Time to embrace our status as a regional power


  • Relative economic decline (latest GNP and GDP tables)
  • Move from a uni-polar to a multi-polar world
  • US strategic pivot

Future roles

UK territorial integrity – The majority of the threat is apparent in other domains: cyber warfare, terrorism, organised crime, energy security, immigration and rogue aircraft. Combating these threats are police and security service roles; using high-end RN capabilities is akin to using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. Everyone involved feels like they’ve done a good job but it is not defence, and certainly not cost-effective defence. The exceptions are very unlikely: shore bombardment and submarine interdiction of shipping. Both of these can more cheaply be dealt with by land based aircraft but would likely require RN support. Surface ships could easily be found and sunk using AWACS or drones/airships and Typhoon/JSF. The Merlin ASW helicopter is thought to be highly proficient and a large purchase of these would be very versatile in that they could be deployed from coastal bases, cheap multi-role vessels or even merchant shipping with containerised support facilities.

Regional Power – Lets be honest with ourselves, this is what we can afford, even though it’s less than what we want to do in the world. With the US pivot to the Pacific and IndianOceans, the US needs the European navies to do the leg work in their own backyard. Through standing NATO task groups, the European navies can easily provide enough mine sweepers, frigates, destroyers, helicopter carriers, strike aircraft, amphibious landing ships, and replenishment ships to deal with European crises from the Balkans to north Africa. What is lacking is the will of all members to put their capabilities into the fight (especially the Germans) and the willingness to rely on joint task forces in the event of a crisis. For example, the UK could specialise in SSNs (where it has a lead in Europe) and disinvest in CVFs; while the French could provide the standing carrier commitment (disinvesting in SSNs and enhancing its CVF capability). The Scandinavian, Iberian, Italian and French navies all have plenty to contribute to a standing naval presence, especially in the corvette and frigate class of vessel. These forces, as well as other regional forces, should be corseted by US support in the super-high-end capabilities such as satellite surveillance and drones, and the developments of new technology such as fleet drones and energy weapons. The UK is likely to be the lead (or co-lead with France) nation in any such activity and this should be its future focus.

British Overseas Territories – the RN has a responsibility to protect BOTs (Falklands, Gibraltar, Cyprus Sovereign Areas, Diego Garcia, AscensionIslands) but only the Falklands needs defending. A minimal air superiority capability (half a dozen JSF or Typhoon, ideally with some AWACS) and SSNs (1-2 astute, with TLAM to strike the Argentina mainland) will deter any aggression from a democratic Argentina. A similar deployable force, held in reserve could easily secure other BOTs if they came under threat, which is very unlikely. There is no requirement to retake these territories, as they would thus be suitably defended.

International obligations and coalitions – Whenever we act out of area, this is almost always going to be as part of a coalition, either UN, NATO or US led. The exceptions will be defending BOTs (completely manageable with current resources) or taking on a very small conflict (e.g. Sierra Leone). The UK will never again take on a medium or large sized power on its own. Therefore there is no need to have the capability to win an air superiority battle; the UK contribution could be its air warfare destroyers, alongside a US, French or even Brazilian or Indian carrier strike capability. Therefore we do not need the full spectrum of blue water capabilities. Tackling piracy off the Somali coast is a police action; it does not require a billion pound air defence destroyer or even a relatively cheap frigate. It could just as easily be done by coast guard type vessels, helicopters located aboard RFA ships or even on convoyed cargo ships. If (or is it when?) the US decides enough is enough with some the dwindling number of crackpot regimes (Iran is probably first on the list) then we should assist in whatever token capacity we can. If there’s capacity we warm up our resting Astute, Type 45s and assault ships and take part in a non-enduring intervention. All these platforms would be useful but carrier strike is a luxury we can do without.

The competition – Those nations developing blue-water naval capabilities are all democracies. This poses an excellent opportunity for the United States to devolve (and corset) sea lane security and patrolling to regional naval partnerships: Brazil and south Africa in the South Atlantic; Australia in the south Pacific; Japan and South Korea in the north Pacific and Sea of Japan; India and South Africa in the Indian Ocean; and European NATO in the north Atlantic, North Sea, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean. There is one obvious exception: China. China is a pure realpolitik power, but based on the importance of trade to its economic development (and therefore internal stability) it has the most to lose from the closure of sea lanes, and is likely to enhance sea governance rather than interfere with it.

The true wild cards are China-Taiwan, NKorea-SKorea and Iran. If these confrontations turn hot, should and could the UK participate? There seems little strategic gain in the UK becoming involved in China-Taiwan or NKorea-SKorea, yet maybe it’s inevitable given our dependence on the US strategic umbrella or US forces being engaged and our duties under NATO. In the case of Iran, we obviously are due to our dependence on fossil fuels; so probably, probably and definitely. Therefore, what useful role would the UK play? It is unlikely that the US would need more than twelve carrier battle groups to take on any of these powers, therefore the UK contribution should be token, along with other US partners – maybe a flotilla consisting of some Type 45s and SSNs in support of the US task groups, but definitely not boots on the ground. Iraq and Afghanistan are going to be the last enduring commitments of ground troops for at least two decades (until the collective mindset forgets the hard won lesson of both campaigns)

Investment priorities

  • Double the SSN fleet as the primary means of deterrence and surface / land attack; including the carriage of nuclear tipped cruise missiles.
  • Develop the exceptionally capable Type 45s into multi-role warships by cannibalising the frigate fleet for their CIWS, anti-ship missiles and land attack missiles. Fit Merlin with AEW equipment from retiring Sea Kings to provide extra area capability to Type 45s. Deployments of such high-end platforms to be rare in order to maintain capability for as long as possible.
  • Double the Merlin ASW helicopter fleet to fly off convoyed shipping or multi-role platforms. ASW no longer to be delivered by specialist ASW frigates.
  • A fleet of cheap multi-purpose support ships, on the lines of the Spanish ???? able to simultaneously launch by helicopter and assault craft a division of troops; or deliver humanitarian assistance; or launch patrol UAVs; or launch MCM UUVs;  or provide logistics, flag and intelligence support to a flotilla of small patrol vessels; or host the whole Merlin ASW fleet.
  • Develop a UUV MCM capability deliverable from cheap multi-role ships.
  • Fit the CAC system for inter-operability with US naval forces.
  • Fleet of small patrol boats operated by the new British Maritime Police to conduct all police actions (anti-piracy and counter-narcotics).
  • Forward deployment – deterrence task force based out of the Falklands; North Sea and Mediterranean NATO task forces based out of Plymouth and Gibraltar, MCMs based in Bahrain.


  • SSBNs to be withdrawn as soon as nuclear tipped cruise missiles are available for astute.
  • MCM vessels supplanted by MCM UUVs.
  • All frigates, no type 26 replacement.
  • Wildcat – anti-ship role to be delivered by Harpoon (Type 45) and Spearfish (Astute), or further Merlin order.
  • Carrier strike – sell or convert to multi-role vessel, halve JSF fleet to just the RAF order (or retrofit Typhoon and do away with JSF altogether).
  • Counter-narcotics and counter-piracy – these are police actions and should be delivered with helicopters or low end patrol craft.
  • Flying the flag and defence diplomacy – not required given NATO and US strategic umbrella.
  • Worldwide sea lane security and ‘patrolling’- US devolve and corset to regional partners. The UK to maintain a European theatre perspective only.


