Britain’s future navy

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Britain’s Future Navy By Nick Childs. Published by Pen & Sword Maritime, Barnsley, 2014. Revised edition, paperback, price £15
Reviewed by Jack Aubrey

THERE are some interesting thoughts to be had for any Australian reading Britain’s Future Navy.

Both island nations, Britain and Australia have tremendously important naval pasts, but both publics seem to know now nothing much about it, or even to be much concerned about how we should spend the billions allocated to defence. Maybe it was ever thus. And for navies, as opposed to armies and air forces, it is even more difficult to advocate their cause, as their exploits are necessarily well out of the public gaze.

This worthy book is by well-qualified author Nick Childs, who has a most suitable background, not just as a BBC world affairs correspondent, but as a reporter from many conflict zones and as a frequent writer on defence matters.

The work gets off to a strong start with an interesting foreword by Admiral Sir Jock Slater, the RN’s First Sea Lord; Chief of the Naval staff 1995-98 and Vice Chief of the British Defence Staff 1992-95.

The book has 13 chapters which argue the points for and against what types of conflict the Royal Navy may find itself in, and whether they are suitably equipped for this. Of course, the controversial British pair of supercarriers now completing come in for discussion.

For many, this reviewer included, it seems incredibly short-sighted to not have carriers, in the wake of the Falklands crisis, and given the many and varied solutions carriers have been able to provide over many decades; bringing their firepower – or even not, as deterrence – to bear in a way no other naval asset can do. But in a Britain, and in an Australia, populated by people who don’t discuss world affairs as a whole, it is hardly surprising their politicians pander to their short-term wishes: politicians are survivors by species.

There are chapters on the nuclear submarine force (both hunter-killer and nuclear attack) that Britain has retained; her surface combatant fleet, and some comparisons with emerging and strengthening naval forces, such as India and China.

Britain’s Future Navy is a thought-provoking and timely book, and heartily recommended from an old salt who would personally like to take copies and distribute them to politicians who need to read it.

(Ed: A version of this review was published in Headmark last year but this refers to a 2014 revision.)

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