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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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Type 26 isn't the kind of ship the Navy needs to use: It's the kind of ship that BAE Systems needs to make

In fact, the only kind of ship that BAE Systems' UK yards and factories might be able to make and sell is a Type 26 or something very like it. And people might buy it: Blighty isn't the only country saddled with a hidebound naval hierarchy whose ideas on force structure are still largely formed by the fleets of World War II. Plus, lots of other countries simply have no access to things like Tomahawks and proper maritime aircraft.

So, fine - let British shipyards sell their overpriced, obsolete frigates to other navies if they can; and let the Royal Navy buy proper kit.

Whoa there! That's not how it goes. If BAE Systems wants to make something, it gets its development costs covered by the MoD: those are the rules. Indeed, everyone concerned admits that the Type 26 project is as much about keeping BAE's yards and design offices open as it is about getting some ships.

“Type 26 is a key component in sustaining a surface warship capability in UK industry," says BAE's surface-warship chief Alan Johnston.

"Programmes like the Type 26 ... also sustain the industry that supports them," adds Defence secretary Bob Ainsworth. "These commitments will protect the long-term future of the maritime industry ... The commitments the MOD has made will protect skills and employment, and preserve the industrial capability."

Or in other words we need to have some frigates so as to avoid closing our frigate yards, so that we will be able to have even more frigates in future. Tail wags dog: ice-cream licks itself.

Business as usual, then, in the UK military-industrial complex. ®

Bootnote

*The frigate's medium-frequency active sonar can only find a sub at ranges so close that the sub will already have torpedoed the ship before it is detected - it is basically useless. Some RN frigates now have longer-ranging low frequency active sonar, but it still makes more sense to mount such kit on copters which can move about much faster and can't be torpedoed.

Lewis Page served as a Royal Navy officer (non-aviator, non-Marine) for 11 years, but managed to stay out of frigates and destroyers almost the entire time. That wasn't going to last much longer, however, so he left rather than spend the next decade wasting his time and the taxpayers' money.

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