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Royal Navy starts work on new, pointless frigates

First two: HMSs Wag The Dog and Self-Licking Icecream

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What would a real 'combat ship' designed for combat look like?

All in all, for just about any job likely or unlikely, a fleet auxiliary with a helicopter deck and aircraft suited to the task would be better, as well as being much cheaper. A proper carrier, able to operate jets as well as helicopters, would be far and away better still. A frequent justification for frigates and destroyers is that you need them to protect carriers, but the fact of the matter is that carriers can protect themselves on their own far better than the escort ships can.

And then a carrier or a fleet auxiliary actually can support operations ashore usefully, too, unlike a frigate.

Given that the Royal Navy is struggling desperately to afford carriers right now - and will then struggle to afford aircraft to fly from them - the decision to spend £127m on a new frigate design right now seems frankly bizarre. And this is only the first of two such designs, we are told by BAE.

None of this is to say that there might not be a place for some surface warships other than full-blown carriers in the Royal Navy of the future. A rational navy would probably buy something very like a fleet-auxiliary helicopter ship, with provision made for proper Tomahawk cruise missiles to be installed as well if required.

Such a vessel, working with a radar helicopter above, would be able to sweep the seas of Type 26s and their like before they ever came near. It would be able to cruise-missile shore targets from far out in the offing with impunity. It would be able to sweep pirates from vast swathes of ocean using quickly reacting helicopter-carried boarding parties of marines, or put ashore (and support) a worthwhile little landing force. Equipped with Merlin anti-sub helicopters, it would hunt subs very well indeed should there be any to hunt.

And it would almost certainly cost less than a Type 26 too. That actually would be a "combat ship", if you like.

But it wouldn't offer a viable career path for a naval officer who wasn't an aviator or a marine - as most of today's Royal Naval officers are not.

Nor would ships like that offer any opportunities for British industry. They would be basically merchant ships with flight decks bolted on and fittings for Tomahawks. British shipyards can't build floating steel boxes at prices to compete with yards abroad: they need to have sonars and radars and guns and missiles and complexity built into the design so as to justify a huge price markup.

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