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Defence publishes Government response to “We’re going to need a bigger Navy”

25 February 2022

Today, the Defence Committee publishes the Government response to its report “We’re going to need a bigger Navy”.

The Committee’s report called for the Government to expand the fleet, to plug capability gaps, particularly in weapons systems, and to support the British Shipbuilding Industry.

The Government’s response welcomes the Committee’s report and agrees with much of the Committee’s assessment of the strategic environment. The response agrees with many of the Committees recommendations, for example the need to develop systems to counter hypersonic weapons and the explore the use of common missile launch systems. The Government has also agreed with the need for increased Parliamentary scrutiny of shipbuilding plans and Surface Fleet availability and has agreed to provide the Committee with an annual report on these topics.

The Government’s response does raise a number of concerns that the Committee will follow up in future evidence sessions and correspondence:

  • The Government has once again rejected decades of consistent recommendations about how to support the British shipbuilding industry by explicitly declining to provide a guaranteed pipeline of work. Promising the “opportunity” for the necessary baseline of work does not provide the certainty that industry needs to invest. The Government must urgently publish the National Shipbuilding Strategy refresh and use it to rectify this approach.
  • The statement to the Committee that it will give all necessary scrutiny to the procurement of an Interim Surface to Surface Guided Weapon Capability to replace Harpoon after 2023 are hard to square with the Government’s notice to industry that this programme has been cancelled. The Government should be honest with the Committee about the status of this programme and how they intend Royal Navy ships to be able to counter enemy vessels in the roughly 10 years until the FC/ASW is planned for availability.
  • The Government has not considered accelerating the Type 45 Power Improvement Project. In fact the timings make it appear that for at least two of the ships the time taken in PIP is actually being increased to more than 12 months.
  • The information about the investment in the UK Commando Forces programme is welcomed, but we would appreciate further clarification on what the Government’s intention is for the Royal Marines Commando amphibious capability.
  • The plans to replace RFA Argus with the Multi Role Support Ships raise further questions. The Government should make clear if RFA Argus’s retirement date will be extended until the dedicated primary casualty receiver MRSS is operational and whether the MRSS will be configured to offer the same level of casualty support as the Argus.
  • It is disappointing that the Government has refused to engage with the Committee on questions of submarine availability. The Government must find a way to keep the Committee appropriately briefed on this issue to enable effective scrutiny to take place.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP, said:

“I am pleased to see the Government’s thorough response to our report. There a huge amount of common ground. Both the Committee and the Government recognise the strategic importance of the Navy, and the many challenges it will face in the years ahead.

The Royal Navy is one of the world’s most sophisticated and technologically-advanced modern fighting forces. However, complacency comes at a dire cost. Failure to continue to invest in our fleet will leave us with capability chasms not gaps, which will only become harder to fix. In particular, the retirement of Harpoon without ready replacements only leaves us more vulnerable in the short term.

I am glad to see the Government’s plans to increase vessels’ lethality. The porcupines’ claws are long overdue. This is a welcome step in the right direction. But we can’t just upgrade the Navy, we need to also expand.

The current fleet is, without a doubt, in need of expansion. I would urge the Government to re-evaluate its refusal to commission more vessels than planned. The strategic importance of our Naval capabilities cannot be overstated. We need reliable and responsive military assets for moments of crisis. The failure of HMS Diamond to leave port in response to the crisis in Ukraine shows that the Government’s plans to mitigate the small number of ships by increasing availability are inherently flawed. Now is the time to invest in our forces.

It is disappointing that the Committee’s recommendations on the National Shipbuilding Strategy are not being taken forward. In particular, the Government’s refusal to provide the guaranteed pipeline of work that UK yards needs flies in the face of all the evidence. Strengthening our British shipbuilding industry is critical for the long-term health of our nation’s defence.

The Committee is pleased that the Government will provide an annual report on ship building and availability. We will continue to monitor this area of work.”

Further information

Image: MoD