The intelligent blog on defence issues, providing high quality and objective analysis on UK Defence Policy, military affairs and wider global security matters.
The author does not work for, and is not employed by the UK Ministry of Defence or the British Armed Forces.
Sunday, 17 June 2012
Reasons to be positive about the Royal Navy - Part One (Training)
As regular readers of the blog
will know, Humphrey tends to take a fairly positive outlook on most things in
Defence. For all the comments about the loss of capability, power and military
numbers, he remains upbeat that actually things aren’t looking too grim,
particularly for the Royal Navy. While the popular narrative
remains that the RN is declining after years of neglect, and that the UK has
ceased to be a credible military power, there is actually a lot of good stuff
going on in the RN at the moment. Too much of what the RN does, or achieves daily
is taken for granted, and never actually commented on by the media.
The aim of this post is to
take a look at the sortof things about
the RN that make it so potent, and why, despite the loss of hulls, it remains a
genuinely credible naval power. Too much has been written about ships, and how
the loss of frigates or fixed wing carriers impacts on the UK ability to project
power. This post aims to look beyond a simple ORBAT, and try to explore some of
the less tangible aspects that make the RN a potent power, and why we should
have reason to be optimistic for the future. Ultimately, there is no point in
having dozens of warships in service unless you have very good and very well
trained personnel to crew, support, and fight them. Lets take a look at why the
RN has reasons to be very positive about its future.
Getting through the Gates
Arguably the best job in the world. How do you get people to do it though?
The greatest strength of the
RN is its people. The process of how it selects those people is a forgotten
asset. The RN invests a great deal of time and effort in running a careers
service to ensure that people come through the door and get a place only on
fair competition. Entrants to the RN cannot bribe their way in, there is no
advantage for people due to their place in society. The sons of Admirals
receive no favours (and indeed arguably receive a tougher grilling) at the
Admiralty Interview Board.
The process of identifying and
selecting the future Naval Service is something that is rarely thought about.
But in fact the RN has kept a process which has continuously managed to bring
in high quality people over many decades. Lets actually think about what the RN
careers service (e.g. entry for ratings, and selection for Officers at AIB) has
to do. It has to find, and select a disparate pool of people, from those
destined to do catering and deck work, to those destined to be nuclear
engineers. It must select people who will in 40 years’ time be Admirals with
responsibility for billions of pounds of public money and thousands of lives. This
is not an easy task, but somehow the RN has managed to continuously bring in
high quality people, and select them. There is no short cut into the RN, no
easy way of buying a place at BRNC or RALEIGH.
So, from the outset, Humphrey
would argue that one of the best reasons to be positive is that the RN has
invested in a selection process which delivers only the very best people into
the training pipeline. How many civilian companies today are required to
recruit people for hundreds of different trades, and handle the recruiting
process from point of entry through to posting. Most companies rely on
headhunting, or bringing in talent at different levels. The RN has to bring
people in, take risk on them, and hope it turns out okay in 15-25 years’ time.
This is a significant responsibility, but so far it seems to be going well.
Think of other nations out
there where entry is through conscription (or those paid to ‘volunteer’ so
other can avoid conscription!), or those where entry is by less than auditable
methods. Think of those nations where a position in a royal family, or being
the son of an Admiral or other notable may result in an easier time. The RN
works because everyone in the system has been selected to the same standard,
with no favours shown. Do not underestimate what a difference this makes to the
quality of people in the system. Do not underestimate what a force multiplier
this really is.
One advantage the RN has is
the strength of its training system, and its ability to learn and adapt to
future challenges. If you look at both BRNC and HMS RALEIGH, it is clear that both
sites have learnt a lot of lessons from the military encounters of the last few
years, and reflect this in their current training packages. The process of
Phase One training is not easy, and remains a challenge for any recruit to
pass. The current package though seems well adapted to producing personnel
capable of augmenting both the RN in complement jobs, and also the wider military
on operations. This ability to learn, to change and to produce a new training
system is critical to the strength of the RN. It learns from what went well,
and what has gone wrong in the past.
The system remains a source of
influence too – there are many navies which wish to have their officers trained
by the BRNC system. To this day RN vessels can pull into ports around the world
and find naval officers who are the product of Dartmouth. This gives the RN an
influence, both in helping shape the attitudes and views of naval officers who
may one day occupy influential positions in their own country, but also in
ensuring that other navies out there operate to high standards.
Dartmouth remains one of the
crown jewels of the Defence Diplomacy network, and provides the UK with the
ability to influence at a level most countries can only dream of. It is
essential that this is funded properly, as a failure to take BRNC seriously as
an influence tool could reduce foreign intakes. Similarly, the UK has to work
out how to square a smaller surface fleet and intakes to BRNC with the ever increasing
demand for foreign places at Dartmouth. Take too many foreign cadets and the
college loses some of its RN ethos, and it may be less possible to produce
foreign officers who have trained with the RN. Take too few, and navies will
look to other nations to take up the slack, and this could lessen UK influence
across the globe.
Looking further down the line,
the RN maintains a strong network of very good training schools, such as the
Maritime Warfare School, and HMS SULTAN. These are capable of producing highly
trained individuals to meet Fleet requirements and provide through life
training. It is important not to underestimate the importance of assets such as
HMS SULTAN and HMS COLLINGWOOD – they provide a raft of training courses and capabilities
that many navies don’t have, and ensure that the RN can indigenously train all
its own personnel. This makes a real difference as the RN has control of its training
syllabus, and can run courses to meet its needs, and not send staff on courses
which may be of only limited use overseas.
The RN training estate,
although not hugely glamorous, is an excellent reason to look positively at the
future. A lot of money has gone into investing in first rate equipment and
technology to provide world class training. Again, there is no point in having
good ships, if your naval personnel don’t have the ability to use them
That concludes the first part
of this article. In the next part, Humphrey will look at wider issues around
the RN, including the renewal of the shore infrastructure and support services.
The point of this is to show that while this may not be ‘sexy’, the wider
infrastructure is indispensable, and without regular investment, would render
the seagoing element of the RN as next to useless.