This morning’s reports that the nuclear submarine HMS Astute has run aground off the Isle of Skye ends a week of dire news for the Royal Navy, which saw its aircraft carrier capability and its maritime air assets slashed in Tuesday’s Strategic Defence Review (SDR).
Patrick Bury is a former Captain in the Royal Irish Regiment who served in Sangin, Afghanistan; a memoir of his experiences ‘Callsign Hades’, described as ‘the first great book of the Afghan war’, is out now
This morning’s reports that the nuclear submarine HMS Astute has run aground off the Isle of Skye ends a week of dire news for the Royal Navy, which saw its aircraft carrier capability and its maritime air assets slashed in Tuesday’s Strategic Defence Review (SDR). As mentioned previously on Left Foot Forward, the real indicator of the SDR’s lack of strategic thought is to be found in the cuts it has forced on its navy.
The surface fleet will now only comprise 19 ships, leaving large geographical gaps in coverage that will have huge implications for protecting the sea lanes so vital for world trade. Already this year the Caribbean area went without a Royal Navy patrol for the first time in 250 years.
It is for this reason the SDR does not fit well with the National Security Strategy (NSS) unveiled on Monday. The NSS seems to suggest a more passive defensive role for the UK’s Armed Forces, based on conflict prevention rather than intervention, whilst still maintaining Britain’s role as a ‘world player’. This would suggest a less military focus and more emphasis on ‘soft power’ – economics, aid and diplomacy.
Yet examination of the SDR reveals a primarily military method of dealing with risk, of hard power over soft. And here is another big mismatch between the SDR and the NSS: to be a world player you need to project force. To do that you need a large navy with air platforms. As was made clear in the SDR, Britain will not have this capability for the next 10 years.
Thus the SDR’s way of dealing with the direction laid out in the NSS has been to take a strategic gamble. And it’s a gamble on maritime security. The hope is that during the time it takes the nation’s finances to recover and new ship deliveries to come on stream, there will be no major maritime security issues. In the short to medium term this leaves Britain, a traditionally maritime power, exposed. This does not entirely fit with the NSS aims of protecting a ‘stronger Britain in an age of uncertainty’.
There are some welcome aspects of the SDR and the NSS. The latter is the first document of its kind to begin to prioritise threats to the UK, while the SDR has restructured the scale and concurrency of possible military interventions, and instigated an innovative new brigade structure in the army.
However, in terms of strategy, there is more to be desired form the NSS, and the SDR in particular. Perhaps the best thing about the Strategic Defence Review is that there will be another in five years.
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