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‘Navies in the 21st Century’

Conrad Waters and various contributors
The 25 years since the end of the Cold War have seen massive change wrought on the field of maritime warfare. Naval planners across the globe face a thankless task in dealing with the complexities of what kind of operations to prepare for.

Often, new designs of warship or other innovations or developments are publicized in the military press, but it is hard to draw out their overall significance. The intent of this book is to identify major drivers for change and then set them in that overall strategic context.

For its articles, it has drawn on a range of naval experts, from academia, naval service, industry and journalism to build a diverse and deeply-thought out picture of where maritime warfare is now and where it is likely to go. The Naval planner of 2016 faces several ‘wicked problems’ that this book drills into. Some of the key issues discussed include:

Naval crewing: Technology renders warships more and more complex, and navies across the globe are finding that short-term conscripts are less useful year on year. Higher levels of automation, and the substantial costs associated with personnel, makes it attractive to go for leaner manning. Of course, the dilemma then posed is that your lean crew complement may be unable to keep the warship floating, fighting and moving when underattack and carrying out damage control. Or perhaps the sheer devastating effect of a modern heavyweight torpedo or anti-shipping missile strike renders that argument largely irrelevant. The next major engagement at sea will setle that debate…

Unmanned Combat Vehicles: whether on the surface, under it or flying over it, the new generation of remotely-controlled and autonomous vehicles are poised to take over dangerous, deniable or long-duration military tasks. Aerial vehicles such as the Fire Scout can give small offshore patrol vessels a bolt-on, organic aerial surveillance capability. Mine clearance underwater can be completed using vehicles that can identify and neutralize ordnance without risking either mine hunting vessels or clearance divers. The impressive reach, sensor fit and firepower of the Boeing P-8 Poseidon will in time be surpassed by a smaller UAV. Finally, all of these taskings can be conducted from anywhere on the globe, and in time may not even require humans in the loop. This reviewer feels quite strongly on this matter – the key question is, where does the fighting seafarer fit into all this?

Austerity: budgets have been cut, and cut again, so planners need to make harsh decisions about which capabilities to retain and which to delete. They are, in effect, in the unenviable position of deciding whether the patient really has a robust business case for keeping all four limbs, and if they had to make do with 3, which ones would they be? This problem is made worse by the global uncertainty that must be dealt with. As an example, the Royal Navy’s DUKE-class frigates were designed and built as relatively cheap anti submarine assets for the North Atlantic convoy battles that would determine the outcome of any conflict between the Warsaw Pact and NATO forces on the Central European Plain. Since then, they have done everything but that tasking, all across the globe. Platforms are now being designed to provide as much adaptability as possible during the design stage, so for example, the new auxiliary design offered by BMT as the basis for the RFA’s TIDE boats and the Norwegian MAUD is not just an oiler but a multirole platform with helideck, hospital, command and control facilities and surge accommodation for embarked staff.

This well-illustrated book’s strength lies in its bold move to set all these and other major developments (the advance of Air-Independent Propulsion attack submarines, the continued blurring between surface escorts and high-end Offshore Patrol Vessels) into a coherent strategic picture. The diversity and independence of the contributors allows this book to present a lucid picture that is not biased by national doctrine. 5 out of 5 mushroomheads for a book that has brought the reviewer right up to date in naval matters.

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