Royal Navy warships will be left without anti-ship missiles and be forced to rely on naval guns because of cost-cutting, the Ministry of Defence has admitted.
The Navy’s Harpoon missiles will retire from the fleet’s frigates and destroyers in 2018 without a replacement, while there will also be a two year gap without helicopter-launched anti-shipping missiles.
Naval sources said the decision was “like Nelson deciding to get rid of his cannons and go back to muskets” and one senior former officer said warships would “no longer be able to go toe-to-toe with the Chinese or Russians.”
Harpoon missiles are unlikely to be replaced for up to a decade, naval sources said, leaving warships armed only with their 4.5in Mk 8 guns for anti-ship warfare. Helicopter-launched Sea Skua missiles are also going out of service next year and the replacement Sea Venom missile to be carried by Wildcat helicopters will not arrive until late 2020.
One Naval source said: “We will be losing our missile capability in total for two years. We will still have the gun, but the range of that is about 17 miles, compared to Harpoon, which is about 80 miles….”
Rear-Adml Chris Parry, said: “It’s a significant capability gap and the Government is being irresponsible. It just shows that our warships are for the shop window and not for fighting….”
The Royal Air Force has long axed its own anti-ship missiles.