The author started this blog as an informal means of trying to put across the frustrations felt at the media wilfully choosing to put across the worst possible angle on Defence and the role of the MOD. He is not naïve – it’s clear that bad news sells far better than good news, and that media organisations are in business to make money. That said, it is incredibly frustrating to see how low the media will stoop on occasions in order to get a story.
The training conducted attracted a not insignificant amount of attention – after all, the presence of arguably the most capable warship on the entire continent is something which is likely to be headline news. By all accounts a locally embedded reporter (unfortunately Humphrey is unable to identify which paper) gave a long and detailed report about the sort of training and sea time that was going on, and talked in a very positive manner about the work done by HMS DAUNTLESS. Within the report was a single throwaway line about a minor switchboard failure.
It was therefore slightly surprising to see that the Daily Mail managed to turn a single throwaway line into something which made out that HMS DAUNTLESS was somehow drifting and in great peril off the coast of Africa (link is HERE). Reading the article, one is left with the impression that the mightiest vessel in the RN was in dire danger of sinking, and that the entire vessel was on the point of collapse, and that huge embarrassment was being caused to the MOD as a result of this event.
Let’s consider for a moment the reality of what went on. There was a minor overload in one switchboard, which for a few minutes caused a reduction in power. After some quick repairs normal business resumed. It may come as a shock to some people, but modern warships are incredibly complicated assets, full of advanced machinery and technology, and inevitably things will sometimes breakdown and need fixing. This surely isn’t a cause of embarrassment to the MOD – in reality, every warship in the world has had faults at some pointIn the case of HMS DAUNTLESS, we have a situation where a new ship class has been deployed into tropical waters for the first time, and this can have an effect on the vessel's operating performance. Now this issue has been identified, it is less likely to occur again as the RN identifies the class specific operating conditions and characteristics for the Type 45. Speak to anyone who has operated in the Gulf, or the Arctic Circle, and they will tell you how the characteristics of vessels change depending on the environmental conditions in which they work. For the Royal Navy this is even more challenging, as unlike many navies, the RN is expected to deploy its vessels worldwide, and they have to be able to cope in a very broad range of temperatures and conditions – indeed on her current deployment, its possible that DAUNTLESS will go from tropical African waters to the South Atlantic in deep winter – this inevitably places some challenges on the design.
The news isn’t that something temporarily went wrong, for that occurs to every ship, no matter what flag she flies. The good news is surely that while something went wrong, the RN was able to use its highly trained and skilled personnel to find the fault and fix it, while operating thousands of miles from home, and to do so without putting into port or requiring external assistance. Humphrey would argue that few navies are capable of doing that – having worked with many nations’ navies, it’s clear that for some of them, putting to sea for the day is a technical challenge, while remaining at sea overnight is beyond them. This is not meant disparagingly, as different countries have different ideas about what they want their military to achieve. However, for the RN, the story here is that no matter how far from home, the quality of the personnel and their training will ensure that wherever possible, ships will continue to operate as effectively as they can.
So, it is frustrating to see the Daily Mail continue on its curiously diverse campaign to bemoan the decline of society, while simultaneously doing all it can to do down the society it wants to protect. It is frustrating to see this sort of article as it not only does down the efforts of the sailors who man these vessels, but more importantly it fails to give a balanced account on the good work that the RN is doing day in, day out to support UK interests and wider global security around the world.
What then is the solution to this sort of issue? Well the problem is that no media organisation is likely to focus on the wider truth that all ships breakdown, but equally the media is often keen to lambast the UK government for going to war in Iraq, purportedly on the basis of scanty evidence laid out in a dossier. Surely the media has a similar responsibility to report accurately, and not fill a sensationalist story based on little more than one throwaway comment in a report, then to take it utterly out of context, prior to belittling the efforts of British sailors far from home, who are doing an excellent job of supporting UK national interests?