For decades, the British Royal Navy has been famous for its capabilities. Britain became an empire thanks to the fleet and the grandiloquent lines: “The sun never sets on its territory; before its evening dawn leaves the peaks of Quebec, the morning rays already illuminate Port Jackson, and plunging into the waters of Lake Superior, at the same time it rises above the Ganges” (Caledonian Mercury). The renowned ballad “Rule, Britannia, the Seas” clearly hinted at the navy’s importance to Britain and its economy in particular.
Today, the British naval fist can only be mentioned in the past tense. The military organisation, a source of particular British pride, proved incapable of even ensuring the safety of its tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. Even British sea lanes closer to home are protected by London’s NATO allies. When a Russian Naval vessel approaches its territorial waters, London is compelled to dispatch less capable vessels to monitor it.
Recent reports indicate that the United Kingdom is implementing a “return to Asia” strategy. As a vital component of this strategy, the Royal Navy will station a large warship permanently in the Indo-Pacific region. While the British government views Russia as the greatest threat it confronts, it also considers permanently stationing at least one Type 31 frigate in the Asia-Pacific region in response to epoch-making challenges. In addition, they assert that this move will completely reverse the trend of declining British military deployment east of the Suez Canal over the past 50 years.
How powerful is the British Royal Navy today? If we count beans, they have two aircraft carriers of the Queen Elizabeth class, six Type 45 Daring Class destroyers, and twelve Type 23 frigates. They also possess four Vanguard-class strategic nuclear submarines, five Astute-class attack submarines, and two Trafalgar-class attack submarines. The Royal Navy appears to still maintain the fifth-largest naval force in the globe in terms of tonnage. In reality, the Royal Navy can only assemble one carrier battle group if needed now. In addition to the main and auxiliary vessels and submarines, a carrier battle group formation requires many escort vessels. This consists of between two and three destroyers and three to four frigates.
The problem, though, lies in the Type 45 destroyer, the backbone of the fleet. Because of its all-electric propulsion method, it frequently fails in the middle of a journey, which is inconvenient and embarrassing. When the Royal Navy decided to increase its presence in Asia-Pacific, it sent this destroyer there. This awkward situation emerged. The end of 2017 saw the docking of all six Type 45 destroyers. The British were wary of sending this destroyer on long missions with their aircraft carriers. The Power Improvement Project (PIP) is currently underway to address Type 45’s major propulsion problems.
Only two of the six Type 45 destroyers are suitable for continuous deployment throughout the year. The Type 23 frigate is another option for the Royal Navy; it has a reliable propulsion system but is based on a design from the 1980s. No phased array radar is on board, and the frigate’s vertical launch system only has 32 cells. Its antiquated superstructure betrays its advanced age and renders it hopelessly outdated. However, frigates of this type continue to serve an important purpose for the Royal Navy.
British need more stomach to confront China. During its operation in the region in 2021, the British Navy’s carrier strike group, led by the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, did not approach the artificial islands erected by the PRC in the South China Sea.
Without including strategic nuclear assets, the Royal Navy is unquestionably weaker than the American, Chinese, Russian, French, Japanese, Indian, and, in some ways, Italian navies.
Because it was built with loot from former colonies, the Royal Navy was once a force to be reckoned with. Today’s British economy is wobbly. The US military leadership has made it clear that it does not see the United Kingdom as a first-rate military power.
It’s worth noting that the British Royal Navy intends to send its Type 31 frigate to the Asia-Pacific. However, these frigates have yet to be put into service. The Royal Navy has serious problems with its aircraft carriers and has had trouble with escort vessels. The British aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales had mechanical difficulties after departing Portsmouth port on August 27 last year. It had to give up and anchor near the Isle of Wight. The Royal Navy needs to construct additional vessels before considering deployment to the Asia-Pacific region to ” show off.”