Britain no longer a naval power, fleet strength depleted

Discussion in 'Naval Warfare' started by LalTopi, Jun 2, 2012.

  1. LalTopi

    LalTopi Regular Member

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    Interesting article in the UK Daily Telegraph sowing how the balance of naval power has shifted over the years.
    Read the paragraph (highlighted in bold) on the size of the Indian Naval turnout during last years presidential review.
    Also worth following the link, for the picture of the Royal Navy during the Queen's coronation in 1953.

    Diamond Jubilee: The Queen no longer rules the waves - Telegraph

    .......................................................................................................................................
    For mile upon mile they stretched, their flag-bedecked ranks receding into the haze. The ships of the Royal Navy, 165 of them, drawn up at Spithead on June 26 1897 to mark the diamond jubilee of Victoria, for 60 years Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and her dominions beyond the seas, and, since 1876, Empress of India.

    There were 21 battleships and 44 cruisers, their names conveying the confidence of a world-spanning Empire: Victorious, Renown, Powerful, Terrible, Majestic and Mars. A vast, intimidating presence intended to impress on friend and foe alike the continuing potency of the British behemoth. And what was more, the assembly of this great fleet had required the recall of not a single ship from the Mediterranean or the far-flung squadrons guarding the imperial sea lanes.

    Jingoistic hyperbole was the order of the day. “If the British taxpayer does not feel more than a thrill of satisfaction at a sight so splendid and so inspiring,” gushed one newspaper, “he is no patriot and no true citizen.”

    The Solent was a mass of small craft jammed with sunburned day-trippers, fussing around the black hulls of battleships riding at anchor. The pleasure boats parted only for the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert. It carried the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, taking the salute from the quarterdeck on behalf of his mother. Victoria, 78, was exhausted by the jubilee celebrations and had opted to observe proceedings by telescope from Osborne House, her retreat on the Isle of Wight.

    One hundred and fifteen years later and Britain is celebrating only the second diamond jubilee in its history.The occasion calls for a naval review, a staple of coronations and other great moments in the life of the nation, but it is not to be. The Royal Navy, the country’s saviour in two world wars, is a sorry shadow of its former self, so depleted by successive rounds of cuts that it can no longer muster a dozen ships for the occasion. So embarrassed are the ministers and civil servants at the Ministry of Defence who have overseen these disastrous reductions that they have quietly drawn a veil over the issue, hoping no one will notice the absence of a major role for the Senior Service in this week’s celebrations.

    A serving commander in the Royal Navy, recently returned from operations, says the MoD has made it clear that no comment is to be made in public on the subject. “It would have been just too embarrassing,” he says. “There aren’t many ships and those we do have are a long way away. It was just too difficult to mount a spectacle worth having.” Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, the professional head of the Navy, says an attempt to stage a review would result only in national humiliation. “I suppose now we could get a couple of submarines out and five or six frigates and destroyers, but it would be very small and not very splendid,” he says. “That gives one a feel for how things have changed. Because the number of ships has reduced so dramatically the event would be too small to make a meaningful and sensible fleet review.”

    The contrast with yesteryear is stark. Naval reviews have been held since 1415, when Henry V surveyed the fleet gathered for the invasion of France. In this century reviews have marked the coronation of George V in 1912, the mobilisation of the fleet in 1914, the coronation of George VI in 1937, the coronation of the present Queen in 1953, her silver jubilee in 1977 and the bicentenary of Trafalgar in 2005. The Queen’s golden jubilee was another casualty of defence cuts, with no review.

    “A fleet review is an opportunity for the Queen to see her ships and sailors and for the men of the Royal Navy to pay their respects to the monarch,” says Steve Bush, editor of the naval directory British Warships & Auxiliaries. “It is an event of great tradition and spectacle. The Trafalgar review of 2005 saw more than 100 ships mustered but almost half were from overseas navies, the biggest being the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.” Since 2005 the Navy has lost its Harrier force and the ability to protect itself, and strike, from the air. Illustrious, its sole-remaining carrier, now operates only helicopters, as does the amphibious assault ship Ocean, the only other ''flat-top’’ in the fleet.

    The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, a career officer before marriage, must look back ruefully on June 15 1953, when they boarded the frigate Surprise to review the armada gathered off Spithead to mark the Coronation. The Navy was anything but short of carriers then, benefiting from the surge in construction during the Second World War. Eagle, Indomitable, Illustrious, Theseus and Perseus, lined the way, together with Canada’s Magnificent and Australia’s Sydney. Other carriers were away on operations, from the Mediterranean to the Far East. In all some 300 ships, cruisers, destroyers, frigates and minesweepers, took part in the review, overflown by some 300 aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm.

    The fleet had shrunk dramatically by the silver jubilee of 1977 but was the third biggest behind the navies of the United States and Soviet Union. Two aircraft carriers, including Ark Royal, attended, with two cruisers, one assault ship, 17 destroyers, 18 frigates, 14 submarines and a host of minor vessels and auxiliaries. There was no need to flesh out the review with foreign vessels, just 18 attending.

    And today? Allowing for inflation, Britain’s GDP is four times greater than in 1953 but the country appears incapable of maintaining a viable fleet. Today it comprises two helicopter carriers, 1 active assault ship, six destroyers, 13 frigates, 42 minor vessels and 13 auxiliaries. Take away escorts on operations or in refit and the Navy would, as Lord West says, struggle to field more than a handful for a review. But one thing our increasingly Ruritanian fleet is not short of is admirals. There are 28 full, vice and rear admirals, one per major combat unit, surely the most over-managed structure in the country.

