Naval officials in Chile and Brazil are reported to be lining up to buy two Royal Navy amphibious landing platform ships
Britain will lose its ability to carry out major amphibious operations under cost-cutting plans being considered to sell off warships, MPs and military leaders have warned.
Naval officials in Chile and Brazil are reported to be lining up to buy two Royal Navy amphibious landing platform ships and Type-23 frigates after UK officials told them they may be put up for sale from next year.
The two nations have been told warships including HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark could be available second hand as a result of cost-cutting plans being considered by the Forces, defence journal Jane’s reported.
The Ministry of Defence strongly denied it would cut the Navy’s overstretched fleet of frigates, and said there had been “no engagement” with Chile or Brazil.
But Naval sources confirmed retiring the two amphibious vessels is a key plank of cost-cutting proposals drawn up by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones. Senior officers have also suggested cutting two frigates as one way of saving money.
MPs and senior naval figures said HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark were vital to the Navy and their loss would leave Britain unable to carry out major amphibious operations.
Service chiefs yesterday met in London to discuss how to between them save up to a billion pounds this year and begin to make a total of £20bn savings over the next decade.
HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark were only launched last decade and are believed to have around 30 years life left between them.
“These ships are almost new”, said one naval source “It’s like having 12,000 miles on the clock.”
“We have to spend money on dealing with threats from cyber, as well as finding resources to storm beaches
Maj Gen Julian Thompson, a retired Royal Marines officer who commanded 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War, said the ships were “absolutely vital”.
Without the ships, the Navy would be unable to land heavy equipment and armour on beaches, he said.
Maj Gen Thompson said the ships’ ability to load light armoured vehicles and engineering equipment onto landing craft could not be replaced by helicopters or other support ships.
He said: “If you give this capability away, you can’t get it back in a hurry.”
He said other vessels, such as Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships which provided aid in the Caribbean, were “no substitute”.
He said: “They can’t do the same job. We are giving away an amphibious capability that to my mind is absolutely vital.”
The Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, faced repeated questioning from MPs on the sale when he appeared in front of the Commons defence committee.
He dismissed the reports as “pure speculation” and said he had yet to receive any proposals from service chiefs on how to save money.
He said: “We have to consider the way in which the threats have intensified. We have to spend money on dealing with threats from cyber, as well as finding resources to storm beaches.
He went on: “The threats have intensified in other domains apart from storming beaches.”
Britain’s new 65,000 ton aircraft carriers had been designed to provide amphibious duties, he suggested.
But he was challenged by Julian Lewis MP, the chairman of the committee.
Mr Lewis said: “I am sorry Secretary of State, there is no way that a Queen Elizabeth Class carrier can substitute for the capabilities of Albion or Bulwark as a landing platform.”
Johnny Mercer MP, a former officer in the Royal Marines, said cutting the two ships would significantly limit Britain’s military options in the future.
He said no other ships could act as floating, amphibious command centres in the same way.
Lt Gen Mark Poffley, deputy chief of defence staff for military capability, told MPs: “Quite clearly
Albion and Bulwark provide some very specific capability.”
He said that if the ships were to be axed, their attributes would either have to be replaced or “one would have to accept that you are taking a compromise in that part of your operational portfolio”.
Service chiefs have each been asked to draw up a list of possible savings to meet efficiency targets before the Treasury will release more money to buy warships, aircraft and vehicles.
Gen Sir Nick Carter, Admiral Sir Philip Jones and ACM Sir Stephen Hillier all met in London on Wednesday to chew over their options.
Defence chiefs have complained there is not enough money to fulfil the plans outlined in the Government’s 2015 strategic defence and security review. One source said the figures looked “ghastly”.
Defence priorities are also being redrawn because of a string of terrorist attacks in the past seven months.
A senior MOD source said that the sale of Type 23 frigates before they could be replaced next decade by new Type 26 warships “categorically won’t happen”.
An Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We can categorically confirm that there has been no engagement with either Chile or Brazil in respect of Type 23 Frigates or the two landing platform dock ships.”
“In the face of intensifying threats, we are contributing to the cross-government review of national security capabilities and looking at how we best spend our rising defence budget to protect our country. No decisions have yet been made and at this stage, any discussion of the options is pure speculation.”