Forces: June 27, 2005

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The United Kingdom is one of the primary military powers in the world, and the oldest by a significant margin. Since the  16th century reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the United Kingdom (of which England, which Elizabeth ruled, is a part), has been a major player in world affairs. This is a longer run than any of the other major powers in the world today. This is a country with a long tradition of being a player on the world stage, and it will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future.

The major component of the United Kingdoms claim to being a world power is the Royal Navy. This is arguably the best navy sailor-for-sailor in the world. Currently, the Royal Navy has three small carriers (the Invincible-class) that carry Harriers and helicopters. These will be replaced by two large (50,000-ton) carriers (Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales) that will carry the V/STOL version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Royal Navys surface warships are also solid vessels. The Royal Navy currently has nine of the Type 42 destroyers in active service, with three in reserve. Two of these vessels (Sheffield and Coventry) were lost in the Falklands War. The Royal Navy also has twenty frigates in service, the four Type 22 Batch 3 frigates (the Cornwall subclass) and sixteen Type 23s (the Norfolk-class). The Royal Navy is also bringing a new type of destroyer online, the Type 45 (Daring-class). The plan is to acquire eight of these ships (down from twelve), which will be equipped with the ASTER 30 area-defense missile. The Royal Navys submarine force consists of four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines, each with 16 Trident missiles, five Swiftsure-class submarines (the class leader, Swiftsure, was decommissioned), and seven Trafalgar-class submarines. The Swiftsure-class submarines are to be replaced by the Astute-class submarines.

The Royal Air Force is one of the most powerful in the world, with very good pilots and a large force of combat aircraft. Among these are about 80 Harrier GR.7 (which will be upgraded to GR.9 standard), 142 Tornado GR.4, about 130 Tornado F.3, and about 70 Jaguars. The Jaguars and Tornado F.3s are slated to be replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon. The RAF is also going to buy the V/STOL version of the Joint Strike Fighter. This air force also has a large variety of support aircraft, most notably the Sentry AEW.1, the Airbus A400M tanker, and the Nimrod MR.4.

The British Army is a small force, when compared to the United States Army. However, they are well-trained. The Army has two deployable divisions (the 1st and 3rd) with six brigades total. The British Army has 380 Challenger 2 main battle tanks, 575 Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, and a number of other vehicles as well, most notably the Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (Tracked) family, which includes the Scorpion light tank, the Scimitar (which is armed with a 30mm Rarden cannon) and the Striker and anti-tank missile carrier.

The United Kingdom also has some of the best special operations forces in the world. The Special Air Service has pulled off a number of successful ops, one of the most famous being the successful recapturing of the Iranian embassy in 1980. Other famous operations including missions against Iraqi Scuds in Desert Storm. While some things are known about the SAS, the British government makes every effort to maintain secrecy those who are killed are often listed with their parent units as opposed to the SAS.

The United Kingdom is a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps the only power assured of beating it in a straight-up war is the United States, and those two countries happen to be allies. The United Kingdom has pulled off a number of impressive operations (the best-known, and most impressive being the liberation of the Falkland Islands in 1982). They also keep small units in Belize and Brunei, who have had territorial disputes with larger neighbors who have wisely decided to avoid a potential confrontation with the United Kingdom. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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