What the Royal Navy Got Right
Twice in the last century we see Britain barely hanging on, near to defeat against a German Fleet engaging in an insurgency at sea by use of the submarine. Once, in the same century, the Royal Navy now designed as a sea-going COIN force, geared mainly toward anti-submarine warfare due to post-imperial downsizing, fight a conventional war at sea in the South Atlantic and prevail.
Far more than the American Navy in the late Cold War, the British Fleet was prepared to combat the principle sea-going threat in modern times (if you consider the warship which sank the most naval and merchant tonnage in all history), the attack submarine. Thanks to a lack of funds due to successive economic crises in the post-war period, the island nation could ill afford large deck carriers, advanced guided missile battleships, and sizable amphibious forces alongside her ASW escort fleet. Ironically due to what some might consider a handicap, decades of decreasing defense allocations, she was forced to establish priorities where these funds would go, instead of a duplicate US Navy filled with expensive warships.
Emphasis turned then to a large anti-submarine presence to support NATO while still protecting her drastically shrunken empire. As Wikipedia details:
The navy was forced to make do with three much smaller Invincible-class aircraft carriers, and the fleet was now centered around anti-submarine warfare in the north Atlantic as opposed to its former position with world wide strike capability.
It was this fleet which was sent to war over the Falklands Islands in 1982, and though it was constructed to fight another type of war, it proved more than adequate for the mission. Even those who criticize the size the Navy has fallen, admits that it was still a force to be reckoned with. As we mentioned yesterday, Lisle A. Rose’s Power at Sea: A Violent Peace, 1946-2006 tells us that “The Royal Navy devoted fully 40 percent of its major surface combatants to the South Atlantic War.” While the author writes of this alarmingly, this is still less than half the fleet, allowing the bulk to maintain Cold War defense postures elsewhere.
Imagine the fleet built with the popular view, that the Falklands War proved the essential need for costly supercarriers and her equally pricey missiles escorts. The 40 or so RN warships required to take back the Falklands would alone dwarf the future Royal Navy plans, with 2 aircraft carriers and 20 or so escorts. That 40% is starting to look pretty good!