Military leaders and MPs have warned cost-cutting plans to the UK Navy involving the sale of warships to Chile and Brazil will harm Britain’s ability to undertake major amphibious operations.
Officials in the South American countries are reportedly eyeing up two Royal Navy amphibious landing platform ships and Type-23 frigates, which may go on sale in 2018 as part of plans drawn up by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, to save up to £30bn in the next decade.
However Maj Gen Julian Thompson, a retired Royal Marines officer who commanded 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War, said the ships were “absolutely vital”.
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.
“If you give this capability away, you can’t get it back in a hurry.”
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 went on: “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.”
Wayne David, MP for Caerphilly in Wales took to twitter to say:
Can be no doubt that Govt is actively considering cutting HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark after listening to Fallon at Defence Select Committee.
— Wayne David (@WayneDavid_MP) October 25, 2017
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.
A 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.”