Saturday, 24 December 2016

Being a Reservist Peacekeeper: Part Five

Army Reservist Private Belinda Houghton (25) from Blackpool is an Army medic currently serving with the 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as part of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) mission. Christmas is fast approaching here at the United Nations Protected Area in Cyprus. Spontaneous outbreaks of Christmas sing-a-longs and jingles that […]

from The Official British Army Blog

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Being a Reservist Peacekeeper: Part Four

Army Reservist Private Belinda Houghton (25) from Blackpool is an Army medic currently serving with the 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as part of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) mission. Oh my goodness, time has really flown by. It is hard to believe that I have been here almost two months […]

from The Official British Army Blog

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Failure to replace the Harpoon anti-ship missile would be inexcusable

The Royal Navy’s sole heavyweight anti-ship missile, Harpoon (Block 1C) will reach the end of its life in 2018 and at present there is no plan or funding for a replacement. Recently HMS Duncan, Richmond and Sutherland escorted Russian warships close to the UK. In photos showing these warships at work, the 8 Harpoon missile canisters were plainly visible. Although nearly obsolete, the missiles purpose is clear and their availability reassuring. When the RN is called on to meet Russian vessels in 2018, their hitting power will be nothing but a single 4.5” gun. This state of affairs is unacceptable, dangerous and risks making the navy a laughing-stock.

Since navies have been in existence, a prime purpose of a warship is to fight and sink other warships. Surface to surface warfare is core business for the RN and indeed, pretty much any navy. Reliant on nothing but old-fashioned guns or light helicopter-mounted missiles, the RN’s frigates and destroyers will be at a huge disadvantage. Many third world navies will have more anti-ship capability than the RN. Highly effective modern missiles can be bolted onto even quite small or elderly vessels and pose a serious threat.

Deterrence matters

That the RN has never actually fired a heavyweight anti-ship missile in anger could be offered as an excuse. It may seem unlikely they could be used in the near future, especially when more immediate low-level maritime security tasks are the focus. This mentality is foolhardy in the extreme. A credible navy needs to be prepared for all eventuality. If you want peace, prepare for war. We cannot argue we need the deterrent provided by Trident (which we have never used) while saying we don’t need anti-ship missiles because we have never used them.

The small Sea Venom and Martlet (FASGW) missiles that can be fired from the Wildcat helicopter are for use against nothing larger than a corvette. Even this capability will be briefly ‘gapped’ as the Lynx helicopter (armed with Sea Skua) goes out of service in March 2017 and FASGW will only be available for the Wildcat in late 2020. The only other option for sinking major warships resides with our under-sized attack submarine fleet – on a good day we might manage to have three of them at sea simultaneously.

Perceptions matter

There have been plenty of damaging media myths about the RN doing the round in the past year or so. ‘The aircraft carriers won’t have any aircraft’ and ‘Type 45 destroyers always break down’ are examples where we have been more than happy to tell the other side of the story. Unfortunately without urgent action, failure to replace Harpoon will simply be a glaring embarrassment without any mitigating factors.

This gap in RN capability is especially poor timing. The US Navy has recognised its anti-ship weaponry has declined since the end of the Cold War and is taking urgent steps to address the problem. Russia and China have both invested heavily in anti-ship missiles and in many respects possess weapons in advance of the West. International perceptions matter, sometimes as much a cold military facts. There have been a spate of recent stories in the US media proclaiming the end of the Royal Navy and this will only make matters worse. We face further loss of credibility in the eyes of our critical US ally, just as Trump takes power and is angry about Europe’s failure to spend enough on defence.

An ongoing embarrassment for navy and government

This issue has the potential to be the source endless public relations nightmares for the navy. It could even overshadow much of positive coverage that the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth will bring in 2017. There have already been unpleasant personal criticisms in the media which even suggest the First Sea Lord should consider resigning. This would be grossly unfair on a man doing a very good job in trying circumstances, but typical of the kind of unwanted press that can be expected. Whoever must carry responsibility, it is quite difficult to refute their allegation that sending warships unable to sink other warships to sea is equivalent to send sending soldiers into battle without rifles. Within the RN itself there is considerable alarm and despondency about the issue, another good reason to find a speedy resolution at a time when upholding morale and personnel retention is a top priority. Who wants to be aboard an RN warship in combat when not properly equipped to fight back?

This has already gone beyond just a naval concern with no less than 4 separate questions on the issue raised in Parliament already. On 23rd November Theresa May was directly questioned on the mater during Prime Minister’s question time but her response was evasive and vague, “we continue to invest in our armed forces” etc. Ministers can expect to face further pressure about the issue, and so they should.

Hard choices

The root of the problem, as ever is simply lack of funds. The decision not to replace Harpoon was not taken in NCHQ but by the MoD as far back as 2010. Doubtless those involved knew they would no longer be in that particular job by 2018 and have to live with the consequences. Sources suggest that within the office of the Second Sea Lord, responsible for maritime capability, every option is being considered and there is a determination to do something. However there is little room for manoeuvre, operating within such tight budgets and unless politicians recognise the danger and allocate specific additional funds, the RN will be unable to do anything or be forced to make cuts elsewhere.

Missile options

The RN is confident the Type 26 frigate will put to sea with a vertically launched anti-ship missile in the late 2020s, possibly the Perseus missile derived from the Anglo-French Future Cruise & Anti-Ship Weapon (FCASW) project. This is a promising and highly capable hypersonic missile but a long way off in development. We cannot endure such as serious gap in capability for 10 years or more and an interim solution must be found. As we discussed in a previous post, there are several canister-launched anti-ship missiles available that could be purchased off the shelf, although sadly none of British origin. Complex weapons like this do not come cheap but we would not have to bear the cost of development and the canisters are relatively simple to bolt onto the deck in place of Harpoon. When the Type 23 Frigates decommission the interim missiles could be migrated to the Type 31 frigates.

  • The Swedish-built Saab RBS15 Mk3 is the most modern surface-to surface missile currently available to Western nations. Having a 200km range, it is sub-sonic with flexible attack profiles, stealthy and hard to defeat.

