31 Jul 20
Posted by: Brian Trim

Many years ago, as the latest Jane’s Fighting Ships arrived on his bridge, a sage Commanding Officer encouraged me to read its introductory summary of naval developments each year as a means to better understand my professional environment. The Seaforth World Naval Review, now in its eleventh year, seems designed to fill that role but without aspiring to the detail that forms the bulk of any JFS volume. In just 192 pages, it achieves commendable breadth but provides notable depth of detail on just a few, selected subjects. The book gives a fairly well-rounded, worldwide view of navies, drawing on seven contributing authors with a range of professional and geographic backgrounds. Useful footnotes to each chapter point towards accessible sources for further reading. It is important to note, however, that much of the writing dates from mid-2019 and the economic fallout of COVID-19 will undoubtedly affect many of the projects the book discusses.

This year’s format conforms to the now-standard pattern: a series of regional reviews, with closer focus on three navies, followed by detailed analysis of three platforms, closing with a technological section that again incorporates a review of naval aviation. Tabulated statistics of fleet and class sizes help to contextualise less familiar navies. I found the growth in submarine projects highlighted by the Asia-Pacific review particularly interesting, while the examination of the Finnish Navy presented a fascinating view of small-scale jointery. The ‘Significant Ships’ chosen for this year’s edition were the Indian Kamorta corvettes, the Tide class tankers and the Virginia class SSN. Masses of detail yield a well-rounded view of these classes, from project inception, through the commercial and governmental concerns that shaped them, to the technology incorporated and the challenges of building and introducing them to service.

Several themes are notable in the book’s treatment of navies, classes, and technology more widely. First is the expansion of submarine fleets, through building and modernisation, both by navies with established submarine flotillas (e.g. Indonesia) and by aspiring new entrants to the field (such as the Philippines). Ten pages on future submarine technologies give a view beyond existing designs. The second theme is autonomous systems, which are discussed in almost every chapter, together with the challenges various navies face in introducing them to service. The most salient theme, however, is the challenge faced by all navies in delivering technologically advanced platforms within budgetary constraints. In light of the economic downturn resulting from COVID-19, this year’s edition may serve as a record of frustrated and delayed ambitions.

Overall, this is a fine summary of worldwide naval developments in 2019, with many indications of what to expect in coming years. It is, however, an annual and the world has changed markedly since publication. So its initial list price of £35 would be difficult to justify today. It is now listed online for £22.10 and at this price is a reasonable purchase for anyone with an enduring interest in naval matters. For a deploying ship, particularly to the Asia Pacific or South America, it would be a useful primer on regional navies in any mess.