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.