  • Developed in Norway by Kongsberg, the Naval Strike Missile is a similar to the RBS15. With 185km range, subsonic and hard to counter, it now benefits from joint development with Raytheon who expect to sell it to the US Navy. A new version compatible with the F-35 and Mk41 VLS system is being developed.

  • The latest version of the most famous missile brand name in the world. The French- made Exocet MM40 Block III is about 10 years older and twice the size of the RMS15 or NSM. It has a 200km range but a much larger warhead.

  • Harpoon Block II+ER is the latest version offered by Boeing with 3 times the range of the Block 1C. Designed to cope with modern countermeasures and for use in littoral environments, its main attraction for the RN would be compatibility with existing launchers, although it’s expensive at around $1.2M per missile.

There is precious little time to act. Harpoon 1C is already virtually obsolete and beyond economic life extension. An interim missile needs to be selected and ordered soon. We call on Ministers to quickly provide the resources needed before it does serious damage to the reputation of the Royal Navy and further undermines the credibility of UK defence.



from Save the Royal Navy

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Teenager on the way to Royal Navy career

In October, a 19 year old teenager named Chloe Elcock, who aspired to join the Navy arrived for induction training at HMS Raleigh. She then went through a challenging ten week course where she learned skills which she will need for the rest of her career. After the successful completion of her training, she is set for a career in the sea.

Chloe said, ” Ever since I was a cadet at school, the military life always attracted me. I enjoy to help people. Training here was very challenging, but I picked up lots of new skills and learned to seize every opportunity which life presents you. My training mates have also been very helpful and inspiring. 

Chloe’s next destination is the Defense Medical Training Centre where she will learn some advanced skills. She will learn about first aid and how to look after supplies in the submarine. Since she eventually wants to be a submariner, she will return to Royal Navy Submarine School for training.
In the first stage of the training in the Submarine School, recruits are taught 9 essential skills which are crucial to survive and work efficiently in the Navy. The new recruits first learn about the customs of the Naval life. They are also taught navigation. In one of the exercises, every recruit has to control their own inflatable boat. The work of a Navy personnel is not only restricted to the sea. Many times, they are called for land operations as well. Hence, combat skills are also essential. The training is very physically challenging, and one has to be exceptionally fit to successfully complete it. Some military exercises are undertaken to ensure that the recruits are able to cope with the training. With time, every recruit has to go through more exercises to apply the skills which they have learned during the training.

The post Teenager on the way to Royal Navy career appeared first on RNMS Stretcher Carry.

from RNMS Stretcher Carry

Monday, 5 December 2016

The National Shipbuilding Strategy report – a roadmap for a stronger Royal Navy

On 29th November Sir John Parker’s report to inform the UK National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) was published. Commissioned by the Treasury, exasperated with decades of continual delays and cost increases to warship construction, the report is concise and written in clear layman’s language. The 34 recommendations are eminently sensible and the report has generated at least temporarily, a warm and fuzzy feeling of consensus and optimism. Both the Defence Secretary and the First Sea Lord have welcomed the findings. The actual NSS, due to be announced by government in Spring 2017, and its implementation will of course, define whether this has been a worthwhile exercise.

Sir John politely points out the greatest reforms are needed at the MoD, although he recognises there are some talented individuals within what must be a difficult workplace. The structural failings in strategy, management, financing and accountability within defence procurement have been apparent to even a casual observer for many years. Before UK warship construction woes can be dealt with, a ruthless restructuring of project management practice in the MoD and navy is required. The report also urges that Civil Service and industry expertise within project teams is retained by long-term planning and a regular ‘drumbeat’ of orders.

“I’m pleased with the report, I share the ambition for the shipbuilding industry… as it says, we need to inject grip and pace into the way we build warships” Admiral Philip Jones, First Sea Lord.

Whitehall reform

The Treasury may take some satisfaction showing MoD failings rather than lack of funds is often the root of problems. It is much less likely to welcome Sir John’s proposal for a transparent 30-year shipbuilding plan. They are also likely to reject a proposal for project finance to be ring-fenced in advance and not subject to the MoD’s annual cash limits. This would require far better forecasting and contingency funding set aside. The RN is also likely to be wary of Sir John recommending they avoid costly mid-programme design changes. Typically an officer appointed to the MoD for a two year involvement in a project that may run for over a decade makes a change to the design, perhaps motivated by a desire to be seen to be making their mark. Sometimes there may be very valid reasons for amending a design late in the program, over 10 years technology and tactics can change dramatically. A balance must be struck between getting the ship to sea on time and budget while avoiding obsolescence. Pointedly Admiral Jones has rejected the suggestion the RN had been “too picky and demanding” in the past.

Unfortunately the Civil Service is not known for its agility and enthusiasm to implement radical internal structural changes. However there are precedents for efficiently delivering large UK naval programmes. The Polaris and Trident submarine projects (and soon the Dreadnought class) have all been managed using non-traditional structures. Oversight from a special projects office, staffed by skilled and incentivised project managers with experience in the commercial world has been successful. This system would need refinements to work more broadly but it does demonstrate when there is enough urgency, commitment and political will, complex naval projects can be completed on time and budget.

Type 31e – pathfinder to a new way of procurement

Sir John is clearly an enthusiast for the Type 31 frigate which he says should be used as a ‘pathfinder’ project to implement the new methods of management and industrial practices. He clearly likes the BMT Venator-110 design and its modular concept that can offer a menu of configurations for the RN and most importantly, export customers. He suggests the frigate project be renamed Type 31e to highlight its purpose in driving exports. Sir John advocates further automation, fuel efficiency, use of off-the-shelf technology and open architecture in combat systems for warships. This approach would certainly reduce initial and through-life costs but may not produce the most capable fighting ship. There is a fine line between a cheap, flexible design that is a great job creation scheme, and a credible warship design that can hold its own against evolving threats in the 2030s and 2040s.

