The Small Navies Thread - Historical and Current

pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,008
In regard to the Republic of Singapore Navy, I neglected to mention its (brief) history. Singapore became a sovereign state in 1965, with the navy established in 1967. At first only two small vessels dating from the 1940s were available, however in 1975 and 1976 six fast missile-gunboats were commissioned to defend against contemporary terrorist threats and also to counter piracy in the Straits. Two were built in Germany by Luerssen Werft, and four in Singapore by the predecessor of ST Marine.

Until the 1990s these six were the primary assets of the RSN. They were decommissioned in 2008 after three decades' service.
 

pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,008
Of the two small navies surveyed so far, one is transitioning from a combat force to a more constabulary model (RNZN), and one is a combat oriented force in a critical and potentially dangerous geographical environment (RSN). Not all small navies are combat oriented, perhaps because of their assessment of maritime threats, or because their political environment is different from other states' circumstances.

One modern navy that recognizes a low threat assessment but that may be entering a period of political uncertainty is Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is not on the menu of predatory powers like Russia or China, but it is in an important geographical location that presents some potential challenges for its EU partners and its potential ex-EU partner, the United Kingdom. Let's deal with the geography below, but first the basics of the Irish Naval Service:

Subsequent to independence from Great Britain in 1921, Ireland had no navy. A "Coastal and Marine Service" existed off and on, and Ireland's maritime defense was provided under treaty by the Royal Navy. The RN retained naval stations at Berehaven and near Cork (Haulbowline) in the south, and at Lough Swilly in the north. These "Treaty Ports" were turned over to Ireland in stages during 1938.

A "Marine and Coastwatching Service" was established in 1939 and two motor torpedo boats - followed by four more - were ordered from a British ship yard. By 1941 this marine service had ten craft operating as a patrol force with a minimal combat capability. AFAIK, the Irish coast guard was not incorporated into this marine service.

In 1946, the Irish Naval Service was established and three Flower class corvettes were purchased from the Royal Navy. Officer cadets began training at the Royal Naval College in 1947. The materiel of the fleet was second hand until the commissioning of a new offshore patrol vessel in 1972. This was followed by four more 1978-1984. In 1988 the Naval Service purchased two corvettes from the Royal Navy when its Hong Kong squadron was disbanded. These ships had been built in 1984. Ireland now had a modern fleet of seven ships capable of patrol duties in its recently expanded (1976) Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

In the first decade of the new century up to 2009, Ireland made submissions to the UN for jurisdiction over its continental shelf under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The area of that maritime territory increased to 880,000 sq km including Ireland's existing EEZ. With the ageing of its fleet, the stress of operational tempo in the challenging sea states of the North Atlantic, and the increase in sovereign territory at sea, new ships were required. Ireland is a member of the European Union. From funding assistance by the EU for fisheries protection, six new offshore patrol vessels (OPV) have been added.

1) OoB:

1 - offshore patrol vessel, 1,960 tons, comm. 1984.

2 - coastal patrol corvettes, 712 tons, comm. 1988 (built 1984).

2 - offshore patrol vessels, 1,500 tons, comm. 1999 and 2001.

4 - offshore patrol vessels, 2,256 tons, comm 2014 to 2019.

The three oldest ships are to be replaced before 2025 (Defence White paper of 2015). The oldest is to be replaced by one 5 to 6,000 ton multi role vessel (MRV), and the two small corvettes by two coastal patrol vessels of from 1,000 to 1,200 tons. The MRV will be capable of EEZ patrol and also humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations (HADR) in conjunction with UN and EU missions. The coastal patrol vessels will also be equipped for mine countermeasures as well as diving operations.

For oceanographic survey, the Marine Institute of Ireland has a multi purpose research and survey vessel (2003). The naval service is closely associated with this institute.

This OoB demonstrates a navy (or naval service) oriented toward a constabulary role, and for sovereignty presence at sea for its maritime territory. The INS has no offensive or expeditionary assets. It operates no missile weapons systems or torpedoes, and has no air assets of its own, maritime aircraft patrol being done by the 'Air Corps.' The ships are all armed with 76 mm rapid fire naval guns and 20 mm cannon. All crew are trained and involved in boarding parties when necessary.

2) Adversaries:

The threat assessment by the Irish government is low. Primary challenges are drug and contraband smuggling, human trafficking and illegal environmental activities. That said, the geography of Ireland presents challenges in the rugged western coastline of the North Atlantic where patrol is more difficult, and the heavy traffic of the Irish Sea where smuggling is common.

