Tag Archives: ministry of defence

How to Make a Royal Marines Officer (1989)

I’ve found this rather interesting programme on BBC iplayer showing the training of a group of Royal Marines officer trainees undertaking the Commando Commissioning Course at Lympstone.

It’s quite interesting to note the training for officers compared to men – more focus on initiative, not so many extreme bollockings but the same physical and mental tests. As one of the staff mentions, the idea is that the young officers who if they are comissioned will be commanding a platoon of 30 blokes, many of them older, can stand in front of their men and provide a good example and not be embarrased. It’s always intriguing to see the NCO’s staff berating the ‘young gentlemen’, calling them all kinds of things, suffixed with a ‘sir’. But every green beret in the Royal Marines will have done the same training.

I’ve always found the psychological aspect of military training pretty interesting, as it can apply to other fields and professions. The skills of leadership in particular are fascinating – how do you pick out a leader at 18 or 19, from the thousands of applicants? It’s entirely possible that from those humble beginnings, one of them might end up as a Major-General commanding the Corps.

The lad from Barbados attempting the Commando Course during winter in particular seems to have had a pretty tough time!

Click here to watch (UK only)

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New Design Images of Type 26 Frigates

Earlier today the Royal Navy released new images of the planned class of Type 26 Frigates.

The images show a rather sleek looking vessel, stealthily like the Type 45 Destroyers, with a very similar, albeit shorter and set back. It looks very similar to a lot of the other recent European designed Frigates such as the Dutch Zeven Provincien, Danish Absalon and Spanish Bazan classes. As with the Type 45′s, its nice to see us designing modern warships, but why are we essentially designing ships now that the rest of the world built a decade ago? What is it with out defence policy and procurement that takes so long?

Some more technical specifications have also been divulged:

  • Displacement – 5,400 tonnes
  • length – 148 metres
  • crew – 118, with space for up to 190
  • Vertical launch missile silo
  • Medium Calibre Gun, that looks suspiciously like an Oto Melara
  • A Phalanx-style CIWS
  • Hangar to accomodate Merlin or Lynx Wildcat
  • A flexible mission space for UAV, seaboats, special forces or humanitarian operations

According to reports the planned order is for 13, although given the manner in which warship classes almost always end up consisting of a lot less than the original order, the Royal Navy might do well to get 10. There are currently 13 Type 23 Frigates in the fleet. According to the Portsmouth News the final decision for ordering these ships will be taken in the 2015 Defence Review, so of course that is vulnerable to cuts.

The first ship is scheduled to enter service, but again, expect this to slip once the project goes through the various hoops at the MOD. Mind you, Phillip Hammond announced today that 25% of senior military and civilian staff at Commodore/Brigadier level and above will be cut over the next few years, so things might actually start to run smoother!

Some of the quotes from the Defence Minister, Peter Luff, refer to how the project will sustain shipbuilding jobs in Britain. The design IS modular, a la Type 45 and CVF, but if the first ship is due to enter service in 2020, work will have to start in about 2015 at the very latest one would imagine (unless the ‘in service’ date is actually delivery date, but the two are different). One suspects that there will end up being a gap between the end of the QE programme and the Type 26 work, which might leave shipbuilding jobs in Portsmouth in particular vulnerable.

I’ve gone on record before in my belief that these will be the most important ships in the 21st Century Royal Navy. One only has to take a cursory glance a the operational taskings of the fleet, and 95% of what Royal Navy ships are doing is Frigate work. The Type 26 seems like a step in the right direction for chasing pirates and insurgents in RIB’s.

See the MOD, BBC or Portsmouth News articles for more information. There’s also a nifty looking animation on the BBC website.

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Filed under Navy, News, politics, Uncategorized

Daring knackered

, the first Type 45 guided missile destroyer e...

HMS Daring has had to undergo emergency repairs after suffering a mechanical breakdown, the Portsmouth News has revealed.

