Royal Navy warships are reportedly to be left without anti-ship missiles and forced to rely on naval guns, due to cost-saving measures.
The MoD has admitted that the Royal Navy’s Harpoon missiles will be retired from frigates and destroyers in 2018, according to the Telegraph.
A Harpoon missile launched from Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond
New missiles won’t be brought into service until 2020, and these will be helicopter-borne.
Sources within the Royal Navy are said to have equated the move to "Nelson deciding to get rid of his cannons and go back to muskets", because after 2018 ships will be forced to rely entirely on naval guns for combat.
Guns have a range of 17 miles, compared to 80 for Harpoon missiles.
The new helicopter-launched missiles, meanwhile, will be Sea Venoms. The current helicopter-borne missile, the Sea Skua, has an operational range of 25km (15.63 miles). A spokesman for MBDA, which is making the Sea Venom, has said its range will be around 20km (12.5 miles).
He added, however, that the Sea Venom will have other improved capabilities, such as the ability to directly control four missiles from the cockpit at the same time.
The Royal Navy reportedly isn’t likely to get new ship-borne missiles for a decade, however.
Currently, the core of the Royal Navy’s fighting fleet is made up of six Type 45 (or Daring-class) destroyers and 13 Type 23 (or Duke-class) frigates, both of which are currently equipped with Harpoon missiles.
Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan (foreground) escorting a Russian Kirov battlecruiser, and the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov
Destroyers are designed for anti-aircraft and anti-missile combat.
The ships currently in the class are HMS Daring (D32), HMS Dauntless (D33), HMS Diamond (D34), HMS Dragon (D35), HMS Defender (D36), and HMS Duncan (D37).
Frigates were originally meant for anti-submarine combat but have since been used in other capacities, including peacekeeping and maritime security.
The 13 frigates in the fleet are HMS Argyll (F231), HMS Lancaster (F229), HMS Iron Duke (F234), HMS Monmouth (F235), HMS Montrose (F236), HMS Westminster (F237), HMS Northumberland (F238), HMS Richmond (F239), HMS Somerset (F82), HMS Sutherland (F81), HMS Kent (F78), HMS Portland (F79), and HMS St Albans (F83).
Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans returns to Portsmouth
Retired Rear-Admiral Chris Parry called the government irresponsible and said that the decision makes Royal Navy warships more suited to the shop window than naval combat.
Another naval source said that the loss of offensive range would mean that the Royal Navy couldn’t go "toe-to-toe with the Chinese or Russians".
In addition, naval expert at the IISS (International Institute for Strategic Studies) Nick Childs pointed out that Britain is cutting the anti-ship Harpoon missiles at the same time the US has become more critical of maritime fighting:
"It must be a great concern that this capability is going to be removed without immediate or direct replacement because we are moving into an era of concern about a more contested maritime environment".
Meanwhile, a Royal Navy spokesman has said that all Royal Navy ships have a range of offensive and defensive systems, with an increasing budget (currently of £178 billion) behind them, and that "upgrade options to all our weapons are kept under constant review".
Cover image: HMS Diamond, a Type 45 (Daring-class) destroyer with AugustaWestland Merlin helicopter (which can be armed with anti-submarine torpedoes)
Source: Forces TV