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Greatly Exaggerated

This article was originally posted on the ‘Save The Royal Navy’ Website for more details of their work see:

There are many serious concerns about the state of the Royal Navy today. Lost in a wave of negative and half-accurate media stories is the truth that even now, the RN is still delivering for the UK. The RN is under-funded and under-sized, especially when judged by the standards of its illustrious past and today’s growing threats. Judged by the standards of most of European and many world navies, it is still a potent force and is consistently meeting the specific operational tasks it is given by government.

The excellent US defence writer David Axe has written about The Slow Death of the Royal Navy. Many of his points about the decline in the RN are valid but it is hard to agree with his overall conclusion that the RN is “dying” when, by the mid 2020s, it will actually be far more potent than it is today.

Even today, although there are significant challenges to overcome and much is resting on future promises, the RN is very much alive and kicking.

In September 2016 the Royal Navy had over 7,800 sailors and marines directly preparing for operations or already on operations. 33 ships, submarines and units were deployed away from home base.

This includes Minor War Vessels and RFAs in the North and South Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Gulf and home waters as well as the unbroken Continuous at Sea Deterrent.

HMS Ocean and HMS Bulwark deployed last month, with the RN leading the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) which will include Army and RAF units and forces from Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway. The JEF is not considered just an exercise (like the previous COUGAR deployments) and will encompass the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Gulf, possibly participating in anti-ISIL operations or responding to events as required. You can rightly point to the lack of an aircraft carrier, not enough escorts, RFAs doing the jobs of frigates and a manpower crisis but the RN remains one of the few navies capable of leading a multi-national amphibious task group.

No one is pretending everything is rosy in the garden but let us look on the plus side for a moment. If, for example you are serving on a Type 45 destroyer, having the media and every armchair admiral explaining your ship doesn’t work is unhelpful and mostly inaccurate. On every arrival of a Type 45 in port, which would be routinely attended by tugs anyway, some wag asks “has she broken down again?” In reality the average availability of the Type 45s since 2013 has been 94.6% and has never dropped below 90.47% during that time. In simple terms, the propulsion problems have led to a loss of around 5% of time on operations for the class. Not ideal, but certainly not the disaster it is publicly perceived to be. HMS Defender completed a 9-month deployment to the heat of the Gulf in July without any propulsion failure, the kind of positive fact the media likes to ignore.

The Portsmouth News has triggered another ‘Type 45 media scrum’ by indulging in some “journalism by FOI request”, managing to paint an unfairly bleak and rather out-dated picture of Type 45 availability. Looking at bald statistics about Type 45’s time alongside in the UK does not tell the full story. As in many defence matters, complexity is the enemy of the juicy news story. Drawing conclusions by looking at sea-to-shore ratios across a flotilla of ships, over a period of just one year, and using ‘days in port’ as the metric is flawed. For example, Type 45s as Portsmouth-based ships going through Operational Sea Training in Plymouth are counted as merely in a UK port. In reality the ship’s company is away from home, undergoing an exceptional training regime and being worked hard. If you measured this figure across all the ships and across their five year inter-refit cycle, you’d get a far higher availability figure than quoted in this narrow FOI.

After completion of well-deserved summer leave periods the Type 45 are now busy. At the time of writing, HMS Daring is in Malta on route to a 9-month period in the Gulf which will involve escorting US aircraft carriers. HMS Diamond is at sea off the coast of Libya, HMS Duncan is preparing for a NATO deployment and HMS Dragon will shortly be at sea on operations within UK waters. HMS Defender is about to commence a major refit. Manpower problems have relegated HMS Dauntless to a harbour training ship but it has at least been announced that she will begin a major refit towards the end of 2017 before returning to operational status.

The Royal Navy is still in need of “saving” from a generation of politicians who have been generous on rhetoric but short when it comes to delivering sufficient resources to do the job. Pressure must be maintained for increased spending on the Navy and end to cuts, waste and absurd industrial policy. But consider the navy of today, often out of sight over the horizon yet still doing a highly professional job on a daily basis. Next time you hear the RN casually and inaccurately described as a “spent force”, spare a thought for the morale and contribution of those serving or considering serving. 2017 will see the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth, not a panacea for every deep-rooted problem but undoubtedly a statement of intent and a sign there is still much Royal Navy history to be written.

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