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June 3, 2013 11:05 am

When I talk about this website being anti-navy, this is the sort of thing I think of. Lets get rid of CVF and SSBNs (and frigates in this weird case).

Why exactly? Deterrence is out the window because no one would use nuclear weapons in anything less than an all out war, and cruise missiles are just not good enough in that scenario.

We’re talking about only sending, in your words, “token” capabilities even though you identify some of the cases as being of paramount importance to us like the Gulf. We’ll have no frigates to keep sea lanes open and only 6 very very expensive surface ships left to try with, along with maintaining ALL of our overseas patrols that require any level of deterrence. The patrol vessels you suggest would do neither of those things. Nor would any spare SSNs, if you can’t see it, it isn’t deterring anything.

You’ve ignored the fact that frigates carry some very useful ASW kit that land based Merlins don’t as well.

Oh and you’ve conveniently managed to scrap CVF, by saying a couple of extra fighters in the Falklands along with a slightly higher standing commitment will do the job of a CVF, hey presto, we never need to worry about forcible entry ops ever again.

Funny how us becoming a regional power has only thoroughly gutted the RN. The army and RAF can continue their business as usual I assume.

June 3, 2013 11:27 am

Cant say I am convinced by this either Bad Robot, not sure what we are getting for the significant change, cost and pain!

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
June 3, 2013 11:30 am

@ Bad Robot.

Gutsy call to a very tough crowd.

I just spent 30 minutes writing a very detailed reply only for it come up as “deleted spam”.

@TD I take it their is a limit to words in a reply?

Think Defence
June 3, 2013 11:33 am

Sorry APATS, was just in the middle of some under the bonnet tinkering which may have binned your comment

June 3, 2013 11:35 am

The idea that the UK should embrace being a regional power is one capable of cogent support. However, that would mean not a half-arsed attempt at maintaining a nuclear capability or a blue water navy with SSNs and “A fleet of cheap multi-purpose support ships … able to simultaneously launch by helicopter and assault craft a division of troops”. It would mean a force set up on the lines of Norway.

P.S. I think the idea that one can do effective ASW by helicopter alone without something as good as a 2087 equipped surface ship and, in the context of defending the UK, proper MPA, somewhat questionable.

P.P.S. The idea that one could have half a dozen T45s kept in port until they are needed and then expect them to perform when the bite comes is a nonsense, even I, an ex-squaddy, knows that. Effective Navies are ones that spend their time at sea, not tied up alongside.

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
June 3, 2013 11:40 am

@ Bad Robot.

So as I am not spending another 30 mins a few potted highlights.

1. You assume Argentina will remain a Democracy and be reasonable, you also assume that we would sanction the firing of TLAM at the Argentinean mainland when it could be a nuclear attack. As could every other TLAM we fire after we get rid of Trident and go for nuke tipped TLAM.

2. Merlin sonar is best employed as part of a system with Frigate sonar. they tend to dip ahead or astern of a force to stop a sub using that area of water. often in the “look zone”. Their sonar does not have the range of an FF/DD LFAS.

3. Doubling the SSN fleet will cost over £6Billion.

4. These Spanish Ship ???? I think you are referring to Juan Carlos and when the Ozzies bought 2 they paid 1 Billion each. Not sure how many you will need to “land a division” host all your Merlins etc. or how you protect them as you scrapped the escort fleet.

5. Why would a regional power need to “land a division”.

6. By CAC you mean CEC. Cooperative Engagement Capability but why would you want to as you only have 6 surface units left.

7. When cannibalising our Frigates you will not get any land attack missiles as they are not fitted. Alsio T45 already deploys with CIWS when required.

8. You scrap Wildcat, what about the army ones?

9. There is only one F35 order and it is neither RAF or FAA.

@TD noooo will have to start implementing my Dii protocols on here. Always save my work somewhere else before I ever hit send :)

Think Defence
June 3, 2013 11:43 am

Bad Robot, I think it might have been a better post if you split the strategy from the kit list

Maybe we should all concentrate comments on the strategy rather than the practicalities of the bits of tin?

June 3, 2013 11:53 am

A very interesting post, but something I can’t help disagree with. Your premise seems to be that we will be forced to make an active choice between our current status (global power, albeit punching above our weight) or demoting ourselves to a regional power. I should make clear from the beginning that I favour the former, but there are still some things we can agree on!

Yes, our economy is not in good shape. We’re even in, as you term it, relative economic decline – but this has been happening for the past 80 years and will continue to happen as long as there are countries that are growing faster than us. It doesn’t mean that investment of finances and effort in defence can’t be done, and nor should it be an excuse to demote ourselves either. Indeed, in comparison with the rest of Europe, our economy seems to be the strongest, and I have a feeling that although we are unlikely to see some kind of economic boom, ours will be perhaps one of the strongest and most stable in Europe come the end of the decade. 2015 election pending, of course!

Secondly, it is also true that the United States is focusing its attention into the Pacific and Indian Ocean arenas. Why? Because that’s where the main “threats” are. You might notice that the UK is doing the same thing. We are quietly building up (or rebuilding) partnerships with strategically important countries in the area: India and Australia are notable examples, and our spearheading of stabilising Somalia is very important indeed, despite its poor media coverage. We also have unofficial standing commitments in various Middle East countries (U.A.E., Bahrain, Qatar) symbolically shifting back towards a more “East of Suez” position. Your suggestion that the UK should become an “Atlantic power” is therefore a false choice. Yes, we can continue to contribute to our Atlantic commitments, but our priorities should always be our national interest. This means securing our trade routes and maintaining and building relationships with countries important to those interests. This can be ANYWHERE, and the UK must adapt to any changing geo-political situation.

I can also agree with you to an extent about your equipment priorities. Our capabilities do have to be smarter, in order to make effective use of money. I agree that this is most likely to happen through investment in the Air Force and the Navy, with a relative drawback on the Army. For example, though we are unlikely to see an Iraq or Afghanistan again, in-out Mali-esque operations I believe will become the norm, and the Army is already restructuring in a way that will allow it to adapt to these types of operations. The specifics of where we should spend the money is where our disagreements become broader, however!

On nuclear deterrence: if we are going to get rid of Trident (and its replacement) we might as well give it up altogether. The idea of having nuclear tipped cruise missiles is ridiculous. Not only are they less capable in terms of their range, firepower etc, but they are also more dangerous. How is an enemy expected to tell when they see a cruise missile being fired whether it’s nuclear tipped or not? What will then stop them from being on the “safe side” and launching a nuclear barrage towards us? The switch to cruise missiles would also appear to suggest a greater willingness to use them, as they are cheaper, less powerful and more “deceptive”. (See previous). It would also make the SSN fleet far more vulnerable to attack as, again, if one of our subs was detected by an enemy, it would be impossible for them to tell whether it was nuclear armed or not. I also believe that nuclear tipped cruise missiles were banned by the INF Treaty of 1987.