The Type 45 Destroyer went alongside in Bahrain last month for work on a faulty starboard shaft bearing. The Royal Navy seems to have wanted to keep the news quiet, and has only confirmed that Daring went into port, and not what for. A source has informed the News that a propellor drive shaft is out of alignment. Even worse, it has been ever since the ship was delivered, and the Navy knew about it. Hardly the stuff of ‘worlds most advanced warship’, as Daring has routinely been called.

Now, my knowledge of navigation is limited to the odd trip out fishing in the Solent, but if you can’t steer your destroyer properly, how do you expect to fight with it? If it steers 30 degrees to port, do you have to steer 30 degrees to starboard to compensate? Not only that, but it will place unnecessary wear and strain on other components such as bearings.

The sad thing is, after all the clamouring for British-built defence equipment, this is no kind of advert for BAe Systems. Although teething problems do happen with any project – and particularly with a first of class – surely getting the prop shaft aligned properly should be pretty basic? I can’t imagine it’s a simply thing to rectify, and will probably only be able to be fixed when Daring goes in to dry-dock for her first major refit.

I wonder what kind of warranty or claw-back is involved in the contract that the MOD signed with BAe for the Type 45′s?

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The True Cost of US Military Equipment

I’ve just come across this very interesting infographic, putting into perspective the US’s spending on Defence.

The True Cost of US Military Equipment

Puts things into perspective doesn’t it? I wonder how many of those Billions are as a result of the desire to gold-plate everything that Mike Burleson used to highlight on New Wars?

Of course, we here in the UK can have a pretty robust discussion about defence procurement – it would be interesting if somebody worked on a comparable graphic for the MOD!

…. on another note, here is a wonderful graphic demonstrating the US Army‘s commitment to medal-itis…. I’ve never understood the logic of giving a soldier a badge to commemorate that they can fire a rifle…

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MOD reviews support for Army Museums

English: Infantry of the British Army recruiti...

Image via Wikipedia

The Ministry of Defence has recently reviewed its support for Army Museums, as a result of the well-publicised ‘black hole’ in MOD funding. The proposals could save the MOD more than £0.5m a year, according to an article in this month’s Museums Association Journal.

At present many army museum staff posts come under the civil service. The MOD proposals are that 113 posts cease to be civil servants, and instead be funded by the museums. The review proposes to only fund one member of staff for each Museum from MOD funds, and this would lead to a reduction of another nine posts. Another proposal is to only support the Museums of disbanded Regiments for 25 years. This would lead to a fall in MOD funded museums from the current 69 to 36, based on current Army structures.

The issue of antecedent regimental museums is a very sensitive one. The politics involved in regimental mergers, disbandments etc since the end of the Second World War have been complicated enough to give even the most diplomatic civil servant a migraine. Just to give an example, the British Army currently consists of some 12 Infantry Regiments. In 1881 there were 74. With Cavalry, other Corps and Arms, the Ogilby Army Museums Trust currently lists 136 Army Museums in the UK. The MOD currently spends £4.3m on regimental museums, and £5.4m on the National Army Museum.

Take for example, the merger between the Royal Hampshire Regiment and the Queens Regiment in the early 1990′s. The Although that was over 20 years ago, there is still a Hampshire Regiment Museum in Winchester. There is also a Queens Regiment in Dover, which is also titled the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Museum. Confused? You will be even more, when you find out that there are also Regimental Museums for the Sussex, Surrey and Royal West Kent Regiments. Whilst it is very admirable that Regimental families wish to keep going their history in their local area, some of these museums are so small, and badly in need of overhaul, in terms of approach and environment. One example of good practice I can recall is that of the Rifles. Formed a few years ago from the Royal Greenjackets, Light Infantry, the Devons and Dorsets and the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiments. Obviously, this meant a variety of Museums around the South West. The Greenjackets and Light Infantry Regiment Museums in Winchester promptly merged – conveniently they were next door to each other – and the Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment Museum in Salisbury now carries the title ‘Rifles’ in brackets.

