chapter  6
18 Pages

The Royal Navy

The Royal Navy is one of the oldest naval institutions in existence. While there are informal links back to the time of the Anglo-Saxons, it can formally trace its origins as a permanent service to the sixteenth century.1 As a consequence, the Royal Navy has accumulated a wealth of military honours and victories over the last 500 years, and it continues to play an important contribution to Britain’s defence-related activities in the current Global War on Terror. The size of the ‘Senior Service’, as it is colloquially known, has historically fluctuated considerably between times of war and peace; under extraordinary circumstances such as Britain’s fight for national survival during World War II, it was expanded to just under a million strong.2 In 2011, the number of people in the Royal Navy, not including just over 6,840 Royal Marines, a subordinate land-orientated service, was 35,480.3

The dawn of the twenty-first century represented a time of radical renewal for the Royal Navy in terms of its force structure, with major platforms and capabilities being withdrawn from service due to their age, and new replacements beginning to be brought online. On paper, the Royal Navy has one former aircraft carrier, a converted helicopter carrier called HMS Illustrious, though two sister ships of the same class of vessel have been hurriedly decommissioned since 2010, with HMS Ark Royal up for sale, while HMS Invincible has been scrapped in a Turkish shipyard. The naval service hopes to replace these 22,000 tonne ships4 with two new 60,000 tonne vessels (Future Aircraft Carrier or CVF ) between 2016 and 2020. The traditional workhorses of the fleet its essential escorts of destroyers and frigates, are being reduced to 19 in total,5 comprised of the new powerful Type 45 Daring class anti-air destroyers and Type 23 frigates. In terms of submarines, the Royal Navy operates large nuclear-powered boats from the four Vanguard class, almost 16,000 tonnes underwater,6 which carry Britain’s nuclear deterrent (the Trident missile system), and seven attack submarines, some of which are to be replaced by the new and very large Astute class (7,800 tonnes,7 almost 3,000 tonnes heavier than previous boats8). Perhaps the least recognised expansion in the service in recent years has been in the area of amphibious warfare, with two new Landing Platform Dock ships at just under 19,000 tonnes,9 virtually double the size of previous ships of this class, and three new Landing Ships Dock (Auxiliary),10 which are, again, twice the size of previous

capabilities.11 The renewal of these elements of the force structure reveals a preference for a balanced fleet that can conduct operations across the spectrum of naval warfare, though a sweeping defence review of 2010 may alter certain core capabilities.