When it's wrong. The Guardian published this article on Monday under the headline "Navy forced to drop warship patrols in Caribbean through lack of funds". The webpage address is even more stark "nacy-abandons-caribbean-warship-patrols" (sic - it is the Grauniad). So what is the actualite, buried within the article? Instead of a Type 23 Frigate and a RFA supply vessel, only the RFA ship with a naval party and helicopter will be sent for the hurricane season. The Type 23 frigate has taken part in successful anti-drug-smuggling patrols. Using one of the world's best anti-submarine ships is a bit of an overkill, although HMS Iron Duke's detachment enabled Prince William to see the West Indies with the rest of the crew. Makes better photos for the recruitment brochures than the North Sea. The Royal Fleet Auxilliary ship, eg RFA Bay class can do the same anti-drug duties as the Type 23 frigate and has better accommodation for long-term patrols. But, you say, the Frigate was there to fly the flag (cocktail parties with local dignitories) and sell British warships. If any of the West Indian navies wanted a ship it would be something more along the lines of a River Class patrol vessel. Update: the preferred vessel in the region is a smaller Dutch-built ship that the UK has bought four of as Customs Cutters.
And for some proper reporting with research and perspective I must recommend the excellent defencemanagement.com for these two articles here and here
The first relates that an RFA ship and HMS Iron Duke were withdrawn early last year (just before the Haiti earthquake) by the Brown government for budgetary reasons and the second that an RFA ship with naval party and helicopter will patrol instead of a frigate this year.
And then in today's Telegraph we read that the Royal Navy has more Admirals than warships. This has been the laughable case since Parkinson's Law was published over fifty years ago. The Telegraph's Defence Correspondent, Thomas Harding, writes:
"Commander John Muxworthy, chairman of the UK National Defence Association, defended the number of admirals saying they were the equivalent to senior managers who were necessary to oversee big budgets and construction projects.
"Otherwise it would all be run by civil servants," he added. "What is really appalling is not that we have 41 admirals but that we only have 40 warships.""
Actually, Commander Muxworthy, if there are not enough proper jobs for Admirals, they should be on the beach, retired from active service and working as civil servants (cheaper) running the big budgets and construction projects - if they have the skills. Cost overruns for the Astute class submarines were managed by the same people who negotiated the Unaffordable class aircraft carrier contracts. The Royal Navy is meant to be a club for keeping senior officers in the circumstances to which they have grown accustomed. I have the greatest repect for the men and women of the Armed Services when they lay their lives on the line to protect others, but expensive experience demonstrates their procurement and maintenance skills are on a par with a six-year old in a sweetshop.