The Royal Navy has the painful experience of the absence of corvettes

The crisis unfolding today in the Strait of Hormuz acts, across the Channel, like an electric shock to public opinion, which suddenly becomes aware the reduced resources now available to the Royal Navy. Indeed, the most glorious navies in history, which for 3 centuries ensured a dominant position in the United Kingdom and its privileged place among the great nations, finds itself unable to deploy more than one destroyer and a frigate to protect commercial ships from possible boarding by Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats in the waters of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. And for good reason, between 1990 and the present day, the Royal Navy has seen its size go from 150 to less than 90 ships, with the removal of almost 30 frigates, ships which until recently constituted the backbone of its effectiveness.

If we can, and we must, point the finger at risky political decisions and the lack of anticipation on the part of public authorities who have kept their heads in the sand for far too long not to become aware of the limits of the doctrine of “Benefits of Peace”; if we can obviously blame the adventurism of Tony Blair who decided to follow the United States into Iraq, at the cost of a profound disorganization of the entire British Defense; we cannot ignore that the Royal Navy General Staff also has a significant share of responsibility in this situation.

HMS Duncan Type 45 2 Defense Analysis | Armed Forces Budgets and Defense Efforts | Military naval construction
The Royal Navy could have had 10 corvettes for the price of 2 of its 6 Type 45 destroyers

Indeed, like the majority of Western navies, the strategies of the British navy have favored, over the last 20 years, the construction of large naval units, over the number of smaller units, but also much less expensive. Thus, each British Type 45 anti-aircraft destroyer will have cost a whopping £1,1 billion, or €1,4 billion at the exchange rate when they were built. The building, equivalent to the Franco-Italian Horizons class, has a substantial armament of 48 silos of Aster 15 and 30 missiles, as well as anti-ship missiles, a 127mm cannon, and close defense systems. But for the price of a Type 45, the Royal Navy could have built 4 or even 5 anti-submarine corvettes, similar to the Gowind 2500, with anti-aircraft self-defense capabilities, but anti-ship capabilities and ASM equivalent or even superior to the Type 45. Thus, by giving up 2 Type 45s, the format of the British Navy's surface combatant fleet could have increased by 10 units, 15 without the 7th Astute submarines.

The Royal Navy, like the French Navy, ignored the intermediate segment between the large offshore units and the action units at sea, and are today paying the price. Let us recall in this respect that the French Navy had already eliminated the notion of aviso, therefore of corvettes, since the reclassification of the A69s into "Offshore Patrollers", and that the Mercator plan, presented by Admiral Prazuck, makes no mention of no second-rate frigate program, the Stealthy Light Frigates being partly intended to provide interim support for the IDF during the withdrawal of the T70s, and partly to be sold on the second-hand market within a few years.

FLF Marine Nationale Defense Analyzes | Armed Forces Budgets and Defense Efforts | Military naval construction
The replacement of the LaFayette class FLF is not planned by the “MERCATOR” plan of the French Navy

Until now, political and military authorities justified this narrowing of format by international cooperation, arguing that military operations were now a coalition affair. Here again, the awakening was painful for the Royal Navy. Because except France, no one in Europe has yet formally agreed to actively participate in the mission to protect maritime traffic in the Strait of Hormuz. Not out of national selfishness, but through lack of resources, none of the navies requested having vessels that could be deployed in this way in an unplanned mission. Even France has not, for the moment, indicated what resources could be allocated to this mission.

We can only hope for an easing of tensions with Iran. But whatever happens, this crisis will have served as a revealer of the errors of judgment which governed the current awareness. We can only hope that this lasts beyond media time, and that finally, European armies once again take into consideration the virtue of numbers, and not just technological and unitary power.

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