Archive for the 'Royal Navy' Tag

The centre pieces of the future Royal Navy, without enough Type 26 Frigates to provide for wider presence and escort, or combat aircraft, they will be very much limited in terms of providing the capability Britain needs from them.

The centre pieces of the future Royal Navy, without enough Type 26 Frigates to provide for wider presence and escort, or combat aircraft, they will be very much limited in terms of providing the capability Britain needs from them.1

In 1814, when the Napoleonic Wars were coming to an end, British Defence expenditure accounted for 21.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 64.9% of Total Government Expenditure (TGE).2 In 1914 at the beginning of World War I it accounted for 3.2% of GDP and 40.1% of TGE. In contrast, in 2014, after years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, with pirates operating on both the East and West Coasts of Africa attacking ocean trade, a greatly more pro-active Russia, on-going disputes and troubles affecting key allies in the Middle East and Far East, and territorial disputes in the Falklands and Gibraltar constantly recycling, British Defence Expenditure accounted for 2.1% of GDP and 4.4% of TGE. The difference of course reflects, the growth in other areas of government expenditure, i.e. National Health, and welfare, but also a change in the subject of the defence debate.

In the early 1800s the debate was whether to pursue a ‘Continental’ (Army to fight in Europe) or ‘Blue Water’ (Navy to blockade Napoleon and his allies in Europe, while transporting the Army around the world to acquire colonies, and other resources) strategy; these were ideas which divided the nation, and that caused much heated discussion – not only in parliament, but also across the great houses, coffee houses and ale houses of the whole country. In the early 1900s, the age of Dreadnought battleships, machine guns and high explosive, but alongside this often very technical discussions of specific weaponry, there was still the strategic debate going on – of whether to focus resources on Europe or to look to the rest of the world. On both occasions, the reality that was perceived, was that it was necessary to be able to do both, to a lesser or greater extent and this is reflected in the relative budgets allocated to the two services.

Recently the defence debate in Britain has stopped the discussion of strategy, and equipment (baring Trident), instead it is an almost constant discussion of the % of GDP allocated to defence. Furthermore, this debate often revolves around the figure of 2%, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation minimum, and any difference from this figure is obsessed over – whether positive or negative. The reality though is this is an artificial debate, its focusing on spending as aim in itself, rather than spending in terms of what is procured, and as such obscures the debate which should be taking place. In actuality, for defence (as with all government spending), Britain needs to debate, and then decide what is needs to do, and what it would like to do; only when these things have been decided must the decision as to what needs to be paid for and how much should be paid be decided.

The first question is the most difficult, as it can depend upon perspective, after all it can be reduced to the just the territorial integrity of the nation; which at its base point, could be defended on an international level by the strategic deterrent, and some form of reserve army – to deal with possible internal disruption caused by extremists. That though is rather simple, and relies upon a nation resorting to nuclear weapons the moment they are threatened – a powder-keg situation, that could come to put the nation at more risk than protect it.

The situation becomes even more complex when factoring in the island Britain’s reliance upon imported food and energy,3 as well as its economic reliance upon global trade;4 defending these is more difficult and requires a wider range of military capabilities. It requires a global presence (if decisions are made by those who show up; interests can only be protected by those who are present) which can be provided simply by suitably equipped ships, but in certain regions may be judged to require a larger commitment, i.e. a port agreement, air base or even possibly a garrison. It could also require allies, which of course entails further capabilities and political agreements being necessary; as collective defence is only truly effective when all members of the collective contribute – there will be some members more capable than others, but it will only work if all members are able to live up to their commitments. Ultimately, the capabilities required for this are some form of presence, and some form of ‘reach’ – i.e. a capability such as that offered by aircraft carriers, and amphibious forces, a deployable force that is capable of providing assistance allies, reaction to events and an escalation in presence to deter potential aggression.

The second question, comes down to choice, what does Britain want to be able to do? Does it want to be able to conduct conflict stabilisation operations? In which case should the number of infantry battalions, and military police be maintained or even supplemented further by reservists? Does Britain want to be able to provide significant ground forces for allied operations? If so then should then cutting the number of main battle tanks would seem illogical. Does it want to be able to conduct interventions independently? In which case, the decision has to be made as to what level of opponent is anticipated, and from there what composition/quantity/quality of forces will subsequently be required. These are decisions which have to be made, not muddled, as once they are made then the personnel, the equipment, the training has to be made, undertaken and paid for.

