UK MoD Avoids Commitments to Amphibious Capability

The Defence Committee publishes its Sixth Special Report on The Royal Marines and UK amphibious capability [HC 1044].

Following the initiation of the National Security Capability Review in 2017, reports began emerging that substantial cuts in the Royal Marines and the disposal of both of the Royal Navy’s specialist amphibious assault ships fifteen years early were being considered by the Government as part of the review. The Defence Committee resolved to inquire into amphibious forces and their importance to UK Defence.

The Committee’s report, published in February 2018, concluded that such reductions would be “militarily illiterate” and “totally at odds with strategic reality”. It emphasised that the UK’s amphibious capability is a military specialism of the highest value in current and future operations, and that further cuts to an already reduced force would end its status as one of the UK’s leading strategic assets.

The Government’s response repeatedly re-states the Government’s commitment to the future of the UK’s amphibious forces but gives no guarantee that there will be no future cuts in the numbers of Royal Marines or amphibious ships.

The response seeks to maintain the Government’s position that the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers can take the place of specialised amphibious vessels, such as HMS Ocean which was recently sold to Brazil. The evidence the Committee gathered in the course of its inquiry clearly demonstrates that amphibious operations require specially configured warships manned by highly-trained amphibious specialists. Anything less results in exposing vessels and the personnel manning them to an unreasonable level of operational risk.

Although equipment and manpower requirements will vary with each operation, the response does not adequately address the Committee’s point that reductions to the amphibious force can only further limit the range of options available to a commander on operations. The diversifying threats that the UK is facing should mandate an increase, rather than a decrease, in theatre-entry capabilities.

Chair's comments

Commenting on the publication of the Government’s response, the Chairman of the Defence Committee, Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis said:

"Through its ongoing Modernising Defence Programme, the Government has the opportunity to re-examine the assets that we need to meet our strategic priorities and ensure our national security. We hope that the Ministry of Defence will reflect on the flexibility and range of capability offered by the UK’s amphibious forces and make firm commitments that no further damaging reductions will take place."

Click here for the Government Response (17 PDF pages) to the report on The Royal Marines and UK amphibious capability, on the UK Parliament website.

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