HMS Cumberland (Image via Wikipedia)
According to news reports the Royal Navy Frigate HMS Cumberland has been ordered to halt her voyage home from the Gulf in order to standby off Libya. Regular readers will recall that Cumberland and her Type 22 sister ships are to be decommissioned later this year. A reminder, if any is needed, that British interests and the safety of British national is being imperilled by defence cuts.
I’m not entirely sure what use a Frigate would be for evacuating the 500-odd British nationals living in Libya. Unlike an aircraft carrier or an assault ship, a Frigate does not have large hangars or vehicle decks in which to accomodate people. And a ship the size of the Type 22 has a crew of around only 200 in the first place – how would such a ship cope with a few more hundreds mouths to feed, one wonders? And Libya is a lot further from the UK than the north Spanish coast was during the Volcanic Ash Cloud rescue effort last year, meaning a longer sea journey.
This is yet another hollow commitment from the Government. In order to be seen to be doing something, regardless of whethers its worthwhile or not, a soon-to-be-decommissioned Frigate is sent to await a task for which it is wholly unsuited. And its another indication of how short-sighted our defence planning is – politicians want warships off the balance sheet, but when the proverbial hits the fan they are only too happy to commit them to action.
I’m reminded of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict several years ago. The then Foreign Secretary eagerly promised a British Frigate to patrol off the coast for illegal arms shipments. Apparently it was quietly pointed out that no Frigates were available, and that if the Foreign Secretary wanted one, then he had better make one magically appear from nowhere.
The Type 22 Frigate HMS Cumberland has been confirmed to appear at the Navy Days event in Portsmouth at the end of the month. Cumberland is normally based in Plymouth, so it will be a rare opportunity to take a look round a Type 22 Frigate in Portsmouth. It also goes some way to bolstering what is a rather weak-looking line-up.
Despite this new announcement the line-up for Navy Days is still looking decidedly anaemic. HMS Ark Royal, HMS Ocean, HMS Albion, HMS Liverpool, HMS Sutherland, RFA Fort George and RFA Largs Bay are all off the east coast of the US for the AURIGA deployment and are obviously unavailable. HMS Invincible is rusting in 3 Basin and in no condition to be on display, and HMS Illustrious is in deep refit at Rosyth. HMS Bulwark is in refit in Plymouth. As Portsmouth is the home port of the Type 42 Destroyers at least one of those should be on display, but perhaps the Navy is keen to emphasise the future where Destroyers are concerned. The survey ship HMS Echo is currently undergoing operational sea training and might be available, or how about the other survey ship, HMS Scott? Navy Days might also be an ideal opportunity for the Royal Navy to show off the new Astute submarine – even if visitors could not go onboard, it would be a PR coup to even be able to see her tied up alongside, and with some suitable displays about her next door.
There have been noticeably few announcements about foreign warships too. Apart from the French fishery patrol ship FS Cormoran Navy Days is looking like a solely British affair. The last Navy Days in Portsmouth had French, Danish, Chilean and Japanese ships on display. Hopefully we’ll get some announcements in the next couple of weeks – there was talk at one stage of an Italian warship, which would be great if it turned out to be one of the Italian Navy’s new Destroyers, which are almost identical to the Type 45’s and would make for an interesting comparison.
The Royal Navy has never been good at PR, even its own senior officers have dubbed it the ‘silent service’. Its not difficult to work out that poor PR makes you vulnerable when it comes to cuts, as politicians, civil servants and the public at large will be poorly-informed about who you are and what you do. The RAF, on the other hand, has a strong heritage of promoting itself – it has always had to, right from its early days. You can be it will not be wasting a single opportunity to emphasise what it does in these critical days while the Strategic Defence Review is ongoing.
Officials will cite ‘operational commitments’ for the poor showing at Navy Days, but in the case of exercises such as AURIGA would it not have been possible to either move the dates of Navy Days or scale down our involvement so at least one major ship might have been available? Of course it must be nice for Admirals to go on flag-waving exercises and to practice the rarity of fixed-wing flying on a UK Aircraft Carrier, but with bad PR this might end up being a thing of the past entirely.
HMS Cumberland paid a rare visit to Portsmouth earlier this week. The Batch 3 Type 22 Frigate is normally based at Plymouth.
The Batch 3 ships of the Class were much modified from their earlier counterparts. While HMS Broadsword and HMS Brilliant performed well in the Falklands War, a number of lessons were learnt. It was found that all ships needed a main 4.5 inch gun for shore bombardments, and the Exocet missiles were replaced with more advanced Harpoons. The two Sea Wolf launchers were retained, and each ship also carries a Goalkeeper close in weapon system.