Royal Navy sends just one (casualty) ship to showpiece sea and air event
The Royal Navy is so overstretched it will be represented by just one ship at what has traditionally been its biggest festival of the year.
Operational “pressures” mean the crowds at this weekend’s Bournemouth Air Festival will gaze out onto only FRA Argus, a casualty ship belonging to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
The lone appearance is in contrast to last year’s festival where the Navy sent a flotilla of three vessels - a frigate, a patrol ship and a mine hunter.
“Due to operational and in-year resource pressures, we have a slight change in the number of ships
”Commodore Jamie Miller
But this month the largest of those ships, the Type 23 HMS Monmouth, was busy disrupting drug smugglers in the Indian Ocean, part of a hectic programme of operations or refits that has left the fleet with virtually no vessels to spare.
The late summer festival is the Navy’s biggest single civilian engagement event of the calendar and is considered a valuable opportunity for recruitment.
"Due to operational and in-year resource pressures, we have a slight change in the number of ships appearing in the bay,” Commodore Jamie Miller, who is overseeing the festival.
The Royal Navy has is still basking in the glory of the arrival of the first of its new state-of-the-art aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth this month, the largest vessel ever built for the service.
But overall the Navy’s operational capacity has been described by MPs as “woefully low”, with the number of frigates and destroyers in particular “way below” the number needed to adequately respond to future threats.
A range of obligations including thwarting the drugs trade, securing the Falklands and showing solidarity with NATO allies in the face of Russian aggression has left the fleet stretched.
Over the past five months a force led by HMS Monmouth has seized roughly £400 million worth of illegal drugs in the Gulf and Indian Ocean from eight separate raids.
Meanwhile HMS Ocean, a helicopter carrier and the Navy’s current flagship, is leading a NATO maritime group protecting trade routes in the Mediterranean.
HMS Duncan, one of six new Type 45 destroyers, is leading a NATO task force in the Black Sea, and other vessels are currently deployed in the Caribbean, South Atlantic and in waters around Britain.
"Fortunately the largest and highest profile vessel, the RFA Argus, is still coming to represent the Royal Navy and will play host to a number of cadet and youth acquaints, form the backdrop to the Royal Marines beach demonstration, and act as a landing platform for the Merlin helicopter,” said Commodore Miller.
“As is the Royal Marines motto, we have had to adapt and overcome this change, and we are delighted to be supporting the air festival with Royal Marine Band of HMS Collingwood performing a band concert and beating retreats, unarmed combat displays by the commando recruiting troop, the weapons displays at the naval village and a beach demonstration by Viking armoured fighting vehicles, Merlin helicopter and Hawk fast jets."
News of the Navy’s presence in Bournemouth came as the new captain of HMS Queen Elizabeth promised that lessons learnt from building the ship would make hasten the arrival of its sister carrier.
HMS Prince of Wales will follow in the footsteps of the UK's biggest ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which was launched from Rosyth docks in Fife this summer.
The second aircraft carrier will be officially named next week in a royal ceremony attended by Prince Charles and wife Camilla, the ship's sponsor.
It is not due to be launched until 2019 and is currently being fitted out in a dry dock, but project leaders believe lessons from the first ship will make sure HMS Prince of Wales is ready "swiftly".
Captain Ian Groom said: "As we brought Elizabeth to life and went through the trials we optimised systems and learned how things could be improved both in terms of the systems and also the order in which you build things to make it more efficient and we're drawing those lessons into Prince of Wales so that we can build it as swiftly as possible to the highest quality."