As we predicted, the Type 31 is likely to be block-built using multiple yards around the UK. He considers it too risky for BAES Glasgow to be the lead-yard for both the Type 26 and Type 31 simultaneously. Whether there is sufficient technical expertise available at other UK shipbuilders to co-ordinate and integrate a complex warship project remains to be seen. The potential economic benefits of export success with the Type 31 are so attractive that sir John argues the project should get additional extra funding direct from the Treasury to get it started with some urgency. This is certainly good news for the RN and industry, if the Treasury proves capable of taking the long-term view.

Harnessing the revival in commercial shipbuilding

One of the really encouraging features of the report is the revival of some commercial shipbuilding and repair in the UK. Cammel Laird (Birkenhead), Babcock (Appledore) and Ferguson (Glasgow) have been able to win new-build contracts in open competition and have ‘no single customer dependency culture’ (are you listening BAES?) In contrast to the childish unions, silly demarcation practices and moribund management that helped destroy the industry in the 1970s, these yards have an entrepreneurial spirit with flexible skilled labour methods and the ability to manage fluctuating workloads. With a weak pound there is further opportunity for these yards to really expand and start winning foreign orders again. In addition A&P (Falmouth, Tyne/Tees) Babcock (Devonport & Rosyth) and Harland & Wolff (Belfast) also have much potential that could be harnessed for future naval shipbuilding.

The report recognises the national engineering skills shortage with an average age in the shipbuilding workforce around the mid-40s. More young people must be attracted into the job with more opportunities for training and apprenticeships. The harsh reality is that without a new wave of young engineering talent both the RN and the defence industries face a bleak future.

Sir John is keen to see shipbuilding follow the lead of other successful UK manufacturers by further embracing digital engineering technology and robotics. These techniques deliver spectacular efficiencies when constructing multiple identical units. Larger numbers of warship orders for the RN and for export would therefore make even greater savings. BAES Maritime division receives a polite rebuke from Sir John who says the Type 26 program should be used by the company to considerably improve its efficiency. It must become globally competitive, instead of being subsidised up by the British taxpayer.

The report endorses the establishment of a ‘Centre of naval excellence’ to share best practice and standards across the warship construction industry. It would also act as a single point of contact between government and industry instead of the multiple forums that exist currently. Sir John is also keen that emerging UK commercial shipbuilding capability is used to build RFA vessels. The controversial project to build four RFA tankers abroad looks unlikely to be repeated. The DSME ship yard in South Korea incorrectly installed electrical cabling which has seriously delayed delivery of the first vessel, not helping the cause of those advocating cheaper overseas construction. It seems likely the three solid stores support ships planned for the RFA will be constructed in the UK.

Done in the right way, merchant ship conversions can offer great value for money to the navy. The report is critical of recent reluctance to consider this option. RFA Argus and RFA Diligence are good examples of this practice, both dating back to 1982 and which could be replaced in a similar manner. It would be helpful to see more willingness to adapt merchant ships that could act as force multipliers. As long range, off-board unmanned systems develop there is the another opportunity to use simple merchant conversions as motherships.


Amongst independent observers there is cynicism about whether any of the recommendations of the report will be implemented at all. Most of the issues highlighted have long been known but nothing has been done for years. By commissioning the report, the Treasury has at least created a roadmap to escape the current shipbuilding malaise which will be difficult to ignore. It is now up to government to properly fund, endorse and enforce the recommendations when it formulates and implements the actual shipbuilding strategy next year. Should those in power be bold enough to do so, it would go a long way to reviving the RN and have great benefits to UK industry.


from Save the Royal Navy

Friday, 2 December 2016

Closedown Phase I Complete

Phew, that took longer than expected. As I mentioned in my last post on the subject, the first part of the Think Defence blog closedown is to move most of the posts over to an archive site. Done; What is there? In order to stay within the limits of a free blog offer, and given ...

The post Closedown Phase I Complete appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Soldier to Officer: Weeks 7 & 8

Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer. She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started […]

from The Official British Army Blog

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Monuments Men: Part Two

It has been more than 70 years since the British Army last had the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives sections during the Second World War. Their job was to protect, stabilise and recover cultural property on the battlefields of North Africa, Italy and, after D-Day, across northern Europe. Lt Colonel Tim Purbrick, an Army Reservist […]

from The Official British Army Blog

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Dear Theresa May and Michael Fallon, this is how you should fix the navy… fast

On 25th November the professional head of the Royal Navy delivered a robust defence of the service, upbeat about its current work and its future. He was right to make his point, this is his job and leaders need to show confidence. The sailors of the RN are doing an outstanding job and deserve to believe in their future. In reality they are making do with insufficient ships, submarines, aircraft and people but somehow just about manage to keep on delivering on a daily basis.

The RN has much to be proud of and look forward to. Some fine new vessels are on their way, not least 2 large aircraft carriers, but there are so many dangerous gaps in capability that their fighting credibility is in question. Without enough escorts the carriers are in danger, without enough manpower, mass and appropriate armament the whole fleet is at risk of bloody defeat in a serious conflict. You are in danger of creating a paper tiger. It is time for government to act to prevent disaster.

This is not just the view of a few eccentrics, nostalgic for the days when Britannia ruled the waves, but the opinion of the cross-party House of Commons Defence Select Committee which stated bluntly that “the UK already has a woefully low number of vessels… it lacks the maritime strength to deal with the threats we face right now, let alone in the future”

Trumpeting your achievement in meeting the NATO minimum 2% of GDP on defence does not cut it. Firstly it was set down as a “minimum”, not a target. Secondly, comparing ourselves favourably with Europeans who are even more deluded about defence expenditure than ourselves is futile. And thirdly, everyone knows that to achieve the 2% target has involved disingenuous Treasury accounting tricks which do not translate into much strengthening of the front line.

To be fair SDSR 2015 was better than many previous defence reviews and there has been a small increase in spending. Unfortunately this will not provide the remedy for at least 3 decades of cock-ups, neglect and declining funding that needs addressing urgently. Most if this is not your fault, but as you yourself say, it is the first duty of any government to protect its citizens.