All that said, the potential for commercial and territorial conflict may exist over important economic issues such as fisheries and sovereignty over resources. If the UK leaves the EU, there is the possibility of decreased cooperation in maritime affairs that might raise or revive conflicts of interest. The potentially uncertain status of Northern Ireland could present a security concern once again.

3) Geography:

Ireland is an island nation, historically dependent on trade, and increasingly dependent on a maturing service economy including financial business, banking and insurance. The island's geographical position is at the edge of northern Europe, in the midst of important air and sea lanes of commerce and transit. Most of the transatlantic fiber optic cables, upon which modern commercial and financial activity depend in northern Europe, run through Irish territorial waters. Fisheries are an important economic asset for Ireland's economy. The expanse of the country's continental shelf puts a strain upon its naval service.

4) Industrial and logistical support:

There is no defense industry to speak of in Ireland. The last ship-building yard closed in 1984 after completing the last of Ireland's first five modern patrol vessels. In addition to the two ships purchased from the RN in 1988, the newer six have been built in British yards. In Ireland even dry dock facilities are scarce.

The only naval base is at Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbor (a magnificent deep water harbor), formerly a Royal Navy base until 1938. The naval service training command is styled the 'naval college' and conducts all training, also including at the National Maritime College and the Institute of Technology, both close to Haulbowline.

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In conclusion, Ireland's need is for a constabulary maritime force. It can be argued that the fleet is inadequate for the responsibilities the state imposes upon the naval service, and Ireland has a challenging political makeup. Ireland has made it national policy to be neutral. This has lasted from the inception of its independent existence, and appears to be an immutable fact politically. Although Ireland is a member of both the UN and the EU, it will not (openly) engage in military activities with a military alliance. Peace keeping and HADR are foreign policy fundamental limits militarily.

However, Ireland sits exposed on the western extent of Europe. There is a practice of having the Royal Air Force patrol Irish air space, and Russian bomber aircraft have been escorted out of that air space on occasion. Under the sea, its less transparent. The Irish Naval Service operates no submarines. The Royal Navy does - and so does France. For the moment both France and the UK are Ireland's political partners. With Brexit a possibility, although some changes are probable, Ireland and the UK have a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MoU) in regard to critical military/defense issues. This was established in 2015. Ireland is more than unlikely to join NATO.

The chairman of the Irish Defence Forces Staff - for the first time - has been a navy man since 2015. His comments that the Irish have shown 'sea blindness' since independence may fall on deaf ears politically. Ireland has the population of Norway, of Denmark, of New Zealand, all maritime nations. Ireland's GDP is comparable - or higher - than those advanced countries. In domestic politics the lure of neutrality results in Ireland not spending on defense, and even returning budgeted funds to the treasury while the naval service has difficulty recruiting and retaining trained, valuable personnel. The leadership of the country's elite appears to understand Ireland's situation and her interests, but the electorate is apathetic at best.
 
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pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,008
A small navy that is somewhat under the radar is the South African Navy.

Until 1946, as with other Commonwealth naval forces, there was virtually no difference between the Royal Navy and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (South Africa) RNVR (SA). Thereafter the naval forces were reconstituted as part of the South Africa Union Defence Force. It was renamed South African Navy in 1951. The navy operated surplus RN warships until around 1960.

In 1957 the former Royal Navy dockyard at Simon's Town near Capetown was turned over to South Africa in exchange for the purchase of three new frigates. Three French submarines were also acquired. All these assets proved difficult to maintain during the lengthy arms embargo during the apartheid years, and the frigates were decommissioned in the 1980s. S.A. arranged for coastal missile boats to be obtained from Israel (three built in Israel; six in SA), and the SAN became a coast defense force during the long Bush war in Namibia and Angola.

After the political changes of the 1990s, the SAN turned to modernization and a return to a deep water naval capability. The notorious 1999 Arms Deal saw, in the following decade, four advanced frigates and three submarines acquired from German yards, as well as 28 Swedish fighters, and an initial intent for over 100 main battle tanks. For twenty years there have been allegations and prosecutions involving government corruption involving presidents and government ministers who are suspected of soliciting covert bribes for the contracts.

Most of the advanced aircraft are grounded or in storage rotation for budgetary reasons, and the ships are being strained by their use as patrol craft to counter piracy along the east African coast. It might be argued that the modernization of SA forces was both a publicity project to regain South Africa's international reputation, and also an opportunity for government officials to enrich themselves through corruption. Whatever the case, the SAN is a small navy that has strategic purpose but may not be properly equipped for it.

