If as many predict, the pace of operations will slow over the next few years (stop laughing at the back) and as the forces reduce in size one of the difficult challenges will be both recruitment and retention. We have seen the outcry about recruitment in a time of reductions in overall size despite it being an obvious requirement to keep the pipeline moving but if the economy does pick up both recruitment and retention might become equally difficult, who knows what the future holds.
Traditionally, one of the many ways of offering interesting and exciting alternative means of winning the battle against boredom and increased voluntary outflow is that of ‘adventurous training’
Almost every week there are stories from the MoD about service personnel participating in one expedition or the other, the increasing number of wounded ex service personnel adds another dimension to this aspect of service life.
It has always struck me that the Royal Navy does not have a tall ship, well, at least one that can sail.
There is HMS Victory of course and a number of restored naval and civilian vessels like the Cutty Sark or Belfast but there is little or no training opportunities there, unlike a functioning tall ship with its living heritage and ample opportunities for leadership development, adventurous training and interesting things to do.
The value to the UK as a whole of a tall ship should also not be underestimated, there has been some research about the positive benefits to those taking part, mainly young people understandably.
Whether it was taking part in a tall ships festival /races in parts foreign, providing opportunity to overseas military students or simply acting as a unique and interesting training environment for serving personnel, cadets, recruits and university students for all three services, it would add real value.
The Royal Oman Navy will soon take delivery of a new 87m, square rigged, three mast steel construction sail training vessel from Damen Shipbuilding to replace the Cisne Branco.
As we are looking for ship building work to fill in the construction gaps between CVF work winding down and Type 26 building up would it be possible to fill that gap with something of greater long term value to the whole of the UK than a handful of offshore patrol vessels no one wants?
Hang on, what about the cost?
First off, they are really not that expensive to build because they are relatively unsophisticated, certainly when compared to warships.
As we all know, the real cost of any capability is in the people using it but this is where if we were really joined up, funding from the UK conflict prevention, overseas development, education and criminal justice strands could be combined.
The actual full time Royal Navy strength could be quite modest and there is no reason why it could not utilise Royal Navy Reserves, FTRS or sponsored reserve type engagement models.
In addition to providing interesting and rewarding training opportunities for all three services and a broad spectrum of other UK and overseas civilians it would naturally provide valuable command experience for Royal Navy officers, especially important in an era of reducing hull numbers.
The UK is of course actively involved with sail training ships, the Jubilee Sailing Trust for example has a number of vessels including the STS Tenacious, which is especially adapted for disabled personnel and was built in Portsmouth.
The Jubilee trust also operate the STS Lord Nelson, a similar vessel that was also designed for disabled and able bodies crew.
Appledore built the Stavros S Niarchos, the UK is not without build and operate expertise.
So instead of the ‘bring back the Royal Yacht’ and ‘lets have a couple of offshore patrol vessels because ‘BAE Portsmouth want us to’ how about thinking more broadly, recognise the UK wide benefits of publicly funded sail training vessels and get a handful, what would that be called?
A flotilla I believe the nautical term is
Perhaps we could buy the ARA Libertad at a knockdown price!