To see how Army museums have evolved, we need to understand how the have developed throughout history. Most army museums grew up independently, along regimental lines. Regiments have always ‘looked after’ their own history and heritage, out of pride, and also to educate new recruits about their new families history. British Army Regiments have always been a fiercely tribal lot, and this translates into museums too. Whilst some have modernised very encouragingly, some are still stuck in the stone age.Museums have changed immeasurably in recent years – priorities have changed, the market is more commercialised, and more focus is needed on aspects such as learning. Technology has also changed, as has society itself. The options are to either stand still and receive few visitors, or evolve and stay relevant. And it can easily be understood how this is very difficult for museums dedicated to Regiments that have been disbanded for decades.

In some respects the state of Army museums is mirrored from the history of the Army itself – fragmented, tribal, and diverse. It is regrettable if cuts mean that some museums close, but perhaps it is an opportunity for rationalisation, and rationalisation does not necessarily have to mean moving backwards in all respects. In some respects cuts do force us to be more efficient than we might otherwise be in more plentiful times. I see it as an opportunity to improve standards – which, in my experience, are low where some regimental museums are concerned – and secure the future.

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Serious questions for Defence Secretary

Liam Fox, British Conservative politician.

Can he out-Fox this one? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m sure you’ve all seen the furore regarding the Defence Secretary‘s murky relationship with his former flatmate/best man/adviser (delete as appropriate). Apart from the point of view of the ministerial code and integrity in public life, there are very serious concerns for those of us interested in British Defence issues.

The Defence Secretary is supposed to be advised by the Chief of Defence Staff, the service chiefs (First Sea Lord, Chief of the General Staff and Chief of the Air Staff), and the relevant other senior personnel and civilians in the armed forces and the MOD. The MOD has plenty of departments, dealing with things such as policy, plans, procurement, anything and everything. There can hardly be a lack of capability there.

If the Defence Secretary really feels the need to be ‘advised’ by anyone who is outside the MOD chain, there are a number of learned, credible institutions such as the RUSI, which possess a wealth of knowledge and experience around Defence and Security issues. People who have actually paid their dues, either serving or studying military history.

All of which should suggest that at face value, the Defence Secretary shouldn’t really be in need of a special adviser. OK, in reality most Cabinet ministers have staff who advise on spin – how stories are presented, the politics of the issue, etc. But Mr Werrity has been described as a ‘Defence lobbyist’. Funnily enough, when Liam Fox was Shadow Health Secretary, Werrity was a ‘Health lobbyist’. Interesting, no? And surely if a Cabinet Minister cannot do his job without a poorly qualified siamese twin, doesn’t that cast judgement on his ability full stop?

Interestingly, Adam Werrity is, at 33, only five years older than myself. He gained a 2:2 degree in public policy – whatever that is – from the University of Edinburgh. Apparently he also stayed rent-free at Fox’s London apartment between 2003 and 2005, all of which hardly makes for a professional relationship.

It all makes you wonder what ‘advice’ exactly is being sought and offered. I’ve never liked the thought of special advisors who are outside the foodchain – it is completely unaccountable and open to all kind of abuse. What kind of influences are being brought to bear on these middle-men, say from commercial interests? There is absolutely no oversight, no accountability, and no control. Nobody elected him, based on a manifesto, and nobody selected him after an interview process.

This isn’t, for me, a red vs. blue/yellow political issue – all politicians have questions to answer about ‘lobbyists’, and who influences them and their decision making. The Defence of the Realm is far too important to be left to the Defence Secretary’s mini-me. But, as a high-profile Defence blog put it so succinctly, once again the British armed forces have become a political football, and the servicemen and women of the country are hardly likely to be winners.

