Feeds

Retro piracy - Should the Royal Navy kick arse?

Tackling the freebooters of the 'Gate of Tears'

High performance access to file storage

And, much though I'd love to believe as one who spent many happy years in minehunters that they could "be handy" against pirates as Ms Purves suggests, it isn't true. Minehunters are even slower than frigates, they don't carry even the single helicopter which is all a frigate can boast, and their boarding teams are smaller still. (Though I would definitely argue that small-ship sailors have lost less of the Royal Navy's former adaptability and aggressiveness than their big-ship counterparts.)

Helicopters, though, go at least four times as fast as a frigate or a speedboat, eight times as fast as a minehunter or a dhow. They can be on scene fast, over a large area. They are much better for searching large areas in order to find target vessels, as an unnoticed British anti-pirate success a couple of years back demonstrates. Whirlybirds can carry weapons which easily outclass pirates' AK47s and RPGs, and can deliver strong teams of well-armed Marines who really are trained and ready for close combat.

If the pirates raise their game and start carrying shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, that's no problem: there is a British naval helicopter missile specifically designed for blasting small fast boats from beyond portable-weapons range. And you could buy at least three or four fleet auxiliaries full of helicopters and troops for the cost of just one, single, largely useless destroyer. Extra marines and choppers would also be tremendously useful in just about every war we are realistically likely to fight in future; as opposed to subhunters and antimissile ships, whose performance has often been embarrassing even against the very rare enemies they are actually designed to fight.

Yes, the pirates seized might well have to be tried and punished in the West - handing them over to local justice would see them either set free or summarily put to death, though the Foreign Office is trying to find some way of putting them ashore locally after capture.

So let's assume, worst case, that pirates captured on the high seas would need to be brought to the UK for trial. There may be some legal difficulties with deporting them after their time in UK jails, but in the case of convicted pirates it ought to be achievable. Anyway, compared to the costs of capturing them in the first place the expense wouldn't be significant even if they wound up on benefits for life.

So sure, the UK could easily tackle piracy if we really felt like it. As we've seen, though, it seems odd that we suddenly care about Filipino or Ukrainian or even Danish sailors being seized and held to ransom, when we haven't cared for decades about them being shipwrecked (and often enough drowned) by the hundred every year.

Certainly the Royal Navy would strongly resist any serious pirate-fighting plan. It has no real interest in having more marines, helicopters or fleet auxiliaries. None of these offer chances for a Royal Navy officer to become an admiral, or even a captain. The navy is only going on about pirates in an attempt to justify some more of what it considers to be proper career-enhancing warships - frigates and destroyers - or at any rate to preserve the ones it already has.

Any move to cancel destroyers and spend the money on actually fighting pirates effectively would be bitterly resisted.

Maybe one day the Royal Navy will finally understand what Admiral Fisher foretold before World War One - what was conclusively proved again and again in World war Two, and proved again in the Falklands - that surface combatant warships themselves are no longer a good or cost-effective way of controlling the seas. Maybe one day the navy will realise that surface ships are almost always most effective when used as bases for aircraft.

Until then "naval power" will have very little relevance to any sort of real-world modern maritime problem. Until then the UK's ability to actually do anything about piracy will be fairly limited - assuming that it wants to, which as we have seen is a relatively curious thing to want. ®

Bootnote

*All Royal Marines - except the marching bands, mostly employed on ceremonial duties - are nowadays Commando qualified and wear the green beret. In the UK forces this signifies elite-light-infantry status, similar to that of the Airborne forces: it doesn't imply membership of secretive special-ops units as the shorthand term "commando" often does in America.

Lewis Page served for eleven years as a Royal Navy officer, variously as navigator, mine clearance diver, bomb-disposal operator ashore and first lieutenant (among other things) at sea. After a lengthy period of vicious bullying, the Royal Marines awarded him the green beret of the commando forces. He has transited the Gate of Tears, but nobody would let him chase any pirates.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
Singapore decides 'three strikes' laws are too intrusive
When even a prurient island nation thinks an idea is dodgy it has problems
Banks slap Olympus with £160 MEEELLION lawsuit
Scandal hit camera maker just can't shake off its past
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.