Britain has no major warships deployed on operations beyond home waters in what has been described as an “unprecedented” absence of the vessels on the world stage. All six of the Royal Navy’s Type 45 destroyers are docked in Portsmouth, while 12 of 13 Type 23 frigates are either at Portsmouth or Devonport.
HMS St Albans is the only Type 23 on duty as the fleet ready escort, which protects home waters. A dearth of major naval warships overseas has been attributed to cuts to the defense budget, raising concerns over Britain’s ability to project power internationally.
Vice-Admiral John McAnally, national president of the Royal Naval Association, told The Times that the scarcity of frigates and destroyers overseas was unprecedented and indicates the fleet is too small.
“I am distressed and alarmed. I do not see that it is easily remedied,” he said. “The only answer is an increase in the defense budget. It is too small to meet what government want the armed forces to do”.
A spokeswoman said the Royal Navy is “deployed globally on operations and will be protecting our national interests throughout Christmas and New Year. There will be 13 ships and submarines deployed away and in home waters, as well as the at sea nuclear deterrent”.
The frigates and destroyers are said to have returned to port for a combination of maintenance and crew needs.
The UK’s only aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, is not due to enter active service until 2020. It emerged on Tuesday that the vessel, the largest and most expensive in the Royal Navy’s history, has a leak.
Helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, the fleet’s flagship, is due to arrive back in Devonport after its final deployment before being decommissioned in 2018. HMS Protector, a Royal Navy ice patrol ship joined the search for the missing Argentine submarine, the ARA San Jan Juan, in November.