We cannot let our Navy be emasculated, we must work to restore it
This week, The Daily Telegraph reported that the Royal Navy is a “laughing stock” thanks to its failure to provide enough relief to the hurricane-stricken West Indies.
Not true. The Navy is still the highly capable, efficient and dedicated service that it always was, using its limited resources as creatively as it can. It is our Government that has become the laughing stock, promising, on the world stage, actions that our persistently underfunded Forces cannot deliver. The latest events only point to the current parlous size and capability of our operational fleet.
The Defence Secretary has claimed that “2017 is the year of the Navy” – based, presumably, on the delivery of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first of our new aircraft carriers, and three of the much-delayed T26 frigates.
How could he delude himself, and us, when it is abundantly clear that the Navy has been cut to a dangerous level and urgently needs significantly more resources? Particularly damaging was the arbitrary cut of 4,000 personnel in the 2010 Strategic Defence Review, which has led to perfectly operational ships being tied up rather than at sea protecting our nation.
The good news is that, finally, it has been recognised that our country requires a maritime strategy – despite the National Security Strategy failing even to mention that the UK is an island nation. Our reliance on the sea is, and always has been, absolute.
Let us compare and contrast our capability with 1990, when our GDP was 46 per cent lower than it is now. Then we had three aircraft carriers, 49 escorts and 33 submarines. Today, we have one aircraft carrier not yet in service, 19 escorts and 10 submarines. It is a shocking picture. The decline in military capability is a choice and not one our nation should have made in today’s chaotic, unpredictable and dangerous world.
What of the future? For some 15 years, we were involved in a counter-terrorist/nation-building campaign in central Asia with arguable success. The defence budget was skewed towards continental warfare and money was stripped from the maritime. This must now be reversed.
There are simplistic arguments for boosting numbers with “cheap and cheerful” ships and aircraft. It has led the Government down the route of the planned Type 31e frigate. There is some scope for this approach but it is not the panacea to all our ills and we cannot discount the operational risks involved.
The money-saving tactic of dismantling an entire area of capability has been mooted, but one can never predict the next crisis and historically such action has been proved dangerously unwise.
There is no easy answer. Defence is hurting and the Royal Navy is being emasculated. Our nation is standing into danger.