NEXT month's final decision on whether to scrap the Royal Navy may supply us with the answer. Because the Blair government's drastic plans include more than taking existing ships out of commission. The service's entire future as a blue-water navy (that is, a navy capable of operations outside Britain's own waters) may be forfeit.
According to The Daily Telegraph, plans for two new fleet carriers of the kind vital for fighting today's War on Terror and projecting power overseas - and for which $6.9 billion had already been set aside - will also be scrapped. Two new destroyers, which were supposed to replace at least some of the retired ships, are also out of the picture. The Telegraph even reports (Jan. 8) that all officer promotions in the navy are to be suspended for the next five years.
Many in the government and in the media blame these cuts on Tony Blair's support for the U.S. war in Iraq. They claim the British troop presence there is eating up the British defense budget, leaving the other services like the navy to fight over table scraps.
But this is far from the whole story. Since the mid '80s, British defense spending has shrunk by more than 30 percent, to less than 2.5 percent of GDP. Today it is at its lowest level since 1930. Even welfare states such as France and Germany spend more on their military. (Meanwhile, Blair is busy hacking back the British commitment in Iraq from 7,000 to 4,500 troops - less than 4 percent of the coalition total.
The truth is that for two centuries Britain and the Royal Navy played the role of globocop, policing the world's sea trade lanes which keep the global economy going. (Even today, 95 percent of the weight of all intercontinental trade travels by sea.)
AFTER World War II, the U.S. Navy gradually took over that thankless but essential task; the British felt free to relax. From a postwar peak of 388 ships and submarines in 1950, the Royal Navy had dwindled to 112 vessels in 1980. By 2004. it was down to just 46.
Yet the British navy still takes pride in sharing the globocop burden with the United States in vital strategic areas like the Persian Gulf, and even being able to project power trans-oceanically alone when it has to, as during the Falklands War.
Could extending the life of the Invincible class could be an option if this were to happen? In the 1980s many of the older U.S. carriers got a new lease on live via a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP). Could work in combination with a naval-ized F-35 ....
Ironically, this article appeared today WRT French plans to replace the Foch.
he project has been awarded to the "MPOA2" (Maitrise d'Oeuvre Porte Avions No 2) consortium composed of DCN and Thales, and is now proceeding in cooperation with the UK. The design was originally though to be for a ship of about 58,000t, but detailed design work has pushed it up into the 74,000t range, fully 72% larger than the FNS Charles de Gaulle. Unlike the nuclear-powered de Gaulle, however, the PA2 will be a conventionally-powered ship with an all-electric power system driven by Rolls Royce gas turbines.
The stated goal of 80% commonality with the British CVF carrier program is now in some question, and the ship's cost has become a concern. A recent report from Mer et Marine offers some updates, and indicates that things are going relatively well for now...
[Edited 2007-01-23 21:25:23]