The Navy top brass


          The Navy is a paragon of virtue compared to the army.  Now that there are just 31 warships  (destroyers and frigates and submarines), there is a mere one Rear Admiral per ship. Most of the ships are commanded at sea by Commanders or lower ranked officers. Very few Captains go to sea in command of a ship. We do still have 300 captains, however, to sail desks  and fire up  bureaucracies.  That’s almost ten captains per warship.  There are just two full Admirals  and  7 Vice Admirals.

         The Senior service is better equipped with Commodores, in case squadrons need to put to sea. There are  80 of those, or almost three per warship. It still gives  a lesson to the army in making do with fewer top ranks.


  1. alan jutson
    November 23, 2011


    And with all this experience, we still order carriers with no planes, and scrap the carriers we have, before the new ones are built !

    1. Nick Messinger
      November 23, 2011

      We had the planes: Harriers, 74 of them. Now we’ve sold them to the US Marines, who love them. How much did we get for them? Just about enough to buy one of the F-35s destined for our fine new fleet carriers. With a ten year gap in Fleet Air Arm fixed wing operations… are we going to train the pilot to fly our F-35.? We’ll pay the Americans to teach him of course!

  2. oldtimer
    November 23, 2011

    It was reported, the other day, that not one of those 31 warships was available to defend these islands. That sounds extraordinarily lax.

    On the question of senior officer numbers, no doubt the precautionary principle holds that is wise to carry some spares to cover for early losses in the event of war, and to provide replacements for those that fail under the pressure of combat. A senior soldier once commented to me that officers who do well in peacetime are not, as a rule, the officers who do well in war. Usually, he said, a different breed rises to the top.

  3. Andy Hopkins
    November 23, 2011

    Hi John

    It would be very interesting to see the organisational split at the top of the civil service as well.

    The irony is that the Government looks as if it could reduce most departmental budgets by a significant amount, by reducing the middle and high tiers of management, whilst leaving the frontline as it is.

    Why is there no political will to get this done? Have all the Ministers gone native already?

    1. forthurst
      November 23, 2011

      Private Industry has tended to flatten in recent years; this is reasonably attributable to IT. Having layers of chiefs reporting to each other is simply unnecessary when computer systems by design can collect and collate information effectively and rapidly.

      How many chiefs are using computer systems to report up one layer when information from the field could bypass them entirely without loss of control?

  4. James Power
    November 23, 2011

    I fully agree with your points regarding the Services being top heavy, but they do need to keep one eye on retaining skills and experience for the future. Plus, if there was no prospect of promotion, far fewer youngsters would aspire to join up.

    To me the point is, however, we need more ships. The once “ruler of the waves” and greatest island nation in the world, needs a navy to protect her shores. I would actually argue that Britain should have a far stronger navy than army, and stop intervening in conflicts across the globe. Self defence should be the order of the day, and having a strong fleet of carriers (with appropriate attack and defensive aircraft), frigates and destroyers is the best way to defend British interests and sovereign territory.
    The Srategic Defence Review was anything but strategic and was, I think, the very worst thing the Coalition has done out since coming to power.

    1. A different Simon
      November 23, 2011

      It rather makes a mock of “Rule Britania” doesn’t it .

      The U.S. have over three hundred such vessels .

      Then again , what is the point of “self defence” if you don’t have “self governance” ?

      John , does anyone in Westminster continue to support the current SCORCHED EARTH policy of dismantling our own defence capabilities so that we are forced to rely on the common European defence force ?

      1. A different Simon
        November 23, 2011

        Selling all those British Embassys off and outsourcing our foreign policy to Baroness Ashton is looking a bit short sighted now .

        Perhaps we could open a British Embassy in Britain now that we are strangers in our own country .

        What’s the next scorched earth policy to force us further into the EU ?

    2. uanime5
      November 23, 2011

      What exactly do we need to defend ourselves from?

      1. BobE
        November 23, 2011

        The EU

      2. zorro
        November 23, 2011

        I wonder how many times over the centuries the uanime5 of the day said that……According to your theory, we shouldn’t have any defence forces as no-one would threaten us. Uanime5, if you didn’t exist you would have to have been invented….


