A LACK of British warships to help reinforce a crucial Nato naval group in the face of the renewed threat from Russia has been branded a “national disgrace” by the former head of the Royal Navy.
Retired First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West said the UK government needs to find money for more frigates and destroyers.
His comments follow the revelation last week from Defence Minister Mark Francis that the UK has provided no ships for the Nato maritime patrol group in the eastern Atlantic since 2009.
The group was recently reinforced by Nato allies including the US, Canada and Turkey in the light of the Ukrainian crisis and concerns that Russian president Vladimir Putin has an expansionist agenda after annexing Crimea.
The Royal Navy has 19 destroyers and frigates and has to use them for other priorities such as piracy in the Pacific and defending the Falklands.
Admiral Lord West said: “The question is do we have enough frigates and destroyers? The answer is no, and this is an example of the problems we now face. For a major maritime nation it is a national disgrace.”
In the past week, three frigates have joined the Nato maritime patrol group in the eastern Atlantic.
The first of the three, the American USS Taylor, joined flagship HNoMS Thor Heyerdahl from Norway and FGS Magdeburg from Germany. These were followed by the Turkish frigate TCG Gemlik and the Canadian frigate HMCS Regina.
SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson MP said the lack of British warships indicated that the UK is failing to meet Scotland’s defence needs.
The SNP hopes that an independent Scotland will eventually have four frigates and would take part in the Nato group.
Mr Robertson said: “This is not surprising as the Ministry of Defence has confirmed there are even gaps when there are no vessels designated to monitor UK waters.”
He said that in the past three years Russian naval battle groups have arrived in Scottish waters, leading to Royal Navy ships having to be sent from Portsmouth.
He said: “During recent visits by the Russian navy, the MoD has needed to despatch ships from the south coast of England to Scottish waters because there are no appropriate conventional naval vessels based in Scotland.
“Scotland needs much better maritime security arrangements than the MoD currently provides. With independence, Scotland will have defence forces tailored to its needs.”
The row has again brought into focus the 2010 security and defence review which critics say means the UK now has to pick specific priorities and abandon former commitments.
The next strategic defence and security review is due to start next year and be published after the general election.
The new chairman of the defence select committee, Rory Stewart, has said that his committee will highlight weaknesses in the UK’s current SDSR which critics have said has left major gaps in the country’s security.
Labour shadow defence minister Vernon Coaker said: “The last SDSR was driven by cuts not strategy which has left many questions about the UK’s defence capabilities.”