In 1945, at the end of the Second World War, the Royal Navy had around 900 warships and 1 million people in active service. Now this number has dropped to 72 vessels, and just over 33,000 service personnel. Navy staff numbers are expected to further decrease by 2020.
A reduction in Navy employees can be attributed to the UK’s current state of relative peace. With scattered engagements throughout the world, there is less need for a persistently large and expensive naval fleet. Technology has changed how battles are fought, with the government opting to use a more long-range, and instantly forgettable push of a button, instead of a lengthy exchange of missiles and bullets.
But the fundamental nature of the Royal Navy has also changed, moving from an expansive and aggressive force to a peacekeeping organisation, used for reconnaissance and rapid response rather than direct incursions. For instance, the Navy operates a Response Force Task Group which responds to natural disaster relief efforts and evacuation operations.
Since World War II, technology has permanently altered combat at sea, on land, and in the air. This has brought positive elements, such as fewer human operatives engaged in active duty in the field, but has also led to a widespread downscaling of Navy personnel. With one pilot able to operate many different machines, there is less need for a high volume of staff on a vessel or stationed at a naval base.
Some Navy personnel have had to become more flexible and able to handle many different roles and responsibilities.
Submarines have changed a lot since World War II, both in terms of design and the role they play in naval strategy. Whilst originally used for stealth and recon, submarines were vital for tracking enemy movement, as well as the strategic removal of key enemy ships.
Since the 1950’s, submarines have been used as continuously roaming nuclear deterrents. There are four UK nuclear submarines in operation today, under the famous Trident programme, each of which carry 16 missiles.
There are just seven countries with active nuclear submarines: the USA, Russia, the UK, France, China, India and North Korea.
The first plane to land on a moving ship touched down on the HMS Furious in 1917. Traditional aircraft carriers as we know them have been used in naval combat since the 1920’s. A landmark development in warfare, the aircraft carrier allows for the fusion of naval and air forces to work together to complete objectives. Operating as a mobile base, refuelling station, and warship, aircraft carriers are vital to any naval fleet.
Aircraft carriers are widely used by the Navy, being able to form blockades as well as acting as long-range launch points for ballistic bombardments.
Stealth technology uses design, materials and advanced technology to ensure that a warship avoids detection by electronic systems. This means becoming ‘invisible’ to sonar, radar and infrared. Stealth technology has been used by aircraft since the 1980’s, but it is harder to apply to ships due to their surroundings. However, the guiding principles remain the same.
Stealth technology has led to rapid advancements for the Royal Navy since World War II. Radar absorbing material, honeycomb or ‘tumblehome’ designs and modifications in aerodynamic construction help to disguise a ship to an enemy’s radar systems. When it comes to sonar, stealth technology consists primarily of reducing a vessel’s acoustic signature. Hiding from infrared requires the ship’s heat to be masked, hiding it from hostile scanning systems.
The last way the Navy has changed since World War II is its use of unmanned Marine vehicles. No industry is immune to the future, and the future will see more and more use of unmanned technology. Even the Navy will likely see an unmanned fleet. Unmanned minesweepers will make the seas safer for Royal Navy ships without risking human lives.
The Defence Innovation Initiative is a new fund of £800 million designed to encourage innovation and change how we use technology for defence.
Learn more about the future of Defence, or why certain military weapons are vulnerable to cyber attacks.
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