HMS Albion mothballed for five years

The HMS Bulwark, a Albion class landing platfo...

HMS Bulwark, now the Royal Navy's sole Landing Ship (Image via Wikipedia)

We’ve seen in the news today how HMS Albion, the Royal Navy’s flagship and one of two main landing ships, is to be put in mothballs in Devonport Dockyard for five years. She’s a little over ten years old, which ranks as not even mid-life for a major warship.

Make no mistake about it, after five years in mothballs she will require a LOT of work to get her operational again – that will take time, and cost money. I would also imagine that if HMS Bulwark needs spare parts during the next few years, the temptation to ‘borrow’ them from Albion would be all too tempting. Meanwhile, for five years the Navy will only have one crew practising amphibious warfare. If Albion is needed to be brought back into service in a hurry, where will another crew come from?

As I’ve mentioned before, hull numbers matter – a ship can only be in one place at any given time, and if you want it to get to somewhere else then it is going to take time. If Bulwark is on a flying the flag exercise in the Far East, for example, and something kicks off in the South Atlantic, we can pretty much count out any kind of rapid response. The Government has also descreased the Navy’s second line Amphibious vessels, the Bay Class Landing ships. We now only have three of them, and they are often off around the world filling in for non-existant frigates and destroyers.

The parallels with 1982 are quite a coincidence. Back then, only HMS Fearless was ready for action. Intrepid was destored and effectively mothballed in Portsmouth Dockyard, and took weeks to be made ready, even with round the clock effort from the Dockyard – many of whom were working under redundancy notices, and in any case, such a workforce no longer exists. In 1982, the date for the landings at San Carlos was dictated by when exactly Intrepid could be made ready and reach the South Atlantic. The inference is that without her, it could not have happened. The situation now is identical. These are very useful vessels, absolutely central to commanding and controlling the projection of force worldwide.

The most fundamental function of Government is to defend the realm, and keep British territories and citizens safe from aggressors. Secondly, the armed forces exist to maintain Britain’s interests around the world. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that decimating armed forces does not defend the realm, in a very uncertain world. Compared to money ringfenced for overseas aid, or even more so the bailing out of the banks, the money saved by hatcheting defence is minimal. Is this the ‘good job’ that Liam Fox was doing? If Adam Werritty was his advisor, then he clearly wasn’t a very good one.

With just one landing ship operational, no strike aircraft carrier, minimal escorts and sparse auxiliaries, our ability to mount another Falklands operation is non-existant. Should I revisit my 2009 series of posts ‘The Falklands: Then and Now’, or would it simply be too painful?

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30 Comments

Filed under defence, Navy, News, politics, Uncategorized

30 responses to “HMS Albion mothballed for five years

  1. John Erickson

    You can at least take comfort in having gotten rid of Mr. Fox. Our darling Congress is gonna let some automatic cuts gut our military – provided Congress doesn’t step forward with a set of cuts based on non-existent future spending, only to require double the cuts next time around.
    So much for common sense on Defence!

  2. x

    It’s more a question of the costs of crewing the big ships than running them mechanically.

    As a maritime minded person I find it odd as an island nation we places such a great emphasis on the Army. Yet doesn’t have enough shipping to move even a battlegroup and its stores at any given time.

    Surely the British Army would be an organisation to be feared if it could turn up on any shore, land, conduct an operation, and then repair back to the sea as a practised capability?

    The British public will not countenance another Afghanistan for another generation at least. And the Army struggles with that deployment. How would it cope in a high end war if it can only just about deploy 6,000 infantry in a light role now? In the Cold War a NATO brigade of that many personnel would have lasted 2 to 3 days in the line.

    We need boots on the ground. But I struggle to see why we need a “field army” of more than 3 brigades (1 cavalry battalion, 3 infantry battalions, 1 artillery battalion, plus support troops.) The difference is in my world we would have the ships to move a good portion of a brigade at will and move a whole brigade without too much stress in an emergency.

    • James Daly

      I thought that the LPD’s had a relatively small crew for their size?

      The other side of this mothballing amphibs coin is the Commando Brigade. If you can’t actually lift a Brigade in its intended role, is that a precursor to undermining its value and cutting it?

      Another thing thats surprised me is that its going to go into mothballs at Plymouth – Pompey is normally the dumping ground for any ships up for disposal or long term storage!

  3. x

    325 souls is roughly enough to crew two escorts.

    Let’s hope her being kept at Devonport is a good sign of her potential availability.

    Or perhaps it is just so the spares are closer to hand for Bulwark?

    I think the RM (and RAF Regiments) survival is due to the fact that both organisations produce “good infantry.” In a time of shrinking defence establishment I suppose it is simpler and cheaper to keep them going than up the Army’s capacity.

    The crime is it wouldn’t take much shipping to move a brigade and stores. Certainly a better deal than buying 20 or so A400m.

    • James Daly

      It doesn’t seem like many, but when you put it like that its not an insignificant number.

