The Times has an excellent article on the ongoing management of decline in the Royal Navy.
The head of the Royal Navy gave warning yesterday that the fleet would lose its flexibility if the Government cut back too far on warships and manpower. Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, said that there was a risk that the Navy would not be able to fulfil many of its duties.
While technology had made it possible to send warships to sea with smaller crews, the Royal Navy would lose its flexibility if the “human element” was reduced too much, he said.
Admiral Band said that the fleet was involved in many vital operations, including guarding Iraqi oil terminals, patrolling the Mediterranean, around the Horn of Africa and the South Atlantic and supporting dependent territories. “To carry out missions properly, we need three warships for every one that’s out on patrol,” he told The Times in an exclusive interview.
"We need three warships for every one that's out on patrol." I agree with that, quantity matters. Isn't that what he is saying? Then why did he go on to say this?
He envisaged a different style of Navy emerging in which vessels would no longer have anti-air or anti-submarine roles but would be multipurpose. With tight resources, the emphasis, he said, would have to focus on “quality, not quantity”.
Did he just contradict himself? Sounds like it, but I do think he is right in pointing to the need for multipurpose vessels, although one has to admire the capabilities of the single purpose Royal Navy ships. I've been on the Type 23, had the full tour, had dinner with the captain, enjoyed tea with the crew, and allow me to opine that in my opinion a Royal Navy Type 23 may be the single greatest anti-submarine warfare surface vessel currently sailing the high seas. The crews are extraordinary in terms of their training proficiency, and the tools are highly capable.
I do understand the reasoning for the shift though. The Type 23 may be great for ASW, and is certainly capable for ASuW, but it does leave a bit to be desired in air defense. While certainly capable of self defense, with the proliferation of anti-ship missiles as we saw last year in Lebanon, the Royal Navy is recognizing the harsh reality that while they have the ability to defend themselves, they need the capability to defend beyond themselves.
Admiral Band said that if the Government wanted the White Ensign to be flown around the world, the issue of the number of destroyers and frigates available, “particularly frigates”, was crucial. The Admiral is overseeing a hugely expensive equipment programme, including the building of two large aircraft carriers, at the cost of £3.9 billion, six Type 45 destroyers at £6 billion, four Astute class nuclear-powered submarines at £3.7 billion and a replacement for the Vanguard class Trident ballistic missile submarines, which could cost between £15 billion and £20 billion.
More Frigates, exactly right, and yes more Frigates even if it means no CVF. I covered the shortage of surface combatants in the Royal Navy last month and highlighted the trouble. People make a big deal about money and capability, but my argument is solely based on build rates. The Royal Navy is different than the US Navy, the US Navy builds their ships with a 35 year life span, but the Royal Navy builds their Destroyers and Frigates with an expected 25 year life span. As I highlighted last month, the MoD has created major problems down the road when they only commissioned 3 Destroyers and Frigates over the 10 year period between 1998-2007. Even assuming the Royal Navy commissions 8 Type 45s over the next 8 years, the Royal Navy will be left with 11 commissioned Destroyers and Frigates over a period of 18 years. Assuming 1 commissioning of some yet designed Destroyer or Frigate type every year for the 7 years following the Type 45s, the Royal Navy will still only end up with a fleet total of 18 Destroyers and Frigates.
That is barely enough Destroyers and Frigates to protect the carrier and expeditionary platforms in the Royal Navy, much less meet the national interest patrol and low intensity deployments typical of Royal Navy Destroyers and Frigates today.
It is very good news that Admiral Band is saying these things publicly, the harsh realities of the situation the Royal Navy is in needs to be discussed in public circles.