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Seaforth World Naval Review 2023

06 Apr 23


(Seaforth – £35)

ISBN 978 1 68247 872 1

192 pages

Seaforth’s annual review, in its 14th year, continues as an excellent primer on the world naval scene. Edited by Conrad Waters, with an impressive group of international contributors, headed by Norman Friedman, including David Hobbs, James Bosbotinis, Richard Scott and Guy Toremans.

Conrad Waters’ overview sets out the balance of defence expenditure of the leading nations and the fleet strengths of the 12 major navies, with excellent tables. Whilst the Russo-Ukrainian war has exposed Russian errors and weaknesses, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, revealed cracks in NATO solidarity, emboldening adventurism by ‘near-peer’ competitors. The US National Defence Strategy continues the ‘Pivot to the Pacific’. With Australia becoming more important to US strategy, the pendulum of naval might is shifting decisively to the Asia-Pacific region. He notes that defence spending has increased the ‘world military burden’ to over US$2 trillion. The West’s over-hasty peace dividend at the end of the Cold War was a mistake, necessitating the scramble now to make good military deficiencies.

The ‘Overview’ includes an ‘Initial Assessment’ of the naval aspects of the Russo-Ukrainian War by Dr Bosbotinis. Whilst the war has highlighted Russian Navy modernisation, the long-range precision strike 3M14 ‘Kalibr’ (SS-N-30A’Sagris’), etc., the sinking of the flagship Moskva has demonstrated deep-seated weaknesses. He sets out the roles and Orbat of the Black Sea Fleet (interdiction, blockade, littoral strike, etc.) and the same for Ukraine.  He concludes stressing the value of personnel training and competence plus the importance, and vulnerability, of the maritime trading system to global prosperity.

Section 2 contains the reviews of the world’s fleets in four regional groupings with the Royal Navy in [2.4], ‘Europe & Russia’. Waters claims that since the invasion of Ukraine, European countries have increased military budgets marking the end of the three-decade peace dividend, though fleet improvements will be years in the making.  The Royal Navy is implementing the Integrated Security Review (IR 2021‘Global Britain’), with Venturer (first Type 31) being launched this year but the in-service date of Glasgow (first Type 26) pushed back to 2028 and delays with the remaining three Astuteclass SSNs. The run down in minor warships continues including Ramsey and Blyth being transferred to Ukraine. Improvements to the Type 45s continue and modifications to their Aster 30 missiles will enable an anti-ballistic missile capability. Following the success of the Carrier Strike Group deployment (CSG 21), the international profile has now reduced to the Batch 2 River-class, Spey and Tamar, deployed for five years to the Indo-Pacific region.

Section 3 focusses on three ‘Significant Ships’. The first [3.1] is the success of New Zealand’s largest ‘warship’, the new 26,500 tonnes, armed AOR, Polar sustainment vessel, HMNZ Aotearoa, built by Hyundai, South Korea. Second [3.2] the two 35 tonne Cutlass-class Patrol Boats, Gibraltar’s new guardians, built by MST group, to an advanced design. With a range of 400 nautical miles and max speed in excess of 40 knots, they have exceeded design expectations. The third [3.3] is a fascinating 50-year technical history by Norman Friedman of the nine Nimitz (CVN-68) class carriers, all basically similar and it is only now with Gerald R Ford (CVN-78) that the USN has finally switched to an entirely new design.

Section 4 Technological Reviews includes, [4.1] David Hobbs’ analysis of ‘World Naval Aviation’. Secondly [4.2] Norman Friedman covers hypersonic missiles, much in the news with the Russian claim they have a great lead, that they are the most decisive of all missiles and impossible to intercept. Friedman says their ability to revolutionise naval warfare is open to scepticism and goes through anti-ship missiles, current hypersonic weapons (Russian & Chinese) and defence against them. The US has several projects spurred on by fear of the Russian and Chinese substantial lead. Finally [4.3] Richard Scott covers how new technologies will transform the Royal Navy with increasing lethality.

Yet again beautifully laid out with many data tables and summary boxes, and superbly illustrated throughout with many photographs and John Jordan’s excellent drawings. It is most strongly recommended.