Similarly, what would be the point of doubling our SSN fleet if we are simply going to be patrolling the Atlantic… just like we do now? I agree in principle to a larger SSN fleet (although closer to 10-12, not 14), any increase in boat numbers would have to have a defined strategic purpose. Patrolling the South China Sea perhaps?

I also feel as if I must comment on your Carrier Strike views. I absolutely agree that the QEC’s must be multirole, but that is what will happen anyway. We’re unlikely to have a huge fleet of Lightning II’s, so any air group on the carriers will be varied and potent. You may see from 2020 onwards, something like this: 12 x Lightning II’s, 6 x Merlin ASW, 6 x Apache, 4 x Wildcat, 2 x Chinook. That’s 30 aircraft covering air-to-air combat, air-to-surface attack, anti-submarine warfare, and troop transport. There’s no need therefore to “disinvest” in Lightning’s simply because you want the ships to be multirole. You simply have to prioritise which aircraft you put on there. Indeed, in 10 years time, we might also see our own range of UCAV’s flying off Queen Elizabeth. That would be a sight to see! Anyway, Carrier Strike is needed for all sorts of tasks that I have described in my third paragraph.

And I’m sorry, but it would also be useful for defence diplomacy and flying the flag. BAE systems is one of the largest defence companies in the world (2nd?), and having large or small vessels (true, something that does need to be prioritised) visiting ports or taking part in military exercises not only shows off our manufacturing quality and capability, but also builds relations with countries which may be useful in the future. (I’m thinking Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia). We both know that our economy is weak, so anything we can do to offset that is going to be welcome, and why not show off our best assents in the defence industries?!

I’ve got to disagree about the sea lane patrols, too. Yes, the US does fulfil those roles, but as you rightly mention, the US is focusing more and more on itself and the security of East Asian states. We have to retain the capability of independent patrols of our sea lanes or, at the very least, participate fully in NATO exercises. A good example of this is the 30+ nation IMCMEX exercise which the UK led in early May. It was the largest exercise of its kind, and shows that the UK can still punch above its weight in the world.

Lastly, although I don’t completely disagree, I would suggest a re-jigging of your destroyer/frigate plans. It would cost billions to convert the Type 45’s from their current high-end anti-air warfare role to a more general “battleship” role – not a frigate! Modern destroyers are specifically AAW vessels, and while their land-attack capabilities could be enhanced, perhaps through the addition of the 155mm naval gun, it would be a grave mistake to “generalise” the T45’s. Instead, concentrate on generalising the upcoming Type 26 vessels into the low-end, general, ocean-going vessels that you want. I would suggest, on top of 6 T45’s, about 20 T26’s of about 3,000 tonnes, with a 76mm naval gun, and a good 35kts speed. These would be able to fulfil the low-end, multi-role tasks that we both agree (to differing extents) should be a priority.

This way the UK could retain its great power status, whilst managing to fully defend itself and its interests in the context of a weak economy and changing geo-political circumstances. We would also not suffer the embarrassment of being demoted, God forbid, to the status of Spain, Italy, Brazil or (greatest respect to them) Australia.

Best of luck in your future research into defence.

(Politics and International Relations graduate)

June 3, 2013 11:57 am

“Those nations developing blue-water naval capabilities are all democracies.”

For one, I disagree (Russia, China) and second, so what? Democracies aren’t necessarily nice and peaceful, see the U.S. and UK who invade or bomb other countries without UNSC approval.

A major portion of NATO / EU naval defence could happen in the Med, and the Med is small enough to be thoroughly dominated from the air. Even the interesting areas of the Northeast Atlantic aren’t particularly huge. I suppose land-based air power could play a huge role in dominating the surface, and this is a capability which has been neglected for a while afaik. There were Sea Eagles, but they are long gone.

June 3, 2013 12:05 pm

I thought we were already a regional power? We belong to all the clubs. We are rich. We certainly have the military punch; though a little more kit (Astute 8, more AAR tankers, quicker weapons integration for Typhoon, clearer/stronger F35 strategy, and ISR satellites) and keeping the Army above 100,00 would help. Economically we need to embrace companies like REL Ltd and look for more ARM’s. Our education system needs depoliticising and we need to invest in STEM. Energy security needs looking at. Internet connectivity over railways. We could be a tad more assertive but our political class are sadly lacking in backbone, imagination, and dare I say “patriotism”? I am envious of how our European neighbours have such a sense of self and that is why in part I think the idea of Europe frightens us. Too much hand wringing. Too much “Empire Guilt” for want of a better term. And I think we would be better a bridge between the Continent, the US, and the White Commonwealth if we left the EU and joined EFTA.

Remember, Fog in the Channel, Continent cut off. :)

June 3, 2013 12:07 pm

Thanks for the post, I’ve been waiting for one on this subject. I agree that Britain has to have a Euro-centric defence policy and that the UK is fundamentally secure unless we go out of our way to annoy other great powers in their back yards. I disagree however in many of the implications of this. Sorry for the length.

Given our European alliances as well as shared resource, energy and trade route dependencies, European countries share many strategic priorities. Increasingly Europeans are being required to secure the Arctic, Mediterranean, Atlantic and assist in the Gulf as well as the surrounding land regions. Libya and Mali have shown that the UK will be fighting primarily alongside Europeans, perhaps with US support. Therefore operations are increasingly likely to take on a fully European and autonomous character, perhaps through the EU but more likely through a ‘European institutional pillar’ in NATO. This will be necessary both for practical reasons and to habituate continentals to the strategic imperatives and acclimatise them to making sacrifices and taking responsibility for their own interests.

Britain would have a leading role in European defence which would give us significant influence both in Europe and abroad as the key enabler. But it’s precisely because of that role that retaining the aircraft carriers, nuclear deterrent and ISTAR are so important. European countries already have a multitude of patrolling vessels, submarines, helicoptors and other assorted low cost equipment. They don’t however have many high grade assets (such as aircraft carriers) or ISTAR and logistic capabilities. Larger countries such as Britain will have to maintain these assets for Europe to have an effective autonomous ability without relying on a pivoting (and increasingly distracted) US. Nor do we need to rely on the US for things like satellites as these can be funded at the European level and in many cases are not part of the defence budgets (like Galileo).

That being said it is also important that the UK maintains its own independence wherever possible from both Europeans and the US. Could we really rely on the French to help in the Falklands? The Americans don’t seem inclined to help either. Although Argentina is in bad shape now the fact is that weakness is provocative. We need to have a latent presence, if only to stop them from pulling a China. Flying the flag with significant means helps underline our own power and increases our diplomatic pull in foreign countries, whereas this influence would otherwise go to the US if we were considered only a US lackey and allowed them to represent us.

To (finally) finish up, a quick note regarding delegation of responsibilities. I think that you are being too optimistic in thinking that the likes of China, India and Brazil will just seamlessly slot in to replace American power and protect trade. Many of these countries are suspicious of the West and have their own views on things. Just as China is trying to turn the SCS into a ‘Chinese Lake’, India considers the Indian Ocean its own. Tensions are high in Asia and if China and India go at it it is not improbable that the Indians might blockade the Straits of Malacca and European trade to East Asia for example. It might be illogical from an economic point of view but wars always are. Also the UK should not allow itself to be involved in a war in East Asia under any circumstances. The size, power and number of conflicting parties would render the UK contribution irrelevant whilst inviting significant retaliatory action. The only reason we would be involved is if the US dragged us in, calling in the favours. All the more reason for us to be more independent and devote ourselves to developing a robust and autonomous European defence with us calling the shots.

