I picked up this booklet yesterday, published by Warships International Fleet Review. It makes for very interesting reading. If you are interested in the Royal Navy and Defence issues I would highly reccomend picking up a copy, but I think it is worthwhile summarising the key points.
The editorial introduction sets out the running themes. The Royal Navy’s ability to act as a global force is on a knife edge, still having a fleet that can deliver Government policy and defend British interests, but its ability to do so is stretched almost to the point of fragility. This has been caused by relentless cuts, particularly in the number of hulls and retiring the Sea Harrier early. The Navy is so overstretched that it is unable to deploy beyond its standing commitments in the Gulf and the South Atlantic. The prime cause of this overstretch is the reduction in the criticial mass of numbers of Frigates and Destroyers, the workhorses of the fleet. RFA vessels have recently performed patrols that should be carried out by Frigates.
At one point the Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, promised a British Frigate to patrol off Gaza to prevent Hamas receiving arms – it later transpired that none was available. Perhaps we could borrow back the three Type 23 Frigates that we sold to Chile recently at a knock down price? A classic example of the Government expecting our armed forces to do twice as much, but with half as much resources.
The Guide argues that Labour has never been serious about funding armed forces, and particularly the Navy, but has shown an eagerness to commit them to action without investing in them. While the ongoing operation in Afghanistan is quite rightly taking priority at present, it would be very dangerous indeed to close our minds to more long term needs. Billions of pounds has been pumped into shoring up banks, while the comparatively cheap insurance policy of sufficient armed forces falls by the wayside.
Another startling Government policy is the giving of millions of pounds to India in order to eradicate poverty, while the Indian Navy embarks on spending Billions of pounds on a new Nuclear Submarine programme. British Foreign Policy may change for the better if the astute and intelligent William Hague becomes Foreign Secretary, but with ranks of former Army and even current Territorial Army officers on the Conservative benches, the Navy looks in for a rough time in the upcoming Defence Review. The expected appointment of General Sir Richard Dannatt as a special adviser on Defence will reinforce this Army-bias considerably. Already, stories have sprung up in the press arguing against the new Aircraft Carriers and Nuclear Submarines.
Britain and the Royal Navy clearly needs new Aircraft Carriers, new submarines and new Frigates. If, the Guide argues, the Government decides to scrap the current schemes for these ships, it will merely have to come up with alternatives.
Finally, the overarching argument seems to be that the next Government faces a stark choice, that has been avoided for some time – does Britain wish to be a player on the world stage? If so, we need to invest in the Royal Navy. If not, then Britain faces a future of irrelevance, inability to safeguard citizens, protect trade or play its part in securing international stability.
There are several interesting features. The first, by David Axe and based on a visit to HMS Portland while on anti-piracy patrol in the gulf of Aden, argues that cuts in the Navy would undermine security in the region. The Royal Navy’s much vaunted professionalism would be at risk if the amount of ‘sea-time’ was cut due to a reduction in ships.
An interesting article by Usman Ansari argues quite succintly that with the Navy’s move towards having less but more capable ships, a less technological but more numerous foe could easily swamp the fleet. Also, there is a startling revelation that many of the Type 23 Frigates, designed as anti-submarine vessels, do not carry towed array sonar as a costcutting measure. Therefore even the decreasing amount of ships flatter – certain ships only have certain capabilities. The potential for being caught out does not bear thinking about.
Dr Robert Farley suggests that the special relationship between the US and British Navy, whilst still strong, has come under question in recent years. In particular the US has questioned the Royal Navy’s fighting spirit after a number of embarassing incidents. US Naval figures have also been dismayed at the continual decline of the Royal Navy, and this had led to doubts as to its capability to contribute to operations.
Dr Lee Willett discusses the strategic value of Nuclear submarines, both of the attack variety and ballistic missile. Again, a reduction of hull numbers will lead to a fall in capability, and mean that replacements for the Astute Class would need to be ordered much sooner than expected due to overstretch and over-use.
Falklands veteran and air warfare expert Sharkey Ward offers some stark opinions regarding the new Aircraft Carriers and the F-35. Both projects are crucial to the UK achieving its policy of maintaining an effective expeditionary task force. With new carriers and a naval air wing, the UK will always be able to operate independently of the US, something that would not have been possible in recent years. Many developing nations have purchased the advanced MiG Flanker. Interestingly, Ward argues that the combined Carrier and F-35 projects can be achieved at less cost to the UK than the Eurofighter project – if so, this represents good value for money indeed.
Dr Dave Sloggett argues that it is crucial that a mix is found in the capabilities of the planned FSC Frigates. I reported some time ago on the C1 and C2 sub-classes that are planned, demonstrating the wide range of roles expected of the Frigate fleet.
The Guide also includes some new, exciting computer images of the new class of Aircraft Carriers, including on the flight deck and inside the aircraft hangar. Finally, this interesting publication finishes with some interesting interviews with Naval Officers and ratings, several book reviews and nostalgic articles too.
An essential read if you want to keep on top of whats happening with the Navy, interested in Defence or just generally like reading about ships.
‘Guide to the Royal Navy 2010’ is published by Warships: International Fleet Review, RRP £5.50. I picked up my copy from WH Smith.