Surface Forces: The Shrinking Royal Navy



p> October 3, 2007: News of plans to cut the Royal Navy to as few as fifty ships caused a lot of controversy. This is only natural, as the United Kingdom, being an island nation, is heavily dependent on the sea and has faced submarine blockade twice - and has also had the need to project power to a distant locale on its own. In essence, the British are gambling that quantity is less important than quality.

While the Royal Navy's facing budget cuts, it is still going to get some very capable platforms. The two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, which will carry three dozen F-35s and support helicopters, will arguably be the second-most powerful carriers in the world. The Daring-class destroyers are arguably as good as the American Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the air-defense role. The Astute-class submarines will be among the best in the world - and British submariners are very good at using them. Messing with the Royal Navy will cost you - just ask Argentina- whose 1982 invasion of the Falklands was reversed.

That said, these new ships are expensive, and this means that there's not going to be as many of them purchased in the first place. The eight Daring-class destroyers will be replacing twelve Type 42 destroyers. The Royal Navy will have only two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers to replace the three Invincible-class carriers. The six submarines of the Swiftsure-class and the seven Trafalgar-class submarines may be replaced by a total of eight Astute-class submarines.

Mind you, the British ships will be very capable - and with precision-guided weapons like the Tomahawk, one doesn't need as many sorties to shut down an airfield, or to take out a bridge. The ships are carrying more weapons than their predecessors (the Type 45 carries 48 surface-to-air missiles - compared to 22 Sea Darts in a Type 42). That said, as capable as the ships are, they cannot be in two places at once. If someone can get the Royal Navy out of position, they have a chance to put some serious hurt on the United Kingdom. - Harold C. Hutchison (

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