British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has revealed that the Royal Navy is to receive an additional £1bn investment on top of previous financial projections for the service. The additional money looks set to be spent on advanced early warning and tracking systems as well as up to eight new patrol vessels leading most observers to speculate that they are in direct response to increased clandestine Russian naval activity around the British Isles.
We are investing billions in growing the Royal Navy for the first time in a generation – 2017 is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting Britain’s influence globally and delivering security at home.
The Royal Navy has been under increasing criticism from a British public that has become alarmed at the number of Russian ships and aircraft that have been sailing around the UK in the last five years. With its dwindling number of ships, the feeling has been that years of decline under three consecutive governments have left the “island nation” vulnerable from the sea. This new announcement is hoped to reverse that situation.
The emphasis placed on tracking systems reflects the problems the Royal Navy has had in locating Russian submarines in recent years thanks in no small part to the previous Conservative-Liberal coalition government’s decision to scrap the UK’s maritime patrol aircraft in 2010. It is also in response to the Russian Navy’s modernisation program for its nuclear submarines which has lead President Vladimir Putin to claim that their new submarines are “undetectable”.
Regarding the additional patrol ships it is likely this is to free up the Royal Navy’s major surface combatants such as the Type 45 from home waters patrol duties which will be instead needed to protect the new aircraft carriers as they come on line. The first new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is expected to make her maiden voyage this year.
While this is much welcome boost in equipment from the government, it is now up to the Royal Navy to find the personnel to support it. The service has suffered a severe shortfall in recruits and personnel retention in the last decade which has lead to speculation that limited recruitment may have to be undertaken abroad primarily from British Commonwealth nations such as Australia and New Zealand. Like the Army and Royal Air Force the service may also place greater emphasis on reserve forces in the coming decade.