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
June 3, 2013 12:14 pm

I do not think current strategy and procurement is taking us a million miles away from where bad Robot is thinking. The US is pivoting towards the Pacific and Europe should be able to take the lead on events within Europe, the Med and N/NW Africa.
The thing is that current procurement is what is going to give us that capability. The ability to deploy a European CBG and Brigade plus amphib Group if required. For events closer to home then between the Allies there is plenty of land based air power and also ground forces.

where we need to work is at AAR, SEAD, ISTAR and Military Lift. Hopefully UAV developments, A400 and naval strike capabilities will help to rectify these problem areas.

I agree with a slight ramp up in the FI defence posture. Have even advocated the possible purchase of shore launched anti ship missile (NSM) capability. I do not agree with a strike at the Argentinian mainland as part of a response however.

Anti Piracy will hopefully not be around for ever. Will building a whole new force structure and units be worth while? The whole argument of high end low end mix is one that just never seems to go away. Perhaps a UKCG type agency who would handle security and policing in UK waters and all dependencies is the way ahead. reinforced by naval assets if and when required.

To summarise current UK military policy in conjunction with “some” of our European allies should see us able to take the lead within our “AOR” yet retain the ability “IF” required to make more than a token contribution to UN/US led ops outwith that AOR.

Peter Elliott
June 3, 2013 12:41 pm

Strategy wise I would actually view it through the other end of the telescope:

We spent 1971 – 1991 tailoring ourselves to be a North European Regional Power. We gave up our global power projection and blue water capabilities to concentrate almost entirely on defensive capabilities in the North Atlantic and BAOR. Even the amphibious forces were tailored only for a defensive role in Norway. The fact that in 1982 we conducted an out of area power projection operation was a total accident forseen by neither our strategy, force stucture nor equipment plans.

Since 1991 the need for any kind of Eurpoean Region home defence beyond a coast guard and a vestigial QRA has more or less evaporated. There remain two possible reasons to keep functional armed forces at all (a) as a long term insurance against an unknown future and (b) to help maintain general world security in the light of the ‘Pacific pivot’.

Now in order to maintain the capability for both (a) and (b) we need to continue to use our forces at least on the level of regular relealistc exercises and ‘other than war’ deployments with allies and prospective partners. And those partners are increasingly found outside the Eurpoean Region: such as Oman and UAE. So limiting ourselves only to our home region would actually lead our forces to atrophy and wither away.

So my conclusion is that since 1991 our policy has been to act as a Regional Power, but in adjacent regions outside northern Europe such as North Africa and the Gulf. And I see no reason why we shouldn’t continue with that unless or until a realistic threat arises again that forces us to pull back closer to home.

June 3, 2013 12:46 pm

APATS said “Perhaps a UKCG type agency who would handle security and policing in UK waters and all dependencies is the way ahead. reinforced by naval assets if and when required.”

I don’t know whether it is because of geographical position or “we” don’t think there is any risk but compared to our European neighbours we just down appear interested in what I would term inshore or coastal patrol. The Italian Guardia di Finanza has 600 vessels of all sizes. The Spanish Servicio de Vigilancia Aduanera operates 90 vessels. The French Direction générale des douanes et droits indirects have 12 patrol boats operating in waters neighbouring ours. And that isn’t really mentioning the Norwegian Coastguard, other patrol forces like the Danish Naval Home Guard with an orbat 29 vessels, or that European navies appear to operate more patrol craft.

The 3 Rivers, 4 HMRC/BA cutters, a handful of police launches, and no MPA don’t quite cut it.

June 3, 2013 12:52 pm

“Maybe we should all concentrate comments on the strategy rather than the practicalities of the bits of tin?”

OK, I’ll bite. The UK is a relatively wealthy country by any measure, we are however, unfortunately, skint at the moment and will be for a long time to come and there are few votes in defence when compared to say welfare. So this government will, as have every other government in my lifetime, seek to cut defence spending again. However, they will, as have every other past government, pretend that essential capabilities are being maintained and that we deserve our seat at the “top table”.

What, I think, the premise of BadRobot’s article, certainly the title of it suggests, is that we should abandon this last pretence and become, in terms of defence, another of the European herd. I think that is an argument that deserves a hearing, but he tries to keep us “special”; e.g the nonsense of having nuclear tipped cruise missiles on astute-class boats.

Now, either the UK wants to play in the bigs, or it doesn’t. If it does it must be prepared to pay up the table-stake and be prepared to take the losses when the cards run against it. If it doesn’t then, for Goodness sake, lets wind our neck in and forget power projection, overseas deployments, nuclear and all the rest.

June 3, 2013 1:02 pm

Nuclear weapons are cheap.

Peter Elliott
June 3, 2013 1:17 pm


Does Italy have the RNLI ?

Seems to me a good example of what the ‘Big Society’ was supposed to be about. An essential task that is carried out by the people of the UK without it being the government’s business.

If you add those 444 lifeboats (wiki) you see that our coastline is not quite so uncared for.

Rocket Banana
June 3, 2013 1:21 pm

I do agree that the OST defence needs to be beefed up a little. 6 jets (old T1 Typhoon for example) plus, and this is the important bit, AEW and a couple of air-tankers.

This should be deployed at least to the Falklands and Ascension so that they can each back each other up to rapidly form a whole squadron of jets.

That way we do not need to worry about the re-taking of our islands.

Rocket Banana
June 3, 2013 1:30 pm

Bad Robot,

I must say I find it surprising that you are happy to ditch our frigate fleet.

I would have thought that these are the most important bits of kit the navy has. They have the range/endurance needed to give presence in the areas of the world that we need to “police”.

You and I have the benefit of British Law to make sure that Eastern Electricity, EDF, Scottish Power, etc. keep providing us with what it is we need to cook our food and stay warm in winter. Once outside of the umbrella of the UK we don’t have this. I for one would happily spend money on a capability that makes sure a single megalomaniac can’t hold this country ransom over its energy needs.

June 3, 2013 1:55 pm

if I am reading this right RAF/ARMY equals regional power and RN equals world power. Can I just beef up the navy and get rid of the other two and be a world power then probably a lot cheaper to do so. I don’t see the point in spending £40 billion a year for what you advocate making token contributions to US ops and driving a division around on container ships with no protection. are you advocating we spend less on defence or spend the same amount and just not have a navy?

Every one moans about how we are basically c**p and should give up our pretence of being a world power but no one seems to say who these other world powers are? When was he last time the Chinese sent a frigate let alone a fleet to the North Atlantic? Because I remember a pretty chunky RN task force sailing round the South China Sea in 09.