The third and fourth questions are in many ways the most to address, as they put to one side the almost traditional belief that British governments have practiced since 1918 – that the best defence is a strong economy. They put aside this idea, because the decision makes defence not an issue of economy, but an issue of security and strategy. By asking these questions it is acknowledged that no matter how successful the bank is, if it doesn’t pay its taxes, and support a decent police force, it will get robbed. The final amount that needs to be paid may be less than 2% of GDP, it will probably be at least slightly more, but it won’t be being spent because of some artificial logic based on treaty – but will be being spent because of a proper, thorough, public debate that has decided what is necessary, what is needed and therefore what should be done. Unless Britain’s defence debate learns from its past, and returns to strategy, technology, in other words capability! Instead of the simplistic and false debate about % of GDP; the British Armed Forces, will never have a hope of being what they are needed to be, when they are needed.

Such a debate though is not only required by Britain, it also required by allies; in an age of austerity, where the cost of everything is debated it becomes more important than ever that the value is also understood. This can not be provided by a debate taking place in the abstract and focused on %, it can only be done by a thorough and open debate that goes into the detail, of interests, of capabilities and of technicalities.

  1. Clarke, Alexander. 2014. “We have the centrepiece…but what about the rest of the board?” European Geostrategy. 4 July. Accessed February 17, 2015., and Clarke, Alexander. 2015. “What to do about the Disappearing Royal Navy….” U.S. Naval Institute Blog. 22 January. Accessed February 17, 2015. 

  2. Mitchell, B. R. 2011. British Historical Statistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, and Chantrill, Christopher. 2015. Accessed February 13, 2015. 

  3. Wright, Oliver. 2014. “Britain’s food self-sufficiency at risk from reliance on overseas imports of fruit and vegetables that could be produced at home.” The Independent. July 01. Accessed February 13, 2015. 

  4. Osborne, Alistair. 2011. “Britain’s reliance on sea trade ‘set to soar’.” The Telegraph. August 12. Accessed February 13, 2015., and Duncan, Hugo. 2013. “British exports to countries outside EU soar to record £80BILLION as economy reduces dependence on Europe.” Mail Online. August 9. Accessed February 13, 2015. 

It is an often quaffed line, ‘British Defence Spending is the 5th largest in the world’ – inferring therefore that everything must be fine. The trouble is this the amount spent is not the issue; as % of GDP Britain ranks joint 7th with Turkey, and this is all before the current strength of the pound in relation to over currencies is factored in, or the costs of wages in Britain compared to those of other nations. Nor does it account for the success or failure of projects, for projects cancelled or reduced after billions of £s have been spent because a new government or minister changes their mind. In reality though none of this matters, as the reason for defence spending is not position on lists, but for a nation to be able to protect itself and its interests as best it can when necessary. In recent years, the service most visible in carrying out these task has been the British Army, but even its visibility hasn’t be a sure security.

In 1994 the British Army had 42 line battalions, by 2014 it had 25 regular and 14 reserve battalions – after five reviews decided that more could be done with less; Front Line First (1994), the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, Delivering Security in a Changing World (2003), and the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. During this time the British Army was not sitting idle, it was deployed on many operations by various governments – including fighting two Gulf wars, the second of which, like the war in Afghanistan fought at nearly the same time, resulting in long-term commitments in those theatres, as well as these of course there was a eighteen year commitment to the Balkans. Yet still those four reviews have seen a cut to the regular army by 40% over ten years. The army though has at least been granted a reserve, which is being emphasised, the RN doesn’t even have that, and its escort strength has shrunk by 51%.

