MPs warn scrapping frigates puts UK at risk
Scrapping four Westcountry-based warships has put national security at risk, MPs have warned in damning criticism of defence cuts.
The Type 22 frigates based at Devonport Naval Base were axed in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review as ministers attempted to fill a £38 billion black hole in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) budget.
The next generation of Nimrod maritime surveillance aircraft was also cancelled. The project was already years late and hundreds of millions of pounds over budget.
A report published by the House of Commons Defence Committee said that the decisions have created a "capability gap" in maritime surveillance, leaving the UK dependent on other nations for support.
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Planned withdrawal of Sea King helicopters in 2016, which are based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, will make matters worse, they argue.
Committee chairman James Arbuthnot MP said: "We are unconvinced that the MoD has the capacity to respond to any escalation in the risks that may appear beyond the UK's shores.
"Furthermore we believe the risk is likely to worsen in the medium term as further maritime surveillance capabilities are withdrawn or not yet filled."
Ministers have yet to decide what to do with the Type 22 fleet of HMS Campbeltown, HMS Chatham, HMS Cornwall and HMS Cumberland. But they are likely to meet a similar end to the former Navy flagship HMS Ark Royal, which was last week sold to a Turkish scrap metal firm in a £3 million deal.
The warships were prized for their intelligence-gathering capabilities, boasting the MoD's only combination of systems enabling wide-ranging monitoring of the frequencies and wavelengths from the sea.
In evidence to the committee, then Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey confirmed there would be no funding for a replacement for the Type 22s before 2015. Although the MoD's own capability investigations have concluded that a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) is the solution to the UK's requirements over the next 20 years, there will be no decision on whether to commission such a plane until the next SDSR in 2015, said the report.
Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said: "This is a worrying and serious criticism of Government policy. Ministers rushed for short-term savings and seemingly ignored long-term security needs. David Cameron is presiding over decline in defence, not planning for the future."
Armed Forces Minister Andrew Robathan said maritime surveillance is being delivered by a "wide range of military assets", including ships, submarines and helicopters.
He added: "Tough decisions had to be taken to get the MoD's books back into balance and cancelling the Nimrod MRA4 programme was the right decision."