HMS Bulwark Sunderland Air Show

Defence Secretary: Retiring UK's Amphibious Capabilities Early Is Just 'Speculation'

Sir Michael Fallon faced intense questioning over whether there were plans to get rid of HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion to balance the MoD's...

HMS Bulwark Sunderland Air Show

The Defence Secretary has denied that there are plans in place to scrap the UK’s amphibious capability as part of efficiency savings.

His remarks during the Defence Select Committee meeting follow press speculation that HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark could be sold off to help balance the MoD’s books.

During today’s proceedings, Sir Michael Fallon faced tough questioning from his peers. With quite a heated exchange taking place between members of the Defence Committee and the Defence Secretary over the future of the UK’s amphibious capability.

The committee seemed deeply concerned about rumours in the press that the MoD is planning to get rid of HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark early, as part of efficiency savings.

These two assault ships allow troops to conduct beach landings, something that the new aircraft carriers cannot.

Conservative MP, Johnny Mercer, described the ships as one of the “most vital” defence options the UK has at its disposal, as well as the “most capable”.

Johnny Mercer MP went on to say the amphibious capabilities are:

 "So important to this nation, not only over the past 20-30 years, but in fact the past 10-15 years, and only this summer doing humanitarian operations. I do worry that it is not going to have the emphasis placed on it as much as it should do.”

The Defence Secretary refuted claims that HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion could be retired early to help the defence budget

Sir Michael Fallon refuted claims of retiring the ships early: “In the 2015 review, we made it clear that Bulwark would enter a period of low readiness from last month. And Albion would take over the role, so we are not anyway planning to deploy them both together.

"The Queen Elizabeth Carriers will be able to carry more personnel than those ships, they will have larger armouries and they will be able to carry more helicopters. So it will actually give us better literal capabilities than we have at the moment with Albion and Bulwark."

Committee Chair Julian Lewis disagreed with Sir Michael as there was no way an aircraft carrier could ever substitute Albion and Bulwark, and the stealthy beach landings that those ships facilitate.

When questioned about the future defence budget, Sir Michael said he was 'ambitious'

The Defence Secretary was later asked about the defence budget, and why it remains at 2% of GDP while other high spending departments such as the NHS and welfare have more money.

In response Sir Michael described the 2% as a minimum floor, calling himself as “ambitious” with defence.

"We believe that the expenditure plan that we’ve set out is sufficient to meet the objectives set out in the strategic defence review that we set back in 2015." He said.

Adding we have a:

“Growing budget and on my watch it will continue to grow.”

The session was held against the backdrop of an ongoing national security review, which is being carried out in response to the changing intensifying threat from Russia, terror attacks and in response to fallout from the Brexit vote.