Seaforth World Naval Review 2019 ed. Conrad Waters

Seaforth World Naval Review 2019 ed. Conrad Waters

I found this tenth annual edition an extraordinarily useful book from the point of view of bringing me up to date with what is going on in the world’s navies, principally in the domain of construction and acquisition. There is a clear picture, out to generally a five-year horizon, of what each country is able to deploy and of their navies' future development. The task of researching and collating all the information to meet the annual June cutoff must be enormous and the result is very elegantly presented, with a wide selection of photographs and each section backed by a tabulation of key data. Waters, a decade of this behind him, is particularly good at sketching in the political, strategic, and procurement background of each country. The notes to each section give useful leads for those minded to follow up some particular topic.

He divides the world into four areas and each is surveyed in detail. There are individual chapters for specific navies by guest authors, for this year those of Canada, Peru and Singapore. For the main deep-water war-fighting navies the comparisons are educational. For some (like Mexico) the term ‘navy’ is represented by coastguard and constabulary investment and operations, not uninteresting in themselves but irrelevant to global challenges. It is instructive to see how, in all navies, the size of escorts has increased over time. There are odd gems like Peru's 1935 gunboat still in commission on the Amazon, and unexpected cross-pollination like Indonesia's Makassar-class LPD (designed in South Korea) also being favoured by the Philippines and Peru. This is just one example of how warship building capability has spread to a greater variety of countries. Generally it is clear that keeping up with the Joneses produces a vibrant international market in warships and their equipment; gapping and other weaknesses are well identified. Everything in the book is in metric units but Canada's coastline would be better understood as 109,114 nautical miles rather than 202,080 km.

The text is very strong on equipment and this year - perhaps the year of the carrier as we see in the piece about China - there is an extensive comparison between USS Gerald Ford (20pp) and HMS Queen Elizabeth (28pp, lots of pictures and a rather deeper look). Ford, lavishly manned compared to QE, is noticeably longer with greater hangarage, which difference may foreclose options later in QE's perhaps half century of life. The RN, which per Hobbs (infra) "has suffered most from political ineptitude", is however at last getting back to being able to project offensive effect with global reach and we see how the USN is struggling out of the damage done to it by Obama in the face of the new blue-water challenge from China.

There are technical treatises, also by guest authors, on naval aviation (by the excellent David Hobbs), naval communications, and autonomous systems. Hobbs explains very clearly how Joint operation of the F35 could degrade QE's capability if the aircraft become committed to land operations. A carrier's Air Group is its primary weapons system, not just a gaggle of visiting firemen.

A very valuable and meaty work and a most welcome addition to my bookshelf, or to that of anybody who strives to keep in touch with the complex investment and technical developments of the global naval scene.

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