Navy pays 2x purchase price to keep warship docked for 5 years

You'll never guess the name of the contractor


A contract has been awarded to keep a Royal Navy warship stored and unready for sea in dock for five years. The amount to be paid is approximately double what the ship cost to purchase in the first place.

HMS Victory on display in Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard

'Steal in measure,' quo' Brygandyne. 'There's measure in all things made!'

The vessel in question is HMS Victory, Nelson's famous flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, which remains in commission as a Royal Naval warship, though her seagoing days are long behind her. It has just been announced that a deal for her next five years' maintenance has been struck for £16m.

Historical records indicate that Victory - in her time one of the most powerful warships afloat - cost £63,176 to build, which according to the Bank of England is equivalent to just over £8m in today's money. The five-year maintenance deal will thus cost twice what it cost to build the ship in real terms.

The ship's website rather wildly states that Victory's purchase price "would be equivalent to the cost of building an aircraft carrier today", but this is well out: an aircraft carrier today costs billions, not millions, to build. The fact that military equipment has inflated in price faster than other things is quite well shown by the fact that at the time of Trafalgar Britain had no fewer than 22 triple-decker heavy line-of-battle ships and a further 69 two-deck, seventy-four-gun battleships all on active status - some 91 capital warships ready to fight, then. Today the Royal Navy is struggling to defend plans to return one day in the 2020s to the position of having a single aircraft carrier ready for sea.

Two new carriers are being built for the navy right now, but due to lack of funds and financial mismanagement only one will be completed and get any planes: the other will be put at "extended readiness" - that is mothballed, much as happened to Victory for her first 13 years after building. HMS Prince of Wales is expected to be at sea with a handful of aircraft as soon as 2020 - provided that the next two governments agree - but there's no prospect of a full strength air group any sooner than 2030.

Most of the expenses of HMS Victory are nowadays paid by a charitable trust, so in large part it's not the taxpayers coughing up for her surprisingly pricey maintenance. Still, though, given the context it's interesting that the contractor doing this expensive job is the same one building the new carriers and which is doing a lot of work on their expensive new planes - and whose tremendously expensive maintenance contracts on other British military equipment (Eurofighter, Tornado) are a big part of the problem with the UK armed forces today.

The contractor? BAE Systems, of course, the large and nowadays US-centred company which remains so inextricably entwined with the Ministry of Defence. ®

Bootnote

Apart from the quote in the pic caption, readers may also note Samuel Pepys' famous remark:

Then we went out and saw the manner and trouble of docking such a ship ... But, good God! what a deal of company was there from both yards to help to do it, when half the company would have done it as well. But I see it is impossible for the King to have things done as cheap as other men.

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