|A Navy Cut could seriously damage the nation's health|
The Royal Navy is one of the finest public relations tools in the government’s box.
A transportable exhibition about all that’s good about the UK; technical innovation, history, heritage and most importantly, a reminder to the rest of the world, that although much diminished, Britain is still a player in the great geopolitical game.
But far from ruling the waves, this is now a Navy suffering chronic underinvestment at a time when more demands are being made on it than anytime since the Falklands War.
Reduction in the Navy could of course be argued if the country’s commitments were less, but the opposite is true. As well as the primary tasks of NATO and defence of the realm, the Navy has more than ten other global commitments from the Caribbean Guard Patrol and defence of the Falklands, to missions in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On top of this there is now a new threat, modern day piracy. With more than 69 cases of hostage taking this year alone, the waters of the Somalia on the east coast of Africa are among the most dangerous in the world. To combat this threat, the international community has decided enough is enough and a new multinational patrol has been set up led by HMS Northumberland, yet another addition to a growing list of tasks for an ever shrinking fleet.
Just how much it is shrinking becomes apparent when the hard statistics are looked at. At its post 1945 height in the middle of the Cold War, the Navy could call on a combined frigate and destroyer force of more than 70 vessels. As of this year, that force, the workhorses of the Navy, had been decimated to 22 on active duty. This is despite assurances by the government two years ago that this force wouldn’t drop below a 25 ship threshold.
The government's Future Navy Defence Review was supposed to remodel the Navy for the 21st century. Its conclusion, a new vanguard of two new aircraft carriers plus replacements for the Trident Strategic Nuclear deterrent.The backbone of this modern fleet was to be the new generation Type 45 destroyers, touted as the most advanced warships ever built. Each has the fire power of two second world war battleships despite being one tenth of the size. They also boast a radar system capable of tracking every aircraft landing and taking off from all London airports, Schipo and Charles de Gaulle, simultaneously. But the original order for 12 has been slashed to six, with government mandarins arguing that they have the capability of four existing ships.
As exasperated senior officers point out though, it’s all very well being four times more capable but they can’t be in four places at the same time.
As the demands made on the Navy mount up, technology is no substitute for visibility and nuclear weapons do not make a fleet fit for chasing pirates around the Indian Ocean.