To renew the Royal Navy properly will require a significant increase in expenditure, to pretend otherwise unrealistic and negligent. This is going to cost real money and impact the public finances – get used to it.

You will have to raise taxes, make cuts elsewhere or increase borrowing and explain this to very sceptical parts of the electorate and media, but that is your job. The good news is you won’t have to continue the trying to deceive the public about the true state of our navy. Plus it will create a lot of jobs and stimulate the economy in places that need it, particularly in Scotland, the North and South West of England. Above all it will start to restore some real security to a nation that is utterly dependent on the sea and staring down the face of growing worldwide threats. The Americans have been paying for much of our defence for a long time but that maybe coming to an end. Finally, learn lessons from history, greater expenditure now will act as a deterrent which may prevent future wars and conflict which would be far more costly in both human life and treasure.

“Nothing is more important than defending our country and protecting our people. With increasing threats to our security” Michael Fallon

Immediate actions

  • Manpower – Funding for an emergency recruitment drive. Above inflation pay rises, at least for ratings. A complete new bonus structure with golden handcuff deals that incentivise experienced people to remain serving, with large retention bonuses paid at 3 yearly intervals. Further improve accommodation and family support where needed. Consider any other radical option that will help recruit and retain personnel. Target minimum strength of RN to be at least 45,000 plus reservists.
  • All 13 Type 23s fitted with towed array sonar, Sea Ceptor and to have life-extension refits.
  • Purchase of interim canister-launched anti-ship missile to replace Harpoon on all Type 45 and Type 23s.
  • Type 45 propulsion rectification programme to begin immediately. (Starting with HMS Dauntless) and Mk 41 VLS to be fitted to Type 45s at the same time.
  • Upgrade the 12 Merlin helicopters currently in storage to Mk2 standard.
  • Order another 12 Wildcat helicopters and fit all 36 of them with dipping sonar.
  • Additional purchases of key equipment like Phalanx, Torpedo defence system, decoys, etc. End the practice of sharing major equipment between ships. Every ship allocated their own complete set of kit with back-up spares held ashore.
  • Expand missile, torpedo and ammunition stocks. 
  • Expand general stores of spares and replacement parts and re-establish an in-depth and resilient logistical support system for the navy.
  • The whole defence procurement apparatus to be put into special measures almost akin to a war-footing. All defence projects to have senior managers (Civil Servants and those in uniform) made to stay in post for minimum of 5 years – well rewarded for success or heavily penalised for failure in meeting key performance parameters and deadlines. 
  • Ban all defence lobbying interests from Parliament and MoD. Play hardball with BAE Systems and, if necessary part-nationalise or break up its monopoly, if that is what it takes to make it serve the interests of defence ahead of profit.

Medium term actions

  • Build the 13 Type 26 frigates on the Clyde as originally planned and deliver at least one ship a year from 2022.
  • Start Type 31 build program with target of at least 8 ships. Bring the best design proposal to maturity as soon as possible and utilise any available shipbuilding capacity, primarily in England.
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth & Prince of Wales to be fitted with Sea Ceptor as soon as possible.
  • Cooperative engagement capability to be fitted to Type 45, Type 26 and Aircraft Carriers and integrated with F-35.
  • If possible, accelerate purchase of F-35s so we have at least 60 in service by 2025.
  • RN to be given full operational control of all F-35s, with QE aircraft carrier tasking given first priority.
  • Purchase Tomahawk Land Attack missiles to be carried by Type 45 and Type 26.
  • Purchase SM-3 missiles to give Type 45 anti-ballistic missile capability at earliest opportunity. 
  • Retain all 4 Batch 1 River class OPVs to be dedicated to UK territorial waters patrols and recruit additional reservists to man them.
  • Upgrade all 5 Batch 2s OPVs with lightweight towed array sonar, Phalanx and UAVs and deploy one of each permanently in the Falklands, the Caribbean, Gibraltar and Bahrain
  • Purchase LRASM and ASROC for Type 45 / Type 26.
  • HMS Ocean to go into reserve in 2017 but begin immediate work on like-for-like replacement, built to merchant standards, probably in overseas yard.
  • Large budget to be dedicated to purchase and develop unmanned systems and operating doctrine. Aim that RN should become a world-leader in unmanned naval technology by 2030 (with attendant benefit for UK industry).
  • HMS Bulwark to be returned to service with HMS Albion as soon as refit complete.
  • Purchase and begin merchant ship conversions to replace RFA Diligence and RFA Argus.
  • Create a black projects fund for classified naval projects likely in the realms of, underwater warfare, special forces, electronic and cyber warfare.  

Long-term actions

  • Build an 8th Astute class submarine if it can be fitted around Dreadnought class construction schedule.
  • Begin purchase, lease or license-build of at least 6 AIP conventional submarines from Germany or Sweden.
  • Integrate widest possible range of missiles and munitions for F-35 including an anti-ship missile.
  • P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft put under RN operational control and fully equipped with ability to drop Stingray torpedos and fitted with an anti-ship missile
  • Negotiate for 2nd batch of P-8s to bring strength up to 18 aircraft.
  • Investigate purchase of V-22 osprey for possible air-air-refuelling of F35, carrier onboard delivery and amphibious assault.
  • Begin building 4 x solid stores support ships at Babcock Rosyth as soon as HMS Prince of Wales is complete.
  • Replace LCUs with faster craft and upgrade Royal Marine vehicles as needed.
  • HMS Albion & Bulwark to be replaced with LHD (similar to Spanish Juan Carlos).
  • MHC programme fully funded to develop new generation of mine warfare vessels and unmanned minehunting systems.
  • Expand naval science and research, work with US on development of rail gun and laser technology.


