There is nothing wrong with the armed forces that an injection of sustained funding cannot cure. While some sectors of the public services have been protected over the last seven years – if in monetary terms rather than real terms – the Defence budget has not been deemed important enough to warrant the same treatment. This is fundamentally unfair because that budget has been the subject of sustained cuts for more than twenty-one years. Politicians like to term this as the peace dividend. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism, together with the breakup of the USSR, we were told that ‘peace had broken out’ and the money could be better spent. Come 2010, and the start of public spending cuts, no account was taken of the previous cuts to the Defence budget. The Treasury would counter that the MoD capital spending plans were too ambitious and had not been properly costed and budgeted for, resulting in the fabled black-hole that was swallowing taxes intended for the forces basic current spending. Someday, someone with inside knowledge will write a book revealing the real facts.
Gibraltar’s 50th Anniversary National Day was an outstanding success, with the video message from Prime Minister Theresa May being warmly received. Viewed objectively it fell well short of what was required. This was a one and only event, at a crucial time when the future direction of the British Overseas Territory is uncertain. In the previous post we set out the first five points of action that we asked the PM to initiate. The two points relating to the Royal Family visiting Gibraltar still need to be demonstrated. On three of those points she has failed to deliver and so we can judge with some accuracy what the real level of committment there is from the Office of the PM and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It does not look good. She failed to attend in person and as far as it is possible to ascertain she has never visited the Rock. No matter how detailed the briefings she receives, they cannot match seeing at first hand what the problems are and hearing directly from Gibraltarians what their experiences are; be it delays when crossing the border of up to five hours or being harassed by Spanish State vessels when they are fishing in their own British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.
The strategic importance of Gibraltar does not require any explanation. In July the Ministry of Defence announced it is to spend £2 million upgrading its maritime monitoring facility overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar. Sitting high above Europa Point the facility keeps an eye on 60,000 ships entering or leaving the Mediterranean or crossing between Africa and Europe. It plays a crucial role detecting any suspicious activity in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and logs all unlawful incursions by Spanish state vessels, as well as detecting the shipping of narcotics into Europe and combating the nefarious illegal transport of drugs and tobacco. Windmill Hill Signal Station, with its panoramic view, keeps an eye on traffic visually, over the radio and electronically. It feeds information back to the UK and its allies about all these activities and military movements.
The UK Government has finally announced its response to the independent report, prepared by Sir John Parker last year, that outlined proposals for a National Shipbuilding Strategy for the Royal Navy. They have accepted Sir John’s recommendations for a renaissance in British shipbuilding and the way naval ships are procured by the Ministry of Defence. The aim is to “make the UK’s maritime industry more competitive, grow the RN fleet by the 2030s, export ships overseas, and boost innovation, skills, jobs and productivity across the UK.” The Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, declared – “the new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing RN that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world” …… “backed up by a commitment to spend billions on new ships, our plans will help boost jobs, skills, and growth in shipyards and the supply chain across the UK”. The MoD is committed to new ships through its rising budget and £178 billion equipment plan. At the core of this proposed renaissance is the plan to build five new light frigates [Type 31e] using a modular system of blocks manufactured at various locations and then assembled centrally at a location still to be decided. The cost of each ship is capped at £250 million and the design has still to be settled. This should be news for rejoicing, but there is much to criticise and much for the opposition parties to scrutinize. They still seem to be asleep, no doubt preoccupied with plotting to derail Brexit. So here goes, a CDP response.
In relation to the European Union, and the Hope and Vision for it, which we had but remains unfulfilled; our departure from the EU raises issues about what our future relationship will be, especially as there seems no desire by the core members of the EU and the Eurozone to reform their institutions. Our two areas of concern are the future of Gibraltar and the continuance of the special relationship with the Republic of Ireland through the British + Irish Council and the Common Travel Area. The threats arise from the EU failing to recognise the special status of Ireland by virtue of the Republic being a member of the CTA and of the EU.
The current situation faced by the RN is reminiscent to that when King William III ascended the throne; neglected and underfunded. His ambition was to rebuild the Navy to a position of pre-eminence; his problem was the lack of funds. His solution was to borrow the money and thereby created the Bank of England and the National Debt, which are still with us. It has been mooted that our current Debt is the equivalent of the cost of all the wars fought since. There was a consequence arising from the building programme, the oak forests of Britain and Ireland were laid waste. The construction of ships was a massive enterprise that stimulated the economy and did lead to the industrial revolution. Britannia really did rule the waves as the RN won control of the seas. Control of the seas resulted in control of the world and the British Empire. Our modern desires for the RN are less ambitious and relatively less costly. We merely want to save the RN.
Our concerns about the state of the UK Armed Forces are extensive, particularly so with the RN which is at a very low ebb. Each year Navy Books publishes a Complete Guide to the ships and aircraft of the Fleet. This is authored and compiled by Steve Bush. For twenty-two years he served in the RN. On leaving in 2000 he joined Maritime Books and from 2003 has been editor of Warship World. There is no better person to comment on the state of the RN, so for your information we republish his Introduction to the 2017 British Warships & Auxiliaries. Read the rest of this entry »