As for the other nations developing a blue water navy who are they? I seem to remember the Indians leasing an old SSN from the Russians and still sailing round in a carrier we sold for scrap 25 years ago with another 40 year old carrier on the longest sea trials known to man. And I seem to remember the Brazilians sailing around in frigates we sold for scrap and dreaming of an SSN some time in the next decade or two running on uranium that is so low grade its needs to be refuelled every few years. Meanwhile the sick old man of Europe is building two of the largest warships on earth operating one of the the most advanced aircraft known to man whilst simultaneously putting the most advanced AAW warship afloat to see and building one of the world most advanced and capable SSN’s .Add this to probably the worlds most capable MCM and ASW ability and hundreds of years of tradition and training. Meanwhile the arse is falling out of the BRIC economies just as the Uk is starting to rebound.

I just don’t see.

June 3, 2013 1:57 pm

@ Peter Elliot

The RNLI do not perform any security role so you can’t have them. ;)

June 3, 2013 1:59 pm

Problem with beefing up FI defences is it plays into Argentinas hands. If they actually had any form of military then we should consider it but in there current state I think the Battle of Britain memorial flight with my old 516 Edinburgh Waverley scouts unit could probably fend them off.

June 3, 2013 2:00 pm

Maybe we could start arming the RNLI with 30mm cannons and LMM. :-)

Rocket Banana
June 3, 2013 3:22 pm


I think the “Battle of Britain memorial flight” is suitable for QRA for the British mainland too given the current threats.

Just imagine the unsuspecting enemy flying in at Mach 2 then seeing a few lovelly WW2 fighters claw their way skyward. They’d be thinking “how pretty these old aircraft are, oh yesterday…” and then ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka ;-)

June 3, 2013 3:57 pm

Wonder if we could fit Meteor to the mk 14 spitfire ? :-)

June 3, 2013 4:03 pm

Broadly agree with X’s response(s).

If you get made redundant is the correct response to sell the house and downsize to a caravan for the rest of eternity? NO of course not.

For what it is worth the helifleet is being completely overhauled and gapping of Crowsnest excepted has got to better than most of us could dream about not that long ago.
New carriers, some new fleet tankers and effective SSN, ADD + the bays means we have a modern and effective fleet. The T23 is aging but capable and the T26 is encouraging. From our previous discussions the plans seem broadly in line with general opinion.
The RAF will be getting new fighter jets, it’s C17s and A400Ms. Whilst some of these changes might represent a daft loss of capacity for example if all the Hercs go, and some of the integration plans are too slow, for example the FJs the overall theme is capable, modern and progessing structure.
I know less about the army’s progress. I am sure it has come on leaps and bounds due to the recent operations being ground based.

Unlike after the WWII the issue isn’t we have spend all the money on arms and wars. The economic issues are largely mismanagement of budgets, a crashing and subdued economy, and a massively bloated welfare system. Whilst short to medium term measures need to be taken I can’t see why we can’t have a government sort out the mess so it doesn’t continue to fester long term. If that is the expectation bring on more austerity now.

June 3, 2013 4:40 pm


broadly agree with your comments. We should also remember than much of the drop in numbers is due to the fact that we are building larger more capable platforms. in the navy we have spent the last decade or so moving from a green water force of frigates and SSN to a blue water force with large carriers and much larger and more capable destroyers and SSN than we previously had. unfortunately short term defence cuts have taken their total on capabilities but most of the SE could be relatively quickly rectified with a bit more head room in the budget.

June 3, 2013 5:30 pm

Yep that’s the point isn’t it, we aren’t exactly freezing all investment in the armed forces. Numbers are falling and some capabilities are being gapped. I can’t think of any that are being discarded (although I am sure one of our resident experts will). A bit more money and things can be expanded again.

June 3, 2013 5:59 pm


Same can be applied to the RAF but in smaller scale.
However, the RN has not invested much in RFA assets to support these highly capable ones.

June 3, 2013 6:04 pm

Martin – “Problem with beefing up FI defences is it plays into Argentinas hands.”

True in itself, but the bigger objection is that it parks a bigger portion of the defence budget in a static position with an extremely limited utility, at the expense of our contingent capability to intervene further afield, and to a scale that will give HMG a significant input on the outcome.

RAF, RFA, and the carrier/amphib group allows HMG to intervene anywhere it damn well pleases, including the falklands, so in broad strokes the less spent on static defence vis-a-vis contingent intervention, the better as far as HMG is concerned.

There are obvious limits to this, and what exists on the falklands is very sensible in scale, but the basic principle of destroying contingent capability in favour of a sprinkling of fortress-Britannia’s is absolutely the wrong direction.

As to the Regional Power business; after a great deal of reading the best description of a Great Power that i can devise is a Middle Power (in reach & scale) that is also a Regional Power (without an opposing regional pole), and by those measures it is not unfair to term Britain a Great Power, after all, if not us, who?


Julian Lindley-French prefers to term Britain as a Regional-Plus power, and who am i to argue, but again that sounds very much like a Regional Power without local constraints that is also a Middle Power in its scale and reach:


” Professor Lindley-French: This is where I become positive, which will surprise you. There is a very great danger that by default, if we hold our nerve, we could end up with quite a sound defence strategy. There will be two carriers, strategic mobility, Astutes-not enough, but in time you could build more over 20, 30 or 40 years-Type 45s and Type 26s. It is a concept whereby there is projectability, not globally but regionally-plus.
Almost 75% of the world’s population lives less than 100 kilometres from the sea. It is a defence strategy in which, given the capabilities envisaged, no one owns land, sea or air-no single service-as a genuine jointery comes out of this. We could actually have a defence strategy worth talking about, by muddling through and from the bottom up, which has nothing to do with the NSS or the SDSR. The issue is, can we hold our nerve over that longer investment period? ”

Holding our nerve over the longer investment period, eh, sounds rather like our current CSR14 jitters over further cuts to the defence budget.

June 3, 2013 6:22 pm

Just remember to stagger your buys so that the replacement programs don’t end up coming in a huge chunk. I know you can save over time to afford the big buy, but human nature being what it is, I doubt any savings will get done in that time unless you make it a compulsary law.

Op3, you pointed out exactly the same thing I did a few days back, that the economic crisis is a short term thing, and that long term, the UK is in a better position than it was even a decade back, as the WWII debt is finally cleared and the UK now has an additional income stream which would have shown if the global economic crisis had not popped up 2 years later.

June 3, 2013 6:33 pm

Some interesting thoughts you have there BadRobot

Just a few of my own….

I think it would be prohibitively expensive to start turning the T45s into truly general purpose warships now, better to try and get as much versatility out of the T26s as possible and limit any improvements on the former to bolting on second hand Harpoon, Stingray and so on. If a good enough case could be made for giving the T45 some extra missile silo’s to carry additional Aster in it’s principle anti-air role, or introducing quad-packed Sea Ceptor then I might go along with it, but that’s as far as I think the class should be taken.

I’m all for increased cooperation with our European/NATO partners so that the whole becomes greater than the sum parts. I see no problem with the idea that their are enough destroyers, frigates and corvette’s operated by our allies to make any substantial increase in our own surface ship capability a misdirection of funds. I don’t however think that the other principle European powers can muster enough carriers/carrier aviation and amphibious shipping for us to feel we shouldn’t worry and don’t need to bring our own to the party. Alongside SSNs our amphibious shipping and prospective carrier capability would be the bits of RN kit in the highest demand if a threat to European regional security emerged and led to a coalition action in response.

