Asking the Navy to do more and more with less and less

Just at the very moment that the decisions of the October 2010 “Strategic Defence Review” start to bite, the Royal Navy is being asked by government to do more than ever. With the crisis in Libya and the Middle East showing no signs of ending, RN warships are spread thin across the globe. A quick snapshot of the fleet shows the pace of operations. With such a tiny fleet, our naval ports are almost empty and there are few vessels able to provide reliefs should the Libya crisis continue or escalate.

The HMS Ocean, an Royal Navy Amphibious Assaul...

HMS Ocean  – Image via Wikipedia

RN ships involved in Operation Ellamy off Libya include HMS Ocean, HMS Albion, HMS Sutherland, HMS Liverpool, HMS Brocklesby and HMS Bangor and HMS Triumph. The RFA is playing an increasing role with RFA Fort Rosalie, RFA Wave Knight supporting them. RFA Argus, RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Cardigan Bay are ready off Yemen should UK citizens need to be evacuated. RN patrols in the Arabian Gulf continue (as they have since 1980) with HMS St Albans sailing this week to relieve HMS Iron Duke in addition to the 4 permanently deployed RN minehunters in the Gulf. HMS Richmond is involved in exercises in the Far East and HMS Edinburgh has sailed to relieve HMS York in the South Atlantic along with HMS Scott. RFA Wave Ruler is in the Caribbean ready to provide relief in case of hurricanes.

In the last few months the RN has paid off submarine HMS Trafalgar, aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, 4 frigates; HMS Cornwall, HMS Chatham, HMS Campbeltown, & Cumberland and 2 destroyers; HMS Manchester & HMS Gloucester, 3 auxiliaries; RFA Fort George, RFA Largs Bay & RFA Bayleaf. Of the few new vessels joining the fleet, the 3 new Type 45 destroyers are not ready to be deployed on operations and submarine HMS Astute’s epic sea trails have been dogged by bad luck. The only other ship to join the RN is HMS Protector – a Norwegian ice-breaker which should be a good replacement for HMS Endurance.

It would appear that the Navy is actually indispensable to this government (like all before) who are tasking it with more and more. This tempo can be maintained for a short time but is not sustainable as there is simply no back up. More pressure is being put on ageing ships for which no replacements are forthcoming and personnel are being worked harder, some even under threat of redundancy. It is shameful that the government will not reverse the defence cuts in the light of events, and is grinding our forces down with over-work and under investment.

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