Nautical Woes: Royal Navy Faces Depletion Amidst Recruitment Crisis

Empty Ships, Empty Ranks: Royal Navy Faces Perfect Storm of Shrinking Fleet and Personnel Shortage.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

The Royal Navy had nineteen excellent surface naval vessels a decade ago, including six Type 45 Daring class destroyers and thirteen Type 23 frigates. Following the incident involving the seized tanker Stena Impero by Iran in 2019, the debate over the Royal Navy’s size gained traction, with some deeming it insufficient for its various missions, such as protecting maritime approaches against increased Russian submarine activity, NATO commitments, Indo-Pacific deployments, and so on.

Royal Navy has lost unit after unit since the end of the Cold War. In 2016, a report from the government was worried about this trend and said that the Royal Navy would soon be unable to keep all of its commitments.

There is no doubt that the Royal Navy’s reduction in size since 2005 – from 31 frigates and destroyers to 19 today – has an impact on the UK’s ability to protect our interests around the world, lamented former Rear Admiral Alex Burton, echoing Admiral Alan West’s concerns as First Sea Lord between 2002 and 2006.

Since then, the situation has not improved, and the withdrawal of the Type 23 frigates HMS Monmouth in 2021 and HMS Montrose in 2023 has not resulted in a further reduction in the number of “first-rate” vessels. As per reports from The Telegraph, two additional Royal Navy vessels, HMS Westminster and HMS Argyll, may be lost. Furthermore, the final two amphibious assault vessels, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, which were scheduled to remain in service until 2030, could potentially be lost. This is considered the start of the Royal Marines’ demise in the UK.

British Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials ascribed the premature retirement of these vessels to the Royal Navy’s formidable recruitment difficulties, as evidenced by the 22.1% decline in recruits in 2023. As a result, the Navy is confronted with implementing cost reductions for personnel while also making arrangements to deliver eight Type 26 frigates, which constitute its initial deployment.

The first ship in the series, HMS Glasgow, won’t be ready for service until 2028, and the others won’t be ready until 2030, which is a cause for worry. The Type 23 frigates have also recently been updated, which adds to the feeling of waste, as there aren’t enough sailors. The Royal Navy has to put its ships away soon after spending millions of pounds fixing them up. This is more proof that the government can’t fix the long-standing defence problems that John Healey, the Labour Party’s military spokesman, has been criticising.

Admiral West said funnily that the Royal Navy is losing operational ships, which is fine if there isn’t a war in the next few years. He also said there would be enough frigates to protect the Red Sea if the government had paid attention to the issue of the number of frigates over the last ten years.

In contrast, the United Kingdom was able to deploy three aircraft carriers, two amphibious assault ships, fifty-three frigates, thirteen destroyers, a cruiser, twenty-two patrol vessels, and thirty-six minesweepers just months before the Falklands (Malvinas in Argentina) War in 1982. Argentina, by the way, has lately asked that the UK return their islands.

Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative who used to be the head of the Defence Select Committee in Parliament, agrees that the Navy is too small to deal with threats that are getting more complicated and hurting the economy.

However, the MoD says there is no immediate danger. A representative for the Royal Navy said that their needs are always being looked at. The Ministry of Defence is dedicated to ensuring it has the tools it needs to carry out its current and future duties. The situation is still a source of worry, even with these reassurances.

Turning to LinkedIn for Recruitment

The Royal Navy’s problems do not stop with sailors. It is now using social media to find a “Director for Submarines.” Given the heavy and various hurdles involved, commanding the Royal Navy’s submarines is no easy undertaking. One must supervise the four ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), critical to the British nuclear deterrent, after being reduced to a sole oceanic component since the late 1990s. There are also seven Astute class attack submarines (SSNs) at a time when Russian submarine activity is anticipated to peak since the end of the Cold War.

Furthermore, the Director of Submarines must keep an eye on the ambitious Dreadnought programme, which intends to replace the four present Vanguard-class SSBNs, as well as be part of the AUKUS alliance, which wants to prepare for the renewal of the Astute-class SSNs in collaboration with Australia. Addressing availability and security issues is also part of the job description.

Rear Admiral Simon Asquith has served as the British Navy’s Director of Submarines since April 2022. However, it appears that other, maybe higher-level positions await him, driving efforts to recruit his replacement. Despite a £150,000 yearly pay, recruits are not flocking to the Royal Navy, prompting an unorthodox move that has sparked interest in the UK.

The Royal Navy, according to The Times, has put a job posting on the social networking site LinkedIn to find its next Director of Submarines. While such approaches are common for the Navy to recruit professionals in specialised areas, The Telegraph reports that it has never been used for such critical posts.

According to the LinkedIn job posting, the Royal Navy is looking for people who are either reservists or have already served in the regular forces. According to a source, this programme could be expanded in the future, offering flexibility and allowing the Navy to profit from civilian talents. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has endorsed similar tactics, stating his goal is to allow military personnel to transfer between the armed forces and the public sector to retain the best skills.

Nonetheless, the Royal Navy’s use of job ads for such a position raises concerns about its senior officer selection and promotion processes. Officers typically rise through the ranks, but according to The Times, there is now no one in service regarded appropriate for this two-star position paying £150,000 per year who also wishes to take on the duty.


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