The RN in 1994 had 39 escort vessels, frigates and destroyers, in service. These are the vessels which provide Task Forces with their anti-submarine capabilities, many of the air defence layers, the naval gunfire support for ground forces, and perhaps more importantly; much of the global presence and maritime security capability that Britain’s place in the world is secured by. This meant that in 1994, at any time, the RN would be able to guarantee at least 13 vessels to meet its commitments (based on the standard of 1 deployed, 1 returning/going to deployment and 1 in either training/maintenance). Whilst there was no ready ‘slack in the system’, the RN was still far more able to absorb emergencies, accidents, and the sheer random events of international relations. In 2014 the RN has 19 escorts, it has no reserve ships – it hasn’t since 1967, there are ships in extended readiness but these are regular vessels which are being kept at reduced operational status to save money. Now there has been talk that even the current strength, that can guarantee just 6 ships to meet commitments (which include at least 9 ongoing escort level missions, a number which of course doesn’t include things like HMS Daring being sent to the Philippines in November 2013), might be cut with the next generation of frigates, the Type 26 class. Successive governments have been building a navy for peace, but forgetting the RN’s own, well proven, motto “Si vis pacem, para bellum”, which in English translates to “If you wish for peace, prepare for war”.

So what is the reason for this? Well, ships are expensive, and for a nation which has seemingly lived by the motto “economy & treasury first” since before the First World War, they can make easy targets to cost/cut minded governments. This is due their high individual unit cost – something which actually increases by fewer being built, due to research costs largely staying the same and economies of scale not being achieved. The trouble for Britain, is that there have been cuts sold to government and public alike on the ideas of a more peaceful future, and collective security. The latter of course is an insurance scheme which only works if a country can pay into it, as well as draw out – and money alone just isn’t enough. The more peaceful future, hasn’t emerged, threats that were presumed to have been put to bed, have awoken, and threats which were never foreseen are now front and centre of strategic reality. So this is the problem, but in the climate of deficit reduction, short term at least there will be no radical reversal.

This is bad though because Britain is the definition of a nation with Global Interests – i.e. it’s economically, politically and culturally, linked to a huge port of the rest of the world; partially as a legacy of Empire and Commonwealth, but also the way we have to forge, and interact with it to this day, the global economic system. This means that Britain, like nations with similar levels of interests, in order to secure those interests, has to maintain both Global Presence and Global Reach.

Presence matters, because international events, like voting elections, if you don’t turn up you don’t count. Presence can also have big advantages in building local relationships, and increasing understanding/information available on a region. It’s often easiest to accomplish from ships, as they don’t tie a nation to another like bases do, they allow you to visit as many of the states in the region that have ports, they are self-contained, often carry extensive sensor equipment that enables them to gather information and can also be used to drop off ‘gift packages’ for embassies. The ships used for this role, are often of course escorts.

Global Reach is the ability to fight, whereas Presence is usually a single vessel ‘wandering around’, reach is about aircraft carriers and amphibious ships, the ability to wage war or conduct other major operations far away from home. If the presence ships are the equivalent of the bobby on the beat, these are the riot police, water cannon and aerial support. They of course though depend upon escorts as well, a concentration of them in fact, to provide the inner and middle layers of defence, to provide naval gunfire support. The roles which provide the back bone of a Task Forces capabilities. All of this is what is being undermined by the cuts, the reduction of 12 Type 45 Destroyers, to 9, then 8 and eventually 6 might have seemed only small cuts at the time but they have had long term ripples. If 8 had been built, then the RN would have been able to guarantee 7 ships to meet commitments, if 12 then it would have been 8 – still not enough to fulfil all the ongoing escort level missions, but it would have been a good start. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened, and now there is a situation which must be addressed.

The solution to this situation therefore comes from pursuing a core and offset strategy – much as the Army has done with its new reserves. Somehow the money must be found to at least maintain the future frigate numbers, only this can keep the core strong enough to hopefully provide for what needs to be done, when it needs to be done – as well as the basis for expansion should economies provide. An offset must be sort to make this more viable, to allow for the necessary concentration of force to enable adaptation to events. An increase in smaller, cheaper, patrol and presence assets such as Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), so that these craft can take on a great part of the maritime security and presence missions – freeing the escorts to concentrate on war fighting, and higher risk missions.

