A recent article in Warships: International Fleet Review, written by Francis Beaufort, its political correspondent, argued that the Royal Navy risks losing critical mass. A pdf of the article can be downloaded from the UK National Defence Association’s website.
The strength of the RN, measured in ships and people, has fallen by two-thirds since the end of the Cold War; in 2004-5 it was about half its Cold War strength.
In 1982, it had two carriers, two assault ships, four ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), 12 nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN), six diesel powered submarines (SSK), 15 destroyers and 46 frigates.
It now has no aircraft carriers, although two are under construction, two helicopter carriers, 2 assault/command ships, three landing ships, four SSBNs, five SSNs in full service with two on sea trials, five destroyers in full service with two more coming into service and 13 frigates.
The number of sailors and marines was 73,000 in 1982 and 36,000 in 2004; there are now only 29,000.
The modern ships are far more capable than their predecessors, but can only be in one place at a time, making it hard for the RN to cover all its responsibilities. Beaufort points out that there is a rule of thumb that only a third of a navy’s warships will be available at any time.
Britain is an island, dependent on overseas trade, and with global responsibilities. We live in times of austerity, but the RN is now at a level where it cannot be cut further, and probably should be expanded, or else its number of tasks must be reduced.