As great a platform as the ASW Merlin is, and as much as I think we should be building our new RFA’s with enough hangar and flight-deck space for 2-3 medium sized helicopters so the effectiveness can be spread across the fleet, I think it’s a mistake to downplay the effectiveness of the T23 itself both as a broad multi-role platform and in a specific sense as a submarine hunter. Sure it needs Merlin to go in for the kill but the type 2087 sonar looks and sounds like a very impressive and potentially very useful bit of kit.

On the subject of SSBNs and SSNs I think that in an ideal world id love to see more Astute, but they are expensive and whilst I can see a need for 8-10 boats I can’t quite see how 14 or more is going to give us enough additional capability to justify the costs. I just can’t quite see the requirement. As for nuclear tipped cruise missiles, I like the idea but it’s far from clear how effective and cheap they would be to develop and whether they would be good enough to give us a reasonable deterrent system in practice.

On the whole I think it is indeed about time the UK realised it’s limitations and redefined itself as a regional power, focus on certain geographic areas and specific capabilities that separate us out from the rest and would be in demand during a wider coalition action. I’m just not sure a complete abandonment of carriers and amphibian’s in favour of lots of Merlin’s, SSN’s and smaller patrol ships is the way to do it.

June 3, 2013 6:46 pm

On the subject of The Falklands and wider S.Atlantic I think the combination of a robust defence put in place (a battalion on the ground, a few more Typhoon armed with anti-ship missiles, plenty of missile batteries around Mount Pleasant, a decent low level patrol ship presence and a SSN popping down for a visit every few years) coupled with the quite pathetic state of the Argentine forces for the foreseeable future would mean that any real threat to our position can be taken off the table as being a very remote possibility for some time to come.

Having done that everyone can focus on the real reason a nation in the UK’s position wants and can make good use of carriers. It isn’t to cram the decks of both ships full of flashy jets so that they can go off and fight a well equipped medium sized power on their lonesome, those days are long gone. We want them so that we can commit to wider coalitions, be they with the Americans or Europeans. It’s so that we can plug some of the gaps left by the American pivot to the Pacific. It’s so that in collaborative actions we can actually form the framework and have a disproportionate amount of leverage in deciding how the wider coalition conducts itself.

They will give us options and flexibility in a way that no other capability currently does. Carriers will enable us to conduct small operations on our own, lead medium sized operations largely through a UK framework and on our terms and allow us to contribute valuable hardware to a larger operation in the way that few others can.

June 3, 2013 6:47 pm

I have said before the stupid thing is £5 billion out of the DfID budget for a few years would cure all our procurement problems from MPA to FRES to T26 to ISR satellites to RFA’s to more C17/A400m/C130. Then we would truly be a Regional Power Plus; silly term, but better than Super Power in Miniature which is how once I saw France described.

June 3, 2013 7:56 pm

I think we’re obsessed by what we “should be” and this “should be” implies a level of agency we don’t have as a state. States respond to threats to their interests – either by preparing or reacting or both. The details of domestic politics means anything but the grandest ideas of grand strategy simply do not stick and they definitely don’t stick when we get down to kit make up and force structure.

This whole notion of labelling baffles me – we are what we are and on the international stage we are a product of, and defined by our perceived interests, international and domestic: the importance we hold said interests, the perceived threat to said interests and how we believe we can best meet such threats in the context of the day is what we are.

We can label it what we want post-hoc but to aspire to be a regional power for the sake of it, or a regional power plus or a global power minus just smacks of pointlessness to me. As does any notion that we occupy a particular position and should live up to it – we live an die by our interests, which are largely timeless at several recursive layers of analysis.

June 3, 2013 7:59 pm

“We are what we are, and we will be what we will be.”

Agreed Phil.

June 3, 2013 8:28 pm

I don’t get the strategic imperative driving this proposal.

A regional power UK within a EU framework has to provide a strategic value. It is our geographical position between one of earths most used waterways and the arctic, also known as GIUK. Additionally, we have a vast remnant of an empire, through overseas territories and defence treaties.

What we not have is a single threatened land border. What we don’t have are adversaries in range of UK based low flying fast jets. What we do have is an unwritten law, that the enemy has to fire first. What we do have therefore is a requirement to exchange territory for time, if need be.

In this context, I honestly can’t think of a single point in this proposal, that fits to the situation of a regional power. Especially not in EU context.

The truth is, any notion of European defence outside of NATO is wishful thinking. Anything done is either operations under US umbrella or improvised ad-hoc task forces from the UK, France and some Nordic states.

Spain, France and Italy are even worse off economically. The first to a degree, which is simply a systemic threat to democracy. Germany is facing slower growth than the UK. Any of those nations will want to appease Russia and China at any cost, where I simply cannot see ourselves not providing help for democratic Taiwan or South Korea in case of emergency. Europe may be founded on the same values after 45, but do we really think the continent would stood up with one voice to defend those values, despite especially continental politicians trash talking about a “community of values”?

No, the best means have always been to be able to act alone, if necessary. And maybe we need to relearn to adapt to scarce resources. Maybe it’s required to rethink ourselves as a real knowledge economy. One example: the US Army and the British army both had huge plans about future soldiers. The US alone spent tens of billions. As it stands, the future should soldier has quietly been developed in Israel at a fraction of the cost, thanks to outstanding engineering. The result of a very sophisticated start- up culture, enabled by first class IT and engineering education.

June 3, 2013 8:36 pm

“As it stands, the future should soldier has quietly been developed in Israel at a fraction of the cost, thanks to outstanding engineering.”

I’d bet my hat that if you looked into it, the Israeli’s did things so cheaply because they could ride on the back of huge US R&D investment.

June 3, 2013 9:23 pm


Does this, potentially, change the whole “East of Suez” (Qatar gas) mindset.
Sitting in Oz it is always very odd when you see people in the UK advocating money being spent on sustaining assets permanently in places like Diego Garcia let alone SSN “patrolling the South China Sea”???????
I would have to agree with Radulf. If the UK was seen to be sticking their oar into the Western Pacific it would be seen for what it is, token, and just annoy some people. The odd fly by on invited exercise, fine, but I can imagine the money can be spent better at home.
It would seem from the range of comments above that the strategic focus of HM Forces in a post Iraq/Afghanistan/GFC is not clear and therefore would this not indicate the need for a flexible, affordable base until things become clearer?

Probably all bollocks but what the hey.

June 3, 2013 10:33 pm

“This whole notion of labelling baffles me – we are what we are and on the international stage we are a product of, and defined by our perceived interests, international and domestic: the importance we hold said interests”

You pretty much answer that conundrum yourself, phil, it matters because it help visualise how a nation sees itself, and thus its role in the world.

That Chatham house poll everybody got so bored off being a fine example. Look at the results, and compare and contrast Britain and France with any other European nation, and you will see a mirror image result on the perceived need for power projection, and the perceived justification for doing so.

