Defence: Type 45 Destroyers - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 23 February 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour 3:07, 23 February 2022

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when all of the Type 45 destroyers will have completed the Power Improvement Project (PIP) upgrade.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, it is planned that all six Type 45 ships will have received the power improvement project conversion by 2028.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, I have great respect for the Minister and her buoyant way of answering questions, but I have to say that with her brief she is a bit like a Tommy in the First World War being told to be go over the top. The PIP has been an absolute disaster. We knew in 2009 that there was a problem with our destroyers—we only have six of them. It took three years to work out how to resolve it—to 2012. It took another two years to say, “We will find some money within the programme to do this”. The first one went in for work in 2020, that was the “Dauntless” in May, and we were told she would be out by early 2021. “Dauntless” has still not rejoined the fleet. “Daring” is about to go in and have this done. One has very severe doubts about when this will be completed.

My real concern is that when you go to war, you have to fight with what you have, and it seems to me that when you have only six destroyers, if they are not working properly, you should be pushing as hard and fast as possible to do it. British workmen can do this. When I came from the Arctic down to the UK before the Falklands, they told me it would take 10 weeks to sort my gun out. The Argentinians invaded, a team came on board and said, “Skipper, we will sort it out in two days.” So, we could do these things quicker and we really must, because we are in a very dangerous world. In the context of this case, are we putting money from the reserve now into our military programmes to fill where there are real gaps because we are in such a dangerous world?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Let me say to the noble Lord, who I thought was being somewhat uncharacteristically mean-spirited, that he will understand that the problems that beset the power propulsion systems of these destroyers have been long-standing—he is quite right about that. I reassure him and your Lordships that there is every determination to get these six destroyers installed with the power improvement project. In fact, “Dauntless” should be returning to sea this year for sea trials; “Daring” is already at Cammell Laird and programme conversion work on her will be carried out during 2022. It is important to say that these destroyers are hugely capable ships, they are universally admired across the world, and all naval operational requirements at home and abroad continue to be fulfilled.

Photo of Lord Boyce Lord Boyce Crossbench

My Lords, given the length of time before the Type 45 numbers will be up to operational scratch, with concomitant effect on our destroyer frigate force levels, will the Minister say what is being done to improve the in-service dates of the Type 31 and Type 26, whose build rate is lamentably slow? Speeding it up will certainly help mitigate the force level problem.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As the noble and gallant Lord will be aware, batch 1 of the Type 26 is under way and the first one, HMS “Glasgow”, should be in the water by the end of this year and is currently expected to enter service in 2027. On current plans, the following two, “Cardiff” and “Belfast”, will enter service in the late 2020s. On the Type 31, he will be aware that these are proceeding well and their estimated delivery schedule is for all five by the end of 2028. I think the noble and gallant Lord will understand that, as the manufacture continues, delivery of successive ships is not necessarily constant across the whole class. For example, for the Type 26 batch 1, there should be one every 18 months and for the Type 31, there should be one every eight to 12 months.

Photo of Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links Conservative

My Lords, as a former Glasgow representative, the Type 45s were built on my patch and I have seen first-hand the construction, launch, trials and service of various of the vessels. In their primary role as an air defence platform they have some outstanding capabilities, but the recent increased activity of the Russian navy highlights concerns about both reliability and lethality. Of the six vessels, there have been times where four, five or even all six have been unavailable for service. While air defence is a strength, the lack of anti-ship missiles continues to be a concern. Can I ask the Minister to give reassurance that, following the power improvement project upgrade, we expect to see increased reliability and availability of the Type 45? Can she tell us what anti-ship capabilities we have across the wider fleet, including the new Type 26 frigates?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Yes, as I have already indicated to my noble friend, the programme for the Type 45s is established, it is encouraging and the improvements will be made. As to the Type 26 frigates which are being produced in Glasgow, they will be muscular, they will be equipped with a Sea Ceptor anti-air missile defence system. They have been fitted with the Mark 41 vertical launch silo to allow future flexibility and they will also be capable of embarking a Merlin anti-submarine warfare helicopter or a Wildcat maritime attack helicopter, which will be able to apply Sea Venom and market variants of the future anti-surface guided weapon.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, the original PIP was supposed to refit between 2019 and 2021. The Minister for Defence Procurement then said the estimated date for the PIP to be completed was the mid-2020s; 2028, which the Minister mentioned earlier, is surely the late 2020s. Can she say whether she has any confidence in the figures that she has been given, and can she tell us how much of the £189 million budget for the PIP has been spent and whether she anticipates it going over budget?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I say to the noble Baroness that the programme is under way; it is scheduled, and the other Type 45s will be going in subject to their operational obligations and their availability for the refit. I think the noble Baroness should understand that the conversion is a complex engineering project. The noble Lord, Lord West, and I may disagree on many things, but I think we are both agreed on the technical complexity of this and it is being delivered against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. There has been a significant challenge that has tested industry and it has impacted the schedule, but we continue to monitor and review the programme.