This ‘shopping list’ is a guideline only, there are plenty of well qualified people who could to refine it further. Broadly speaking this builds on the existing equipment plan and capabilities. This is not a radical departure from current structures or strategy, rather a series of fixes to repair a badly hollowed-out fleet and give more strength in depth. It would be erroneous to perceive this an unjustified major re-armament programme, in reality it would only restore the strength of the RN to approximately what it was in the late 1990s.


from Save the Royal Navy

Friday, 25 November 2016

The navy replies to avalance of bad news stories

Beset by several weeks of bad news stories, the First Sea Lord has delivered a speech highlighting how the service is currently working hard around the world and fulfilling the tasks the Government has set out for it. There are undoubtedly very serious problems facing the service now and in the future which we will continue to highlight and campaign to be addressed. However the RN of today is still in the front rank of navies, its people are getting on with the job and should be commended. The Admirals speech is reproduced in full below.

First Sea Lord, Admiral Philip Jones“Reading the news over the past few days you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Royal Navy had packed up and gone home, leaving Britain undefended. The reality is altogether different, and should be judged by action not by commentary. As First Sea Lord, I owe it to our sailors and marines, many of whom are preparing to spend Christmas away from their loved ones, to ensure the country recognises how hard they are working for our island nation.

Today, the Royal Navy has 30 ships and submarines, and over 8000 of our young men and women – regular, reserve and civilian – committed to operations at home and around the world.

The Royal Navy continues to fulfil our standing commitments, from supporting British overseas territories in the Caribbean and the Falklands to the Royal Marines’ ongoing support to counter-terrorism at home.

A ballistic missile submarine is currently on patrol deterring state based threats against the UK and our NATO allies, as has been the case 24 hours a day, every day, for the last 47 years.

In Northern Europe and the Baltic, we are responding to the highest level of Russian naval activity since the end of the Cold War. In the Mediterranean and the Aegean, we continue to work alongside our European partners to counter arms-traffickers and people smugglers, and to stem the flow of migrants. Meanwhile in the Gulf are working to protect international shipping in a region which is essential to the UK’s economic security.

Sadly the world is less certain and less safe. But our sense of responsibility has not changed. The Royal Navy may be smaller than in the past but has a strong future so this is no time to talk the Navy down.

The Royal Navy does have challenges, in people, budgets and equipment, but these must be put in perspective. The Royal Navy’s challenges are those of a first-rate Navy. You don’t hear about the same issues in many other navies – and believe me, they exist – because they don’t operate with the same sophistication or expectation.

The Type 45 destroyer is a case in point. It is a hugely innovative ship, and the propulsion systems have turned out to be less reliable than originally envisaged. Money is now in place to put this right, but what is beyond doubt is that these ships offer one of the best anti-aircraft capabilities in the world. If they weren’t up to the job then the US and French navies would not entrust them with protection of their aircraft carriers in the Gulf.

The UK, like any developed economy, has to control public spending. Difficult decisions had to be taken to balance the books and retiring the Harpoon missile system was one. That weapon was reaching the end of its life, which is why we are exploring the advanced technologies that will take its place. Last month the Royal Navy held the largest international gathering of autonomous systems ever staged, and we will shortly trial both an energy weapon and artificial intelligence at sea. These are the technologies that will maintain our superiority over more conventional navies.

We must also ensure that the focus on our current challenges does not obscure the scale of investment which is currently taking place or its significance for the UK’s place in the world. With last month’s cutting of steel for the future HMS Dreadnought, the renewal of the nuclear deterrent has begun, but it’s the impending arrival of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, and their air group of fifth generation fighters, that really mark the beginning of a new era.

If you need a further reminder of the practical and symbolic power coming our way, consider the international significance attached to the recent deployment of the Russian carrier Kuznetsov and her battle group to the Mediterranean.

When the French carrier Charles De Gaulle enters refit at the beginning of next year, Western Europe will be left without a large aircraft carrier for operations, which again highlights the strategic value that two carriers flying the White Ensign will bring to our nation, and our partnerships, in the decades ahead.

Backed by a commitment to meeting NATO’s requirement to spend 2% of GDP on Defence, last year’s Defence Review mandated the necessary supporting components in place to ensure a balanced Fleet, including new F35B Joint Strike Fighters, Type 26 frigates, Maritime Patrol Aircraft and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships.

Crucially, the Government has repeatedly stated its ambition to grow the size of the Royal Navy by the 2030s through the construction of a new class of General Purpose frigate. This will be a complex warship, able to protect and defend and to exert influence around the world, but deliberately shaped with lessons from industry to make it more exportable to our international partners.

This is hugely significant. For most of my 38 year career, the story of the Royal Navy has been one of gradual, managed contraction. Now, at long last, we have an opportunity to reverse this trend, rebuilding in particular resilience in our destroyer and frigate numbers, the backbone of a fighting Navy.

This would also permit a more frequent presence in parts of the world in which we have been spread thin in recent years in order to support the UK’s growing global economic ambitions.

So, rest assured, I intend to work with the Government in the coming months and years to deliver their ambition for a larger Navy. Only this will ensure the Royal Navy can continue to deter our enemies, protect our people and promote our prosperity in these uncertain times.”

Admiral Sir Philip Jones, First Sea Lord

from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Will the Type 26 frigate deliver a punch commensurate with its price tag?

The quality of a warship should never be judged purely on its armament. There are many other factors to consider such as its sensors, electronics, propulsion, construction quality and above all the standard of its crew. But in this article we will focus primarily on the weapons fit of the Type 26.

Under mounting pressure to just get on with it, the MoD finally announced on the 4th November that construction work on the Type 26 frigate will begin in the Summer of 2017 (Subject to further contract negotiations of course). Protracted design and development of this ship has been underway for more than 18 years and it will still be at least another 5 years before the RN receives the first ship. A project that began with the aim of developing an affordable and exportable frigate has gradually spiralled in size and complexity into an expensive ‘high-end’ vessel with export potential that will, at best, probably be limited to licensing of the design to foreign builders.

