Saturday, October 04, 2008

Britain neglects the navy at our peril

At a dinner earlier this week I found myself seated between two retired naval officers - one British, one American - both of whom now work in the nuclear industry. Many aspects of their conversation were fascinating, but one thing was particularly relevant to today's news. The Brit has a son who has followed him into the Royal Navy and is currently serving ashore in the middle east - on principle I'm not going to say the name or the country but I'm sure you get the drift.

Looking up the details on arriving home I find that literally thousands of Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel are currently serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact the article linked to below says that half of the 8,000 British personnel in Afghanistan for the next six months are sailors and marines.

It just goes to show how much we expect of our armed services - as well as their own skilled and specialist roles we require them to serve in theatres of war and in other tasks when we're short of people.

Which makes it all the more disgraceful that the present government is neglecting the Royal Navy. Our Fleet protects 90 per cent of Britain's imported trade. Yet according to a report in today's Telegraph, nearly half our destroyer fleet has been mothballed, and the RN now has just five air defence warships left to protect our ships from aircraft and missile attack at a time when other nations such as China, India and Iran are investing heavily in anti-ship warfare.

Three Type 42 destroyers – Exeter, Nottingham and Southampton – have been "parked up" in Portsmouth at "reduced readiness" up to two years before they were due to be decommissioned.

Falklands War veterans are particularly angry after HMS Exeter, the last serving warship from the campaign, was refused permission to fly a paying-off pennant when it entered harbour after its last mission.

Britain's force of destroyers and frigates has now been reduced from 35 to 22 in the last decade despite government promises it would not slip below 25.

It will be another two years before the first of six of the highly sophisticated Type 45 destroyers can be deployed, and meanwhile there is a serious gap in air defences.

Pressures on the Navy's budget are immense with cuts of 20 per cent predicted in the next decade reducing the ship building budget to by £4 billion to £14 billion.

The government has made a big fuss about the proposed new fleet carriers it intends to build, but without enough escorts it will be impossible to deploy these vessels to project power in any dangerous theatre of operations as they would be too vulnerable.

You can read the full article here.

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