    “I don’t think it’s particularly likely that we could muster another fleet review,” says Sir Sandy Woodward, commander of the task force that in 1982 retook the Falklands. “A diamond jubilee review should be a grand thing.”

    In contrast, the navies of Brazil, Russia, India and China, are growing. Last year the Indian navy staged its presidential fleet review off Mumbai. There were 81 vessels, 10 more than the entire Royal Navy, including the carrier Viraat (ex British carrier Hermes). She still flies Sea Harriers, giving India a lead over its former naval mentor.

    David Cameron must take his share of the blame for the parlous state of the Navy. It was he who did away with the carrier Ark Royal and the Harrier force, effectively ending the Navy’s ability to mount independent expeditionary operations – until the (alleged) introduction of a new carrier in 2020. He also did away with nine new RAF Nimrods as they were about to be introduced into service, denuding the fleet of long-range aerial surveillance and anti-submarine protection.

    But governments of both shades are answerable. It can be argued that billions of pounds have been squandered reinforcing failure in Afghanistan, money that could have prevented the hollowing-out of the service, which guards the 95 per cent of British international trade conducted by sea.

    There is also the question of procurement: the Navy, like the other services, is very bad at buying affordable and effective equipment. The new Type 45 destroyers cost £1 billion each but lack the land-attack capability of their cheaper American counterpart. Only six can be afforded. “Ministers have ordered cuts upon cuts in the number of ships and aeroplanes for the Navy,” says Tim Ripley of Jane’s Defence Weekly. “No matter how capable the weapons of today are, a ship can only be in one place at a time. This Government wants our armed forces to be smaller and to do less.”

    After visiting the 1897 review, Rudyard Kipling was moved to compose the poem Recessional. The Empire was at its apogee but there were intimations of decline.

    Far-called, our navies melt away;

    On dune and headland sinks the fire:

    Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

    Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

    Britain, a maritime nation dependent on the sea lanes, has allowed its blue-water navy to melt away. The reckoning awaits.
     
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  3. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    Tell this to the pub hopping ordinary Brits who are yet to smell coffee and stuck in colonial grandeur.
     
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  4. LalTopi

    LalTopi Regular Member

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    There are still plenty of them around, but I think most people here realise that the days of ruling the waves are long past.

    The key question with the focus on costs is what size of Navy does Britain really need, and articles like this from the Daily Telegraph (a relatively right wing paper) are designed to stir emotions and encourage greater spending on the Royal Navy. The fleet is definitely diminished currently, and I think the decision to scrap the Arc Roal Aircraft Carrier and the fleet of Harriers was a strange one, considering that the two large QE class carriers are not due to be commissioned for ten years.Bad strategic planning, I would say. Although not a great naval power, Britain will still have a significant future presence in the form of the two new carriers and the fleet of Astute clas submarines (not to mention the other assets).
     
  5. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    At best one of the carriers will see light. The subs are for carrying the nukes and not much for expeditionary capability. No wonder the question of will Britain be able to save the Falklands keeps coming up every now and then.
     
  6. BangersAndMash

    BangersAndMash Regular Member

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    Defend the Falklands from who? The Argies? Their entire defence budget is just enough to pay their soldiers wages, they have not purchased any major military hardware in decades! They hardly pose a military threat!
     
  7. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    The depletion in fleet strength was clear recently when the falkland dispute popped
    up again Britain sent a nuclear sub then a destroyer. Strange to jump to your biggest guns first.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2012/02/201221191629752236.html
     
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  8. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Rather a sad state for a nation that once ruled the waves.
     
  9. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    It's a saving grace for the Brits that the Argies suck. If they had a decent force, Britain will find it difficult to defend.
     
  10. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Britain will maintain it's blue water status from it's subs and one supercarrier.
    The area it is hurting most is in naval aviation with the Harriers gone there
    may not be replacements till 2020?
     
  11. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Which super carrier do they have?
     
  12. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Queen Elizabeth.
     
  13. LalTopi

    LalTopi Regular Member

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    Latest news is that two carriers are back on the cards with F35Cs, as this proves cheaper than one carrier with magnetic catapults and the F35B. Decision might change again, of course - the planning has been a real mess to date:

    Government plans U-turn on aircraft carriers as catapult costs spiral | Politics | The Guardian

    Slightly off topic, but DFI members might also find the following article on Aircraft carriers interesting, although comment on India is slightly misleading:
    BBC News - Does anybody still need aircraft carriers?
     
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  14. Apollyon

    Apollyon Führer Senior Member

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    they are making two ACC of this Class ... both under-construction ... although Conventionally Powered will be next to only Nimitz and Gerald Ford ... :)
     
  15. LalTopi

    LalTopi Regular Member

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    Nuclear subs are a sore point with Argentina, as Britain sank the General Belgrano and hence escalated the conflict during the 1982 Falklands war.
    This was the first, and I believe the only, sinking by a nuclear sub:

    ARA General Belgrano - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
     
  16. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    Britain is purchasing F-35 VTOLs iirc
     
  17. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    Yes they are but the induction is not in sight. Numbers could drop as well. Britain sure does need both it's carriers requisitioned to remain a potent naval force.
     
  18. agentperry

    agentperry Senior Member Senior Member

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    yes. but again f-35 wont be in full strength uptil 2020
     
  19. LalTopi

    LalTopi Regular Member

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    Yes that is correct. And the issue is that the pilots will have no carrier experience for 10 years - except from using French equipment maybe.
     
  20. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

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    Good to hear. Here's to an increasingly irrelevant and sidelined Britain in the 21st century. :tea:
     
  21. trackwhack

    trackwhack Tihar Jail Banned

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    where is that nutjob scalie?
     

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