In addition to this, the most must be made of assets available, even if the F35 suffers no more delays, the HMS Queen Elizabeth will not receive fixed wing aircraft for years. It may therefore be sensible to enquire about the procurement of Sea Avenger UAVs (an advanced version of the Reaper drones, which can make use of the same infrastructure as that aircraft) in order to provide an interim fixed wing carrier capability (if they are suitable to Short-Take Off & Landing/Ramp carrier operations), that can in time provide a suitable partner to the F35s, while in the meantime giving the fleet a long range strike and intelligence asset to enable it to maximise capability.

Finally, and possibly the hardest change to make, for a nation which prides itself on always having its forces equipped with the best, in 2020, instead of being sold to other navies or scrapped, some of the Type 23 Frigates (a class in which some units have served over thirty years) must be kept for reserve. This would have been the sensible course of action with the last four Type 22 frigates, but they are now gone forever. Of the 13 Type 23 vessels, 6-8 would need to be kept. This force would provide the RN with what it has so needed for nearly fifty years, slack – the ability to mobilise more strength when numbers are required. In time, or perhaps even before 2020, over vessels, patrol ships, and mine warfare vessels must also be put in reserve. This reserve will not be rusting hulks, tied to the quays, they will need small caretaker crews of regulars, and the reserve personnel which will be called upon in times of need to man them, shall have to be given regular opportunities to practice. Infrastructure wise this would not be a difficult thing to facilitate – the difficulties will be psychological, national, government and service, perspectives will need to adapt.

This work began with the British Army, and it will finish with it, the British Army is an army which has always been tempered by the fires of conflicts – in recent years, with ongoing commitments and falling strength it has been forced to rely upon, and prove, the necessity and viability of reserves. This has not been accomplished without trepidation, in fact it is still an ongoing transition – but ultimately it is what will be. If this is to be the new reality for the Army though, why can’t it also be the reality for the RN? Why can’t the RN also draw more than just piecemeal strength and succour from its reserves? Why can’t the RN Reserves have their own ships, as the Reserve Army has its own battalions, to rally around?

Posted by Alexander Clarke in Navy | 8 Comments

This post is the first in a series being cross-posted from CIMSEC.

swoThe United States Navy’s surface fleet finds itself in dynamic times. The standard length for deployments continues to rise, numerous hulls are on the chopping block, maintenance is battling to keep up with a harried operational tempo, and as ever, its leaders – Surface Warfare Officers, or SWO’s – are struggling to both improve, and in fact define, the community’s identity. Whether it is the uniforms we wear, our training pipelines, or our often-mocked culture, the community seems to lack a firm grasp on who we are, what we stand for, and how we do business. Over a series of three articles, I intend to first analyze a few counterparts – the Royal Navy, U.S. Naval Aviation, and U.S. Navy surface nuclear officers – and then explore some proposals meant to solidify the officers who take the world’s most powerful ships to sea.

Just Another Day at the Office

Just Another Day at the Office

After working alongside the Royal Navy, most American surface warriors walk away immensely impressed by the impeccable professionalism of their British counterparts. When SWO’s talk about improving their community, the Royal Navy’s practices inevitably come up. “We should do it like the Brits,” is a common theme. Few truly appreciate what that statement means, though. The Surface Warriors of the U.S. and Royal Navies are different: in size, mission sets, tempos, training, and priorities. There is not always a one-for-one correlation between the two. Before analyzing proposals or judging the merits of each side, let us simply gather some information by comparing the lifestyles of Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass, RN, and Ensign Timmy, USN.

The first area of comparison is training and path to qualification. All Royal Navy officer cadets spend between six and eleven months at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC), where students receive military indoctrination and learn the ins and outs of the naval profession through a standardized curriculum. Upon graduation from BRNC, the young surface officer proceeds on to a training track for Warfare Officers or Engineers. The prospective engineers endure a rigorous 20-month pipeline of practical and theoretical training.


