Editorial: Naval Review 112/2

Editorial: Naval Review 112/2

24 Apr 24
Posted by: Mike Beardall
Message from the Editor

Firstly a bit of good news. A warm welcome to BMT Group, who have joined the Naval Review as our first Corporate Sponsor. Also, a particular thank you to our female membership and supporters who have been pulling out the stops, and as a consequence I am delighted to report that seven articles in this edition have been written, and contributed to, by women. Dr James Smith’s article on pg 264 deserves special mention, for those that follow the website Forum where we have enjoyed a serious debate over how the country failed to hold on to a maritime strategy in the 20th century. With the weight of articles we are currently receiving we are unable to reproduce this debate beyond the article in this edition, but please consider going online and joining in!

In these dark times for global security, the Secretary of State suggested in a recent speech that the globe had tilted from a post-war to a new pre-war phase. It is clear that Mr Shapps, previously an outsider to the world of Defence, has been engaging with his brief, looking and listening. For the minority that follow Defence and Security there is also clearly a push to drag Western Europe out of its slumber and to commence serious dialogue – but more importantly action – in this area. However, the narrative needs to go further, like it or not. The new Cold War has started, namely, a condition of balance between opposites where the risk of mutual nuclear annihilation maintains an uneasy equilibrium to prevent a full-blown conflict with the very real prospect of total global destruction if that balance fails. Ironically, a defining feature of Cold Wars is small hot wars. The secret is to ensure that these do not get out of control and shift the balance too far, one way or another. We have two of these now, and a number of other tripwire situations that should be keeping our leaders awake at night. As Sir Winston Churchill observed in 1946, “From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.”

There are no votes in Defence so how can we influence Defence and Security spending? The first question any professional communicator should ask is: Who is the target audience? We need to follow the money, as ultimately it is only a team of two who truly matter, namely the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So, sadly, the lack of any measure to even acknowledge that we have a problem with Defence and Security in either the recent Budget or indeed by pronouncements from the shadow for all those who are rightly advocating for urgent investment. I applaud the ‘UK Defence Pledge’ which was launched at the beginning of April, seeking to raise Defence spending to 2.5% ASAP with a commitment to 3.0% by 2030, but I note that it was hardly framed in a narrative that appeals to the wider public and was knocked off the news agenda with little effort. Besides which the current system of Defence Reviews every five years are exercises in moving the deck chairs and consistently trying to do more with less. There are some compelling ‘killer facts and pertinent questions’ out there that we should be deploying – The Royal Navy has not commissioned a new frigate in over 20 years, DIO repair contracts cost three times the market rate, recruiting and training is out-sourced to companies that consistently fail to deliver. Our two top competitors both have structured their economies around war and are spending over 7% of their GDPs on resourcing them.  So, more money must come but it must also be accompanied by essential urgent reform.  Defence and Security must not become like the potholed roads of the country, by that I mean filling the problem with a temporary solution – more money – without understanding why that pothole was created in the first place and constructing better roads fit for the traffic of the 21st century – i.e., urgent reform.

As NATO marks its 75th Anniversary, British leadership in this essential organisation is key to dragging many of our Allies out of their slumbers. I hope that serious consideration is given to the records of the potential new leadership contenders and their own countries’ success in the pursuit of NATO 2% mandate before being selected to head this crucial Alliance at such a critical time.

Turning to our current small hot wars. The art of sea denial using modern technology is being taken to new levels in both conflicts. In the Black Sea, the Russian Fleet has presently forfeited freedom of operation by the impressive use of long range USVs in concert with long range missile strikes. Ukrainian grain and other exports are flowing almost at pre-war levels. The situation on the ground may be bleak but we should celebrate, study and learn from this exceptional achievement at sea. In the Red Sea, a more rudimentary threat from a less sophisticated enemy, but one with a consistent large supply of UAVs, sea-skimmers and short-range ballistic missiles is keeping a coalition of modern navies very busy including the valiant efforts of HM Ships Diamond and Richmond along with the sterling work of the UKMTO. As the anti-terrorist mantra goes, “they have to be lucky once, we have to be lucky every time.” Logistics wins wars – it is time to target their logistics and their C2. The recent announcement that the Demonstration and Shakedown Assessment (DASO) firing had not gone according to plan was another blow to Defence and the RN. The boat has been cleared for operations as it successfully fired its missile which was found to have failed after the successful firing phase. However, communications follow the laws of physics, and nature abhors a vacuum. Number 10’s insistence on managing every single piece of Defence bad news often backfires as that vacuum is prone to be filled with rubbish! I suspect it drives 1SL to distraction!

Ultimately, the day-to-day success of Continuous Sea Deterrence (CASD) is a massive strategic communications achievement, where both sides trade the compelling narrative of ready, professional, well-maintained, operational nuclear forces. DASO is a very important piece of the puzzle, missile failures should be viewed in the context of the impressive overall success rate of the firing programme rather than an individual failure.  Notwithstanding, the return of HMS Vanguard to the availability cycle will, with luck, ease the pressure on the submarine community and particularly their families.

Our people remain as good if not better than ever, but we should heed that we have witnessed a thinly disguised mutiny last month, not by our servicemen and women but, by their families as the New Accommodation Offer broke the tolerance levels of many.  Despite the swift, by MOD standards, pause. Beware what will have encouraged many to gaze across the Rubicon and many will cross as a consequence. Retention is a family matter!