Britainís £384 million contract last week to buy three new patrol boats for the Royal Navy was no surprise.
Officials a year ago had said the deal was likely to keep the countryís shipyards busy until design and construction of new Type 26 frigates gets underway over the coming years.
The three new ships will be nearly 300 feet long, larger that the current River-class patrol boats, and capable of global operations ó making them a welcome addition to a Royal Navy fleet that comprises only 19 destroyers and frigates.
But make no mistake: These patrol craft, however large and capable, must not be seen as replacements for any of the 13 planned Type 26 frigates. The Type 26s will replace 13 existing and aging Type 23 ships, at a cost of roughly £4 billion.
Likewise, the new patrol boats should not replace the existing three River-class ships, but serve alongside them to augment the size of the fleet.
More importantly, the new deal comes as the Navy prepares to make its case to the Cameron government for the Type 26. These ships must be superior to the Type 23s they will replace, which while old are among the best multimission frigates in the world, with broad capabilities and long range.
With the next strategic defense and security review approaching after elections next spring, itís important the government remember that throughout its history, Britain has invested in the Royal Navyís ability to provide global reach, presence and power ó attributes that have allowed Britain to uniquely shape diplomatic and military outcomes without the risk of entanglement.