The Ministry of Defence is considering a cost-cutting proposal to scrap the Royal Fleet Auxilliary, reports the Portsmouth Evening News.
This is understood to be as a result of pressure from the Treasury, who have pressed the MOD into coming up with options for saving money. The RFA is the logistics lifeline of the Navy, providing fuel, food, stores and ammunitionto warships around the globe. It consists of 16 ships – tankers, stores ships, landing ships, a hospital ship and a repair ship.
The Navy believes that it could save money by using civilian oil tankers and supply ships instead of having its own supply arm. It has already shrunk considerably since the Falklands War.
This would undoubtedly save money in the short term. Replacement ships would be chartered, saving money on construction. On the other hand the cost of leasing ships over their lifetime would probably be more than the cost of building them. Also, there would be added complications when the RFA go to war, with regard to insurance and their civilian status. Replacement ships would probably be registered in Panama or Liberia, and with foreign crews.
The RFA are also specialists in their field. It is not simply a case of transporting fuel and supplies the same as civilian ships. The RFA are fully trained to operate under wartime conditions, and to working with warships. Especially in the art of Replenishment at Sea (RAS). There is nothing wrong with saving money, but not at the cost of fighting effectiveness.
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock, who sits on the Commons defence committee, said it would be ‘completely detrimental to the navy’s ability to do its job’. He went on, ‘I’m fully behind the RFA because they have decades of experience and they know what it takes to work well while under pressure of warfare,’ he said. ‘If you had private companies doing this job you would have the taxpayer shelling out premiums if they ever faced risk. It’s something that they think will make a quick win, but it’s really clutching at straws.’
This is probably yet another sign that our Defence policy is Treasury-driven. More news is expected in several months time when the MOD is to present a pre-budget report.