Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Royal Navy: More brown water than high seas?

The Financial Times reports here on some "back to the future" thinking as the Royal Navy celebrates it's great victory at Trafalgar:
Band perhaps seem rather stereotypical: commanding, salty, respected by his men, with a characteristic sailor’s penchant for bluntness and the off-colour. But on one important subject - the future of the navy itself - Band is decidedly unconventional.

Band’s view - one that some disagree with - is that the Royal Navy should downsize and concentrate on a small core of high-end fighting ships...But, as a number of new books on Trafalgar suggest, the navy’s current predicament has parallels in the events of two centuries ago.

Band is calling for a fleet composed of smaller, cheaper craft than at present - a sort of well-armed coast guard, interdicting gun-runners and drug smugglers, monitoring shipments of materials and protecting shipping lanes for international trade. “Some people would suggest that kind of maritime security is ‘coast guardy’,” Band explains, but he disagrees with this view.

After the decades when navies were seen as glamorous floating fortresses patrolling the deep blue seas, such small-scale missions in the so-called “brown water” may seem like a paltry consolation prize. But it is not the first time the Royal Navy has faced such a dilemma.

As the festivities for the Trafalgar anniversary crank up, the new books illustrate that the image of the navy so ingrained in the public imagination - that of magnificent fleets launching fusillades at each other as they ride out the swells - is a historical exception. More often, the task of a navy - more prosaic but no less urgent - is exactly that brown-water policing role...
Admiral Sir Alan West, First Sea Lord, the Royal Navy’s top officer, says the service can learn from its past. “After the annihilating victory at Trafalgar... what did our navy do?” he asks. “All through the 19th century, the image the people in Britain had of the navy was ‘Jolly Jack Tar’ and this marvellous fleet of ships that had won at Trafalgar. But actually, it was chaps going in gunboats up the Nile to Khartoum; it was people in China in river gunboats; it was things happening in the Dark Continent; it was suppressing piracy; it was, in the first decades of the 19th century, stopping the slave trade, which the Royal Navy gets huge, huge credit for. It was the navy being involved in littoral-type operations.”

In other words, the navy is coming home...
And, given the new world we live in, the US Navy shoud be focusing on the same seemingly mundane - but actually absolutely vital - missions.

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