In the current debate on cuts, all that is spoken about are Carriers, Typhoon fighters and other major projects; but is the right place to look? Britain maintains at great expense bases in Germany, Saudi Arabia and many others; but do we need them? And if not; why have these bases at all? These bases are cold war relics, the aircraft carriers are not – the RN needed them in the cold war but the RAF and Army vetoed them; hence the Falklands War problems. Even worse the bases in Germany are still defended with the visage of Hitler...if we leave he may rise up again; he won’t, he is dead; we do not need them anymore. What about the bases in Saudi Arabia, surely with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq they are worth the money...the short answer is no. Britain and the US were not allowed to use them in either conflict, and in fact Saudi Arabian bases are too far away to be of much use, if any, in Afghanistan. So to sum up these bases; they provide a rallying call for Islamic extremists, they provide no tactical assistance at all, with bases in Iraq they have lost their strategic value, and they cost money! These bases are of course the only ones; there are a multitude of Airbases and other facilities around the world that Britain purchases access to through the expenditure of hard currency. These bases, which may well never be used, but if such facilities were needed could be far more cost effectively provide by an aircraft carrier; after all aircraft carriers are built and maintained in Britain, their crews live in Britain, they do not employ foreign citizens in foreign lands, they do not take funds out of the nations own economy, in fact they often stimulate growth in the home technology and service industries.
The other accusations thrown at the Royal Navy is its fighting the last war...always an interesting accusation, this though should not be considered always a bad thing as it is represented; it is considered a sign of good character to learn from ones past actions, to not do so is a sign of immaturity. Therefore, learning from past actions:
- 1982 Falklands War, dependent on naval airpower for the entire campaign, one must ask the question...what would the outcome have been had the RN had a decent carrier? Would the war have taken place in the first place?
- 1991 Gulf War, carrier based aircraft provide arguably the most efficient 50% of the tactical air support, as well as also provide
- 1995 Bosnia & 1999 Kosovo, whilst being peacekeeping operations the preferred air support for the Peacekeepers was called from carriers...the reason being that it was felt the nice safe USAF and RAF bases in Italy damaged moral by bringing down massive airstrikes of a strategic nature, and then leaving, going home nice and safe and beyond easy call back range (unlike their carrier counterparts); whilst the peacekeepers were taken hostage or fired at by angry participants.
- 2001 Afghanistan, beyond the range of many land bases, the key troops were inserted by helicopter from amphibious ships, and whilst air support was provided by USAF from bases in central Asia, those bases themselves are now being closed by internal politics of host nations.
- 2003 Gulf War 2, due to the denial of land bases to USAF and RAF, the USN were the key providers of air support, providing at times up to 90% of the tactical air support, and with cruise missiles included a minimum of 54% of the strategic air strikes.
Finally I put forward these figures for your consideration before conclusion:
But he has a problem: so much of what the Navy does is invisible. Be it anti-drugs patrols in the Caribbean, anti-piracy patrols off Somalia, mine clearance in the Persian Gulf or intelligence gathering by nuclear-powered attack submarines, naval operations rarely make the news. The Royal Marines, the Navy's infantry, have distinguished themselves in Afghanistan but when a television viewer sees a Marine he or she is likely to think Army. The contribution of Fleet Air Arm Harrier and helicopter pilots to the campaign is also rarely noted. If it flies it must be RAF.
When the Navy did make the headlines in March 2007 it was in the most humiliating circumstances. Fifteen Marines and sailors from the frigate Cornwall were captured by the Iranians while inspecting vessels in the Persian Gulf. Images of detainees smiling their way through captivity were compounded by the inexplicable decision to allow several to sell their stories. Nelsonian it was not.
But public relations are only a part of it. Why does Britain, which shed its global empire nearly a half a century ago, need a blue-water Navy? Why not a brown-water one, a vestigial coastal defence force? The answer lies in some figures.
