Trading Frigates, Subs for Aircraft Carriers
“Carrier aviation and particularly Carrier Strike is not only the back bone of the Fleet, it is the backbone of our national security and wider defence policy.”
We fear that Western Navies are still in denial on the type of warfare at sea most likely to be fought in any potential conflict. Still hoping their giant battleships such as supercarriers and guided missile ships will deter any potential foe as they did through much of the last war–the Cold War, they spend much of their budgets and force planning on very costly naval airpower in a century for asymmetric threats such as conventional submarines, cruise missiles, and even suicide boats. In Great Britain, this sort of mindset is glaringly revealed by base swapping plans, as Western Morning News tells us:
Devonport’s Type 22 frigates will remain until the end of their service lives while a decision on its Type 23 frigates will be made in the next five years. The announcement, which could cost the South West economy millions in lost jobs and services, was confirmed this afternoon when the minister visited the Plymouth-based naval base.
Mr Ainsworth said that, subject to Ministry of Defence investment decisions, Portsmouth will be home to the new class of frigates, known as the Future Surface Combatant. They will be berthed alongside the new Type 45 destroyers currently being introduced to service as well as the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers currently on order.
Though specifically these are not warships cuts but a bureaucratic reshuffling of forces, there have been cuts recently in order to ensure the Royal Navy possess a last-century carrier arm, backed by very powerful Daring anti-missile ships, and a sizable amphibious capability. Typically the cuts have fallen on low-end escorts like the Type 23 and submarines, ships which during wartime have often proved the most valuable, and the type of vessel the anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean is pleading for.
According to Save the Royal Navy, numerous and still useful vessels have been discarded prematurely to pay for budget cuts and to build this small gold-plated fleet. For instance, Britain sold 4 Upholder class submarines to Canada after they had seen only 1-3 years service each. Also, six very powerful Type 22 (Batch 2) frigates were sold to an ex-Warsaw Pact Navy for scrap value. Remarkably, 3 of the Type 23 Duke class commissioned in the 1990’s were sold to Chile at a bargain.
All of which leaves the once mighty Royal Navy with a fleet less than half its size in 1990, with ongoing cuts planned. To borrow a recent quote from Commander Jeff Huber of the USN, the British admirals and politicians “always plan for the last World War.” Yet, it is the small warship which has proved the most handy, and hardest working in all major conflicts at sea. While we wouldn’t call for a complete dismantling of all large warships in service, certainly some form of balance is required to allow a navy to contend with multiple threats, instead of just the ones we pick or choose.