The Royal Navy – 9th November 2015

It didn’t need the shipping forecast to make us realise we were set fair for another interesting session. Our own Dickon Wilkinson (Captain RN Retired) cast off by introducing our speakers from the Royal Navy Presentation Team Portsmouth namely: Commander Colin Williams, Marine Connor O’Bride and Leading Seaman James Staples who interspersed their contributions with video material.

The main purpose of RN Presentation Teams is to engage with public audiences seeking to reconnect people with the maritime, to remind us just how essential the sea is to our daily lives, and why the Royal Navy is fundamental to our island nation’s security, economy, international standing and sense of identity.

The team opened by outlining the role of the six Divisions of the Royal Navy: the Surface and Submarine fleets, the Fleet Air Arm, the Royal Marines, and the Maritime Reserve. As a whole the Senior Service had four core roles: Power projection, Homeland defence, Defence engagement and Maritime security (often operating within NATO). The latter included policing and protecting International Law, seaborne trade, emergency relief and countering illegal activity such as piracy, slavery and drugs smuggling. All these activities added greatly to the credibility and prestige of Great Britain internationally. In these days of financial constraint they were delivered by only 30000 personnel (half the size of Boots Chemists) for those in ships and submarines at a daily subsistence cost per person, of 63p (the price of a 1st class stamp)!

The team went on to explain the importance of free flowing imports and exports to our nation and as individuals. While many of our coastal communities remain dependent on fishing or shipbuilding, we all rely on seaborne trade for full supermarket shelves , running our cars and warming our homes. Naval defence expenditure provides highly skilled jobs and expertise. Increasing globalisation and inter-dependence together with ‘just enough, just in time’ delivery has resulted in vulnerable ‘warehouses at sea’ making it vital for the Navy to retain long range capability in such ‘choke’ points as the Straits of Hormuz, Malacca and Gibraltar, the Suez and Panama Canals. Elsewhere, RN presence is maintained in the Gulf, off the Horn of Africa and the Falkland Islands. Two nuclear submarines are always at sea. On the home station patrols are maintained to give protection to our fisheries, our ports, 290 North Sea Gas installations, and the English Channel together with 10000 miles of coastline. Elsewhere, RN presence is currently deployed in the Gulf, off the Horn of Africa and the Falkland Islands. The Navy is not just to deter aggression. We were given several examples of recent involvement in natural and civilian emergencies. HMS Richmond is currently much in the news rescuing refugees from Syria and North Africa in the Mediterranean area. Since 1975 The Royal Navy has contributed to over 800 operations, including the Gulf and Falklands Wars.

We moved on to consider the future. No one knows how the situation in the Middle East will develop. While threats will always be uncertain the Navy will, as ever, train and prepare its manpower –its most vital resource – to the highest levels in order to be able to operate its units, weapons and equipment in any environment. The pace of technical change it speeding up, especially it the field of cyber electronics, and the need to design hardware with 2050 in mind is fully recognised. These developments are reflected in the designs of the new Type 45 Destroyers, the Elizabeth Class carriers and Astute Nuclear submarines now coming into service. The Royal Navy will always seek to be at the forefront of new equipment and through its innovating demands on the Defence Industry contribute to jobs and national prosperity.

We were left reassured that the White Ensign will continue to fly for the foreseeable future!

As might be expected, such a presentation stimulated a wide range of questions. These included:
-Implications of possible Scottish Independence on British defence and its impact on Faslane, Rosyth and the Clyde
-Cooperation with Europe and especially France
-Tackling bureaucracy and wasteful practices
-Recruitment and retention
-Filling the gap while the Elizabeth Class carriers are completed and the vulnerability and protection of these vessels once in service
-Our capacity and expertise for building warships in the future and the supply of steel to build them.

The session concluded with a vote of thanks given by Dickon Wilkinson and our Chairman who presented each of the team with a “Round Tuit” dish appropriately made from Sheffield stainless steel. Apparently this was the first time the team had received such appreciation in terms of personal tokens of gratitude.

Our thanks for Dickon for arranging such an interesting morning, an ideal prelude to our annual Christmas Lunch which followed at the Hallamshire Golf Club.