      One other thing that occurs to me, is the lack of sea-going appointments nowadays. As I’ve identified before, commanding a major surface vessel used to be a precursor to flag rank. Now, we only have Bulwark, Ocean, Illustrious or Protector, I believe, that have Captains in command. That lack of experience reduces the officer cadre somewhat.

  4. x

    Well I suppose you have to look past the label and look at the job.

    I was amazed when commodore was made substantive.

    You have to remember in the old sailing navy there were commanders who held the post of captain (of the ship.) Beneath him he had lieutenants, his second command being his first lieutenant

    Things changed when captain became substantive. I remember a convoluted conversation with my father who after watching one film got confused because the second in command was the commander.

    Rank inflation happens because a service grows and also because of technical advances. I never understood why the RN came up with charge chief when the obvious route was warrant officer 2 from the get go.

    At least the RN doesn’t suffer rank inflation to the same extent as the RAF. If it did the OC of the ship’s flight would out rank the ship’s CO. :)

    • James Daly

      What made me think about the Captain/Commander issue was thinking back to the Falklands. The Carriers, Type 42s, County Class, Fearless Class, and Type 22s all had full Captains. IIRC the Type 21s, Leanders etc had Commanders. I can understand officers in command of major vessels being senior, but it seems to me that maybe since 1982 the RN has diluted things to get away with paying people less for doing the same job.

      Regarding Flag ranks, there are so few active, ‘real’ positions, but plenty of MOD berths…

  5. x

    Yes I see. Of course since the largest part of the fleet has been made up of escorts there has been “discussion” over which is the more senior type of ship, frigate or destroyer. To the US this must seem like discussing which is the more important, a pedalo or a row boat?

    Flag commands are interesting too. Especially if you look at NATO during the Cold War. Who had more clout CinC Med Fleet (aka NATO Commander in Chief of Allied Forces Mediterranean) or the US admiral commanding the US 6th Fleet?

  6. James Daly

    I always used to think of warships in a kind of hierarchy – minesweepers, frigates, destroyers, cruisers, battleships. With Carriers and amphibs somewhere between destroyer and battleships depending on size. But, if you think about it, in the Falklands-era Fleet a Type 22 had significantly more muscle than a Type 42 – a bigger ship, plus more capability for carrying a flag officer.

  7. x

    Where would that leave the Counties then? ;)

  8. James Daly

    I know they were classed as Destroyers, but if you think about it they had more in common with the Batch 3 Type 22’s – air defence missile, main gun and anti-surface missiles. OK, Sea Slug was next to useless by 1982, but for its time it was space age!

  9. x

    Yes Sea Slug was useless, but heck what a firework!

    Counties were proper ships because they had decks covered in wood……….

  10. James Daly

    Theres a pathe news clip out there somewhere of a sea slug firing from a County Class – impressive stuff. I guess when viewing something like that we have to step back from what we know of now and the last 50 years, and remember that in the 1960’s, it was the RN’s first missile system.

    My dad worked on the Countys, actually he was weapons engineering so he got up close with Sea Slug more than once. Like an oversized iron bunk bed, he described it.

  11. x

    There is some good footage to be found in the John Pertwee Dr Who adventure The Sea Devils. (Along with lots of footage onboard HMS Reclaim.) And the same footage is used in an episode of UFO. :)

  12. x

    Yes I appreciate that Sea Slug was very much a product of its time. Perhaps saying it was useless was a bit harsh. I accept it for what it was.

    • James Daly

      It was obsolete very quickly, for a missile system. The County’s main use in 1982 was for NGFS, having not one, but two 4.5ins. And given that the whole ship was designed around Sea Slug they could hardly have ripped the launcher and magazine out and refitted it with Sea Dart.

  13. Please dlete my previous comment. Copy/paste gone wrong!

    Sea Slug was not very useful against jet aircaft, but was fired blind at Argentine aircraft in the Falklands to scare the pilots. It was also used in a surface to surface role against land targets…

    Back on topic….

    It seems made that we have a defence policy that predicts the last ten years will continue, whilst ignoring Libya and the Arab spring, and the fact that the next conflict is likely to be littoral.

    Go 68 minutes to spars? Try this US talk radio show:

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/midrats/2011/10/16/episode-93-the-lessons-from-libya

    • James Daly

      No problem WEBF, consider it done!

      I predict we’re pretty much going to have a re-run of the 1920’s and 1930’s, with another ’10 year rule’, only this one will prevail for political reasons. Another example of the folly of having politicians with no grasp of history.

      • x

        Yes. But I think it will be even more muddled than that.

        My concern is that we will end up with a loose alliance of Muslims blocs (North Africa; Gulf States, Turkey (a bloc on her own!) a Shia block of Iran, Syria, and Iraq, and with a belligerent Pakistan on the flank.)

        Not enough to cause real trouble. But enough to be a considerable nuisance.

        Of course in a post-oil world which has a navigable Arctic sea the Middle East will become an arid place of no consequence.

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