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‘Seaforth World Naval Review 2016’ – Edited by Conrad Waters, Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, ISBN 97

My latest leave got off to a good start with the arrival of Seaforth’s World Naval Review 2016. This continues to provide essential insights and general purpose ‘joining up of dots’ which is often hard to achieve from Open Sources such as Naval or industry PR exercises. Sober, deeply researched, well-illustrated and blessedly devoid of the tub-thumping of other naval publications (Warships IFR, one pace forward), SWNR is now established as an authoritative annual event.

As per the standard SWNR format, there are global overviews of regional navies and several in-depth articles on warships, programs and technologies of particular interest. This reviewer finds that these are generally the most informative parts of the book.

Articles of note in this year’s edition cover the US Navy’s ‘SAN ANTONIO’ Class Landing Platform Dock (LPD), The Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN) ‘HOLLAND’ class Offshore Patrol Vessel and the Royal Navy’s new PCS clothing system.

The SAN ANTONIOs have had a troubled genesis. As complex warships, they have been through a lot of delays owing to poor quality control, shipyard skill fade, Hurricane Katrina (the Avondale yard is in New Orleans), financial sequestration and the ‘fiscal cliff,’ and like a lot of programs have endured their fair share of criticism, coming perilously close to cancellation. UK readers will be reminded of the dramas faced by the ASTUTE or the Nimrod MRA.4. Where the LPD-17 (and MV-22 Osprey, C-17 Globemaster etc, etc) differ, is that when Americans are faced with these problems, they rarely let them bring the program to a halt, and will basically go into ‘Apollo 13’ gear until the issues are resolved. There was sufficient support for the program, and recognition that the design would prove to be a potential war-winner, and so problems were tackled head-on by such means as drydocking the SAN ANTONIO overseas and mobilising a 40-person ‘strike team’ to replace defective pipe spools until the ship could go back on operations. The result is a sound design that will be the baseline ‘chassis’ for several variants of similar platform in the future. The UK often lets these issues drive a program to its knees, and so this article is a good example of both the risks and rewards of bringing a complex and advanced platform into service.

The RNLN took the decision to sell off 4 of its KAREL DOORMAN class frigates in order to fund an equal number of large and globally-deployable Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) which are now in service as the HOLLAND, FRIESLAND, ZEELAND and GRONINGEN. These are long-ranged and particularly large platforms for OPVs (5000 Nautical Miles, 50 Core Crew with sufficient internal volume and accommodation to take on an additional 40 Mission Crew, displacing 3750 tonnes, not far off a Duke-class frigate). The RNLN has standing commitments to Dutch territories in the Caribbean such as Aruba, Curacao and St Maarten, which are astride a major artery for cocaine smuggling, and has played a major role in counter piracy operations off the Horn Of Africa. The HOLLANDs have been developed with these operations clearly foremost in mind.

They have been developed by both the RNLN and the Damen shipyard, which continues to tighten its grip on the small to medium size OPV market. Although lightly armed, with the biggest punch being its 76mm OTO Melara gun, the HOLLAND has a notably extensive sensor and communications fit, and I suspect that a lot of the Mission Crew will be COMINT or ELINT specialists for many taskings. All sensors and comms lie within a Thales IM-400 integrated mast, which is a separate plug-in item of equipment. In fact, HOLLANDs have been deployed straight on operations minus their IM-400, suggesting that a large and capable OPV can be yours cheaply whether or not you are permitted to invest in more complex sensors and comms equipment. Damen rarely pass up on an opportunity to sell easily-maintained and cost-effective ships. Of course, the relatively light armament of these platforms means that in a high-end engagement, the end could be nigh fairly swiftly. This is the current debate in Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) circles – do you go high-end, and have your billion-pound destroyer or frigate chasing after people traffickers, or do you go low to mid range, and risk your Naval strength if you end up in the middle of a future Jutland? The RNLN have hedged their bets, and gone for a mix of high and low end warfighting platforms, although the HOLLANDs represent the top end of the OPV range.

Finally, a fairly unusual article on the Royal Navy’s Personal Clothing System (PCS). This reviewer liked PCS when it came out, purely because of all the monocles which fell out and ‘Nelson must be rolling in his grave’ outrage when RN personnel were seen wearing baseball caps and Velcro-tabbed uniforms. There have been moves to replace the previous Nos 4s (or Nos 8s, if you are of my vintage) as seen in the legendary 1978 BBC documentary ‘Sailor,’ and after a couple of hangfires (including the hilarious self-shrinking Action Working Dress which saw personnel deploying to the Caribbean and East of Suez being issued with, effectively, blue Norwegian Army Shirts), the RN has looked closely at the rapid developments in issue clothing for ground forces and decided to make use of it. This article does show the way forward for future SWNR articles, as most naval journalism tends to focus on kit and kit programs. There is a wealth of good reporting to be done on human factors and naval tactics, training and procedures. For example, most ships’ bridges are becoming entirely paperless, relying on high-integrity Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems including radar – yet the US Naval Academy at Annapolis has just reintroduced Celestial Navigation as a core syllabus skill. How do you make best use of technology to give your warfighters situational awareness, without ending up with just a crew of button-pushers? We are now seeing more and more refugees afloat, so how do Navies and Coast Guards train and equip for a MASCAL (MASsive CASualty Scenario)? Articles like this are well worth the read, particularly as Navies tend to be less forthcoming in debates like this than ground forces, and to their detriment.

So, 5/5 anchors. The Seaforth World Naval Review is now an institution, and for this reviewer, provides essential depth and context to the information to be gained from other naval sources. A high-quality, deeply-researched and handsomely-illustrated book, as always from Seaforth.