The Royal Navy of the United Kingdom is the oldest of the British armed services (and is therefore the Senior Service). From the early 18th century to the middle of the 20th century, it was the largest and most powerful navy in the world, playing a key part in establishing the British Empire as the dominant power of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In WWII, the Royal Navy operated almost 600 ships. During the Cold War, it was transformed into a primarily anti-submarine force, hunting for Soviet submarines, mostly active in the North Atlantic Ocean. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, its role for the 21st century has returned to focus on global expeditionary (blue water) operations.
The Royal Navy is the second-largest navy in NATO in terms of the combined tonnage[dubious — see talk page] of its fleet. Its global power projection capabilities are deemed second only to the United States Navy. There are currently 91 commissioned ships in the Royal Navy, including aircraft carriers, submarines, mine counter-measures and patrol vessels. There are also the support vessels of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
The Royal Navy is a constituent component of the Naval Service, which also comprises the Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and associated reserve forces under command. The Naval Service had 38,710 regular personnel as of November 2006.
The role of the Royal Navy (RN) is to protect British interests at home and abroad, executing the foreign and defence policies of Her Majesty's Government through the exercise of military effect, diplomatic activities and other activities in support of these objectives. The RN is also a key element of the UK contribution to NATO, with a number of assets allocated to NATO tasks at any time. These objectives are delivered via a number of capabilities:
- Maintenance of the UK Nuclear Deterrent through a policy of Continuous at Sea Deterrence
- Delivery of the UK Commando force
- Contribution of assets to Joint Force Harrier
- Contribution of assets to the Joint Helicopter Command
- Maintenance of standing patrol commitments; Atlantic Patrol Task (North), Atlantic Patrol Task (South), Persian Gulf patrols etc.
- Delivery of Mine Counter Measures capability to UK and allied commitments
- Provision of Hydrographic and meteorological capabilities deployable worldwide
- Protection of UK and EU fisheries
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