Our Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass is a Warfare Officer, which is the career track most comparable to an American SWO’s. He and his comrades train for an additional 18-months. First, they attend three months of advanced seamanship theory training, followed by an intense year of practical bridge watch standing under instruction. If they are successful to this point, they stand for a week of individual bridge simulator assessments. Students must achieve passing marks on these assessments to proceed on to a final three months of advanced seamanship and navigation training. Upon graduation, they report aboard their first ship as an Officer-of-the-Watch (OOW) with a well-earned Navigational Watch Certificate. Within a month or so, SLt Snodgrass has earned his Commanding Officer’s Platform Endorsement – akin to a SWO’s Officer-of-the-Deck Underway Letter – and is entrusted with operating the ship unsupervised. While some Warfare Officers attend a 4-month long course and become navigators after gaining at least 4 years experience as an OOW, the next major pipeline for now-LT Snodgrass is the Principal Warfare Officer (PWO) Course and occurs at the nine-year point. Thirteen months long, the PWO Course trains Royal Navy surface officers to be the Commanding Officer’s advisor on either “Above Water” or “Under Water” Warfare, and can see up to 40 percent attrition.


The U.S. Navy SWO training pipeline has seen several iterations over the past 12 years. Before 2003, newly commissioned Surface Warfare Officer Trainees attended the six month-long Division Officer’s Course. SWOSDOC, as the course was called, taught the basics of ship handling, navigation, shipboard maintenance, damage control, leadership, and divisional administration. The objective of the course was to give all ensigns the tools necessary to immediately contribute to their wardrooms and a foundation from which to qualify aboard their ship. This course was disbanded in 2003 and for approximately nine years, new officers reported directly to their ships, took over their divisions, completed computer-based modules, and received on-the-job training as they progressed through their qualifications. The current training model sees new officers attending an 8-week Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) in their Fleet Concentration Area, where they delve into many of the topics found in the old SWOSDOC program.

Upon completion of BDOC, ensigns report to their ships and are assigned a division of anywhere between 10 and 30 Sailors to lead and the associated responsibility of the maintenance of their division’s systems. Concurrent with their division officer duties, they embark on a journey to earn their Surface Warfare Officer designation and pin. This journey, nominally 18-months long, entails qualifying in a series of watch stations – namely, Officer-of-the-Deck In-Port, Small Boat Officer, Combat Information Center Watch Officer, Helm and Aft-Steering Safety Officer, and ultimately, Officer-of-the-Deck Underway – through the completion of Professional Qualification Standards (PQS) books and various oral boards. The milestone pre-requisite to the SWO Pin is the Officer-of-the-Deck Underway letter – similar to the Royal Navy’s Platform Endorsement – and usually comes after about a year aboard the ship and ultimately represents the Captain’s trust in the officer to safely and professionally operate the ship in their stead.


Typically, our Ensign Timmy will accumulate another six months of experience leading his bridge watch team, his division, and learning the catch-all nature of his chosen trade before sitting for his “SWO Board.” The SWO Board is a memorable event and involves the candidate sitting across from what, at the time, seems like a firing squad made up all of the department heads, the executive officer, and the Captain. While there is no formal, written or otherwise, fleet standard (outside of the pre-requisite watch stations) and no tangible result (aside from the pin), the SWO qualification represents a junior officer’s journeyman-level grasp of the surface, naval, and joint profession. Topics covered range far-and-wide: from logistics matters to amphibious landings and missile engagements, to personnel records, geography, ship and aircraft capabilities, emergency procedures, and naval justice fundamentals to meteorology. Now, with a pin and new officer designator, Lieutenant Junior Grade Timmy completes his first tour and attends approximately 1-2 months of job specific training before reporting to his next ship for a two year tour as Navigator, Auxiliaries officer, Main Propulsion Assistant, Fire Control Officer, Training Officer, Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, or Force Protection Officer.

At the 8-year point, prospective SWO Department Heads attend up to nine weeks of intensive training in combat systems fundamentals, followed by 6-months in the Department Head Course, which includes three months dedicated to maritime warfare, and three months dedicated to administration, maintenance, damage control, and topics unique to the officer’s future billet.


