Sunday, July 24, 2016

Shipbuilding row: our sailors deserve ships which are fit for purpose.

There is currently a row about childish tweets from the SNP leader over a shipbuilding contract to provide the Royal Navy's next generation of frigates, which are due to be built in Scotland.

There appear to be some genuine issues with this major order, which shipbuilding workers on the Clyde were promised before the 2014 Scottish referendum vote.

But the petulant nonsense from the SNP leader is hardly the best way to deal with those issues.

The Royal Navy needs the Type 26 Global Combat ship to replace the aging Type 23 frigates. People whose opinions I respect are saying that there is good reason to start building these ships as soon as is compatible with ensuring they are fit for purpose.

And there is the issue. We have recently had problems with regard to the engines of the navy's new £1 billion each Type 45 destroyers which are liable to break down in hot climates. The last thing our sailors need is another set of massively expensive warships which are not fit for purpose.

Last month we commemorated the 100th anniversary of a battle which showed all too clearly what happens when British sailors are sent to sea in ships with serious design flaws.

The battle of Jutland in 2016 should have been remembered as a great British victory in which the German navy was outwitted, outfought, and had to run for their lives. The strategic impact of the battle was that for the rest of the war the German Fleet never again challenged the British.

But compared with the Germans, the Royal Navy ships at Jutland did not have adequate measures in place to prevent a magazine explosion in the event of damage to a turret. Our battleships had thick enough armour, and hit the Germans so much harder than they were hit themselves, that they all survived the battle, but for the British battlecruisers, which were not as well protected, it was a different story. Three of the nine RN battlecruisers at Jutland blew up with the loss of almost their entire crews, each of over a thousand officers and men.

The loss of those ships allowed the Germans to present Jutland as a victory and far worse, it cost more than three thousand lives.

There could not be a better illustration of the need to get the design of the navy's new ships right.

By all means ask the tough questions about whether and why the ships will be delayed and what the consequences might be. But tweeting, as Nicola Sturgeon did, that a possible delay is

"a disgraceful betrayal of the Clyde shipyard workers - and a breach of the promise made in #indyref.”

does not address the real issues of balancing the very real need to get these ships into service for all sorts of reason - and yes, that includes the jobs of Clyde shipbuilding workers - with the need to ensure that the new Global Combat ships are fit for purpose and will not lose power and weapon systems in hot weather.

And as Ruth Davidson asked, "Remind me again of the number of warships you planned to build in an independent Scotland?

(The answer was zero.)

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