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United Kingdom - Royal Navy

An island nation needs a powerful navy. A simple fact, often forgotten. The Navy is an adventurous career, and the great Admirals — Drake and Nelson — did not go to sea for a quiet life. From the late fifteenth century until the mid-twentieth century the role of the Navy became paramount as first England, then the United Kingdom, acted as an island off Europe with global designs away from the European continent. The wealth, prosperity and safety of the nation depended on the Royal Navy's ability to protect first colonies then empire.

Henry VII ordered the first Naval dockyard to be built at Portsmouth. His son, Henry VIII founded a fleet of sail-driven battleships, with heavy guns along their sides below deck. The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century completely changed the fighting ship. The changes to sea warfare became a revolution with the construction of HMS Dreadnought in 1905. Every other battleship in the world was made obsolete. The Royal Navy was at the forefront of submarine development even though many had initially considered them to be 'a damned un-English invention'.

The great discoveries of the later 18th century shifted the seat of naval power to the ocean for two reasons. In the first place they imposed on all who wished to sail the wider seas opened to European enterprise by Vasco de Gama and Columbus the obligation to use a vessel which could carry water and provisions sufficient for a large crew during a long voyage. The Mediterranean states and their seamen were not prepared by resources or habit to meet the call. But there was a second and equally effective reason. The powers which had an Atlantic coast were incomparably better placed than the Italian states, or the cities of the Baltic, to tale advantage of the maritime discoveries of the great epoch which stretches from 1402 to 1526. In the natural course the leadership fell to Portugal and Spain. Both owed much to Italian science and capital, but the profit fell inevitably to them.

The reasons why Spain failed to found a permanent naval power apply equally to Portugal. Neither achieved the formation of a solid navy. The claim of both to retain a monopoly of the right to settle in, or trade with, the New World and Asia was in due course contested by neighboring nations. France was torn by internal dissensions (the Wars of Religion and the Fronde) and could not compete except through a few private adventurers. England and Holland were able to prove the essential weakness of the Spaniards at sea before the end of the i6tb century. In the nth century the late allies against Spain now fought against one another. Her insular position, her security against having to bear the immense burden of a war on a land frontier, and the superiority of her naval organization over the divided administration of Holland, gave the victory to Great Britain. She was materially helped by the fact that the French monarch attacked Holland on land, and exhausted its resources. Great Britain and France now became the competitors for superiority at sea, and so remained from 1689 till the fall of Napoleon in 1815.

During this period of a century and a quarter Great Britain had again the most material advantage: that her enemy was not only contending with her at sea, but was engaged in endeavoring to establish and maintain a military preponderance over her Kighbours on the continent of Europe. Hence the necessity for her to support great and costly armies, which led to the sacrifice of her Beet, and drove Holland into alliance with Great Britain (Wars of the League of Augsburg, of the Spanish Succession, of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War). During the War of American Independence France was in alliance with Spain and Holland, and at peace on land. She and her allies were able to impose terms of peace by which Great Britain surrendered positions gained in former wars. But the strength if the British navy was not broken, and in quality it was shown to be essentially superior.

The French Revolution undid all that the government of France had gained between 1778 and 1783 by attention to its navy and abstinence from wars on hind. The result of the upheaval in France was to launch her into schemes of universal conquest. Other nations were driven to fight for existence with the help of Great Britain. In that long struggle all the navies of Europe disappeared except the French, which was broken by defeat and rendered inept by inaction, and the victorious British navy. When Napoleon fell, the navy of Great Britain was not merely the first in the world; it was the only powerful navy in existence.

31 January:
During World War II, the US Navy replaced the Royal Navy as the world's strongest. The Royal Navy, despite its reduced size, has remained at the forefront of new developments. Nuclear propulsion today provides greatly enhanced speed and endurance for submarines, which are no longer handicapped by the need to surface to recharge electric batteries. Guided missiles have replaced guns as the warship's primary weapon.

At the apex of the Royal Navy's role is the United Kingdom's strategic deterrent, consisting of the latest Vanguard class nuclear-powered submarines carrying Trident ballistic missiles that can be fired from beneath the sea.

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review determined that the Royal Navy, would complete the construction of two large aircraft carriers. The Government believed it was right for the United Kingdom to retain, in the long term, the capability that only aircraft carriers can provide – the ability to deploy air power from anywhere in the world, without the need for friendly air bases on land. In the short term, there are few circumstances envisaged where the ability to deploy airpower from the sea will be essential. That is why the government, "reluctantly", took the decision to retire the Harrier aircraft, which had served the country so well. But over the longer term, it cannot be assumed that bases for land-based aircraft will always be available when and where needed. That is why the UK needed an operational carrier.

But the last Government committed to carriers that would have been unable to work properly with Brtain's closest military allies. It will take time to rectify this error, but the government was determined to do so. It was decided to fit a catapult to the operational carrier to enable it to fly a version of the Joint Strike Fighter with a longer range and able to carry more weapons. Crucially, that will allow the British carriers to operate in tandem with the US and French navies, and for American and French aircraft to operate from the British carrier and vice versa. And the UK will retain the Royal Marine brigade, and an effective amphibious capability.

The Royal Navy is procuring a fleet of the most capable, nuclear powered hunter-killer submarines anywhere in the world. They are able to operate in secret across the world’s oceans, fire Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets on land, detect and attack other submarines and ships to keep the sea lanes open, protect the nuclear deterrent and feed strategic intelligence back to the UK and military forces across the world. The government decided to complete the production of the six Type 45 destroyers at £1 billion a ship, one of the most effective multi-role destroyers in the world. The Navy would embark on a new program of less expensive, modern frigates, more flexible and better able to take on today’s naval tasks of tackling drug trafficking, piracy and counter-terrorism.

The Royal Navy will retain and renew the independent nuclear deterrent – "the United Kingdom’s ultimate insurance policy in this age of uncertainty." As a result of a value for money review, the UK decided to reduce the number of operational launch tubes on the submarines from 12 to eight, and the number of warheads from 48 to 40, in line with a commitment vigorously to pursue multilateral global disarmament. This would help reduce costs by £750 million over the period of the spending review, and by £3.2 billion over the next ten years. ‘Main Gate’ – the decision to start building the submarines – is required around 2016.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:20:13 ZULU