It doesn’t do to overboil this collective self imagery, it is in the end nothing of hard edges and tangible boundaries, but it does matter.

Chuck Hill
June 3, 2013 10:50 pm

Thought so of you might find this relevant to the discussion.

June 4, 2013 1:49 am

Interesting chart Chuck. We have to remember defence spending does not happen in a vacuum and only needs be measured against other nations. I bet you could wind that clock back 100 years and find the UK in the same number 2,3,4 defence spender.

it easy with all the talk of cuts etc just how much the UK does spend on defence relative to is peers. personally I don’t think it does matter what you call us we are what we are. Think our main issue is we only really measure ourselves against the USA which is a silly thing for a small island to do.

June 4, 2013 1:51 am

Also given how far down the list Russian and France are I don’t think we need to worry any time soon about loosing our seat at the UN

June 4, 2013 7:35 am

@ X

“I have said before the stupid thing is £5 billion out of the DfID budget for a few years would cure all our procurement problems from MPA to FRES to T26 to ISR satellites to RFA’s to more C17/A400m/C130. Then we would truly be a Regional Power Plus; silly term, but better than Super Power in Miniature which is how once I saw France described.”

I would say £4 billion would be enough but you would have to maintain it as at least half the cost of procurement is ongoing maintenance.

June 4, 2013 5:17 pm

“You pretty much answer that conundrum yourself, phil, it matters because it help visualise how a nation sees itself, and thus its role in the world.”

People can visualise all they want it’s nothing but a construction or fabrication around the real issues which is our relationship with our perceived interests. If we’re a regional power it is because we feel we need to be able to x, y and z to defend a, b and c and those capabilities just happen to fit into a constructed definition of a “regional power”.

The whole “role in the world” is ultimately meaningless blatherings. The state will first and foremost deal with its interests. Now there might be some very fashionable and indulgent defining of interests but wanting to have capabilities at great expense so we can be called a “regional power” is putting the cart before the horse. You’re a regional power because you have regional interests and the ability to influence those interests. Not because you visualise yourself as wanting to be one. You don’t chop wood for the sake of it.

June 4, 2013 5:28 pm

@ Martin

Yes, But if you look at the gaps we aren’t missing much. I think Mark said for example that MPA through life costs were about £1billion or so. Over 20 years that is what £50 million per year. 8 extra RFAs say £80 million per year. And if we are adding stuff on to other stuff already in service the over heads won’t be that much. For example when I say T26 I don’t mean building them as we supposedly have money for them. I mean buying the 5in gun or fitting them all with 2087. So yes I am perhaps talking an extra £500 million or so in costs per year. But we would be gaining a lot.

John Hartley
John Hartley
June 4, 2013 6:13 pm

There may be a good legal reason for keeping “Empire” status. Back in Elizabethan times, John Dee wrote a book claiming England was an ancient Empire. He stretched the truth a bit, but it allowed England to ignore Rome which wanted to give the Americas to Spain, as Empires do not have to obey the international rules that mere nations have to abide by. Those dots still British, (Gibraltar, Bermuda, Falklands, South Georgia, Pitcairn, etc.) should be enough to claim empire status & put two fingers up to the ECHR, EU, UN etc when we want to.

June 4, 2013 6:54 pm

“The whole “role in the world” is ultimately meaningless blatherings.”

No, everything boils down to whether the british public is willing to accept the the cost in blood (in the moment), and treasure (over the long run), and only when that chatham house poll reverses allowing the government to buy votes outside defence will talk of regional plus, etc, become meaningless blather.

Unlike our neighbours, excepting france, we are still willing to engage in elective war which boils down to killing others in order that our interests are advanced, quite separate from worthy humanitarian and direct military threats to the nation, but that equation is finely balanced after a dozen years shooting innocents while chasing explodey lunatics around dustry places.

Another afghanistan would probably tip the balance, at which point point support for derring-do, and the elective war that justifies, would evaporate along with the budget to support those power projection capabilities. We’d rapidly find ourselves with a passive internationalist population and no military means to go on ‘tour’.

Maybe that would be a good thing, but it is not the political settlement that underpins HMG’s foreign policy right now.

This is everything:


June 4, 2013 7:10 pm

You and your survey.

Being a regional power for the sake of it is ridiculous. It’s all fur coat and no knickers stuff. And the whole idea of an “elective war” is also baseless. Interests were at stake, we acted. The only elective part was whether we do something now or do something later when it’s worse. I can’t think of a single use of British troops since the Boer war that happened because anyone felt they had a choice not to.

June 4, 2013 9:09 pm
June 4, 2013 9:13 pm

Yeah, if we hadnt invaded Iraq Sadam would have nuked London 45 minutes later….
Almost every use of force by the UK has been elective over the last 200 years, never mind 50.

We started a war against Libya, not them
We started a war against Iraq, not them
We started a war against Afghanistan, not them
The West Side Niggerz didnt rampage through westminster, we picked that fight.
As we did Kosovo, and Bosnia, and Iraq again.
Suez was certainly our war, as was Korea.

Then theres a few rebellions we invariably lost, Borneo, the Aden, Malaya, Kenya, its questionable we started them or not.
The only war we didnt start and did win is on those islands.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
June 4, 2013 10:48 pm

Thought provoking post. Would prefer to split the strategy from the future fleet. During the Cold War I heard a talk arguing that Britain had no Strategy only commitments to WEU NATO UN Commonwealth etc etc. indeed our commitment to recapturing the FI had the effect of stiffening the resolve of some of our traditionally neutral minded NATO allies * during the end game in the Cold War.

But if we are playing fantasy fleet again. What about a few tall ships. They look impressive and would be fuel efficient. Presumably they could be fitted with various sonar, radar, missiles and depth charges as required.

* Countries that had been neutral until invaded by the Germans in 1940 .

June 4, 2013 10:48 pm

“I can’t think of a single use of British troops since the Boer war that happened because anyone felt they had a choice not to.”

Phil, I can think of many instances where we intervened when others did not.

We maintain the capability because we choose to use it, otherwise carriers, amphibs, air mobile brigades, marines, all the force multipliers that allow us to fight an armoured forces on distant shores………….. all of it, pointless.

Everything the UK needs for territorial defence can be summed up in:

Five brigades.
Twelve escorts.
Four squadrons for QRA.

Everything else, broad sweeps, is not for Defence in the Sven Ortmann definition (name not taken in vain).

June 5, 2013 5:21 am

I suppose you could define the UK as a regional power its just that that region stretches from Singapore to the Rocky and from the Arctic to Antartica. anything taking place outside of tha region as with Japan China dispute and 6 power talks in North Korea is none of our business. it does not matter if you say regional power +, great power or mini super power they all mean the same thing. Not the USA but best of the rest.

June 5, 2013 5:38 am

@ x I would very much agree £500 million a year spent on the navy to simply buy and replace kit would make a massive difference. Especially now that a lot of legacy projects are either completed or relatively far down the road. MPA, CROWSNEST, T45 upgrade , merlin conversion and Even additional F35 could all be put in place with this level of funding which represents just double the admin budget of DFID. maybe we could simply give DFID funding to NGO’s that could prove 100% of funding would go to needy causes then simply plot the 250 million department budget in to MOD procurement. We seem keen to outsource everything else so why not foreign aid.

