The aim of this post is to take a look at the sort of 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 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.
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.