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Royal Navy is dangerously weak argues new article

The Royal Navy is dangerously weak, risking the silent principles of the UK's national security unless the future fleet is restored and adequately sized, claims a new article co-authored by an LSE expert and published in the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Things Don't Happen: Silent Principles of National Security, by Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham and LSE Professor Gwyn Prins, explains the core strategic task of the Royal Navy, and argues that past underfunding and the current extreme financial pressures will leave the future fleet ageing, fewer in number and 'inadequate for the most fundamental, enduring and vital tasks' – namely upholding the silent principles of national security with conventional deterrence to safeguard trade routes from pirates, terrorists or non-friendly governments.

 Blackham and Prins write: 'Today, the assumption is that good order is a natural condition and can be taken for granted because 'nothing happens'. But 'nothing happens' is no accident... No one associates the full supermarket shelves, the availability of a range of other goods and the supply of fuels to power our homes, cars and industry with the free flow of sea trade... The free flow that makes globalised trade and the creation of prosperity possible depends prominently upon the presence of naval units at sea, unseen and silent and therefore easily forgotten.' 

naval frigatePresenting an alarming picture for the Royal Navy over the next ten years, the article warns the rate of decline in the fleet size will reach a low point of only nineteen frigates. The average age of the surface combatant ships will also rise from fifteen years in 2012 to twenty-one years in 2021 – the age that used to be regarded as the effective end of their useful lives. 

'Real world tasks urgently require significantly more surface combatants, of lower cost and capability. Use of the sea demands presence along the sea routes. Presence is the prerequisite for the silent deterrent messages that naval force alone can articulate. A poised force is the prerequisite for pre-emptive action. It is also the prerequisite for surprise. Surprise is often the ability to appear without warning and in force. The ships needed to fulfil these missions must have endurance, versatility, role adaptability and number, and be cheaper. Presence demands numbers. The ability to mass and to surge a force demands numbers. Numbers are also essential for replaceability. If you cannot afford to lose a ship you cannot afford to use it. Presence is the indispensable prerequisite for deterrence.' 

The paper outlines that the Royal Navy urgently require at least ten new cheaper and lower capability oceangoing frigates – to complement existing Type 45 and Type 26 vessels – be built in the next decade to preserve the 'silent deterrent' of a 'lower-intensity daily constabulary' force patrolling the major sea routes. In a time of increased globalised trade by sea transported goods, Blackham and Prins maintain every trading nation is necessarily a maritime nation – citing recent naval expansion by Australia, China, India and Japan as examples – and maritime presence demands numbers.

Acknowledging the dire state of the public finances, but arguing national security is not a discretionary expenditure, the paper suggests the strategic need for more surface combatants must be met through reassessing the choice of 'seriously cost constrained' new ships, looking closely at examples from Denmark and the Netherlands that offer a modular, adaptable design at a quarter of the price of currently planned purchases. 

'Any trading nation has a critical interest in the secure use of the seas and the preservation of good order at sea… The dependence of the West, but especially of Britain, on use of the sea for its survival and prosperity is a geopolitical fact of life,' write Blackham and Prins.

'Britain is axiomatically dependent on the carriage of goods by sea for its functioning as a modern economy and society. The volume and value of sea-transported goods vastly exceeds that of goods carried by other means. According to the Chamber of Shipping, 95 per cent of UK trade by volume and 90 per cent by value is carried by sea on journeys both long and short, but all indispensible. Most of these goods have to transit one of the world's eight choke points (Hormuz, Malacca Straits, Bab el Mandeb, Suez, Gibraltar, the two Cape routes, Panama), providing easily predictable opportunities to those who may wish to interdict that flow – pirates, terrorists and opportunist governments.

'This would, of course, represent a significant shift in the navy's current view of itself and its structure. It optimises the surface force for the enduring and lower-intensity daily constabulary and diplomatic tasks, with some higher capability on top of this force… The greater ability to be present in adequate numbers and capability in troublesome areas makes the outbreak of major war less likely. We have to carry out the logically prior task of deterrence, since no reasonable person would or should contemplate a major war with equanimity… For deterrence or for power projection or as a basis for surge construction in the event of another major war, a restored and adequately sized Royal Navy is indispensible for British national security.' 

The full RUSI Journal article| by Jeremy Blackham and Gwyn Prins.

 Ends

NOTES FOR EDITORS

For all enquiries, including requests for a full copy of the article, please contact Daniel Sherman +44 (0)7917 373 069 / daniels@rusi.org|

Gwyn Prins is a Research Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, specialising in advanced security studies with a longstanding interest in naval affairs.

  Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham is an independent defence advisor, a Vice President of RUSI and Editor of the Naval Review. As Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Equipment Capability) he established the Capability Area in the Ministry of Defence.

  The RUSI Journal is the leading publication of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Published six times a year by the Taylor & Francis Group, it is an internationally recognised authority on defence and security issues.

  RUSI is an independent think-tank for defence and security. RUSI is a unique institution; founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, it embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.

 23 August 2010

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