The next point of comparison is more overt and was touched on briefly above. In the Royal Navy, recruits select and compete for a specialization before attending the Royal Navy College. They attend training either for Warfare Officers, Marine Engineers, Weapon Engineers, or Air Engineers. Warfare Officers are first responsible for bridge watch standing and safe navigation, and later in their careers for the tactical employment of the ship’s combat systems. Their engineers are responsible for leading the ship’s technicians and the upkeep of their respective kit – or in U.S. Navy terms, the preventative and corrective maintenance of their assigned shipboard systems. SLt Snodgrass, our Royal Navy Warfare Officer, will start his career with three tours as a bridge watch keeper. Later on, he serves two tours as a Principal Warfare Officer. His engineer counterparts – either marine or weapon – leave their training and serve a tour as a shipboard Deputy Head of Department, where they ultimately sit a professional board qualifying them as capable of leading a department. After engineering focused “shore drafts,” those who qualify return to sea as Heads of Department.

In the U.S. Navy, Surface Warfare Officers do not formally specialize in their billets. The community prides itself in producing Jacks-of-all-Trades. Ensign Timmy starts his career as a SWO by serving two division officer tours. He has little to no say in what his first billet will be – he could just as easily serve as the Electrical Officer as he could the Gunnery or Communications Officer. When proceeding to his next tour, his desires and performance are taken into account along with the ever-present needs of the Navy. En route to his second ship, LTJG Timmy receives his first formalized billet training. His second division officer tour may or may not fall under the same department as his first. After four years ashore, now-LT Timmy serves two 18-month Department Head tours. While his desires are given heavy weight, his assignment will not necessarily be to a department in which he previously served. The career experiences, training, and development of SWO’s is designed to ensure that they are notionally plug-and-play – able to serve in any capacity at a moment’s notice. The U.S. Navy does not have a direct comparison to the Royal Navy’s Marine and Weapons Engineers, though in our system, they would most closely be seen as a mix of our Limited Duty Officers and Department Heads.

A final point of comparison is the Royal Navy’s focus on watch-standing over billets in their Warfare Officer community. On a typical Type-23 Frigate, their Warfare Officers will fill the roles of the four Officers-of-the-Watch, Navigator, PWO Underwater, PWO Abovewater, Operations Officer, Executive Officer, and Captain. Other billets, including Weapon Engineer Officer, Marine Engineer Officer, and their deputies, are filled by specialized engineering officers.

The primary duty of SLt Snodgrass, as an assigned Officer-of-the-Watch and later a Principal Warfare Officer, is watch keeping. Officers-of-the-Watch are also assigned secondary duties like Classified Books Officer, Intelligence Officer, and XO’s Assistant. They are also responsible for the pastoral care of a group of Sailors. While leadership and special duties are a reality for the Warfare Officer, it is a fact of life that they come second to their job as professional watch standers. This fact was driven home to me by one Royal Naval Officer who said, “an OOW is a prime target for secondary duties… then we encounter an incident, and a casual factor is found to be that the OOW was distracted from their core task of watch-keeping, and an admiral directs a high-pressure blast getting rid of many of them (secondary duties).” Junior PWO serve as their Captain’s advisors on warfare and as the lead watch-stander in their Operations Room. When not standing watch and serving as a warfare advisor, they serve as shipboard staff, execute event planning, and serve in what the U.S. Navy might consider a special projects officer capacity, in addition to the pastoral care of the junior officers in their wardroom.

Surface Warfare Officers are detailed, or assigned, to a specific shipboard billet. This billet is not only on their orders, but also serves as their very identity aboard the ship. They are the Gunnery Officer – GUNNO – or the Chief Engineer – CHENG. As a division officer, Ensign Timmy spends his day seeing to his division’s Sailors, equipment, and operations, while also standing roughly ten hours of watch per day, whether that be on the bridge, in Combat, or in the engineering plant. Later on, Lieutenant Timmy leads a department of approximately three divisions. While serving as a Department Head, he qualifies and stands watch as Tactical Action Officer, leading the watch team tasked with employing the ship’s sensors and weapons and serving as the senior watch stander aboard the ship. Watches are not collateral for SWO’s, yet their professional bias is most certainly towards their billet and their people.


