14 May 2024

Shapps says new ships for Royal Marines will learn lessons from Ukraine war

14 May 2024

New drone-carrying ships for the Royal Marines will draw on lessons learned from the Ukraine war and the Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, Grant Shapps said.

The Defence Secretary confirmed that up to six multi-role support ships (MRSS) – designed to deliver commandos onto coastlines around the world to conduct special operations – would be built.

Mr Shapps said “we will definitely build the first three” vessels for the Royal Marines and will plan to construct the next three.

“What we’re trying to do is create a multi-role ship which they can use in all different circumstances,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

“Actually, interestingly, we’re learning from what’s happened in the Black Sea in Ukraine and learning what’s happening in the Red Sea currently to make much more flexible ships capable of carrying out a lot of different types of tasks.”

Mr Shapps claimed the UK was experiencing a “golden age” of shipbuilding, with up to 28 Royal Navy vessels either being constructed or planned.

Russia’s Black Sea fleet has proved vulnerable to attacks from Ukrainian missiles and drones.

In the Red Sea, Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen have used weapons to target merchant vessels and international warships protecting the vital trade routes.

The MRSS vessels are designed to carry a “broad range” of unmanned drones along with vehicles, aircraft and insertion craft.

They will also be able to act as primary casualty receiving ships, providing urgent medical care.

First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Ben Key, said: “I am delighted that the Secretary of State has cemented the future of our Royal Marines by committing to this new class of up to six amphibious vessels.

“These will be the most capable amphibious warships the nation has ever owned, designed to be fully interchangeable with our closest allies in Europe, and in Nato.”

Meanwhile, Type 23 frigates HMS Argyll and HMS Westminster will be retired.

“While always sad to pay off such fine warships, their decommissioning marks the next stage of our reinvestment in new, more modern frigates,” the First Sea Lord said.

It come after Rishi Sunak set out a plan to increase defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product by 2030, which the Government says amounts to an extra £75 billion, though that figure has been disputed by economists and political opponents.

The Defence Secretary used a speech at Lancaster House on Tuesday to urge Nato allies to meet the target, saying it would “put us in an immeasurably better position.”

“Remember, we already outrank Russia… I just think we need to make sure that it is put beyond doubt, because when you deter adversaries, you don’t end up having to fight a more expensive war down the line,” he said.

Asked during a media Q&A afterwards how the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would find the personnel to man the new warships and whether he would like to more manpower, Mr Shapps said: “Would I like more personnel? I’m the Defence Secretary, of course…

“Sure I’d like more of this, that and the other, including personnel, but actually what I really want to do is take this extra £75 billion and make sure we spend it in a way that provides the ultimate and best protection for us as a country and for us to do good in the world.”

He added that armed forces applications have gone “through the roof” recently and that he believes the UK has “finally got onto the right track” as far as training new recruits is concerned.

Asked whether he would be happy for British weapons to be used on Russian soil, Mr Shapps said: “As you know, we have provided permission for weapons to be used in the territory of Ukraine, including Crimea… I won’t go beyond that in talking about tactics, but I will tell you that we will always only allow our weaponry to be used in full compliance with international humanitarian law, in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

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