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Filed under Army, defence, Navy, News, politics, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized

Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging

I’ve just got back from a nice day at Shoreham Airshow. But rather than write a report right now, I would like to pay tribute to Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging RAF.

Flt Lt Egging, 33, was killed when his Hawk crashed on the way back to Bournemouth Airport after the Red Arrows display at the Bournemouth Airshow earlier today. I’m sure I don’t need to say anything too much about how awesome the Red Arrows are – in many people’s minds the best military air display team in the world.

Footage suggests that Flt Lt Egging, a Harrier pilot who had served in Afghanistan, crashed after attempting to steer his plane away from houses. The MOD have not confirmed but it is believed that his Hawk jet suffered a malfunction.

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Busy times in Portsmouth Naval Base

HMS Gloucester (D96) photographed leaving Port...

HMS Gloucester (Image via Wikipedia)

It’s a busy time coming up for naval movements in Portsmouth.

All sources suggest that the American Aircraft Carrier USS George HW Bush WILL be visiting Portsmouth next weekend. She will be accompanied by the Arleigh Burke class Destroyer USS Truxtun and the Spanish Alvaro de Bazan class Frigate Almirante Juan de Borbon. the Spanish Frigate has been in the US with the Bush Strike Group for the past few months taking part in work-up exercises. I’m enquiring with tour boat companies to see if any offer trips out into the Solent to look round the Bush, although I might not be able to make it due to a moving girlfriend that weekend!…. If not I’m sure I’ll get some pics from the shore at Stokes Bay. The shops and bars in Portsmouth will be rubbing their hands waiting for 6,000+ thirsty and hungry yanks!

In other news, on Monday HMS Gloucester makes her final entry into Portsmouth before decomissioning later this year. The Type 42 Batch 3 Destroyer has served with the Royal Navy for over 20 years. My Grandad actually worked on her when she was built, when he was a painter at Vosper Thorneycroft‘s yard in Woolston. We looked round her at Navy Days a few years ago, and I can confirm that he didn’t miss any bits ;)

HMS Quorn left Portsmouth last Sunday for a 2+ years stint in the Gulf. Royal Navy minesweepers spend a few years at a time in the Gulf, saving on time travelling there and back. The crews rotate for 6 months at a time. Quorn is a Hunt Class minesweeper, with a GRP – glass reinforced plastic – hull.

In amongst all of the Royal Navy ships decommisioning, the RFA’s going out of service have been all but forgotten. But the Landing Ship Largs Bay left Portsmouth weeks prior to a refit before making her way to the Australian Navy. RFA Bayleaf has been dumped into 3 Basin pending scrapping, and RAF Fort Austin – a Falklands veteran – looks to be on her way to the scrapyard. A smaller Navy means a smaller RFA.

In other scrapping matters, Exeter, Nottingham and Southampton are in the trot of Fareham Creek awaiting the scrapyard, and Manchester and Gloucester are soon to replace them. The four Type 22 Frigates recently decomissioned will probably make their way to Portsmouth soon too.

And we’re expecting PolarBjorn – the new HMS Protector – to arrive in Portsmouth sometime in the early summer too.

All in all a busy period. I’ll try and get out with my camera as much as I can. And one of the bonuses of having a girlfriend from the West Country is that a few trips to Plymouth might be in order ;)

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Filed under Navy, News, out and about

Busy time in naval news circles

British crewmen lift a Royal Air Force British...

Harriers on Illustrious - maybe not a thing of the past

It’s been a very busy few days in naval news circles.

Firstly, the BBC reported that the bill for the CVF/QE class Aircraft Carrier project has rised by another billion pounds to nearly £7bn. And according to the reports, it still seems uncertain exactly whether one or two – or any – of the aircraft carriers will be fitted to operate jet aircraft. BBC Business Editor Robert Peston offers an explanation here. My take? Costs rises in big projects are always described as ‘just one of those things’, but when its the public purse thats carrying the can, is that good enough?

