WHAT the Defence cuts announced by Foreign Secretary Geoff Hoon did not take into account or even mention was the importance of showing the flag. A classic example this week is the buzz around the British expatriate community caused by the arrival in Palma of the destroyer Newcastle. She is due to be scrapped next year. I had the privilege of going aboard for lunch and as usual I was impressed by the professionalism and friendliness of its crew. For the last seven months the Newcastle has visited a large number of ports on goodwill visits and new friendships made. It is also important the public sees its Navy and this is one of the reasons why the Navy packs in so many goodwill visits. Unfortunately with fewer warships there will be fewer port calls and less flying the flag. The Newcastle is 26 years old although her crew say that she is still a very capable vessel. Yes, she was designed to fight a war which ended when the Cold war finished but as she has proved in Palma this week she can still perform a vital role. When she pays off the people of Newcastle will lose a link with the Royal Navy. They are naturally proud of their Geordie gunboat. This is a sad state of affairs. The Royal Navy's force of destroyers and frigates will soon stand at 25. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy will have four helicopter carriers. Unfortunately, the Sea Harrier jump-jet is also being cancelled meaning that the cutting edge of these four ships will be severely limited. By reducing the size of the carrier fleet there would be no need to scrap vessels such as the Newcastle, which still has an important role to play. Savings could easily have been made in other areas. Ships like the Newcastle are the eyes of the fleet...as a result of the cuts its vision will be significantly reduced.
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