The Type 26 is a conservative design and the majority of its systems will have been proven on other platforms before it ever goes to sea. Some of the equipment fitted to the Type 23 frigates will even be transferred directly from them as they decommission to the new ships. The colossally expensive Type 45 project included 80% new systems and experience dictated a low-risk solution for the new frigate. This approach seems sensible but appears to be at odds with a large approximate price tag of around £750 Million for the each of the first three ships. Defining the actual price of a warship is a complex task but what is certain is the MoD expects to spend around £8 Billion in the next decade to buy 8 Type 26 and “at least” 5 Type 31 frigates.

The Type 26 has almost 40% greater displacement than the Type 23 but despite being separated by 30 years of technological development, the ships are broadly similar in general arrangement. Equipment fit is roughly equivalent, apart from two very significant additions to the Type 26; the ‘mission bay’ and the space allotted for the Mk 41 vertical launch system. Together with the Chinook-capable flight deck, these elements have resulted in a large ship.

The mighty Mk 41

The Type 26 design made public in 2012 showed that traditional canister-launched anti-ship or land-attack missiles seen on early design concepts had been abandoned. In its place were 24 Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells to be fitted just forward of the bridge. The US-made Mk 41 VLS is in use by 13 navies with over 12,000 cells fitted to ships worldwide. At sea since the 1980s, the Mk 41 has been continually developed and is the primary weapons system for the majority of the US navy’s surface fleet. The largest ‘strike-length’ cells allow warships to carry a diverse range of missiles and its addition to the Type 26 appears to open up many exciting options for the armament of the new frigate.

Unfortunately there is currently not a single missile type in the UK inventory that is currently compatible with the Mk 41. Without a commitment to purchase new munitions, the first operational Type 26 may find much of its armament is fresh air. The RN is no stranger to its warships being fitted “for but not with” items of equipment. Unfortunately endless rounds of cuts and austerity have often seen the failure to ever fit that equipment. It is an unhealthy peacetime mentality that allows warships to be put to sea not fully equipped. An MoD Type 26 infographic published on the day of the steel-cutting announcement omitted the Mk 41 entirely but the RN has since confirmed the cells will definitely be fitted.

When selecting vertical launch systems, The RN is in a complicated position. The Type 45 carries the French Sylver A50 VLS silo for its Sea Viper missiles. It has the space available to retro-fit either larger Sylver 70 cells and/or add an additional 16 Mk 41 cells. Commonality of equipment is always desirable and more economical so this creates a dilemma about whether to invest further in the Sylver system and its more limited munitions options or invest in the ubiquitous American Mk 41.

The Future Cruise & Anti-Ship Weapon (FCASW) is an Anglo-French project in the early stages of developing a possible single solution to replace Harpoon and SCALP/Tomahawk. A ‘technology demonstrator’ is due in 2019 but it will be sometime after 2030 and well after the first Type 26s are at sea before an operational anti-ship missile might be a reality. Even if the project survives the stresses of international co-operation it cannot deliver in time to avoid further dangerous capability gaps. Political enthusiasm for defence co-operation with France, the weakness of the pound against the dollar and now the election of Donald Trump has created a climate that further favours FCASW over US-made munitions such as LRASM. It must be hoped that the FCASW missile will be compatible with Mk 41.

It has recently become clear that the RN has no plan or funding available to replace the obsolete Harpoon Block 1C anti-ship missiles in its inventory when it goes out of service in 2018. As discussed in a previous article, this will put the RN in the absurd and laughable position of having a surface fleet with no guided weapons capable of sinking warships larger than corvettes. Either an interim cansiter-launched missile must be purchased for the Type 23s and 45s or the RN could be without ASuW capability for more than 15 years until FCASW is available. Alternatively the Mk 41 launched Long Range Anti-ship Missile (LRASM) could be purchased for the Type 26, reducing the gap slightly. The Mk 41 on the Type 26 assumes great significance, as this is its only option for embarking a heavyweight anti-ship missile.

  • type-26-foredeck

    CGI showing the general arrangement of equipment sited on the Type 26 foredeck.

  • type-26-frigate-mission-bay

    The mission bay can carry an interchangeable selection of equipment tailored to suit the ship’s particular mission. This could include additional RHIBs, assault boats, shipping containers and unmanned vehicles.


    Anti-submarine torpedo attached to a rocket. A RUM-139 ASROC launched from Mk 41 VLS aboard a US Navy destroyer. The RN had a similar system in service during the 1970-80s called Ikara.


    Mock up showing the LRASM being fired from Mk 41 VLS. The missile is currently under development and will probably become the ‘gold standard’ amongst Western anti-ship missiles. It will be available long before the FCASW project bears fruit.

The adaptable mission bay

The relatively simple concept of an ‘mission bay’ has already been adopted by several navies but this will be a first for the RN. More than just an empty space, it includes an overhead gantry crane for moving equipment on and off the ship while alongside or at sea. Shock-resistant mountings for ISO shipping containers that could house sensitive electronics are also included. Unmanned vehicles carried in the mission bay offer the most potential to expand Type 26 capability. Provided the RN is given the funds to invest properly in unmanned systems, off-board, networked systems for surveillance, mine-warfare and anti-submarine warfare will dramatically extend the reach of the ship.

Can find submarines, but can it kill them?

The primary role of the Type 26 is submarine hunting. With an acoustically-quietened hull and machinery matched with sophisticated towed array sonar will likely make for one of the worlds best submarine hunters. Having detected the submarine, the Type 26 the helicopter is the only option for attacking the contact. The Merlin Mk2 helicopter is an excellent anti-submarine platform with good endurance, speed and its own sonar to localise the submarine contact. If the Wildcat helicopter is embarked instead, it can carry light anti-shipping missiles (that the Merlin cannot) and torpedoes but has no dipping sonar. Wildcat lacks any means of locating a submarine other than visually or with bearings provided by the frigate.