Secondly, last Thursday the Portsmouth News carried an exclusive report from un-named senior naval sources that HMS Illustrious is being equipped to operate Harriers. Is it possible that the crisis in Libya, and the RAF’s unconfirmed plea for an Aircraft Carrier have forced a very tacit u-turn from the Coalition Government?Originally Illustrious was going in for a ‘regular’ refit as a strike carrier. Then we were told that she was being fitted out as a Helicopter Carrier to fill in for HMS Ocean while she is in refit, and now the possibility of her being a strike carrier again is floated out. As we discussed here recently, it does not take much to turn a helicopter carrier into a harrier carrier – higher grade paint, plus of course spares and armaments. And crucially Illustrious still has her ski ramp. The Harriers themselves have not been scrapped, and are in storage at RAF Cottesmore. Apparently it would take around two months for them to be regenerated a fit state for operations. It seems like a sensible step to me, but of course a sensible step would have been to keep Ark Royal in the first place.

Finally, the recent issue of Warship: International Fleet Review is good value as usual. A healthy dose of deserved spite directed at the Coalition Government and the Strategic Defence Review, and plenty of sound editorial on how events in Libya and the Arab world have undermined the Defence Review only a matter of weeks after it was published. For me, the big question is, if the current Government can get its Defence Policy so wrong, do we trust them to ever get it right at all? How did the Government allow themselves to be hoodwinked so badly by the RAF? If only some of our politicians had a grasp of history – they would have known that the RAF ‘moved’ Australia on the map to suit their arguments, and apparently won the air war in the Falklands singlehandedly.

Also in Warship IFR, there are some interesting opinions – believable, in my view – that the Defence Review was soft on the RAF thanks to underhand lobbying and bad advice from light blue quarters, and also as a sop to the then Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, who was asked to step down as soon as the review was completed. Having read a lot of the thinking from the current CDS, General Sir David Richards, I doubt very much whether he would have wanted the RAF to remain as it has, with most of its expensive toys retained. How did anyone think it was a good idea to have a Defence Review steered by a senior officer who then left, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces?

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Kew re-visited

The National Archives

Image by Simon Clayson via Flickr

I’m at the National Archives in Kew for a few days last-minute research for my forthcoming book ‘Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes’.

I’ve been going to Kew since 2004, when I was working on my undergraduate dissertation. Since then I’ve been back there working on Magazine articles, family history, journal articles and just random self-interest stuff. I’ve looked at Admiralty, War Office, Ministry of Defence, Air Ministry, Board of Trade, Treasury, Foreign Office and other Documents. Theres something pretty enigmatic about anywhere where you can walk in and choose from 11 million records and order one of them to read – many written in the vary hand of luminaries like Winston Churchill, Nelson or Monty.

Kew is an enigma all of its own. Its always had a nasty case of change-itis, and its obviously an insitutional thing. In the time I’ve been going there the registration desk has moved at least four times, the first floor help desk has been revamped three times, the restaurant about three times, the museum once, as well as the cyber cafe. Most Archives and Libraries could only dream about being able to change things so often. Whilst improvement is no doubt a good thing when its genuine, you can’t help but think that a lot of the changes at Kew are classic cases of ‘Emperors new clothes in a governmental setting’. And why oh why do they insist on having such a politically correct menu? The restaurant used to to great roasts, Lasagnes… food like that. Today, however, the most palatable thing I could find was Morrocan spicy meatballs and spaghettti. Which has played havoc with my stomach!

My first visit to Kew was to a rather sedate government archive repository, attended by professional researchers and the more serious family history enthusiasts. But since the Family Records Office at Islington closed and was merged with Kew, the TNA has become a mecca for family historians. Even more so with programmes like Who do you think you are?. Whilst I think its great that so many people are interested in history of any kind, it must be frustrating for the staff at Kew. From what I’ve seen more people seem to turn up at Kew without a clue than those who do. And then of course there are those who think they can just turn up and someone else will do all the donkey work for them… A lot of friends and family have mentioned going to Kew, but its the kind of place where you need to know exactly what you’re looking for before you go. And thanks to their online catalogue and research guides, its pretty easy to do so.

