HC Deb 12 April 1994 vol 241 cc4-5
5. Mr. Gill

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the average length of time taken to design and build a modern frigate.

Mr. Aitken

Once an affordable operational requirement has been agreed, it takes between eight and 12 years to design and build a modern frigate, depending on the complexity and development programmes of the weapon equipments to be fitted. Follow-on vessels to an existing design take some four years to build.

Mr. Gill

Does not my hon. Friend's answer underline the fact that, to all intents and purposes, the only naval vessels that we shall have in any future conflict or war are those that are in the fleet at present?

Mr. Aitken

No, that is not correct. There is, for example, a continuous rolling programme of vessel replacement and vessel building. There are currently 37 destroyers and frigates in the fleet, but three new type 23 frigates will be accepted into the Navy this year. Three are under construction and we hope to issue an invitation to tender for the next batch later this year. From that simple summary, my hon. Friend will realise that, in the event of hostilities breaking out, we should quickly be able to strengthen the number of ships available to the fleet.

Mr. George

Is not it so long since the Royal Navy operated a large fleet that it has lost all touch with reality?

Mr. Aitken

I am sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman, who is usually a staunch supporter of defence, suddenly indulge in knocking copy. Although the Royal Navy has, of course, reduced the size of its fleet since the days of the cold war, it remains one of the most powerful and effective maritime forces in the world. The fleet consists of some 122 ships, including, as I said, 37 destroyers and frigates, 20 submarines, 18 minehunters and three aircraft carriers, and other ships are under construction, including the landing platform helicopter ship. From that simple record, it is quite clear that the Royal Navy has not lost touch with reality.

Mr. Garnier

Can my hon. Friend tell me the equivalent time required by the Russian navy to build a modern frigate? Am I right in thinking that the Russians continue to build frigates and other front-line warships at an accelerating rate?

Mr. Aitken

The Russian shipyards are, indeed, continuing to build warships and submarines such as the Kilo submarine, some of which are being exported to countries such as Iran. I am afraid that I am not an expert on the time taken by Russian shipyards, but if Russian labour practices are anything to go by, they are considerably slower and less efficient than our own commendable yards.

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