The Navy has announced that the eight Type 26 frigates will be based at Devonport. This brings to an end the uncertainty about which port would be used and which resulted in a number of local campaigns to preserve Devonport as a surface ship base after it had also been reported HMS Bulwark and Albion were to be sold and up to 1,000 Royal Marines either removed from RN strength or moved elsewhere. It would have meant that, apart from the submarine depot, Devonport would have become a vestige of its former self, a sad end to a 300-year history as a naval-base for surface ships.
The decision follows a number of lengthy debates and discussions with the two competing naval bases, Portsmouth and Devonport.
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Announcing the decision, Mr Williamson, the Defence Secretary, said: ‘The largest naval base in western Europe, Devonport is the lifeblood of Plymouth and is as synonymous with this city as it is with our famous Royal Navy.”
As an indication of the increase in capability, the eight Type 26 ships will replace the current fleet of thirteen Type 23 Duke-class frigates, although some aspects of their design and associated equipment deficiencies are a cause for concern amongst navy-watchers. By the time the first of class is due to be commissioned in the mid-2020s, some believe there might be issues with radar coverage as older equipment is removed from service including the Sea Kings with their early-warning radar. A replacement, called Crowsnest, is due to enter service in about two years, but some are questioning whether it will actually be ready given the likelihood of programme delays with such items. For its part, the Navy has made it clear that a combination of E-3 Sentry, Wildcat helicopters and other systems will be more than capable of providing the required level of coverage.
The ships will be fully capable of worldwide deployment, with the main tasks of anti-submarine warfare as well as escorts for the two new aircraft carriers. They are said to be very stealthy in the water, making very little noise and are hard to detect by would-be attacking submarines. It might be assumed that their co-location with a large slice of the UK submarine fleet will make good sense in terms of joint training in all aspects of submarine warfare and defence.