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Ed. Captain Richard Sharpe, OBE, RN
Jane’s Information Group, Ltd.
Coulsdon, Surry, UK 1996
ISBN 0-7106-1355-5

Reviewed by CAPT George Graveson, USN(Ret.)
and CAPT James C. Hay, USN(Ret.)

In his introduction to the 1996-97 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships, Captain Richard Sharpe, RN provides a comprehensive view of the world’s navies. He addresses each nation’s naval power (or in some cases aspiration for a naval presence) not only by numbers and types of ships, but also from the political and economic points of view. He comments upon the needs and aspirations of nations and the collective efforts perceived by two or more nations to provide for their common naval presence. Captain Sharpe describes the world’s maritime situation today, in contrast to that of Cold War days. He makes this clear in his discussion of each country’s vulnerabilities and their dependence upon some amount of naval power to defend against real or perceived potential threats.

The economic realities in societies today, with many struggling to gain or maintain social improvements, put pressure upon defense needs and force greater interdependence among nations to support their navies. These dependencies result in new alliances between the countries who have the capacity to build ships and those who do not, at present, have that capability.

Captain Sharpe leads into his commentary on the world’s fighting ships by pointing out that the world is facing an increasingly tenuous future, with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the means to deliver them across continents, in the hands of aggressive regimes beaded by unstable leaders. This puts pressure on those nations who have the ability to maintain the balance, and are willing to take the steps necessary to contain any rogue action. He points out that, contrary to the views of vociferous environmentalists and their willing supporters in the press, .. nuclear power has been the defining factor in the conduct of military affairs since the first bomb brought a premature end to the war in the Pacific in 1945 and so saved thousands of lives”. Today, with the Cold War behind us, .. ,he massive arsenals of nuclear weapons it generated are slowly being negotiated down to more sensible levels… the overall percentage of strategic weapons carried by submarines ts steady rising, and the navies which deploy them are more than ever determined to increase their effectiveness.” Captain Sharpe goes on to describe the programs of the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China, for sea-home weapons and their submarine delivery systems. He states: “Every one of these five countries has therefore recently reaffirmed its commitment to submarine launched ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, even though the cold war ended seven years ago. For whatever reason, and whether you agree with it or not, it ts a unanimous vote of confidence in the continuing strategic significance and invulnerability of these weapons and of the nuclear-powered submarines as the preferred platform.” He argues that this sea-launched deterrent system is “the greatest force for peace in the last half century.”

Captain Sharpe stresses the importance of nuclear-powered submarines and speaks of nuclear power u revolutionizing naval . warfare. He decries those who initiate scare stories about the dangers of nuclear power plants and sees it a great pity that responsible nuclear design authorities don’t do more to “publicly ridicule some of the more hysterical claims of potential Armageddon.”
This commentary on navies and naval power emphasizes the importance of the United States Navy u a force for peace. He notes that the rest of the world looks to the United States to maintain its naval strength and to be there (as it was during the recent Mainland China-Taiwan situation) to intervene if necessary. The rest of the world is very much aware of the U.S. Five Year Defense Plan and bow it impacts the U.S. Navy and by extension world maritime commerce and world peace.

With respect to Russia, the emphasis continues to be on nuclear submarines. Surface ship production is almost at a halt. Although their fleet is smaller and continues to be reduced in number, they continue to build new, highly capable submarines. These newer submarines are at sea, and their surface navy centered around carrier home air power provides a formidable force.

Captain Sharpe paints a rather gloomy picture of the UK Navy, fraught with economic problems and a management culture which neither understands or supports the fighting effectiveness of the Navy.

The rest of the Europeans seem to be caught up in struggle between those who see the Western European Union (WEU) as the military arm of the European Union and those who continue toward their own independent military forces, including their own navies. But there is no lack of submarine building. Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, France, Italy, are all building nonnuclear submarines, albeit most for other countries in and outside of Europe. The old rivalries and disputes continue, giving another dimension to the international scene, and complicating the tenuous balance of power that effects world stability. In the Indian Ocean and The Gulf, in Pacific Asia and the China Seas and in the rest of the world, the attempts at cooperation between and among nations play against nationalistic objectives and expansionism and contribute to instability.

Captain Sharp’s astute assessment of the global political situation provides insight concerning the factors that impact upon the navies of the world. This introduction to the latest edition of Jane’s leaves no doubt in the minds of its readers that the world of today is far from stable and that the U.S. Navy’s maritime strength is crucial to the maintenance of peace in a very uncertain world society. As a distinguished submarine officer in the Royal Navy, his insights on worldwide naval affairs are knowledgeable, and his frustration with those who do not understand the basics of naval power is understandable. It is in the details of Jane’s fighting Ships country by country accounting, however, that the full impact of submarine importance to post Cold War security affairs become obvious.

The first point to notice is that its submarine force is the lead entry for each of the 46 nations (of the 166 listed) having such a capability. That pride of place says volumes about the important place of submarines in today’s navies. Recognition of the submarine have-to-have-not fraction is followed closely by also understanding something about the other 120 countries. The obvious first cut is on the basis of wealth. The almost as obvious next cut is on the basis of need, with those like Mexico, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia either having no critical maritime problem or a strong friendly ally who can take care of any which might arise. Among the nations currently without submarines, the most plausible argument for them can be made in the case of rogue states like Iraq and Burma.

The next noteworthy point, naturally, is that the five nuclear powers; USA, France, Britain, Russia and China, are also the five most powerful submarine operating nations-both in quantity and quality. Each has strategic ballistic missile firing submarines and each has nuclear powered attack submarines. It is appropriate to rank them as Submarine World Powers. The section on Russia proves the point of submarine emphasis which Captain Sharpe comments on in his forward to this edition. Their naval order of battle for major combatants (frigates and larger) is over one-half comprised of submarines.

One can debate the World Submarine Power point about China, of course, but when that country is looked at with the next tier of Submarine Regional Powers; India, Germany and Japan, some interesting developments can be noted from ~. The individual country sections tell us that China, India, Germany and Japan each has made a significant commitment to their undersea warfare capability. Their submarine forces are relatively large, comprising respectively; 54 percent, 31 percent, 57 percent and 22 percent of their sea-going combatant strength.

The real interest, however, is in the notes which IIDU carries about the ongoing submarine building program which each is conducting. China is developing both a new class of SSBN and a new class of SSN, the later with Russian design and technical assistance. India is also working on a nuclear project around which they plan to build a 6000 ton SSN, probably very much like the SEVERODVINSK. Germany, of course, is building four new Type 212 U-Boats with a diesel-fuel cell propulsion plant. Japan is constructing four Improved Harushio SSs, of 2700 tons. There is a possibility of follow-ons to them having an air independent capability.

The building programs in Australia and Sweden have been discussed in these pages at length, and Jane’s takes due note of them with several excellent pictures of the lead ship in each class. In addition to the orders of battle and ship descriptions for the World, Regional and Local Submarine Powers, there are also several items noted by for countries seeking to raise their naval status. Singapore, after some consideration, has joined the submarine club by purchasing a 1968-vintage, 1100 ton Swedish boat, and in April of 1996 sent 40 men to Sweden to begin their training. Brazil’s progress in building a 2800 ton SSN is noted in that section of the book, as is their current force expansion of two more 209s and two improved 209s to be an intermediate step to their SSN. In addition, Jane’s notes that Malaysia has been at the point of ordering several submarines since at least 1990 and has been having its people trained in Pakistan, India and Australia .

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