A UK Defence Committee report has said that the Royal Navy has a "woefully low" number of operational vessels, and lacks the required personnel to renew them.
The report stated that ‘the current number of frigates, destroyers and personnel inadequately reflects the potential threats and vulnerabilities facing the UK and its interests overseas’.
According to the report, the navy’s forces have shrunk to "dangerously low levels", from 13 destroyers and 53 frigates in 1980 to six destroyers and 13 frigates today.
The committee has sought a detailed plan from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the replacement of 13 ageing frigates while maintaining its existing operational fleet. The frigates are due to leave service at the rate of one per year between 2023 and 2035.
The MoD is currently planning to introduce two new classes of frigate, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship and the Type 31 General Purpose Frigate, and is refitting Type 45 destroyers' engines in a bid to modernise the Royal Navy's escort fleet.
The report comes in the wake of the forthcoming National Shipbuilding Strategy, and calls for the strategy to provide the necessary details on how and when the Royal Navy’s new frigates will be delivered.
Defence Committee chairman Dr Julian Lewis said: “The National Shipbuilding Strategy offers the potential not just to manage this work efficiently and effectively, but also to reverse the trend of ever-decreasing numbers.
“To do this, however, it has to contain the degree of detail and scheduling for which we have asked.
“The Ministry of Defence must deliver this programme of modernisation on time. If it fails to do so, the Government will break its categorical pledge to maintain at least 19 frigates and destroyers, already a pathetically low total.
“The United Kingdom will then lack the maritime strength to deal with the threats we face right now, let alone in the future.”
The report recommends the strategy for setting out a detailed timeline for the delivery of Type 26 Global Combat Ships and Type 31 General Purpose Frigates.
Additional recommendations are the criteria that will adjudge the expansion of the UK's share of the export market in warships, and the numbers of apprenticeships needed in key trades and how it will monitor them to ensure there are no longer-term skills gaps.