Photo of Lord Houghton of Richmond Lord Houghton of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, as we have seen in Ukraine, the most important vector of attack in conflict below the threshold of formalised warfare is a form of politicised war based on an effective narrative. I am sure the problem of the Type 45’s power plant will be expensively resolved, but what steps are we taking to improve our speed and effectiveness in translating military activity into an effective political narrative?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am almost tempted to answer the question the other way around and say that, with the integrated review, the defence Command Paper and the allocation of budget to defence over the duration of this Parliament and exactly what that means for both equipment and shipbuilding, we have seen that there is a very manifest political resolve to support defence and ensure our capability is as good as it can be. As to the more strategic questions of how you relate what you are doing at the MoD end with what is required out on the front, as the noble and gallant Lord will understand, we are constantly assessing, identifying and recognising threat and addressing that with the multifaceted character of the capability we have.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, the chair of the Defence Select Committee recently said that

“our Navy will soon be too small to defend our interests and deal with emerging threats.”

Given that the noble Baroness has just told us that the six warships will not all be seaworthy until 2028, can the Government confirm that they have a Navy relevant to the needs of this country in terms of the threats we face? How does the fact that, at the beginning of February, all six warships were in dock help us defend our country and those of our allies?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As the noble Lord will be aware, all our ships are subject to planned maintenance schedules; that is how the Navy operates. As to the broader question of whether we have a Navy that is fit for purpose, I think the answer is yes, we do. If you look at the success of the carrier strike group, which was regarded as a universal declaration of naval strength across the globe, if you look at the supporting assets which were out in attendance to the carrier and if you consider that, for the first time in 30 years, we have two classes of frigate simultaneously under construction in UK yards—the noble Lord might be envious of that; I know he will regard that with pleasure, but it was not something that occurred when his party was in government—I would say that the Navy is in very good shape.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

My Lords, how many of these vessels remain ready to be deployed to the south Atlantic to respond to the recent threats from the Argentinians—supported by the Chinese, no less—in case they came to pass as they did in 1982?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Well, as I said earlier, we always build in an assessment of where the threat lies and how we counter it. As my noble friend will be aware, we are dealing with exceptional circumstances at the moment and are focusing our attention on addressing that threat. However, we do not neglect where threat may be emerging in other forms and other areas of the globe.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat

My Lords, since we are dealing with the question of equipment, can the Minister tell us if she is familiar with the Public Accounts Committee report of 3 November 2021? In relation to equipment, it said it was

“extremely disappointed and frustrated by the continued poor track record” of the Ministry of Defence and that that had resulted in a

“wastage of taxpayers’ money running into the billions.”

How can the ambitions of the integrated review ever be achieved unless the Ministry of Defence is able to run its defence budget?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The noble Lord is correct in quoting the committee and in that it identified areas of historic weakness, but as the noble Lord will be aware, radical reform has been undertaken in respect of procurement within the MoD. Arrangements are now much more tightly and robustly negotiated at the inception of a contract and much more ruthlessly and robustly monitored during its duration. Therefore, there is evidence of improvement and of that coming through in the finances.