“Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”1
The Royal Navy guaranteed British independence for centuries. The last successful invasion of Britain was in 1688 by the Dutch, who’d made sure they got a good reception when they arrived. Britain’s global empire, from 1688, was based on command of the seas using the Royal Navy’s supremacy. This supremacy lasted until the Second World War. Since 1945 the Royal Navy became increasingly redundant once the dissolution of the empire was concluded.
The transition from global super-power to bit player has shattered British politicians and the Royal Navy. Occasional military interventions have maintained the pretence that Britain is a global power. The phrase British politicians use is, ’Punching above our weight.’ This involves maintaining two aircraft carriers built for several billion pounds each2, and a nuclear submarine fleet with Trident missiles.
Using aircraft carriers demands massive fleet resources, which Britain doesn’t have.
UK Carrier Strike Group 2021 (CSG21) – involved five UK warships, two support ships and a nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), a destroyer from the United States and a frigate from the Netherlands. Of the 18 Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II combat aircraft which formed the main part of the carrier’s air group, eight were from the UK and ten from the US Marine Corps.3 (my emphasis)
Merely operating an aircraft carrier is eye-wateringly expensive, “if you add up the fuel for the aircraft and its parts for maintenance, the total operational cost for a single aircraft carrier per year would be around $400 million.”4
In 1957, C Northcote Parkinson wrote a satire, which briefly analysed the Royal Navy.5 The satire is now real. In 2022 the Royal Navy has 14 ships which, hilariously, includes HMS Victory launched in 1765.6 Call it 13. How many Admirals does the Royal Navy employ?7 Parkinson would have hugged himself in delight at the answer. There are three Full Admirals, eight Vice-Admirals and twenty-two Rear Admirals: 36 Admirals for 13 ships.
‘Rule Britannia’ politics dominates Parliament. Decision-making for financing the Royal Navy is fantasy. Britain has a second-rate economy.8 This makes imperial delusions unaffordable. Sacrifices are made, in the total budget, to accommodate ‘defence’ extravagance
The Trident missile programme is yet more fantasy politics. “After the shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry refused to say whether Mr Corbyn would authorise a nuclear strike, the Conservatives said he was “not fit to be prime minister.” (my emphasis).9 Britain is the only second-rate country, apart from Russia, where threatening a nuclear war is an indicator of fitness to be Prime Minister. The cost of Trident is, “…about £2bn a year – roughly five or six per cent of the Ministry of Defence’s whole budget.”10 Building Trident will cost about £100 billion, assuming it’s operational by the 2030s. (The actual cost is unknown as costs usually spiral out of control.) Cancellation is impossible because of billions of capital expenditure and the personal prestige of decision-makers.
The Royal Navy’s senior officers are expert politicians who know how to defend their patch. They invent roles and use international comparators to justify the plethora of admirals and support staffs. Sixty-five years ago Parkinson postulated Parkinson’s Law,“ which says, “An official wants to multiply subordinates… [and] Officials make work for each other.”11 The Royal Navy is the ultimate example of Parkinson’s Law. The political will to intervene is paralysed by kow-towing to the Royal Navy’s glorious history.
The number of admirals in the Royal Navy is outrageous. Jeremy Corbyn should have politicised the actuality of the Royal Navy and the Trident programme. Meanwhile Britain has roughly three admirals for each ship. That is the Royal Navy in 2022.
4 How Much Does Aircraft Carrier Cost In 2022? (costaide.com) At current exchange rates (March 2022) that’s about £300 million per year
5 C Northcote Parkinson Parkinson’s Law or the pursuit of progress (1957) pp19-21 This is a textbook for bureaucrats. See also The Royal Navy’s Final Delusion | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com)
8 Economy of the United Kingdom – Wikipedia The USA and China between them have $39.8tn GDP and the UK $3.11tn GDP. The USA and China together are 13 times larger than Britain in GDP terms.
11 Parkinson ibid p15