So wh0′s been getting the Kew treatment today? None other than Wing Commander John Buchanan, Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy and the Venables Brothers – all of whose places in history should now be that much more in context thanks to the relevant RAF Operational records. Tomorrow I plan to finish off with Buchanan’s time leading a Squadron during the Siege of Malta, and then looking at Sapper Ernest Bailey and Operation Freshman, War Office casualties on the SS Portsdown, the Royal Navy’s policy on the sending of Boy Seamen to sea after the Royal Oak Disaster, and the Royal Marines Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisations.

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New Royal Navy ice patrol vessel announced

The Ministry of Defence has announced that the Icebreaker MV PolarBjorn (Polar Bear) has been selected to become the Royal Navy’s new ice patrol vessel. PolarBjorn will be re-christened HMS Protector while in Royal Navy service. The last  HMS Protector was also an antarctic patrol vessel.

Heres the spiel from Rieber’s website:

The ‘Polarbjørn’ is purpose-built for undertaking both long duration Antarctic expeditions, and offshore subsea support duties.  With her large public areas and accommodation capacities, helicopter deck and DP2 class, the vessel is well suited for undertaking flotel- and base ship functions on offshore fields and other operations. The vessel’s large deck areas and cargo holds offers ‘unlimited’ storage capacity for ROV and related equipment. The ship’s 50-ton knuckle-boom crane and the A-frame offers efficient solutions for handling equipment over the side and over the stern.

A few facts and figures about Polar Bjorn:

  • 90 metres long
  • 18 metres beam
  • 9.05 metres draught
  • Gross tonnage 4,985 tons, deadweight of 3,700 tons

She is currently owned by Rieber Shipping, and was launched in 2001. Until recently she has been working under a Norwegian flag on the ‘spot’ tendering market in the North Sea and Arctic offshore oil fields. Apparently during 2010 she was only being used 33% of the time due to the economic downturn, so her chartering by the MOD will be welcome to her owners. Official announcements by Defence Minister Lord Astor suggest that she will be leased for three years while HMS Endurance‘s fate is decided, but I would suggest that it is likely that Endurance will be scrapped and PolarBjorn/Protector purchased once the lease runs out. The same happened with HMS Endurance herself.

Amusingly, apparently members of the HMS Protector Association had known about the acquisition since January, but had been sworn to secrecy by the ship’s new CO, Captain Peter Sparkes. The Association’s newsletter also announces that she will be formally commisioned on 23 June 2011 in Portsmouth.

According to some sources she will be arriving in Portsmouth for the first time in April or May. At that point she will undergo a refit to install naval equipment, such as communications and limited weaponry. Apparently her up-front helicopter deck is going to be removed, and a new landing pad installed nearer her stern. This will probably necessitate the removal of some of her crane capability, which she will probably not use fully in RN service in any case. She will also need a hangar, given the manner in which she will operate independently in the ice.

The former ice patrol ship HMS Endurance is being withdrawn from service after suffering serious damage when she flooded in the South Atlantic in 2008. Since then the Offshore patrol vessel HMS Scott has been standing-in in the South Atlantic, but this is far from ideal as she is not an ice-breaker, and takes her away from her other role.

It will be good to see a new ship entering Portsmouth for a change.

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Filed under defence, Falklands War, Navy, News, Uncategorized

A new HMS Protector to replace HMS Endurance

HMS PROTECTOR at anchor

The previous HMS Protector (Image via Wikipedia)

The Ministry of Defence have announced that a commercial ice-breaker will be chartered to replace the current HMS Endurance. It is expected that if the charter proves to be succesful she will be purchased and fully commissioned into the Royal Navy. This is no doubt welcome news, particularly given the antics coming out of Buenos Aires recently.

