news, along with the gapping of fixed wing aircraft capability until HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and her F-35B squadron(s) become operational, with 13 Duke Class Type 23 frigates to be replaced with 8 Type 26s and an, as yet, unknown number of the unconfirmed Type 31 General Purpose Frigates planned for the indeterminate future is, of course, worrying.
Can we afford the Navy UK needs, or must UK settle for the Navy it can afford?