        1. zorro
          November 23, 2011

          ‘Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum’ – (Vegetius)

  5. Iain Gill
    November 23, 2011

    The other thing that needs looking at in the overall defence spend is the whole way “security” is looked at, let’s take two examples
    1 SC or DV clearance for staff who work on defence related matters. It takes far too long to get, you need an employer sponsor to be able to get it, and it’s far too easy to lose by timing out or the employer not doing the admin correctly. Far too many jobs are advertised as “must hold SC clearance” which acts as a restraint in the market stopping people who have not recently been working in a defence business from getting that job. It leads to inbreeding where the only people getting to work in defence projects come from another defence project. In doing so it stops cross fertilisation with other vertical markets and the improvements that would come from more people from outside of the same old defence world bringing an outside view would bring. If you have been SC cleared in the past several times and you have been working in other industries most recently, and you know there is no other risk, it is very frustrating to be prevented from getting a job which needs SC because the employer needs someone who has SC already so that they can be used from day one – it wasn’t supposed to work like this but it does! The numbers of jobs that are advertised “must hold SC clearance” or “must be DV cleared” is crazy. . Clearance shouldn’t take 6 months plus to get but it does! The defence vetting agency needs a kick up the bum big timeAll of this adds costs to projects by restricting the staff availability and reduces innovation on defence projects for the same reason. And it acts against workforce mobility and short term freelance engagements. Anyone considering applying for work in the defence sector should be able to initiate SC clearance themselves, should be able to “own” it themselves, and the reliance on employers to do the admin correctly should be taken away.
    2 The whole “security accreditation” overhead on MOD projects. Sorry but the average security consultant with all the certifications generally has little real knowledge of the underlying domain. I have lost count of the number of security consultants working on software projects who are ex-military helicopter pilots by training. Guess what it does not work. If you want someone to audit security on a software project it’s better to have someone who started their career writing software. The whole process is too bureaucratic and too reliant on personal decision by inconsistent accreditors, for example some accreditors routinely rubbers stamp xyz but other accreditors will refuse to sanction xyz, all this multiplied a lot is a nightmare. And the whole security accreditation process has a very poor track record of actually delivering what it’s supposed to. So on the whole lots of extra overhead which non-defence projects don’t have and which very poor value for money is delivered.
    And so on

  6. Iain Gill
    November 23, 2011

    Re “just 31 warships” why cheese off all the hard working mine sweeper crews? they are warships in my book

  7. Tim Worstall
    November 23, 2011

    This may or may not still be true: it was true a couple of decades back.

    Commodore is an appointment, not a substantive rank. It’s to enable a Captain, who might be more junior than some of the other captains he is currently bossing about, to be obviously in charge. It is possible (as I say, this used to be true, not sure now) to be a Captain, get appointed as Commodore for a particular posting (say, Commodore of Naples) then two years later be a Captain again.

    The pay rise over those two years seemed to have been precisely calculated so as to cover the cost of changing the uniforms…….

  8. ian wragg
    November 23, 2011

    I spent 9 years in the Navy in the engineering department and todays fleet numbers are a disgrace. At least a third will be under maintenance at any given time and if a conflict should arise then we have nothing spare.
    Argentina can walk into the Falklands and there is nothing we can do about it.
    Cameroon is a national disaster and the sooner we see the back of him the better.
    Scrapping carriers and planes we have paid for is idiotic.

  9. George Stewart
    November 23, 2011

    John, when you attempt to compare the Army with the Navy you are comparing an apple to a radish, both red yet different qualities.

    The Navy is not designed for a rapid mobilization surge in the event of war by the simple limitation that you need ships which must be manufactured.

    On the other hand, infantry units can be ramped up pretty quickly as long as there remains some type of a manufacturing base in place and there is an existing experienced cadre in place on active military duty or in the reserve forces.

    John, I think you are again putting the proverbial horse before the cart.

    You are stating we have too many Colonels, Majors, Captains and Admirals but I have to ask you “too many to do what?”

    As a very knowledgeable MP, someone who I agree with politically in lock step, what do you want UK forces to be able to do, with some specificity?

    If you tell my former colleagues what you want them to be able to do, they will reply back with the perfect force structure to meet that goal.

    You have to first state; “I want the Navy to be able to do_______, ________ and _______.” Until you do that, talking about Admirals is meaningless. The same with the Army.

    I know that you think the Army has too many Majors. To that I say there may be too many or maybe too few, what do you want to do with them then I will answer the question.

    To be bluntly honest, a disconnect has been developing between the military and political class as the political class has been cutting budgets one year and next year asking them to do more mission wise.

    Here is an example of what should be taking place from the US Congressional Budget Office;

    To be honest, I have great sympathy with my Navy brethren with 31 warships as I fear what the political masters will ask them to do with such a tiny force.

    I support a larger Navy hence I also know that if you cut that cadre force down too thin, you will never be able to rebuild the Navy back up! If we had only 30 Captains, i am sure we would hear some argue that the Navy can not get any new ships because we do not have enough Captains.

    Here is the riddle, Is the problem too many Navy Officers or too few ships?

