When we leave the EU we will need to convince the world that the United Kingdom is a serious player on the world stage. We need to hit the ground running.
This article was contributed to the UK Defence Journal by Geoffrey James Roach.
Our allies and potential trading partners will want to see that the UK is serious about it’s desire to play a leading role, both politically and economically, in all regions of the world. We will need to retain and build on the goodwill that already exists in many regions and maintain and sustain our capabilities in the future.
This paper is about the UK’s ability to carry out Amphibious Operations in the 21st Century and how suggested and so far theoretical defence cuts impact our capabilities, is there a better way forward?
OPTION ONE: The defence cuts take place. In addition to HMS Ocean, already set for disposal, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark are sold off. Effectively this removes all maintenance work normally undertaken by Devonport Dockyard and redundancies follow, adding to the problems faced by a city with some of the poorest wards in England. There are now no amphibious warships available so why keep the Bay class support ships so they are sold. This hits other ports such as Falmouth and redundancies follow. RFA crews? Next, with no landing ships what is the point of landing craft? Disposal which leads to the closure of RM Tamar with a knock on effect on local towns like Saltash and Torpoint. More job losses ensue.
Whilst these cuts are taking place 1000 Royal Marines are made redundant. This leads to another 1000 families applying for unemployment pay and tax credits adding to an already high welfare budget . Remaining marines feel let down and demoralised and their families are anxious so they look for alternative careers and start to leave. Recruitment slumps. Why would anyone apply? The Special Boat Squadron is put at risk as traditionally the unit recruits from the RM Commando’s.
Our allies and trading partners already concerned, look on in disbelief. Is this the same United Kingdom that is calling on the free nations of the world to support it when it leaves the EU and yet inflicts so much damage on itself? The nations entire capability to carry out Amphibious Operations has been scrapped and for what? Can it defend itself, never mind it’s allies? Can it be trusted? It has run down one of the finest fighting forces in the world. The Royal Marines, like the Dinosaur, now face extinction.
OPTION TWO: The commissioning of HMS Queen Elizabeth into the fleet, soon to be followed by the Prince of Wales, transforms the United Kingdom’s capability to project power around the world. The Queen Elizabeth carrier battle group is a formidable sight. No other nation, other than the United States, is able to provide such a force
The battle group embarks upon it’s first world cruise ‘showing the flag’. The centre piece is of course, HMS Queen Elizabeth. With her squadrons of Lightning stealth fighter jets she is capable of achieving local air superiority anywhere in the world. With her escorts of destroyers and frigates she can engage multiple targets simultaneously, protecting an area in excess 500 Square miles over both land and sea. The carrier with supporting amphibious assault ships, HMS Albion, (£60 million refit in 2014), and RFA Lyme Bay is able carry out offensive land attacks deploying a full Commando force of over 800 troops and their armoured vehicles supported by fighters and attack helicopters. A nuclear powered attack submarine is thought to be present.
During the cruise the Battle Group will carry out a number of joint exercises. Of particular note, under the auspices of the Five Power Defence Arrangement, the Royal Navy amphibious force will be joined by similar vessels from the Royal Australian Navy. With New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia providing additional escorts the aim is to build up a capability enabling the projecting of ground and air power onto a hostile shore at brigade level. Further exercises in the area will include Japan and South Korea before the battle group passes into the Atlantic where it will be joined by units of the Brazilian Navy. During it’s cruise north the group will visit Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia in the United States and Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada. In the West Indies Albion and Lyme Bay will detach to take part in a major disaster relief exercise, an important peacetime role for both ships.
In conclusion, I believe, of course, that only Option 2 is relevant. If the United Kingdom is serious about becoming a serious ally and trading partner it needs to show it’s determination to play a significant role in the world. All the country’s mentioned in this paper, along with many more, are looking to sign Free Trade Agreements. We must show that we are powerful, solid, dependable, a force for the future. We must be Dynamite.