Unfortunately any helicopter takes time to get airborne and may sometimes be unserviceable or cannot be launched in severe weather. The Type 23 is fitted with the Magazine Launched Torpedo System (MLTS) which allows the ship to fire Stingray anti-submarine torpedoes from an internal magazine. The Type 26 will not have this capability. This is something of a weapon of last resort as the ship would likely have already been attacked by the submarine if it was within range of this system. A very desirable alternative would be to acquire the American RUM-139 ASROC. This is a rocket that can accurately deliver a torpedo from the Mk 41 VLS out to a range of up to 22km from the ship in a matter of seconds. This gives a very reliable 24 hour ASW capability and can prosecute fleeting sonar contacts. The RUM-139 would need to be adapted to carry the Stingray instead of the US Mk 46 equivalent but this would probably not be too problematic. Obtaining funding for this weapon seems like an outside possibility but highly desirable for a warship who’s primary role is escorting highly valuable targets such as QE class aircraft carriers.

Gunnery upgrade

The Type 26 will finally see the replacement of the 4.5inch / 114mm Mark 8 Mod 1 Gun fitted to most RN surface escorts since the early 1970s. The 5 inch / 127mm Mark 45 Mod 4 Gun will provide longer range, better rate of fire and a wider selection of modern ammunition types. The option of extended-range and precision-guided shells could considerably enhance the Type 26 in the Naval Gunfire Support role.

In summary

When the Type 26 finally emerges in the mid 2020s it will undoubtedly be a big gain in capability over the Type 23. The mission bay offers flexibility and the ability to host unmanned systems that will be critical to future developments in naval warfare. Directed Energy weapons are likely to feature on many of the worlds warships by the 2030s. The size of the ship provides a good margin for future upgrades and space to add additional electrical generation to support DE weapons. Its credibility as a submarine hunter is not in doubt but it is the funding and selection of munitions for the Mk 41 VLS that will really define how powerful these ships can be and if their hefty price tag has fully been justified.

from Save the Royal Navy

Being a Reservist Peacekeeper: Part Three

Army Reservist Private Belinda Houghton (25) from Blackpool is an Army medic currently serving with the 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as part of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) mission. The dark nights are drawing in even here in Cyprus which means the summer is truly over and Christmas is looming. […]

from The Official British Army Blog

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Soldier to officer: Week Six

Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer. She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started […]

from The Official British Army Blog

Friday, 18 November 2016

Soldier to Officer: Part Five

Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer. She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started […]

from The Official British Army Blog

Thursday, 17 November 2016

The medical facilities and anticipating trouble

The irony is that even if now the medical facilities are more, we find it difficult to take an appointment with a family doctor. In the past, it was easier to get an appointment and to treat the disease. But now we take more time to consult a doctor. There are many reasons for this growing trend. The major reason is that now we prefer the anticipatory medicines. When we experience some symptoms, we anticipate the disease and take the medicine on our own to improve the condition instead of visiting a doctor.

The process is time -consuming and the success rate is not high. When some get rid of the symptoms others find it reoccurring. But still, we go for this option. One can understand it better with the example of Richard Morrell. This war veteran suffered from the rheumatic fever. This fever damaged his mitral valve and that caused a heart murmur. He did not realize it until FFI examination. Fit and Fee from Infection examination revealed his medical condition while joining the army. Another recruit also failed to qualify the medical test.


In a column, there was a report that a gentleman got excessive yawning in five minutes and that caused an ache in his ribs. The prolonged yawning might be the sign of the hyperventilation syndrome, but many of us presume it psychological. The disturbed functioning of the brain might be the reason as well. If it keeps reoccurring then that might cause breathlessness and you might need to visit ENT surrey.

It works

A dedicated squash player of forty once got pain in the right knee and that created complications for his practice. He started experiencing pain while practising. His partner, who was the retired pharmacist, suggested him to take culinary spice turmeric regularly two grams daily to reduce the pain and inflammation. He said it will work better than the anti-inflammatory drug. It worked and now he is fit even in the early seventies.

The post The medical facilities and anticipating trouble appeared first on RNMS Stretcher Carry.

from RNMS Stretcher Carry

Making sense of another shore establishment closure

On 7th November the MoD published a full list of sites that will close as part of its Plan for ‘A Better Defence Estate’. The biggest surprise from a naval point of view was the announcement that HMS Sultan in Gosport will close in 2025. Most of Sultan’s functions will be transferred to HMS Collingwood in Fareham. The people of Gosport are not amused but many within the navy seem to take a more pragmatic view. Here we will try to asses if this is unmitigated bad news or if there is a sliver lining.


The ‘stone frigates’ that provide the training and logistical backbone of the RN appear a lot less less sexy than the ships of the fleet but the quality of these establishments has a direct impact on the frontline. A recent report by the Nation Audit Office shows that general underfunding of the defence estate, together with a privatised support contract has proved a disastrous combination with many facilities in a poor state of repair. Failure to maintain buildings is storing up expensive problems for the future as well as having a negative effect on morale and efficiency. HMS Sultan is not in a particularly poor state but has not had any significant investment since 2007. Cosmetic repairs are not a priority for Capita, the private contractor maintaining much of the MoD’s property while operating with a small budget and trying to make a profit.

There is definitely a need to reduce the vast amount of land owned by the MoD which amounts to more than 1% of the entire UK landmass (It should be noted that the Navy has by far the smallest footprint of the 3 services in terms of land area). More than £1.5Bn or around 4% of the defence budget is spent on just to keep this vast infrastructure going each year and it is clear that the estate has not been reduced in proportion to the vast reductions in fighting forces over the last few decades. It would appear that local political opposition tends to make it much harder to close a naval establishment, than for example to axe another frigate.

Every single one of the 91 defence site that government plans to close will attract strong local protest and HMS Sultan is no exception. There are always local jobs, past loyalty and sentiment to consider. The navy itself appears to be fairly unconcerned about the closure but Caroline Dineage the Gosport MP, generally a good advocate for Navy is determined to fight for its future. The people of Gosport have loyally supported the RN for decades and the area has already suffered the closure of HMS Daedalus (1996), HMS Dolphin (1998) and Haslar Hospital (2007).