Here are the basics:

1) OoB:

4 - multi purpose frigates, 3,700 tons, comm. 2005 to 2007.

3 - attack submarines (diesel electric), 1,500 tons, comm. 2006 to 2008.

2 - former missile boats (out of an original 9) dating from the 1970s and 1980s. One additional may be suitable for retention. The boats have been converted as offshore patrol vessels (OPV), although their small size (415 tons) and their age make them marginally suitable at best for the conditions of sea states in the southern Atlantic and Indian oceans, and in the "Roaring 40s."

The SAN has a project to build up to six new inshore patrol vessels (IPV) with three currently on order. These ships will relieve the stress on the frigates that have been used in anti piracy operations since the middle of the previous decade. A recent defence review admits that the frigates can not at present be made combat ready due to their operational tempo and the toll it has taken on their condition and on crew readiness. The SAN has been using costly warships as patrol ships, while inadequate obsolescent craft are being pressed into service in the OPV role.

2 - mine sweepers (of an original 4), comm. 1981 as civil vessels to circumvent the arms embargo. Comm. in SAN 1988. These are old, mechanical system mine warfare craft. Modern mine countermeasures are not currently in use.

1 - replenishment oiler, comm. 1987.

1 - hydrographic survey vessel, comm. 1972.

Numerous harbor craft, including five recent tugs, comm. 1998 to 2016.

2) Adversaries:

At present, South Africa has no international adversaries. The threat to commerce is mostly piracy, particularly on the east African coast and the Mozambique Channel. The usual drug and other contraband smuggling is present as with all countries with coastline.

3) Geography:

South Africa sits astride the southern route from the Persian Gulf to the Western Hemisphere, making its physical geography of extreme economic and strategic importance. The climatic and sea conditions offshore are very challenging, particularly south of the Cape of Good Hope. South Africa has three research station on the Antarctic continent and its hydrographic survey ship is provided with an ice strengthened hull. AFAIK, no other SAN ships are so equipped.

4) Logistics support:

There are two naval bases for the SAN. The old Royal Navy base at Simon's Town is the HQ for the fleet and the base on the Atlantic coast. On the Indian Ocean coast there is the naval base at Durban. There are repair facilities around the country, but no major ship builders for warships in South Africa. The Dutch firm Damen Schedle is able to build smaller ships near Capetown, and the inshore patrol vessels mentioned above will be built there.

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The fleet of the SAN is top heavy. The modern, sophisticated warships have taken precedence over offshore and inshore patrol vessels, and the few auxiliaries are ageing ships. Although the country has an extensive coastline, and potential offshore responsibilities, there is no amphibious capability and no marine infantry. Since 2008 there has been a "maritime reaction squadron" which effectively is a commando and diving unit. More effective constabulary patrol efforts and the appropriate vessels to implement that seem to be a higher priority than a costly war fighting naval force.

South Africa is unlikely to be threatened by its nation-state neighbors, but both China and Russia have been involved recently in South African affairs. This is probably for access to SA mineral resources, and also potential resource denial to those two countries' adversaries in the West. What might happen in 20 or 30 years is unknowable, but access to SA bases in future by others' naval forces could present a potential security issue for resource dependent economies in the Western Hemisphere (oil from the M.E. and southern Africa's minerals). South African politicians have shown themselves to be susceptible to bribes and graft in the country's defense matters, so with the involvement of two gangster states such as Russia and China, that may be an additional factor in future security concerns.
 
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Tairusiano

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
2,978
Brazil
May 2019
253
Earth
Mongolia had a navy during the Communist period. It consisted of the MV Sukhbaatar, whose duty was to transport oil across Lake Khövsgöl. After the end of Communism and Mongol-Soviet cooperation, the Mongolian Navy was privatized, and Sukhbaatar now works the lake as a tourist boat.

 
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pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,008
A Colonial Navy in a Post Colonial World: The Portuguese Navy, 1961 to 1975:

Portugal may be regarded as the first important European colonial power although circumstances in the 15th and early 16th centuries were much different than a hundred years later. The Armada of Portugal was never the largest fleet, but it was navy with a substantial degree of importance. The long history of the navy of Portugal is not the subject of this post, but in the mid 20th century, Portugal still included colonial/metro territories in Africa - Guinea, Sao Tomas, the Cape Verde Islands, Angola, Mozambique, and the eastern territories of Macao, East Timor and what remained of the Portuguese Estado da India.

