The United Kingdom’s Royal Navy has been forced to admit that its flotilla of billion-dollar destroyers has a critical weakness: warm water.
The Royal Navy fields six Type 45 destroyers, which were first commissioned in 2009 and are designed to provide anti-air and anti-missile support. The ships cost about one billion pounds apiece, the equivalent of more than $1.4 billion. But despite being only a few years old, the ships are breaking down, apparently because they are being ordered to serve in areas with relatively warm water. While repeated mechanical failures were initially dismissed as “teething problems,” it now appears the ship’s engines are simply unable to cope with being in warm water for prolonged periods without having its engines overtaxed.
That’s hardly a welcome development, as the U.K. remains involved in military efforts against ISIS, Somali pirates, and other threats in the decidedly warm Middle East.
The news emerged during a Tuesday hearing in which executives with BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and other defense contractors were questions by members of Parliament. John Hudson of BAE (which built the Type 45) was grilled over a series of failures that have repeatedly crippled the Type 45 during service stints in the Persian Gulf and other regions dating to 2010.
According to the Financial Times, Hudson defended his company by saying the Type 45 was built to specifications, but that those specifications had not included extended service in the Gulf or other warm-water areas.
Similarly, Tomas Leahy of Rolls-Royce, which build the ship’s gas turbines, said the vessel was being exposed to far more arduous conditions than anticipated.
The Type 45’s runs on a type of electric propulsion that leaves it vulnerable if its engines fail, as this can also leave it without power in general. As a result, engine troubles have the power to make the ship particularly vulnerable.
“To have a £1 billion asset that you put into a war zone and we don’t know if those people we put there can come out alive — I am just astounded,” Scottish National MP Douglas Chapman said, according to the Financial Times.
The only solution is apparently spending tens of millions of pounds to fix up the ships, a substantial burden on the UK’s defense budget, which is much smaller than the U.S. defense budget.
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