Dismantling the Fleet that Jackie Built Pt 1
Last week we touched briefly on the need for an “anti-Fisher“, concerning the eccentric but revolutionizing British First Sea Lord from 100 years ago who emphasized the battlefleet concept above all other aspects of naval warfare. Admiral of the Fleet John Arbuthnot “Jackie” Fisher ordered the creation of the first all-big-gun battleship, HMS Dreadnought in 1904, which was the most efficient and powerful warship then in existence. At the same time he set out to drag the Royal Navy kicking and screaming out of its last century Imperial policing stance into a First-Rate naval power, a goal which he mostly accomplished. He thus set a marker in efficiency, training, and the need for the most powerful ships possible, by which all navies aspire to this day including the Royal Navy’s heir, the US Navy.
Specifically here are the main reforms instigated by Admiral Fisher during his first term as First Sea Lord (1904-1910):
- Nucleus Crew System-This was for the Reserve Fleet, meaning 2/5 of ship’s crew complement were onboard in case of emergency.
- Redeployment of the Fleet-The bulk of the Royal Navy was now concentrated in or near Home Waters.
- Discarding Obsolete Warships-154 older warships were sent to the scrapyards under this modernization plan.
- A Massive Building Program-The Royal Navy operating forces were now limited to 4 basic types:Battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, a system that exists, with some cosmetic additions of course(aircraft carriers and amphibious ships), to this day.
Today the West, and especially the USA has no peer enemy to match its command of the sea, having countered successive threats in the last century including the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians, and the Soviets. If there is any challenge to this ongoing dominance in the near term, it will be of a low-intensity Third World nature, or from a regional power like China.
We also think that all of the current problems faced by Western navies, from drastically shrinking force structures, aging ships, and over-worked hulls and crew, are of not of a budgetary nature, but clinging to dated ideas of naval warfare long past their time. Those tenets as espoused by Admiral Fisher might have been relevant in his day when all major navies deployed like vessels which must be countered by like warships. Yet in this day of many smaller threats, from peacekeeping duties, rogue missile powers, piracy, land powers invading their neighbors, our handful of capital assets are at risk to being overwhelmed by the work load. In this age of modern weapons as force multipliers, we think the ongoing battlefleet mindset centered around giant aircraft carriers, large amphibious ships, deep-diving nuclear attack submarines, and powerful missile destroyers is unnecessary and impossible to sustain.
We propose a dismantling of the reforms brought about during the great admiral’s tenure as First Sea Lord, which emphasized the concentration of force to contend with the threats of that era. We see this a safe alternative considering the power of modern weapons, and the only answer to high operating tempos and hair-trigger alerts that has brought an unbearable strain on today’s navies, as have the high cost of modern warships. In all navies we see ongoing difficulties in modernizing last century force structures, so much so that operating forces have been in steady decline since the Cold War, and old ships are forced to serve long past their prime, as with USN aircraft carriers and Canadian destroyers.
Tomorrow-The anti-Fisher Reforms!