As the smoke is starting to clear around some of the decisions announced in the SDSR, the latest announcements on the Royal Navy have clarified a number of decisions.
HMS Illustrious will be withdrawn from service in 2014, once Ocean has emerged from a planned refit and been returned to a fully operational state. This will ensure that the UK retains the ability to deliver an amphibious intervention force from the sea and maintain an experienced crew to support the later introduction into service of the new Queen Elizabeth Class carrier. With no Harrier, the additional capabilities offered by HMS Ocean in the amphibious role (accommodation, landing craft, ramp etc) and the lower running costs of HMS Ocean (diesel v gas turbine, much smaller crew etc) this is a logical choice although the issue of retaining skills for the QE class does seem at odds with withdrawing the only carrier we have. Ocean is not a carrier. HMS Ark Royal will be finally withdrawn from service at the end of this year.
Four frigates are also to be withdrawn from service. These are the remaining Type 22s: HMS Chatham, Campbeltown, Cumberland and Cornwall. Again, the Type 22′s are relatively expensive to run and the oldest. Chatham will be withdrawn from service at the end of January 2011 and Campbeltown and Cumberland will follow on 1 April. HMS Cornwall will be withdrawn at the end of April once she has returned from her current operational deployment to the Indian Ocean, that will be a nice homecoming, well done lads.
One of the two Landing Platform Dock ships will in future be placed at extended readiness while the other is held at high readiness for operations. From November 2011, the high-readiness ship will be HMS Bulwark, and on current plans this will change to HMS Albion in late 2016 when Bulwark enters a refit period.
The Auxiliary Oiler RFA Bayleaf and the Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment vessel RFA Fort George will be withdrawn from April 2011.
Additionally the Bay Class amphibious support ship RFA Largs Bay will be withdrawn from service in April 2011.
Largs Bay is the oldest of the 4 Bay Class.
Of all these decisions I think losing the RFA vessels, especially Largs Bay, is the most baffling of all. They are superbly versatile and have very low running costs but in the context of reducing amphibious capabilities I suppose there is less of a justification for an amphibious support capability.
There isn’t really much to say about this that hasn’t already been said.
Except, decision on basing, location of the £100m refit work for Ocean and what is happening to the crews of the withdrawn vessels remain to be determined.