August 23, 2010 / 12:04 AM / 9 years ago

Navy needs more, cheaper ships

LONDON (Reuters) - The Royal Navy must urgently expand its fleet to secure vital trade routes, and should order cheaper, more adaptable vessels rather than expensive, specialised ones, a defence thinktank said on Monday.

People look on as Britain's Royal Navy ship HMS Albion leaves the northern Spanish port of Santander April 20, 2010. REUTERS/Vincent West

The Ministry of Defence is conducting a sweeping review of its future military requirements and is looking at ways to provide capability more cheaply — part of a government drive to slash a bulging budget deficit.

An article in the journal of the Royal United Services Institute said Britain needs at least 10 more frigates and that ships in the current fleet were nearing the end of their useful life.

“Real world tasks urgently require significantly more surface combatants, of lower cost and capability. Use of the sea demands presence along the sea routes,” the article, by retired Vice-Admiral Jeremy Blackham and Gwyn Prins, a professor at the London School of Economics, said.

The ships needed to fulfil these missions must have endurance, versatility, role adaptability and number, and be cheaper. Presence demands numbers,” it said.

Defence Ministry officials have said they would push for more ships and last week a senior official told Reuters the ministry was considering whether to scrap a 5.2 billion pound order for two new aircraft carriers.

That could provide cash for more smaller vessels.

Britain currently has over 70 warships, which include 24 frigates and destroyers. The institute’s article argued that these are becoming too old and said future orders should be “seriously cost-constrained” so that the ships were more basic and more could be bought.

The ministry has said one of its long-term aims is to push manufacturers for more modular, less specialised and cheaper ships that are seen as easier to sell abroad, part of a government drive to boost exports.

The article highlights Britain’s dependence on sea trade, citing Chamber of Shipping statistics that 95 percent of British trade by volume and 90 percent by value is carried by sea.

Reporting by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Angus MacSwan

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