There has been no comfirmation over which ship has been selected. Rumours suggest that a Norwegian vessel working in North America is a favourite, although the MOD has refused to confirm this, stating that the tendering process has not yet been completed. A similar process was followed for the two previous HMS Endurances, which were previously MV Anita Dan and MV Polar Circle respectively.

The MOD have also announced that the new ship will be called HMS Protector. The last HMS Protector was another South Atlantic Patrol Ship, launched in 1936 and decomissioned in 1968. The last two ice patrol ships have been called HMS Endurance, so the naming is a break with recent tradition. And a very eventful tradition at that, with previous HMS Endurance being in the thick of the 1982 Falklands War, and the last Endurance being adopted by the City of Portsmouth and a very visible sign of the UK’s presence in the South Atlantic.

Warship names have always been an emotive issue. There will no doubt be protests that the world will end if the new ship is not called Endurance. Similar calls have been made that one of the new aircraft carriers should be called Ark Royal. Cities have been very precious about having warships named after them – particularly with the decomissioning of the Type 42 ‘City’ Class. One city- Sheffield – even refused to adopt a Type 45 Destroyer as it was called HMS Diamond and not Sheffield. One of the Type 22 Broadsword Frigates was called HMS London after the Lord Mayor of London requested it. How lovely – what if I fancy there being an HMS Daly? Will the Lordships oblige me? Shall we have Warship Factor, a phone-in competition to decide the names of the next class of Type 26 Frigates?

By choosing a new name, but one that has historical connections, the Navy is being very smart. The Royal Navy has a long and rich history, with literally hundreds of proud names to choose from – why use the same names over and over again? It is important to remember that the service is not just about ships but also about men. It really is a case of the King is dead, long live the King.

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Leading from the front by General Sir Richard Dannatt

Richard Dannatt has probably been Britain’s most controversial General since the end of the Second World War. Not afraid to stand up for what he thought was right, he received the support of his men and officers, but at the same time became the scourge of the Brown Government. Not only for his public criticism of Government defence policy, but also for agreeing to advise the Conservative Party whilst he was still technically on the Army payroll.

Dannatt joined the Army in the early 70′s, becoming a subaltern in the Green Howards, a famous Yorkshire Regiment. The early 1970′s were a busy time for the army, with heavy commitments in Northern Ireland. Dannatt served several stints in the province, winning the Military Cross – something which he almost breezes over. Remarkably, Dannatt also suffered a major stroke in his mid 20′s. And even more remarkably, he managed to make a full recovery and serve on to have a full army career afterwards. A picture emerges of somebody who was no doubt a very brave man, with plenty of resolve. Dannatt also served as a senior commander in both Bosnia and Kosovo. All three operations, which involved fighting in and around people and dealing with security and reconstruction, gave a strong understanding of the issues in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Interestingly, Dannatt also gained a Bachelors Degree in Economic History – an interesting subject for an army officer to study. This obviously gave him a better understanding of budgets than most Generals ever manage to obtain! He also served in the Ministry of Defence several times, which ensured that he had a good understanding of how the Whitehall machine worked when he reached the top of the tree – again, not something many Generals master. This probably explains his clever use of media interviews to get his point across, rather than constantly banging ones head against the Whitehall ‘wall’.

But perhaps his greatest achievement was his work to restore the Military Covenant – the unwritten agreement of support between the armed forces, the Government and society. Within several years, homecoming parades for returning troops are packed. Charities such as Help for Heroes are raising millions for troops welfare. You cannot help but feel that the armed forces matter more to people in Britain more than they have done for a very long time, and this is a real and lasting achievement.

