28 Apr 22

This excellent annual analysis of the World’s Navies remains required reading for those who wish to be informed and up to date on the world naval scene. For the busy reader who does not have the time, or the money, for Jane’s Fighting Ships(now over £1,300), this authoritative annual review does the job. This 13th edition is again edited by Conrad Waters and written by an impressive group of international contributors, headed by Norman Friedman, David Hobbs, Richard Beedall and Richard Scott.

Seaforth’s Review is in four basic sections, starting with Conrad Waters’ introduction, giving a brief overview, which sets out the balance of the world’s navies with a good table of the twelve major fleet strengths over two years. Though the US retains the most powerful fleet, the Chinese Navy (PLAN) is clearly closing the gap, causing the US, with its Global Posture Review, to bolster its presence in the Indo-Pacific. Whilst the USN still continues to enjoy significant qualitative advantages, these are diminishing, placing increasing reliance on allied navies to maintain a margin.

Section 2 is the major part with reviews of the world’s fleets in four main regional groupings with the Royal Navy included in 2.4, the ‘European Region’. Waters draws attention to two major factors, increasing concern over Russia’s assertive actions on the world stage (dramatically illustrated at the present time) coinciding with the fact that much of the equipment built and acquired towards the end of the Cold War is now due for replacement. France recognises this and is embarking on two major expensive replacement programmes (a new generation nuclear powered aircraft carrier and four new SSBN, nuclear deterrent submarines).

In addition to the regional groupings in Section 2, there is an in depth review this year of the Spanish Navy and the Royal Navy. In the latter Richard Beedall reports on the UK’s Integrated Security Review (IR2021) stressing the threat from Russia and concerns over an increasingly assertive China. Looking forward the UK seeks growing maritime capabilities to enable projection of power further afield and from increased range. First Sea Lord claims that the Navy will have 50% more tonnage in 2030 than it had in 2015. New classes planned include eight Type 26 City class A/S frigates, five Type 31 GP frigates and five Type 32 frigates. ‘Jam tomorrow?’, sadly the Navy is decommissioning two more Type 23 frigates early and phasing out the 13 Hunt class MCMV. The Vanguard SSBNs will not be replaced by the new DreadnoughtSSBNs until the 2030s, but the nuclear stockpile is increasing to 260 (reversing the planned reduction to 180), France, incidentally, has 290. The UK is now ceasing to declare how many missiles are actually carried on deterrent patrols. Waters sums up that whilst the CSG21 (HMS Queen Elizabeth) Indo-Pacific deployment was impressive it absorbed much of the RN operational strength and will take several years before being able to regenerate a similar capability. Personnel strength (around 30,000) has remained fairly constant with a recent upsurge to 34,000. He also pessimistically, and ominously, comments on the possible fragmentation of the UK and the impossibility of forecasting the future Royal Navy in such circumstances.

Section 3 focusses on four new ‘Significant Ships’. Those covered are: four new French Bouchard class offshore patrol vessels for the Argentine Navy, Russia’s powerful new Steregushchiy class corvettes, impressive, next generation ‘green water’ combatants, and the US Navy’s new amphibious hovercraft (‘Landing Craft Air Cushion Ships’). The fourth in this section are the five very expensive Royal Navy River class Batch 2 OPVs (the new 2,000 ton ‘Colonial Gunboats’) particularly well suited to the new global presence role despite lack of helicopter ‘sustainment’ capacity.

Section 4 (in three parts), covers, firstly ‘Advances in World Naval Aviation’ (by David Hobbs). For the Royal Navy he includes the success of the CSG21 deployment and points up the remarkable achievement of US-UK interoperability “…that Queen Elizabeth can embark and operate another nation’s strike fighters represents the culmination of decades of planning…the RN has achieved something no other navy has demonstrated…”. He updates progress with F-35B Lightning II procurement and the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF). Next Norman Friedman briefs on the growing importance of Electro-Optics in modern naval warfare and finally Richard Scott deals with new developments in mine countermeasures, particularly with advances in unmanned surface vessels and unmanned aerial vehicles, reducing risk, time and costs.

Again, this annual is beautifully laid out to Seaforth’s traditional high standard. It has many data tables and clear summary boxes and is superbly illustrated throughout with many photographs and John Jordan’s excellent drawings. It provides very good value for money and is strongly recommended.