Since 1510, Portugal had been in possession of colonial territory in India. From Goa, the Portuguese had administered her commercial and military affairs east of Africa until, after failed diplomatic efforts for more than a decade following World War II, the Republic of India militarily expelled Portugal from Goa and Diu in 1961 by Operation Vijay. The Portuguese navy contested this attack losing the old colonial sloop Afonso de Albuquerque (1934) and a patrol boat to overwhelming forces. That, after 451 years, was the end of Portuguese India.

A small country with limited economic resources, Portugal was a founding member of NATO in 1949. She concentrated her naval efforts on the North Atlantic, including antisubmarine and anti-mine warfare capabilities to counter potential Soviet submarine operations. As decolonization proceeded after WW II, the Portuguese navy was strained by the country's responsibilities to NATO as well as extensive and distant colonial responsibilities in Africa and Asia. After the loss of Portuguese India in 1961, the navy embarked on en extensive program of naval modernization. This program at the time did not envision the departure from overseas colonial possessions.

1) After Goa in 1961, additions to the Order of Battle:

-- Four Albacora-class diesel electric attack submarines; 1,100 tons displacement; 12 torpedo tubes. Commissioned 1967-1969.

-- Three Pereira da Silva-class frigates; 1,900 tons; dual 3" rapid fire guns; six TT; antisubmarine weapons. Comm. 1962-1965.

-- Four Joao Belo-class frigates; 2,200 tons; three 100 mm naval guns; six TT; ASW weapons. Comm. 1967-1969.

To replace the four 1930s sloops of the Afonso de Albuquerque-class, and to provide support for operations in colonial territories:

-- Six Joao Coutinho-class corvettes: 1,400 tons; dual 3" rapid fire guns; dual 40 mm guns; ASW weapons (removed 1980s) Comm. 1970-1971. These were built in Spain and Germany to speed construction as Portugal did not have sufficient shipyard space.

-- Four Baptiste de Andrade-class corvettes: Improved Coutinhos with one 100 mm naval gun; ASW torpedoes and helicopter pad. Launched 1973-1974 prior to the withdrawal from colonies, and comm. 1974-1976.

In its modernization from the early 1960s to the mid 1970s, Portugal's small navy added four submarines, seven frigates and ten corvettes to the fleet that included two purpose built landing ships and numerous auxiliaries, and patrol craft for the rivers and estuaries of the African colonies.

Just as a mention, in addition to both Portuguese and native African troops in Guinea, Angola and Mozambique, around 14,000 Portuguese marines served in the colonial wars. All these troops had to be supported by the navy as distance and air-lift inadequacy impacted transport capabilities.

Portugal left her colonies from 1974 to 1976. In some ways, the fleet was top heavy with ships it no longer needed and which were costly to maintain.

The three Pereira da Silva frigates were not well liked by the navy and were laid up in the 1980s well before their useful lives. They were disposed of in the 1990s.

Of the four Joao Belo-class frigates, two were sold to Uruguay and two were sunk as artificial reefs. The four Baptiste de Andrade-class corvettes were intended to be sold to Colombia in 1977, but that did not happen. Three have been decommissioned and one remains in service.

The last of the Coutinho-class corvettes was decommissioned in 2019. The Albacora-class SSKs were decommissioned from 2000 to 2010. The Coutinhos had been used as offshore patrol vessels for Portugal's exclusive economic zone, but their size and (colonial) shallow draft was less suitable for the North Atlantic, so they are being replaced by a class of ten 2,000 ton OPVs. Four are in commission with six to follow.

Portugal had an interesting small navy that, due to history and circumstances, had to be bigger than it wanted to be.
 
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pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,008
There are two other small navies that are interesting, and each of which must contend with a schoolyard bully in their neighborhood. These are the navies of Sweden (and her historic nemesis Russia), and Vietnam and her northern neighbor China.

I must do some additional research on these two - and the holiday season is beginning to consume more time - so in the next few days there will be posts on each of the two.
 
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Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,079
Navan, Ireland
You may find this very interesting, I find his channel good, Drachinifel it deals with Naval matters


I can not to be honest contest any of his assertions on Naval matters and all he says sound plausible and authoritative.

I don't watch his question and answer 'Drydock' posts just on particular parts.
 
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Triceratops

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
3,024
Late Cretaceous
The Israeli Navy is fairly small, but nowadays possesses Dolphin Class submarines capable of carrying Popeye SLCMs with a 200k warhead:

File:Dolphin-class submarine.jpg