It was undoubtedly a mistake to agree to advise the Conservative Party, particularly as when asked Dannatt was still a paid member of the British Army, even though he had stood down as Chief of the General Staff. Dannatt explains that he had hoped to keep the announcement secret until he had left the Army, but that it seems to have been leaked for mischievous political reasons. Dannatt then changed his mind, deciding not to join the Conservative ranks as a Defence minister. As he quite rightly states, it would have undermined the serving Defence Chiefs to have one of their retired counterparts undermining them from a tangent. It was a rare naive moment for somebody who strikes me as a very astute man. The political management of Defence is in something of a strange situation – we have a scenario where politicians are appointed to head a department, usually with no experience of defence at all – and who are nominally in charge or ordering around older, senior commanders who have 30 years of experience behind them, and have fought and led in wars. It is a strange set-up indeed, and I cannot help but think that the new National Security Council fudges the issue even more.

The Memoirs of Dannatt’s predecessor, General Sir Mike Jackson, gave the impression of an officer who – although no fool – was definitely one of the lads. Dannatt strikes me as someone who, although keen to stand up for his men, is more of a thinker. This is shown by the last chapter, which is really Dannatt thinking about loud about what he calls ‘the future’, and where we need our armed forces to be to face threats that might – or might not – transpire. He quotes from General Sir Rupert Smith‘s utility of force, going further to suggest that modern wars will not be just amongst the people, but also about the people. And if we think about it, this is exactly what has been happening since the end of the Second World War. Yet still people hanker after a Cold War style armoured clash, the kind of war they would like rather than the kind of war we are faced with in the real world. The Army spent years doing this sat in Germany, until Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leonne and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan forced a change in thinking. We still have, however, the RAF longing for dogfights over the white cliffs of dover, in much the same fashion.

As somebody who was in charge of Defence ‘Programmes’ political parlance for buying equipment – Dannat has some strongs words to say about Defence Procurement. In particular, he repeatedly questions the RAF’s need to buy and maintain lavish numbers of fast fighter jets, when it is hard to see when exactly we will need them. Meanwhile, the Army struggled by for years with sub-standard vehicles and equipment, for wars that were happening in the here and now. Published before the Defence Review, it was sadly prophetic, as the RAF triumphed once again. Helicopters are one of Dannatt’s keen interests – as Colonel of the Army Air Corps, he earnt his Army flying wings at a relatively advanced age for a soldier! He sees the formation of the Joint Helicopter Command as a fudge, as it placed Helicopter support in an area where it was owned by no-one, and ripe for cuts. At a time when the Army needed as many helicopters as it could get.

This is not perhaps as readable or exciting in its own right as Mike Jackson’s memoirs, but in terms of explaining the past three years – some might argue much further – of political-military development, this book is crucial and will have a firm place in the historiography of the British Army. It’s certainly got me thinking.

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Ark Royal

British Aircraft Carrier Class Invincible: HMS...

Invincible Class - two down (Image via Wikipedia)

Sadly I missed Ark Royal coming into Portsmouth this morning, having been snowed in at my girlfriend’s place in Felpham, just outside Bognor Regis (of King George V ‘Bugger Bognor!’ fame, or less famously Albert Steptoe‘s “but Harold we always go to Bognor!”).

By all accounts it was a bit of a non-affair, not many boats to welcome her in, and I’m sure the crowds were much smaller than they would have been in more clement weather. I’m told that the Harrier flypast didn’t happen either.

All this was probably quite convenient for the Government, who would probably far rather that the Royal Navy’s decommissioned flagship went quietly and without a fuss. It’s a sad day for the Royal Navy, for Portsmouth and for Britain. It’s squeaky bum time for the next ten years, hoping that nothing happens that calls for naval-projected air cover – because we won’t have any.

In other Carrier-based news, HMS Invincible has been put up for auction on the MOD‘s disposal website… in true ebay style the auction ends early in January 2011, and viewers of the website can even ‘add to cart’ the 20,000 ton warship!

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Defence Review – correspondence with my MP

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.

Yours sincerely,
James Daly

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.

Yours Sincerely,

Penny Mordaunt

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.

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