    Reply: I agree we have too few ships, and do need fully functioning aircraft carriers to have a credible taskforce. I want our armed forces to be able to defend our islands from any possible threat. That is the irreducible requirement. At a time of budget squeeze I do not favour interventions along the lines of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. We need some armed service personnel, ships and units to maintain a presence in our overseas territories and to help represent us abroad as appropriate. I have not said we have too many senior naval officers. I of course recognise the need to have more Majors, Lieutenant Colonels and general officers than there are units or battalions or regiments, against the possibility that we may need to expand forces rapidly. We still have more than enough for this, and we also need to take into account the expertise available in the territorials.

  10. Disaffected
    November 23, 2011

    John, this is not good news it is shocking and should be deplored. As an island nation relying on imports we need better defences than this from the navy. How on earth the country can protect its interests abroad is another worry. With thousands of non jobs at the MoD and thousands of more back room staff I am at a loss to know why we have more in back room jobs than front line services. If the Coalition’s strategy is to reply on the French then they should be ashamed for failing in their duty to protect the country.

    Cameron has given £9 billion of tax-payers’ money to the IMF to give to bankrupt Greece who is buying submarines from Germany and planes from France. Greece has a 100,000 standing army for a country with a population of 11 million. Two days ago Cameron tells us the deficit is going to be harder to achieve- really! He is about to give billions more of tax-payers’ money to bankrupt Greece through the IMF, he continues to give £11 billion of tax-payers’ money in overseas aide, £44 million a day to the EU rising to £60 million a day. The Eu having a 2.2% increase in spending. Hideous welfare payments continue to cost the UK a fortune where welfare lifers rightly realise they could not secure a job that would pay them as much so they are better off to stay at home. And this post states that we have a pathetically low compliment of navy personnel and equipment.

    Cameron must go ASAP he appears unable to count or understand basic economics that you should spend less than you earn, Maggie understood this.

  11. Mike Stallard
    November 23, 2011

    I have just been on Wikipedia to look this up.
    The historic names which we all revere have been replaced now with NATO ranks. As ever, it still all looks the same though.
    Officers of all three services are simply given rank by numbers now. So to equate a “Captain” with Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean is not right! the position of Admiral has altered over the years too. There are no longer three squadrons, for example.

    Even so, you are right: the number of high numbered officers is far too big.

    In the dear old CofE since the time of Trollope, of course, although there are now very few Parish Priests, male or female, the number of bishops has increased even faster than the military

  12. Michael
    November 23, 2011

    The remains of the Royal Navy are about to be gutted even more. The despicable give-away of the Harriers (just out of a multi-million pound revamp) had more to do with a fit of pique from cameron. The US picks up a host of aircraft they confidently expect to have in service for another 15 years! We send warships “Equiped for, but not With!” (i.e. with major components missing) or even worse actually unarmed in the case of HMS Westminster! At a time when any competent Government should be retaining its core services and cutting that which is not the purview of the Government, we watch agog as cameron pours billions of pounds into a corrupt EU and increasingly dire Euro. No funds for shipbuilding jobs to replace increasingly elderly vessels but billions to buy African Dictators new Mercedes! The Royal Navy is one of the most efficient Navies on earth, repeatedly called upon to perform without any real political leadership or understanding of the nature of seapower. The increasing and willful sea blindness exhibited by a party I once supported but now hold in open contempt will surely lead to disaster.

  13. Starfish
    November 24, 2011

    Equating the numbers of senior officers with warships is absurd

    Why not link the numbers of lines in the tax code with tax inspectors?

    There will aslways be more senior officers than major warships (note that the RN operates more than ’31 warships’)

    For every officer there are 2 others – one to relieve him and the one he just relieved, obviously there is a certain amount of churn and there has to be a margin to accommodate this

    Some are in rotational posts with the other services

    Some are in joint posts

    Some are doing jobs that require military experience (defence attache or procurement team leader for example)

    Some are doing jobs that are simply consequential to the politician’s insatiable desire for self-important meddling and legislation. Simple compliance with the miles of regulation affecting the Services ocupies hundreds of people

    Some are battling with transformation projects trying to reduce manpower, boost productivity, reduce spending and find new ways of delivering the government’s ever chnaging priorities – oor would you prefer that people do it in their spare time outside their day job?

    Some are just about to retire

    The list goes on

    You do yourself no favours taking a Daily Mail approach to this issue

    PS. The rank of Commodore is a substantive rank in the RN and has been for many years

    Reply: I said I thought the RN was frugal compared to the army, and praised them for it!

  14. Sean O'Hare
    November 24, 2011

    I knew the RN was being decimated, but before you quoted that 31 warship figure I had now idea how badly. That, for a seafaring nation, is an absolute disgrace. I will never forgive Cameron or the rest of this government for this. The only responsibility of government in my view is defence of the realm and they have failed miserably.

Comments are closed.