The impact of the Royal UK navy on the geographical and political landscape of today cannot be overstated. Due to the United Kingdom’s colonial history of what can most accurately be described as a period of world domination, its contextual meaning and legacy it is complex. It is fair to claim that membership in the navy or a family history thereof is a source of patriotic pride. However, due to the history of recent conflicts with ex-colonies, such as Ireland and South Africa, associations with the British army remain mixed at best. Furthermore, as the ways of war and politics evolve over time, the navy may have arguably become redundant. This paper attempts to take a closer look at the biggest challenges and opportunities for the modern UK navy. It considers both the reasons the naval force is experiencing a crisis and the ways in which these reasons might be turned around for the benefit of the national maritime power.
During the research process, it was easy to come across several claims about the Royal Navy’s declining power and former glory days. Forbes reports on it continuously shrinking, with the possibility of the fleet having as little as five frigates by the year 2026 (Axe, 2021). The naval forces in the country are struggling with the growing maintenance and storage costs (Chalmers, 2016). When accounted for inflation, increasing operations speed, and the continuous spikes in environmental issues, it becomes apparent that maritime power comes at costs some might find too great. The challenge of balancing the existing maintenance-associated struggles and the needs of the navy has been a painful one for the ministries for a considerable time. The shrinks have been following the Royal navy ever since 1991, with a new wave beginning in 2010 and bringing the biggest downfall in numbers so far (Axe, 2021). At the moment, it appears the UK navy does not have the answer to its struggles with efficiency and increasingly ill-suited environment. Consecutively, even modern expansion plans are frequently perceived with a grain of salt and disregarded as unrealistic or unnecessary.
Another challenge, according to some experts, stems from the aura of superiority and romanticism associated with the naval forces in the UK. Due to the social and cultural image of exceptionally brave and almost superhuman maritime heroes, it is practically expected of the British naval forces to do more with less. As it is perceived as only natural for them to be rising to the occasion, it might negatively affect the funding and the resources that are allocated to the cause (Atkins, 2020). Furthermore, this extra romanticism might affect the expectations of the newcomers to the force. When their rose-colored ideas of heroism and dignity are shattered or, at the very least, tamed, the newer members of the navy might regret or rethink their life choices. The consecutively high levels of labor turnover do not benefit the navy, which is already somewhat in decline.
The final challenge to the Navy’s status and potential is presented by the recent significant changes in the political course of the United Kingdom. With Brexit finally complete, the country has lost its multiple support systems that had been coming from its membership in the European Union. Both funding and production expertise channels have been caught off or made more difficult for the United Kingdom to obtain. As the European Union’s establishment upholds its image of prestige and power, it is reasonable to speculate that further relevant negotiations with larger suppliers might be affected by Brexit.
It is worth, however, stating that other sources point out multiple sources for hopes and optimism in their comments on the Royal Navy’s future. Firstly, one can never disregard the importance of symbolism and historical magnificence associated with the UK maritime forces for a reason (Kennedy, 2017). Historically, it has been the source of industrialization and modernization in the armed forces of the country (Development, Concepts and the Doctrine Centre, 2017). Between the second half of the 18th and the middle of the 19th century, boys and young men were specifically shaped for the navy by their mothers and school programs. Although the traditional approaches to recruitment and, in some form, marketing of the forces remain to be optimized, this heritage should not be disregarded lightly. As the naval force is part of the country’s national pride and image, these factors remain some of its greatest resources. The Royal Navy is something uniquely and fundamentally British and thus can never be cut off from the source of internal public support.
The second big opportunity presented to the Royal Navy lies in ways it might take advantage of continuous technological advancement. The UK has announced an expansion plan for the navy with the introduction of several new ship models on the way. Despite the decrease in fleet numbers being a disheartening pattern, the destruction potential these models convey substantially surpasses one of the discontinued ones. Arguably, the Royal Navy could continue to adopt and implement this approach moving forward by focusing on the quality of the ships instead of their quantity. The traditional metrics of the fleet’s numbers remain somewhat redundant with the newest advances in martial technology. By putting an increased number of resources into the relevant research fields and upgrade of the construction and armament of the ships, the navy may decrease its numbers without power loss. This would allow it to combat the storage and maintenance issues more effectively by relocating the force’s main power away from the number of ships in the fleet.
In conclusion, the Royal Navy crisis and arguable decline are a direct consequence of the change patterns in society, politics, and economics of the country. The XXI century is rapidly moving away from the past in its perception of the armed forces. Although any claim to have achieved a universal peace would have been false, modern ways of war involve large numbers of ships way more rarely than before (Moore, 2017). The growing awareness of the financial and environmental burden the fleet provides is also a factor in the current crisis. Nonetheless, it would not be appropriate to claim that the British maritime power or the fleet itself is in the past. The fleet remains one of the nation’s greatest symbols that can continue to provide a backbone for its identity in modern turbulent times. With the already distinguishable change in the investment priorities, it is inevitable that the navy transforms with the rest of the armed forces. Thus, it could rise to the challenge once again and prove the importance of its impressive legacy.
Atkins, Gareth. 2020. “‘The Ships of Tarshish’”. Chosen Peoples.
Axe, David. 2021. “The Royal Navy Keeps Shrinking—Frigates to Drop by Three Over Five Years”., Forbes, Web.
Chalmers, Malcolm. 2016. “The UK and The North Atlantic After Brexit”. Whitehall Papers 87 (1): 32-42.
Development, Concepts and the Doctrine Centre, Joint Doctrine Publication 0-10: UK Maritime Power. 2017. 5th ed. Ministry of Defence.
Kennedy, Paul M. 2017. The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery. Penguin UK.
Moore, Richard. 2017. “‘We are a Modern Navy’: Abolishing the Royal Navy’S Rum Ration”. The Mariner’s Mirror 103 (1): 67-79.