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Seaforth World Naval Review 2024

01 Mar 24

192 pages

John Roberts

This 15th edition of Seaforth’s excellent World Naval Review continues to provide an ‘all round view’ of the world naval scene. As a comprehensive primer, absolutely crammed with a mass of detail, it makes an ideal companion to the Naval Review. With its impressive group of international contributors, the format is unchanged, with four sections: overview, brief summaries of the main world’s navies, focus on three ‘significant ships’, and technological reviews.

Conrad Waters’ overview highlights the serious dangers of the strengthening alignment of the revisionist powers, China, Russia and Iran against the liberal ‘rules based’ world order, with joint Russian, Chinese and Iranian fleet exercises. Navies worldwide are now scrambling to adapt to the new geopolitical reality of major conflict, to recover from the long post-Cold War decline in defence expenditure but the availability of adequate funding and the adoption of new technologies will be key. He tabulates the defence expenditure of 10 major countries and 12 major fleet strengths. His overview was written before the Israelian/Palestinian conflict shifted the epicentre of crisis to the middle east and the consequent impact on world maritime trade and SLOCs, but his conclusions remain apposite.

Section 2 reviews the world’s fleets in four regional groupings and three individual fleet reviews. The first, the eight navies of North and South America, concentrates on the US Navy, which retains its 298-warship front line ‘battle force’ unchanged, due to Congressional refusal to sanction premature retirements. The new Arleigh Burke destroyers and Littoral Combat ships more than compensating for the withdrawals of the Ticonderoga cruisers. The ‘first of class’, Gerald R Ford (CVN-78), is fully operational with a revised CVN programme to bring delivery of John F Kennedy(CVN-79) to July next year and Enterprise (CVN-80) to March 2028, with Doris Miller (CVN-81) in February 2032. As regards SSBNs, the Ohio class are now being withdrawn, to be replaced by the new Colombia (SSBN-826), the first to be delivered in 2027.

Richard Beedall’s bi-annual review of the Royal Navy points out that fifteen years ago the Royal Navy had many projects and initiatives underway but now many are cancelled, reduced or incomplete and government policies and priorities change faster than the RN can implement them, whilst potential threats to the UK are mounting. His table shows the decline, 2009-23. The Dreadnought programme (at £41bn, the UK’s most expensive ever defence project) progresses for sea trials in the late 2020s to replace Vanguard in the early 2030s. The escort force reduced to just 17. The Type 45s’ upgrading their weapon fits with Sea Ceptors, and the latest Aster 30 Block 1 NT missiles. The initial three (of eight) Type 26 City-class are in build to replace the elderly Type 23 frigates. He covers the sad run down of the MCM force and transition to unmanned, autonomous MCM systems with logistic support vessels. He explains that the planned Fleet flagship project was cancelled, being replaced by the multi-purpose offshore (MROS) RFA Proteus. He concludes with NAVY-X, trials of advanced innovative technologies with XV Patrick Blackett.

The review of the Russian Fleet covers the conflict in Ukraine with the Black Sea Fleet applying trade blockade and long-range strike functions with 3M14 ‘Kalibr’ (SS-N-30A ‘Sagaris’) missiles but achieving only limited effect. Nevertheless, Russia believes naval power is fundamental to its status in the world (stated in an updated Naval Doctrine of the Russian Federation) with increased focus on the ‘Northern Sea Route’. The high priority modernisation of the strategic submarine flotilla continues with the sixth Project 955A (Borey class) and the third variant accepted as part of the projected 12 modern SSBNs. The only carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, completes her six-year refit and joins the fleet this year.

Section 3 (‘Significant Ships’), covers France’s first new overseas patrol vessel, the 1,300 tonnes August Benebig to police her huge EEZ. Next is the Indian Navy’s Project 15A 7,400 tonnes Kolkata-class destroyers, the first equipped with network-centric warfare capability, with three 15A and four 15B class planned. Then Spain’s 2,695 tonnes Isaac Peral (S-81), its first indigenous submarine, and of a class of four S-80s.

Section 4 Technological Reviews include David Hobbs’ detailed analysis of ‘World Naval Aviation’, including Boeing’s MQ-25A unmanned combat air vehicle . Secondly Norman Friedman covers Naval Propulsion with the most important trend being the shift towards electric ships, and the US Navy’s hope to put electric weapons (lasers, rail guns, etc.) into service. Finally, Richard Scott details Norway’s highly effective Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM), attracting considerable interest.

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