I have tremendous sympathy for the First Sea Lord, Admiral Mark Stanhope.
When it comes to stating the obvious there can be few clearer examples as (paraphrasing)
If we had Harrier it would be supporting Operation Ellamy
Yep, that’s pretty open, honest and factual. Harriers would have supplemented the Typhoon and Tornado force, bringing to bear the unique ability to operate with reduced response times to fleeting targets of opportunity. That is not to say it could or would have replaced Tornado or Typhoon but it would have no doubt played a serious part. Would the operation be any materially different, would a small flight of Harriers actually make any great difference to the outcomes on the ground, I have to say probably not. The problems at a strategic or even operational level would not likely all of a sudden been resolved by the appearance of a handful of GR9’s but the simple and unavoidable fact remains, it would have been an improvement on what is there now and who knows what actual impact it would have had.
If I or anyone else had a choice between land and sea-based airpower, operating in harmony or land-based airpower only, then the simple answer is both please. When I looked at the history of naval aviation in a recent rather long post it was obvious to me that in some circumstances only land-based is appropriate, in other circumstances only sea-based is appropriate but in most circumstances, the combination of the two is always preferable.
The second point was that to sustain the naval operation post 6 months
Beyond that, we might have to request the Government to make some challenging decisions about priorities
Again, what is there to argue with?
The Royal Navy has a range of commitments, be that exercises, supporting standing tasks, planned visits and supporting multi-national task forces, for example against piracy in the Indian Ocean. Not all of these might be considered a high priority; some can sensibly be moved up and down the list in order to support operations off Libya.
These comments were taken out of context and all of a sudden in the media the Royal Navy is at a breaking point. Of course politicians, ever on the lookout for a point to make, jumped on this and started demanding a review of the SDSR.
He also said that there would be no going back on the cuts and we must look forward which again, I thought was blatantly obvious and entirely reasonable.
When faced with such a situation the decision to speak out has to be balanced, on one hand, if he keeps quiet and rolls over, he will be accused of being an over politicised Coalition stooge who cares more about his pension and seat in the Lords than he does about his service and those in it, on the other, if he ‘does a Dannat’ and speaks out about what is obviously pretty factual and glaringly obvious stuff, he is immediately slapped down by those that should be listening and accused of not knowing his place, after all, in a democracy it is the politicians that make policy and service personnel, from top to bottom, just get on with it.
The way in which the Admiral was publicly humiliated by David Cameron, no matter what the rights and wrongs of what he said, was it technically correct or should he be giving succour to the enemy by telling the world that the cupboard is bare etc, displays a lack of respect not only for the man but his rank and the position he holds.
Perhaps we can excuse it by saying David Cameron doesn’t understand the military but for all his fine words, most in the military understand a bullshitter when they hear one and so far all the rhetoric about respecting the armed forces has met with entirely the opposite.
The First Sea Lord and the armed forces in general, deserve better.