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A reader replies to Admiral Burton

Last week NavyBooks highlighted Admiral Burton`s Report to the All Parties Parliamentary Group (APPG) (for full speech click here). Mr R J Wilcox, a long time customer of NavyBooks responded and we publish his thoughts below:

Comment:    An excellent report on recent Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary tasks. Reading it, one understands what our Navy is doing over the horizon. Despite having so few ships active at sea, it illustrates how involved the Navy is and, correspondingly, how over-stretched, it is. This must impact on the wear-and-tear on hulls, machinery, and crews (even when rotated).

Disappointingly, very little of this finds its way into the media, until or unless something goes wrong. At which point “all hell’ breaks loose; Ministers and Senior Officers are called to account and forced to reveal details to the public, Parliament and the opposition: cf the recent Trident Test Firing reports.

However, Admiral Burton’s report fails to score on many points. My ten questions are:

  1. Where will new ships be built? If overseas this could make UK and the Royal Navy hostage to high costs?
  1. Will Appledore, Lowestoft, Camper-Nicolson`s, and similar small shipyards be able to quickly deliver small hulls for the many patrol craft which UK will need for inshore anti-immigrant / anti- narcotics security patrols? Will Harland & Wolfe / Cammell-Laird / Hawthorn Leslie / Vosper / John Brown, etc. rise from the grave overnight?
  1. Where will crews come from – recruiting is a challenge?
  1. Warships have long-lead times from concept, to design, to build, to launch to operational effectiveness. Given the usual slippage as well, how can we build as quickly as the world situation demands?
  1. With the ageing Type 23s to be replaced by the complex but numerically fewer Type 26s and the less costly but, presumably, less capable Type 31s, any slippage will require the 23s to creak on for longer. Will sufficient hulls be ordered to replace the 13 Type 23s or will the Treasury impose cuts?
  1. The juicy targets HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will require escorts. Are the six Type 45s sufficient, or will the duties be shared with the Type 26s / Type 31s / RFAs leaving no spare hull capacity for other Royal Navy commitments?
  1. If President Trump curtails the Type 35B ‘Lightning II’ project what will be the impact on the carrier programme?
  1. The Astute Class submarines build programme is not yet complete – will there be enough crew / hulls for the future?
  1. Will there be the necessary four Dreadnought Class submarines to replace the current Vanguard Class?
  1. If President Trump reduces the USA contribution to NATO – who will take up the slack?

I believe Ben Wilson`s historical, thoughtful, and admirable `Empire of the Deep – the rise and fall of the Royal Navy` should be obligatory reading for the Navy Board. Have its lessons been learnt? I’m not sure,  over 85% of our imports / exports are moved by sea – we need a capable navy to defend them. The Royal Navy tradition of quality, training, will and spirit undoubtedly remains – but where is the material and infrastructure for it deploy? It is essential that the current woeful state of the Royal Navy is brought to the attention of the tax paying public, our MPs, Parliament and Ministers.

R.J.Wilcox:   Not a veteran but an interested observer of the Royal Navy for over 50 years. An annual visitor to Portsmouth harbour since 1955, with more occasional visits to Plymouth, Rosyth, Faslane and Chatham, as was.  In 42 cruises, world-wide, since 2005, I have seen only one RN vessel and one RFA at sea. I gather that most of the ships are in the Middle East or the Gulf, with others rarely available for showing the flag at home.

 

20 January 2017.

 

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