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MPs slam 'disgraceful' Type 45 destroyers

You don't know the half of it, Mr Leigh

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That's not 'disgraceful', that's normal

Late, overbudget, doesn't work yet? That's not 'disgraceful', that's normal. But Type 45 will be disgracefully bad value even once it's sorted.

You'd really have to take issue with the "most capable" idea even once Sea Viper is in service, considering the example of America's latest Flight IIA Arleigh Burke ships, air-defence destroyers too. These carry two helicopters to the Type 45's one, and 96 missiles to the Type 45's 48. They can fire Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets hundreds of miles inland - the main useful employment for surface warships in modern wars.

The American ships bristle with other useful weapons. Their Aegis/Standard missile system, unlike PAAMS/Sea Viper, can be upgraded to shoot SM-3 interceptors, able to knock down targets in low orbit or ballistic missiles fired by rogue states.

Aegis ships can also fire the latest SM-2s if the problem is sea-skimmer attacks; here the high siting of the Type 45's Sampson and cunning French tech in the Aster 15 missile might offer some advantage*, but one probably more than counterbalanced by the Aegis ship's much larger missile magazine and the endless millions poured into developing the SM-2 over the years by America.

Disgracefully indeed, buying a hugely more powerful Arleigh Burke type ship would have actually been a lot cheaper than Type 45; and we could still have handed out a bit of good news to politically-important UK shipyards. South Korea's KDX-IIIs, essentially Arleigh Burkes in locally built hulls, are estimated to cost 1.2 trillion won apiece. That's less than half the price of a Type 45 at today's rates, for a hugely better ship. And the Korean shipyards got lots of lovely government work on KDX-III, just as Clydeside did with Type 45.

Defending itself against the Parliamentary report, the MoD points out that PAAMS/Sea Viper has actually been tested - just on a trials barge in southern France, rather than in a Type 45. After all, it is largely a French and Italian system.

"The government is surprised and disappointed that the Committee does not recognise the extensive trials that have taken place," says kit minister Quentin Davies. "In these circumstances, the use of the word ‘disgrace’ obviously makes no sense at all and is absurd.”

He has a point. PAAMS/Sea Viper, once it's finally fitted and working, will probably be very good against sea-skimming missiles and moderately capable against targets further off (though the ships will have no anti-surface capability to speak of, again very disappointingly). But actually it's no new thing for Royal Navy ships to be supplied in a non-functional condition; the previous class to arrive, the Type 23 frigates, had no working combat computer system for several years after their entry into the fleet (and this is every bit as serious as it sounds).

So perhaps the term "disgraceful" is a bit harsh for merely supplying ships years late, massively over budget and without their main weapon system. That would actually be about par for the course in the MoD.

But deliberately choosing to pay double for mostly French and Italian weapons, thus rendering yourself so cash-strapped as to turn the resulting ships into largely irrelevant one-trick ponies, when you could have bought powerful Aegis ships in a Scottish tin... that's disgraceful, yes. ®

Bootnote

*Not in the case of a fleet or task group with a proper airborne-radar aircraft up, of course. But as the expense of the Type 45 seems likely to mean no proper, fully capable flying radar for the RN in the foreseeable future, we may be glad of the Sampson's measly 30m height above the waves one day.

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