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We don't need RAF of this size, but we do need Navy

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 31, 2012

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Dr Harry Bennett is right to raise concern about the size and shape of the Fleet.

There are a number of maritime 'choke points' around the world and some of them are very close indeed to rogue states, countries generally unfriendly to the UK. Many of the ships arriving at UK ports every day, bringing containers, dry bulk goods and the fuel so essential to our livelihoods, pass through these 'choke points'. Consumers would soon notice any serious interruption to these shipping movements, as our reserves of fuel and retail failed.

Indeed, this week, the huge American aircraft carrier, USS John C. Stennis, is being rushed to the Persian Gulf as tensions between Israel and Iran increase; she will be joining another carrier group already in the area. Lamentably, in late 2010, the British government closed its mind to carrier-based naval aviation, bamboozled by those whose maps of the world ignore the sea and who, laughingly, see air power as the answer. Of course, no Navy can patrol all the sea lanes that cut across the oceans, but countries that rely on sea trade need 'blue water' Navies.

The Royal Navy, in both ships and manpower, is now less than half the size it was in 1980. The role of the Naval Service has not changed one iota since then; to safeguard the sea lanes, so that trade may be conducted without fear or hindrance, and to protect our island nation and overseas territories. Some 95% of our trade goes by ship.

Mirroring the nation at large, our government is sea-blind and does not understand maritime Britain. Nevertheless, your readers might pause for thought this week, before Merchant Navy Day on Monday September 3, for almost everything on their table and in their homes relies on goods imported by ship from overseas.

Dr Bennett is rightly concerned that our defence package is out of kilter after a decade or more of land-based warfare. After 2014, hopefully with no land wars on the horizon, the British Army will be re-grouping and the RAF looking for a role, but all HM Forces will be down-sizing. The Royal Navy and Royal Marines will, whether there's a war or not, be engaged policing the seas and safeguarding trade.

My concern is the £7bn a year RAF, still with 5,000 more people than the RN and RM, which has four Typhoon jets in the Falklands. Post-2014, the rest of the Tornado and Typhoon combat aircraft will be at UK air stations, free to impress at air shows.

As was evident in the Falklands War, land-based combat aircraft often cannot be involved in action many thousands of miles away, and anyway such air operations require massive support infrastructure and cost more than the maritime alternative.

We do not need an RAF of anything like the present size and, anyway, pilotless aircraft will surely be the future for so-called 'air power'. We do, however, need a Royal Navy with sufficient ships to protect our trade and our way of life.

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