Royal Navy to change its course?

The dispute over the Falkland Islands has led to calls in London for the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to change course on the future of the Royal Navy.

As part of its overall budget cuts, the government has been closing dockyards , firing civilian personnel, and planning for fewer and smaller surface ships.

Ironically, two of the ships due to be let go are involved in the Falklands confrontation: the aircraft carrier Invincible, leading the task force from Portsmouth but due to be sold to Australia soon, and the icebreaker Endurance, which was sent to South Georgia several weeks ago. It was due to be mothballed soon.

Critics say the Navy cuts were planned on the assumption that the Navy would have no need for major operations outside the North Atlantic in the future.

If Britain fails to regain the Falkland Islands, that assumption might still turn out to be true. But if it regains the islands, Mrs. Thatcher will be under pressure to review her cuts.

Defense Secretary John Nott on television April 4 indicated no change so far in naval strategy. He said the Navy was acquiring two new carriers, the Illustrious and the Ark Royal, and that the main threat to the British nation remained Soviet submarines.

His overall aim was to create a Navy able to meet the Soviet submarine threat in the 1990s.

Events around the Falkland Islands in the next few weeks will determine the amount of pressure of opposition parties and the armed forces on the need for fewer cuts and a larger surface fleet.

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