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|16 JUN 2012 at 4:19pm|
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Posted In: Articles : Book Review
Author: Nick Childs
Publisher: Pen and Sword, 2012.
For an island nation, and one with such a rich naval history (The Spanish Armada, Trafalgar, Jutland, the Battle of the River Plate), the vast majority of the public in Great Britain are remarkably unconcerned about the present state of the Royal Navy (RN), let alone its future. In this book Nick Childs makes a gallant attempt to fuel a debate he thinks is vital for the country’s security into the 21st century.
Mr. Childs is currently a world affairs correspondent with the BBC. He has also worked as one of their Defence and Security correspondents as well as a political and Pentagon correspondent. This alone makes him well placed to write about a subject that is a political issue, and not just a military one. When you add to his CV (curriculum vitae) his reporting on conflicts in the Gulf, Middle East, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and the Balkans as well as his work as a reporter for Jane’s Defence Weekly—plus writing many articles on naval and other defence issues—you know his writings about Britain’s future navy will retain some authority.
The book itself gets off to a great start with a foreword by Admiral Sir Jock Slater GCB (Order of the Bath) LVO (Royal Victorian Order) DL (Deputy Lieutenant) who was the RN’s First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval staff from 1995 to 1998 and Vice Chief of the British Defence Staff from 1992 to 1995. Clearly, Admiral Slater is sympathetic to the conversation Mr. Childs is wanting to have. Indeed, he regards it as “a valuable contribution to the debate”. But being part of the “establishment”, he doesn’t agree with everything that is written. He notes that the author is “intentionally provocative” and in places “a trifle cynical about conventional naval thinking”. A sensible health warning from the Admiral!
The book aims to answer these questions: “What kind of navy does Britain need now and in the future? Does the country have the correct naval strategy to deal with emerging threats, and does it then have the right ships and enough of them (in sensible proportions) to see the strategy through?” Over the course of thirteen chapters the author takes us through a history of the development of the RN and its vessels over the latter half of the twentieth century. Then, it continues onto a discussion about what navies are for and how important will the sea, and therefore navies, be in the Twenty-First Century. He then discusses the actual designs of ships and relevant technologies before a chapter majoring on the vexed question of Britain’s future aircraft carriers. This subject, in fact, weaves a common thread through the whole book as the costs and capabilities of these ships influences the discussion on the numbers and types of other ships in the RN (in terms of affordability and the role of those other vessels). For those not familiar with the background—it is worth mentioning that when the British Government changed relatively recently the incoming administration wanted to scrap the carrier programme, but found that it was cheaper to carry on building them! This was despite doubts about whether they were needed, and if there would be planes to fly from them or vessels to protect and support these capital ships.
Interesting comparisons are drawn between those (Western) European nations that still maintain some element of naval aviation (eg. France and Spain) and the fact that Britain will, for some time, be without any naval strike capacity, re-learning the lessons of flying planes off of naval vessels. The irony being of course that Britain invented the carrier (although it was clearly their use by the US and Japanese navies during the Second World War that “wrote the book” on modern naval tactics).
The issue of nuclear submarines (both ballistic and hunter-killers) is covered, as well as the saga of the development of the Type 45 destroyer. This is followed by a discourse on what the future is (or isn’t) for the frigate as a ship type.
Personally, I found the concluding chapters on the balance of the fleet the most fascinating; this is where the issue of whether Britain still needs to “punch above its weight” as a naval power that really tickles the subject of national pride. There is an interesting case put forward: would we not be better to accept our status as a middle rank nation and navy with a number of support and/or auxiliary vessels to fly the flag that would provide a useful presence globally--albeit a presence that packs little punch?
Into this narrative Mr. Childs brings in the experience of the US Navy in re-shaping its fleet and re-defining its role and purpose. This is clearly relevant. But what I think many readers will find particularly interesting are the references, which sit throughout the book, to the development of the naval forces of nations which traditionally haven’t developed an ocean-going navy. China is the obvious example, but India and Brazil are identified as countries to lookout for.
The book tries to be optimistic about the future of the Royal Navy. However, the author references all the various reviews (or cost cutting exercises as they mainly prove to be) that have been carried-out on Britain’s armed services over the years. Given the current and on-going global economic situation (that is again referenced throughout) the reader is left with a bit of optimism as the author asks: “Is the Royal navy at a crossroads or a tipping point?”
For someone whose naval interests lapsed with the Cold Wars (it was real, look it up!) and the Falkland Islands conflict, I thought this was an excellent book. Whilst those with an interest in naval affairs will be the main purchasers, I think this book should be something those with a deeper interest in the connection between the political decision making process and military capabilities take a serious look at. For instance, I found the author’s passing question—about what the British Army will do with all the equipment (particularly specialist vehicles) bought for Afghan operations and how it will re-configure itself after over a decade of counter-insurgency in a small country very far away—titillating (another book?). So if you are up for a well written, challenging and thought provoking read, give this a go; even if you are not the nautical type!.
Review written by: Paul Robinson, Staff Writer
About Paul Robinson
|20 JUN 2012 at 12:50pm|
Posts : 211
Joined: 7 OCT 2011
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I think recent experience (last 30 years) suggests that it is impossible to predict what the "next" conflict will be. Thus you can only arm yourself for the current conflict. Thus Britain should arm itself for a continuing ground struggle in Afghanistan, and concentrate on counter-insurgency infantry expenditure, and all the support (both in Afghanistan & the UK) that this entails.
Aircraft Carriers, high altitude fighters and nuclear missile subs are irrelevant to the current situation & should be mothballed, unless of course someone can confidently tell us where the next war is coming from.
Britain is a 2nd division country trying to fight 1st division wars - we should grow up & realise we no longer rule the waves. We can still make an impact, but only if we concentrate our resources where they matter.
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