It was an event worthy of the British Royal Navy’s 500-year history. On June 3 at Portsmouth Naval Base, hundreds of dignitaries and citizens gathered to celebrate the commissioning of HMS Dauntless, the second of six high-tech Type 45 destroyers now entering service. A band played, the crew marched in parade and the ship’s captain, Richard Powell, read the traditional “commissioning warrant.” There was even cake.
But the cheery event belied a looming storm for a naval service that once dominated the world’s oceans. On Oct. 19, the U.K. Ministry of Defense announced its long-awaited — and, for military professionals, long-dreaded — Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) (.pdf). The end result of the SDSR process is a much smaller fleet and a net reduction in the U.K.’s ability, in the medium term, to influence world events. The implications are enormous for Great Britain and the world.
For months, the new Conservative government had warned of deep cutbacks in the Defense Ministry’s roughly $63 billion annual budget, part of the government’s aggressive plan to rein in decades of deficit spending. “Without healthy finances we can create neither the public services nor the national security we desire,” Defense Secretary Liam Fox said in August.
Royal Navy observers expected the so-called senior service to lose ships. But few expected cuts as deep as those announced in October. While the six Type 45s would remain, many of the navy’s most capable existing warships would go, as would one of two planned aircraft carriers. In a moment, the navy lost two of its three current small aircraft carriers, one of four amphibious landing ships, one-quarter of its frigates and destroyers plus several support vessels. For the ministry, these and other reductions would mean an 8 percent savings in annual defense spending.