We can­not let our Navy be emas­cu­lated, we must work to re­store it

The Daily Telegraph - - Comment - ALAN WEST Ad­mi­ral Lord West of Sp­it­head was First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff from 2002 to 2006

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.

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