One key difference between the two navies that creates this disparity in bias is their respective approaches to duties covered by officers – specialists or not – vice enlisted Sailors. In the Royal Navy, most of the day-to-day upkeep of a division’s personnel and spaces is delegated to a senior petty officer. The Royal Navy also uses officers in many watch stations, like Quartermaster-of-the-Watch (duties considered a core competency of an RN OOW), Air Intercept Controller (Fighter Director in the RN), and Anti-Air Warfare Coordinator, that the U.S. Navy either mans with senior petty officers and chiefs, or splits between enlisted and commissioned watch standers. As a Royal Navy PWO broke it down for me, “tactical advice on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) is my job as PWO(U), planning ASW matters is my chief’s job, looking after the ASW ratings is my petty officer’s job with direction from the two levels above, and maintenance of the ASW kit is the Deputy Weapon Engineering Officer’s job.” In the U.S. Navy, while surface Sailors are certainly empowered through delegation, a division officer or department head would have their hands in all of those levels in the execution of their assigned billet, while also concurrently standing watch throughout a given day.


Undoubtedly, each country could take something positive away from the other for their own betterment. Our unique cultures and operational commitments, as well as our relative sizes, certainly drive our respective methods. Now that we have a better understanding of how the Royal Navy does business, we can draw rough comparisons to the American Surface Warfare Officer community and start to imagine elements we might adopt as we endeavor for self-improvement. Before exploring specific proposals, though, my next piece in this series will again seek to inform by comparing the professional standards, training mindset and approach to attrition of the SWO community with that of both Naval Aviation and nuclear trained officers.

seacontrol2Jon Paris joins us to discuss his article, The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 1: A Day in the Life of Sub Lieutenant Snodgrass. We compare the Royal Navy and US Navy processes of creating officers for their surface fleet, the nature of being a maritime “professional,” improvements for the American model, and generally gab on for about 36 minutes.

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topics_01In the course of reading Robert Kaplan’s article in the Wall Street Journal, I had to back up and read this twice.

The Japanese navy boasts roughly four times as many major warships as the British Royal Navy.

Wait … what?

OK, that reality has sunk in over the last decade – but we are still a bit of an Anglophile navy, and even with the Pacific Pivot, we still give the mother country a lot of heft for historical and emotional reasons.

In their constitutional quasi-isolation, Japan’s very real power has

Here is the context;

… in Asia. Nationalism there is young and vibrant—as it was in the West in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Asia is in the midst of a feverish arms race, featuring advanced diesel-electric submarines, the latest fighter jets and ballistic missiles. China, having consolidated its land borders following nearly two centuries of disorder, is projecting air and sea power into what it regards as the blue national soil of the South China and East China seas.

Japan and other countries are reacting in kind. Slipping out of its quasi-pacifistic shell, Japan is rediscovering nationalism as a default option. The Japanese navy boasts roughly four times as many major warships as the British Royal Navy. As for Vietnam and the Philippines, nobody who visits those countries and talks with their officials, as I have, about their territorial claims would imagine for a moment that we live in a post-national age.

The disputes in Asia are not about ideology or any uplifting moral philosophy; they are about who gets to control space on the map.

Silly Transformationalists … dreaming is for kiddies. Get ye back to your history books!

Back on topic though; yes, the facts are clear.

Though you can find +/- difference depending on source, definitions, and recent com/decom; here are the numbers:
Royal Navy:
Helicopter Carriers: 2
Amphibious Ships: 2
Destroyers: 7
Frigates: 13
Submarines: 6-SSN, 4-SSBN

We’ll call that 24.

Japanese Navy:
Helicopter Carriers: 2 (technically 4, all of which are helicopter carrying destroyers. The SHIRANE Class of 2 are only half decks and are really just destroyers. HYUGA Class of 2 are no-kidding helicopter carriers. Two more much larger 19,500 ton ships on the way this decade as well).
Amphibious Ships: 5
Destroyers: 40
Frigates: 6
Submarines: 16-SS

We’ll call that 67. If you are what Salamander defines as “major combatants” then you have 2.8 times, not 4x, but there are lots of ways to count. Perhaps they are looking at smaller ships as well. By either definition though, it should give one pause not only to reflect about the decline of the Royal Navy – but more importantly – the latent and potential power of the Japanese Navy.

