October 4, 2006:
Has the United Kingdom become a second-rate military power? That is a question many are pondering, but one that is off the mark. Despite some recent cutbacks on new systems, like the Type 45 destroyer and the failure of the L86 as a light support weapon, the United Kingdom is still one of the strongest military powers in the world.
The United Kingdom, with its three Invincible-class carriers (one of which is in reserve), maintains the largest carrier force outside the United States Navy's eleven carriers. The United Kingdom is planning to replace the Invincible-class carriers with the two ships of the Queen Elizabeth class, which will displace about 65,000 tons (compared to 100,000 tons for the largest U.S. carriers). It also has nine nuclear-powered attack submarines, and the two older Swiftsure-class boats have been upgraded. The real edge it has over a potential opponent is training. The Royal Navy's "Perisher" course for its submarine captains is the toughest in the world. Similar training is available throughout the Royal Navy. This means that the Royal Navy is arguably the best navy in the world on a sailor-for-sailor basis.
The Royal Air Force is also one of the best in the world. For instance, the Tornado GR.4 is capable of attacking targets on land or on sea, using some of the latest standoff weapons in the world (including the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile, the Brimstone anti-tank missile, and the Storm Shadow cruise missile). The Tornado F.3 is a capable long-range interceptor that uses the AMRAAM. The RAF is also acquiring an upgraded version of the Harrier (the GR.9), which will be carrying Brimstone and Maverick missiles, along with Paveway laser-guided bombs. The RAF is also acquiring the Eurofighter Typhoon F.2, which is a superb multi-role aircraft, and arguably the third-best fighter in the world (behind the F-22 and F-35). British pilots have been very well regarded, and have maintained their high standards.
The British Army also has superb equipment, including the Challenger 2 main battle tank, the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle, the Striker anti-tank missile vehicle, and the Scimitar and Sabre light tanks. The only area where the British Army seems to be suffering problems is in its small arms. The L85 rifle has been plagues with reliability issues, and the L86 failed as a light machine gun, before finding a niche as a designated marksman rifle. The British Army is also modernizing its attack helicopters with the Apache Longbow. British special operations forces, including the SAS and the Parachute Regiment, are still among the best in the world. The SAS has carried out operations in the war on terror – and in 2000, these forces also carried out a successful hostage rescue mission in Sierra Leone.
Predictions of a British decline are premature at best. The armed forces of the United Kingdom still remain one of the toughest in the world. This military, particularly the Royal Navy, may be declining in terms of quantity, but on a ship-for-ship, tank-for-tank, plane-for-plane, and soldier-for-soldier basis, it is still among the first tier of military forces. – Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)