The United Kingdom remains a crowded archipelago of 61 million people reliant on maritime traffic for its survival. Shipping carries 92 per cent of British trade, as compared to less than one per cent carried by air. Tanker traffic – oil, chemicals and liquefied natural gas (LNG) – accounts for nearly 40 per cent of total maritime trade movements. LNG is central to future energy needs, with imports expected to rise by half in three years. The British-owned merchant fleet may not be the colossus it once was but still weighs in at 20 million tons. The raw materials and finished goods on which the UK depends must use nine global choke points which are easily blocked, and the country is still enmeshed in a network of treaties and informal arrangements requiring a naval presence. There is also the nuclear deterrent, a naval responsibility for 40 years..
"All truly great powers are maritime powers," says Lee Willett, senior naval analyst at the Royal United Services Institute. "Navies allow you to operate when and where you want, over the horizon or as a visible presence helping to prevent conflict."
From an Article in the Telegraph by Neil Tweedie (The Navy strikes back)
Published: 7:00AM BST 18 Jun 2009
So what am I saying with all this? I am saying that if the reason you have a base is political commitment it is cheaper for a ship to make a port call every so often than to maintain a base which is a tie to a particular regime, a particular set of commitments and of course a far larger cost; after all a corvette could visit many countries in an 18 month period, hold many drinks parties, and cause many occasions for everyone to get dressed up; but most importantly if you don’t like that countries human rights, or the current government it can skip past and visit their next door neighbour whom you do like.
I am saying that before the RAF and Army go pointing the finger at the RN they should take a look at their own budgets, and ask if they really need multiple jungle training bases, when most of the army is so over stretched I am surprised they still have time for basic training.
However what I am really trying say is you cannot fight 2 Major Regional Conflicts, 1 Minor Regional Conflicts and have commitments numbered in the double figures each requiring the maintenance of garrisons numbered in treble figures on a budget which is actually less than the average peace time commitment of funds; when compared to comparative powers, whose governments sign them up for less resource drains.
The simple fact I am arguing therefore, is that the forces need more funds not less, they need to stop fighting each other, and fight together to get these funds. I am arguing the Navy needs 3 aircraft carriers* (but it is just getting 2 and only half of the JSFs deployed on them will belong to it), 18 destroyers (it asked for 12 but it is getting 6) and at least 48 corvettes (asked for none, but they are cheaper and if you have 18 destroyers to provide core of escort fleet will do all that needs to be done whilst providing increased worldwide presence); the Army needs an extra 16 battalions of mechanised infantry (with decent armoured vehicles), an extra 8 squadrons of attach choppers as well as transport helicopters and they need new vehicles...desperately; the Air Force has fared the best in some ways under the current climate, but it is still suffering, it might have got its Typhoons but they need to be modified to Tranche 3 level to be able to carry the bombs and other munitions they need to support the army on the ground, they need helicopters to support the troops as well (if they don’t want them then they should allow the other services to buy them). I am also for the greater building of UAVs and amphibious forces; as I believe and will be posting on this in the future that sea basing is the future of humanitarian intervention, due to the benefits for keeping western troops especially out off bases which are surrounded by groups whom may turn hostile at any moment; however this article is focusing on the procurement of the platforms those systems would operate off.
The conclusion is this, the forces have been cut, further than they should of been, further than they would have been if the government had actually thought about more than the cost before making decsions. There is an old saying 'the price of everything and the value of nothing' well successive British governments have fitted this addage, they no price of armoured vehicle but not its value to the men sheltering behind it as they try their uptmost to carry out orders which will make their political masters happy, the know price of destroyer but they don't understand why the navy needs them, they don't think...what will that be used for? these masters know the cost of every nut and bolt of the aircraft they purchase, yet still they do not think...if that will be used for Combat Air Support...why did we not order the fittings for bombs to be attached? The unfortunate thing is this is likely to continue, until someone listens, and I don't mean to bloggers, to senior officers and former grandees, I mean to the facts, to the actual facts that are presented to them when they are presented honestly; and instead of just hearing the price tag they might hear what it does, and then might just buy what the forces need, rather than buying what looks good and costs right.
*3 carriers actually work out better value for money than 2, especially if the bases are closed, as they provide a guarantee of at least one read for operations immediately, and one either on operations or able to come online within 2 days.
singing to the choir is good...as long as you can get the choir to sing to other people as well