Anyone who has worked with the Japanese will agree with me as well that from a professional point of view, they are an exceptionally quality force.

Here is the tie in.

Did you catch this little memo?

Japan’s Defense Ministry will request a second boost to its military budget, according to reports, just a day after the government announced the first Defense budget increase in 10 years.

The boosts, although relatively modest compared with Japan’s overall defense spending, coincide with increasing tensions in the Asia Pacific region.Japan’s Defense Ministry intends to ask for 180.5 billion yen ($2.1 billion) from a government stimulus package – on top of an increase of more than 100 billion yen ($1.1 billion) to its military budget announced earlier this week – in order to upgrade its air defenses, according to the BBC..

Good. Japan needs to continue to do this, and we should welcome the move as long overdue (though don’t get too excited, their larger budgetary problems are even greater than ours). Europe fades, Royal Navy withers … where can the USA look for its major partner at sea?

We don’t have to look far. With the tweaks they are on the road to make in their Constitution – Japan is right there.


Over to whom?

November 2012


With the Big E coming home for good, the NIMITZ acting a bit old and busted, there has been a lot of discussion as of late about the ability of the US Navy to do what she has become accustomed to doing; projecting power globally from the sea with almost impunity – and the large-deck carrier being the tool primarily used to do so.

Through gross program mismanagement, myopic POM-centric rice bowl games, and simple parochialism – much of the nuance, depth, and flexibility of what was on those decks are gone as well, most notably the loss of the S-3, ES-3, organic tanking (fighters tanking don’t count, silly goose), and independent long range strike – gone and replaced with a deck of jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none RW and light fighters with AEW thrown in for character.

Add to that the ongoing “to the right” extended deployment of our Amphib “small deck” carriers (yes, I know, I know, I know) and their ARGs, funkyesque methods of Fleet number counting, and the expected contraction in shipbuilding budgets that all but this ordered to say otherwise accept will be the new norm – then more and more smart people are trying to step back and get the larger view.

What exactly are the larger Strategic implications of the clear decline in the US Navy’s global reach?

As is often the case, to help break the intellectual gridlock, it is helpful to bring in outside views. Over at the UK blog Thin Pinstiped Line, Sir Huphrey speaks with big medicine. The whole post is worth a read – but everyone should ponder the below a bit.

The reality is that the USN now is probably in the same place as the RN found itself in the mid-1960s – mid 1970s. Reduced budgets, elderly vessels still in service, while the new designs (T42s, 22s) were taking longer than planned to come into service, and yet operationally committed across the globe.

The ability of the USN to operate with impunity across the globe, steaming where it wanted on its terms, and able to stand its ground against almost any aggressor has gone forever. Todays’ USN remains a fiercely capable and strong navy, but its ability to exert unlimited and unchallenged control of the high seas has gone, probably forever. Instead it would be more realistic to judge that the future USN will provide a capability to deploy power into some areas, but only at the cost of reducing capability and influence in others.

In a classic, “over to you” moment as the Royal Navy slowly retreated West of Suez after the late 1950’s unpleasantness, and with the final moment by Prime Minister Wilson in the annus horribilis that was 1968 – the world approaching mid-21st Century is stuck with a quandary.

The British at least were handing things off, indirectly, to her daughter; a relatively smooth transition to a nation that was cut from the same cloth and whose interests were more often than not those interests of Britain.

If, as Sir Humphrey states, we face a future where the global capability of the US will decline in proportion to her navy – then who will be there to fill the gap? Multiple smaller regional powers? A rising power? Status quo, but thinner? Nothing?

None of those three are in the interests of the US.

Willfully abandoning territory – enough of the “global commons” PR stunts, please – to the whims of whatever power has the will to take it, is a classic description of a nation in decline. In our case, that would be a willful decline – but almost all declines are willful.

Is everyone on board with that? It is a choice.

Hat tip BJ.

Today, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that HMS Ark Royal and HMS Ocean will be used to help get stranded British citizens back to the island nation. No word yet on the name of the operation, personally I like “Operation Gordon’s Ark”.

I demand Obama close this “Sweet-Ride-Gap” and send the USS New Mexico to pick up US citizens.