June 5, 2013 2:15 pm

I have to agree with Phil. Regional power. Global power. Regional plus etc. They’re just names, fabricated to artifically rank and compare people in an easy manner. They don’t really mean anything. Aspiring to a name tag is pointless. You apsire to something concrete, a capaibility or set of capabilities, designed to achieve specific aims.

June 5, 2013 5:43 pm

I think some people confuse “Great power” with “Super power”, there are obviously only two of the latter, the US and China (or soon will be), but there are half a dozen second rank or Great powers as well eg Russia, France, the UK, Japan and Germany (although Germany more through economic power than military). India could probably be added to that list as well, and in the future Brazil.
No doubt many people will say the UK is not a Great Power, well France sure as hell considers it’s self one, and the UK military is at least the equal of the French, and some platforms/capabilities are superior.

Forexample compare the Royal Navy to the Marine Nationale.

Strike carriers
MN – 1 40,000 ton nuclear powered carrier
RN – 2 65,000 ton carriers inbuild

MN 6 Rubis class, 2,600 tons, load out 14 F17 torpedoes & exocets.
RN 7 Trafalgar & Astute boats, Astute 7,400 tons, loadout 38 Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes & Tomahawk cruise missiles.
(The Astutes will be superior to the Barracudas as well.

Major Surface Combatants
MN 13 or 18 if you include the La fayettes.
RN 19 Type 45 destroyers and 13 Type 23 ASW frigates.

Amphibious vessels
MN 3 Mistral class LHDs each 21,000 tons, 1 Foudre class LPD (being decommissioned).
RN 2 Assault carriers Ocean & Illustrious (Illustrious being retired next year), 2 Albion class LPDs, 3 Bay class LSDs, 6 Point class Sealift ships.

Fleet support vessels
MN 4 Replenishment ships
RN/RFA 5 Tankers (4 MARS class tankers on order), 3 Replenishment ships,
1 Aviation/hospital ship, 1 forward repair ship.

Amphibious troops
MN – around 3,500 I think.
RN – 7,600 Royal Marines and 700 reserves.

That is just from a naval perspective, but the RAF is at least the equal of the AdA, and in some areas is a lot more capable eg heavy lift, ISTAR, heavy lift helos & UCAVs.
Even after the cuts the UK will still be able to deploy a “maximum effort”
of 30,000 personnel for 6 months, the French have reduced their maximum deployment to 15,000 troops.
It is also worth mentioning that the UK still has the 6th largest GDP & 4th largest defence budget.
So if France is still a “Great Power” and deserves it’s seat at the P5, then so does the UK.
However there must be no more significant cuts, especially to the RN.
The RAF could probably stand to lose a few Tornados though!

June 5, 2013 6:04 pm

I missed the typo in my previous post, it is obviously 6 Type 45s & 13 Type 23s.

June 5, 2013 7:29 pm

@ CHrisB – “They don’t really mean anything. Aspiring to a name tag is pointless. You apsire to something concrete, a capaibility or set of capabilities, designed to achieve specific aims.”

What matters is whether you are allowed to use them.

Capability………………………… plus; Will.

In elective warfare the former is worthless without the latter.

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
June 5, 2013 9:28 pm

@Bad Robot

I typed several intro to this post. I was very critical of NAB a week or so ago.

I just cannot restrain myself from, your original posts objectives and solutions were hemispheres apart and now you suggest.
“Subs can surface and their presence can be announced to hostile powers”


All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
June 5, 2013 10:13 pm


You Have caught me grumpy!

If we don’t need to enforce global sea lane security then we need fewer (if any) single tasking frigates.

Can you illustrate where our standing tasks involve sea lane opening. It is most definitely a task that should be considered but in no way a primary FF D task.

“. And subs do deter, hence the argie fleet returning to port.”

So instead of a port visit you would reccomend deterrence by heavy weight torpedo?

After that I had to seek solace in a Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Pinot Noir 2009.

Everyone in the world does anti piracy with OPV/FF/DD because it is a problem that will not be there in 30 Years.

Jeremy M H
June 5, 2013 11:02 pm


You have a problem with subs surfacing near potentially hostile elements? That is not very sporting. It is only fair if you let them localize your asset first after all…

In all seriousness against anyone even remotely competent at ASW work surfacing where they can see you is giving them about the biggest leg up in hunting your sub that you can possibly give them. That may actually be the worst idea of all time.

June 6, 2013 1:52 am

@ Bad Robot

WTF mate

You are all over the shop with your ideas. Don’t want to rely on uncle sam for European security but happy for them to protect sea lanes on their own?

It boil your blood to sea a Frigate or destroyer chasing a pirate? So what they should just sit in port and do nothing? Or just let the pirates go if they happen to receive a distress call when in the area?

You want us intervening in Syria, Bosnia etc but you don’t want out of area air cover from carriers or you expect the French to provide them.

Its has been mentioned many times before that the EU has not shortage of very well trained ground forces but it can hardly muster any major naval units in relation to the USA. Yet you want to gut the only real navy it has.

You want to switch to nuclear cruise missiles to save money yet who is going to pay to build the cruise missile? There have been many more sensible suggestions on here for ways to save money on deterrents and get more SSN’s such as a Hybrid SSGBN.

Can I ask you a question? Are You Clare Short? This smacks very much of a defence review conducted by the DFID with special consultation from Bono and BoB. More interventions on less money and some hope that the EU will provide the answers.

June 7, 2013 12:03 pm

@Bad Robot

Leaving the patrolling of world trade to other countries would be very irresponsible. The EU represents around half of UK trade, is regularly cited as a major cause of FDI to the UK, bolsters UK interests in trade agreements and is full of UK allies. Collectively the EU is the world’s single largest trader responsible for 20% of world trade of which around 60% is maritime. Therefore the EU is the most susceptible region in the world to trade disruptions most of which occur at sea.

Just because the EU is wealthy doesn’t mean that other nations should shoulder the burden of protecting our prosperity. First of all, why should they? They’re poorer after all. Secondly you assume that countries will want to get richer from trading with Europe rather than mugging it. Thirdly trade with Europe may not be their first priority, they might want to punish other countries in bilateral disputes with trade blockades which then incidentally hurt Europe. Fourthly, wealthy countries throughout history have protected their own trade. Perhaps there is a reason for that.

Relying on Europeans to look after their own trade is proving difficult. Most EU countries are small and have limited means whereas others have a very constrained and reactive conception of security. They are not willing and don’t see the need to protect themselves. As a larger EU country with a greater appreciation for these issues the UK is obligated to take on some of the responsibility. This is also a reason why an EU military is a bad idea at present. Security policy would be dragged down to the lowest common denominator; that is, doing nothing and hoping for the best.

June 8, 2013 9:14 am

“it does not matter if you say regional power +, great power or mini super power they all mean the same thing. Not the USA but best of the rest.”

pretty much, as said earlier: if not us, who?

but this only matters in the slightest because there is public will to use it.

funnily enough this appears to have slid of the front page, i shall do my level best to see it remains visible. ;)