Royal Navy Insists UK Is 'protected' While All Major Warships Are Docked

The Royal Navy has insisted Britain's interests remain "protected" at sea, following a Times report that it has "no major warships on operations anywhere in the world."

An anonymous serving military officer told the paper that it was a "strategic embarrassment for the country and a strategic embarrassment for defense" to have none of the navy's 19 frigates or destroyers overseas.

The full contingent of six Type 45 destroyers are back in Portsmouth for maintenance or because of staffing issues, according to the report, while all 13 Type 23 Frigates are either at Portsmouth or Devonport.

But, a navy spokesperson said, "The Royal Navy is deployed globally on operations and will be protecting our national interests throughout Christmas and New Year.

"There will be 13 ships and submarines deployed away and in home waters, as well as the at sea nuclear deterrent."

Type 45 Destroyer
The Royal Navy’s Type 45 Destroyer HMS Defender sails into HM Naval Base Portsmouth, July 25, 2012 in Portsmouth, England. According to reports, the U.K. has no major warships on active deployment. Chris Mumby/MoD Crown Copyright via Getty Images

Other classes of ships that have been, or remain, on duty around the globe include the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, which has recently returned from supporting hurricane victims in the Caribbean, and the ice patrol ship HMS Protector, which is assisting with the search for missing Argentinian submarine ARA San Juan.

But, the unnamed officer told The Times, not having at least one of the navy's "main surface combatants" overseas could damage the perception of Britain as always being ready to deploy at will. "It is bad news for defense and for our country," they said.

Malcolm Chalmers, the Deputy Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said that while people shouldn't be overly alarmed at the disclosure, the situation could raise questions, and highlights the level of demand on the navy at a time of rising global tensions.

"In terms of the overall capability of the navy I think you can over-interpret this," he told Newsweek. "The navy is in the middle of a very large investment program, it's modernizing and replacing a large proportion of its ships.

"I think people will ask questions: why it is with the major investment going into the navy that at this particular moment the levels of deployment seem so low? Certainly if that were to be a trend over time it would be worrying."

Chalmers said "[This sheds] light on the reality that while the U.K. does have commitments and wants to maintain a role in a wide range of places around the world, at any one time it can't maintain a presence in all of them.

"This particular moment seems quite exceptional but even when more normal operational patterns are restored, we can't be everywhere at once.

"One of the reasons for increased strain on the military," Chalmers said, "is that over the last three to four years, there's a big increase in concern about where Russia is going.

"While that's been centred on Ukraine and Eastern Europe there's also concern about increased Russian submarine and indeed surface ship activity in the North East Atlantic.

"For 20 years the royal navy has been more focused on a global role. It's now had to add to its tasks an increasing emphasis on the north east Atlantic."