Motivated by the balls-up of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, the hammering that the Royal Navy took and how the RAF somehow managed to escape with its Bugatti Veyron‘s intact, I took WEBF’s suggestion and emailed my local MP, Penny Mordaunt (Con, Portsmouth North) to express my views. Now, it would not be a surprise to many to state that my political views lean towards the left, but its only fair to see what my MP thinks.
Just to give a bit of background about the constituency, Ms Mordaunt was elected in May 2010 with a majority of 7,289. The seat had previously been held by Labour since the 1997 landslide. MP’s for Portsmouth North traditionally take a very strong interest in defence and naval affairs, given the proximity of the naval dockyard and the importance of the defence industry to the area. MP’s such as Frank Judd and Syd Rapson showed strong defence interests. Interestingly, Ms Mordaunt is currently training to be a naval reservist.
Here’s the email that I sent Ms Mordaunt:
Dear Penny Mordaunt,
I am a historian, specialising in military and naval history, inparticular modern conflicts such as WW1, WW1 and the Falklands War. Ialso run a blog discussing military history issues, in particular naval history analysis. I am writing to express my dismay at the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review. I am sure as a naval reservist you will share my incomprehension at how imbalanced the Review is. I feel that there isno overarching strategy to the Review, and that it leaves our armed forces serious imbalanced and in a very difficult position for facing uncertain times.
Scrapping the Invincible Class Carriers – and by default naval fixed wing aviation – as well as the bulk of the Royal Navy’s amphibious assets makes little sense, particularly when compared to the Army keeping the majority of its armoured units, and the RAF retaining the majority of its fast jets. The skills and expertise to not only run carrier-borne aircraft but to operate them to the high standard that the Fleet Air Arm historically has cannot simply be ‘turned off’ for 10 years and then turned on again as if nothing has happened. Naval aviation has repeatedly been proven to be more efficient and effective than land-based aviation in any case.
It would make far more sense to retain HMS Illustrious instead of HMS Ocean (which was built to inferior commercial standards and isreportedly in a poor state) – the Invincible Class carriers have acted effectively as helicopter carriers in the past. Maintaining a carrier capable of operating harriers would also allow us to host US, Spanish and Italian Harriers. Illustrious is also in the middle of an extensive refit, which would make her fit to continue operating for some years tocome.
That the RN is being forced to lose its Harriers (a proven, flexible and effective aircraft) while the RAF somehow manages to retain the Tornado (which is due to be replaced by Eurofighter in any case) issurely down more to inter-service politics than front-line effectiveness, namely the RAF trying to undermine the Fleet Air Arm.
Our forces in Afghanistan are in need of effective close air support, a task for which the Harrier is far more suited than the Tornado. But the RAF has never really been bothered about the Harrier, even thought the cost of retaining a naval strike wing of c.12 Harriers offers far better value than scores of Tornados.
The steep cut in number of destroyer and frigate hulls will no doubtmean that many routine tasks – such as patrols and guardship duties -will not be able to be performed. In addition, ships and crews will be under far more pressure with less time for training and rest between deployments. In my opinion these cuts send out a terrible signal, not least to an Argentina that is seeking to purchase a Landing Ship from France, while we cut ours. With no aircraft carriers and minimal amphibious capability we would be in no position to retake the Falklands.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing your views.
And this is the reply that I received:
Dear Mr Daly,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the SDSR. I agree with you that we are not in an ideal place.
I was pleased that we managed to secure more funding for the defence budget and that we proceeded with the carriers, which in turn will enable Portsmouth Dockyard to develop as the home of the surface fleet. However I am concerned at the gap in CSF and the hit the FAA have taken.
I have tabled some written questions on the costs of the harriers vs. other aircraft and will be meeting with the Secretary of State on the subjects you raise. Next week I have requested to speak in a debate on carrier maintenance (1st November) and on the SDSR (4th November) and I will send you copies of the debate once Hansard is published.
I will also be looking to guard against future imbalance – for example when the refit for tornado engines falls about the same time as the T26 will come to the table, and in understanding what are the long-term plans for some of our surface ships.
The review was a dramatic event, but it is not the end of campaigning or talks on the matter, and I will continue to make the case for the navy, now and in the future.
I will keep you informed, meantime please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any other concerns.
I’m glad that the issue of Harriers vs. Tornados is at the forefront of thinking, and I have to admit I had not realised that Tornado engines will be due for replacement around the same time as the Type 26′s are due for committal. Sadly however I’m not really sure what campaigning now after the Review can achieve – any backtracking is a political climb-down, which never makes anyones career – even in the event of War (Nott, Carrington for example).
I’ve also had a look at Hansard records of recent debates in the House of Commons…
House of Commons SDSR Debate 19 October 2010
Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North, Con): I welcome the decision that we will build the new carriers. Can the Prime Minister confirm that Portsmouth will be their home and that the Navy can meet its commitments with a surface fleet of 19?
Prime Minister: I can say yes to both those questions, particularly the second, which is: do we have the naval assets to meet the tasks of tackling piracy, combating drug running, maintaining patrols and suchlike? Yes, we do have that capability, and it is extremely important that that should be on the record.
How anyone can think that the Royal Navy can perform its current global roles with 19 escort hulls is beyond sanity. Those 19 ships will consist of the six Type 45 Destroyers, the Type 23 Frigates and the remaining Type 42 Destroyers. History would suggest that of that deceptive figure of 19 you can instantly half it to take into account ships in refit, and either working up or shaking down. That leaves us with say 9 or 10 Frigates of Destroyers available. Obviously these can’t always be on station, so with handovers ships will be sailing to and from patrol locations. And thats even before we factor in the likelihood of ships hitting uncharted rocks, flooding, etc etc and being taken out of the RN’s Orbat.
At present Royal Navy Destroyers and Frigates are deployed in the South Atlantic, the Carribean, off the Horn of Africa, in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf. Thats five standing patrol tasks. With 9 or 10 active ships in the fleet, thats cutting things fine. Also, for most exercises and other such deployments one or two frigates or destroyers will accompany a carrier of amphibious task force. Already in recent years we have seen auxilliary vessels taking on Frigate patrol duties. Its also inevitable that the Type 45 Destroyers will spend most of their time acting as gunboats rather than providing area defence for Aircraft Carriers. The impact on men and machines is going to be brutal in terms of sea time, rest, refits and wear and tear.