Iran farce – the armchair warrior wades in

I admit it. I am an armchair warrior. As a mere civilian who has never tried to tackle anyone or anything more dangerous than a drunken man attacking his equally drunk girlfriend (needless to say I got no thanks from the girl for interfering in a private argument), from the comfort of my home I presume to lecture those who have actually put themselves in harm’s way.

Nonetheless, I cannot but be appalled by the failure of what used to be Her Britannic Majesty’s Royal Navy to give a decent account of itself in the latest spat with Iran. Thankfully, the 15 sailors and Royal Marines have now been released unharmed. However, the naval commanders of our history (Drake, Nelson, Jellicoe, Cunningham to name but a few) must be spinning in their graves to see the parlous state to which our Navy has been reduced by successive Conservative and Labour governments. We now have virtually no carriers, no air defence for the fleet (AMRAAM capable Sea Harriers with beyond visual range radar decommissioned in favour of RAF GR7s with only AIM-7 Sidewinders for self-defence), and nearly half of all 43 (!!!) hulls mothballed. To make matters worse, Gordon Broon and the Treasury seem to have their beady little eyes on the money supposedly promised for two proper carriers.

We’ve been this way before with Labour (and Conservatives to be fair – vide John Nott’s defence cuts in 1980 prior to the Falklands war). Those old enough to remember Denis (now Lord) Healey’s tenure as Secretary of State for Defence (?) from 1964-1970 will recall his infamous decisions to cancel both the land-based TSR-2 strike aircraft and the Royal Navy’s proposed new carrier CVA-01. Had he had his way, the Harrier prototype would have been cancelled, too. That it was not was due mainly to political considerations, not sound analysis of our defence needs.

The near-disastrous consequences of the decisions of these two Defence Secretaries (Healey and Nott) was pointedly put by the Liberal Democrat MP and Liberal Shadow Defence Secretary Paul Keetch during the Commons debate of 17 July 2002 on defence procurement:

“The Minister is a great student of history and will know that he is not the first Minister for the Armed Forces to say in the House that, effectively, we will never go to war by ourselves. Denis Healey said that in defence of the cancellation of CVA1; Sir John Nott said so in the 1980 defence review when he was planning to sell off HMS Invincible, which gave the wrong signal to the Argentines and led to the Falklands war, to which the Minister referred. If the Minister is saying that Britain will never need an air defence capability for the fleet again, why will the JSF have such an element? He cannot have it both ways. We either need an air defence capability—in which case it should be continued—or we do not.”

From the recent behaviour of our political masters and the chain of command it would seem Britain no longer needs a Navy worthy of the name, let alone one with an organic air defence capability. No wonder some Royal Navy personnel are seeking transfers to the Royal Australian Navy. At least their Navy is growing in size.

[Edited 21:09 on 8 April 2007 to correct spelling of Healy to Healey.]

Explore posts in the same categories: Incompetence, Uncategorized

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