“I firmly believe that it would be to the detriment of both Gosport and the Royal Navy to lose the outstanding training at Sultan…  I still believe there is a strong business case for keeping the site open”   Caroline Dineage, MP

The phrase “business case” is somewhat vague but the MP plans to engage academics from Portsmouth University to examine the effects of closure in detail. Local economic impact is likely to be the main focus rather than the needs of the navy. HMS Sultan has been no stranger to rumours of closure. A scheme to create a vast tri-service engineering training base at RAF St Athan in South Wales was shelved in 2010. A 2012 plan to move to a joint training establishment with the Royal Engineers also feel by the wayside. Although the new plan will not see Sultan close until 2025, the recent announcement seems to be the best solution on offer and likely to be carried through.

HMS Sultan – a unique site

HMS Sultan is currently home to the Defence School of Marine Engineering (DSMarE). This is the home of all marine engineering training, both general surface and submarine in the RN and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA). It also incorporates the Royal Naval Air Engineering and Survival School (RNAESS) and the Nuclear Department – responsible for the highly specialist and highly technical training of nuclear engineers for the submarine service. There are also civilian lodger units in the form of Network Rail and EDF Energy. All of these units have their own facilities and will now need to find a new homes. The HMS Sultan site comprises two separate camps. A technical side and an accommodation side, connected by the familiar blue bridges running across Military Road in Gosport. The site is unique in that within its perimeter it has two Grade II listed Palmerston forts: Fort Grange to the South of the site and Fort Rowner to the north. Whilst the forts are not used by Sultan directly for training they add to sites uniqueness and charm.

  • Ratings training on marine a Gas Turbine

    Engineering ratings receive instruction on marine a Gas Turbine

  • The Sultan show

    The Sultan Show – held each year in June attracts thousands of visitors, promotes the navy and is important to the local community

  • HMS Collingwood

    HMS Collingwood is planned to become a training super-base. Currently home to RN warfare training, extensive investment will be needed on the site to house engineering training by 2025

Relocation, relocation, relocation

Moving Sultan’s main engineering training facilities will present an expensive challenge. Large, very noisy and training aids such as diesel generators, gas turbines, pumps, switchboards and simulators will all need relocating to HMS Collingwood. This equipment cannot just be placed in any old building but will require tailor-made housing with noise and heat insulation built on sturdy foundations. They also need a series of separate out-buildings to house the fuel tanks, oil tanks, air compressors and control systems that support the simulation of shipboard operation.

New accommodation and new training facilities will therefore have to be built to effectively conduct Marine Engineering training at Collingwood. As the RN desperately needs to attract and retain the best engineers, a brand new purpose-built 21st Century facility at Collingwood could be very good news in the long-term.

Engineers are renowned for being flamboyant characters, passionate about their branch and history. Engineering training requires getting your hands dirty with large pieces of machinery. This is in contrast the warfare training conducted at Collingwood which is primarily computer-based. Some weapon engineers already conduct training at Collingwood but bringing stokers and dabbers together will create an interesting cross over of branch culture.

Relocating submarine engineer training to Faslane will further consolidate submarine activity in Scotland. When Devonport-based HMS Triumph decommissions in 2022, all submariners can then expect to spend virtually their entire career based north of the border. Undoubtedly an efficient way of operating, but whether this is an incentive to recruiting and retaining submariners is open to question.

The big picture

In an ideal world HMS Sultan would remain open and receive new investment. However there is some logic in reducing the size of the defence estate and it is broadly good news that the most of the civilian jobs will stay in the area, only moving up the road to Fareham. Naval engineers will eventually benefit from brand new purpose built facility at Collingwood but Sultan will have to carry on for another 9 years and will obviously decline in the meantime. The MoD will have to start a major project to plan and move complex facilities. The costs of this will be high so it could be a long time before the MoD sees any financial saving from this ‘rationalisation’.

Accountancy-driven schemes for efficiency may make sense at one level, but ultimately the MoD should remember it exists to protect the nation. There are good reasons for physical dispersal of defence sites to provide resilience and options in the face of enemy action or even natural disasters. In time of war training facilities might need to be rapidly expanded, something that cannot be done easily if all spare capacity is gone.

At some point this shrinkage must end and there be no more closures. If we continue to follow the merciless logic of ‘rationalisation’ to its ultimate conclusion, the Navy would have just 1 ship and just 1 giant shore establishment as that would be most “financially efficient”.


Many thanks to contribution made to this article by Jack Paxman (currently serving at HMS Sultan).


from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Being a Reservist Peacekeeper: Part Two

Army Reservist Private Belinda Houghton (25) from Blackpool is an Army medic currently serving with the 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as part of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) mission. A month into our operational tour of Cyprus and we are all settling in nicely here on Blue Beret Camp. Originally named […]

from The Official British Army Blog

Friday, 11 November 2016

Soldier to Officer: Week Four

Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer. She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started […]

from The Official British Army Blog

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Soldier to Officer: Week Three

Hayley Larcombe served in the British Army as a qualified nurse for nine years. After a successful career, including deployments to Afghanistan and Kenya, she decided to apply for a commission into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as an officer. She was successful at the Army Officer Selection Board and has recently started […]

from The Official British Army Blog

Remembrance 2016. We will remember them

As we pay tribute those who gave their lives in service of their country, here we focus on just a few examples of sacrifices made by men of the Royal Navy.

Basra City, Iraq, 6 May 2006

LT Cdr Darren Chapman killed in Irag 2006

Lt Cdr Darren Chapman

5 British forces personnel were killed when a Lynx helicopter was shot down in Basra, probably by a man-portable anti-aircraft missile. Those lost included Lieutenant Commander Darren Chapman, Commanding Officer of 847 Naval Air Squadron. He was aged 40, and married with three children. Having worked his way up through the ranks from able seaman, he took command of 847 Naval Air Squadron in December 2005. He had already served as a Sea King pilot in the first Gulf War, the Balkans and Iraq in 2003.

His family said “We are deeply shocked and devastated at the untimely and tragic loss of Darren. He was a fantastic father, husband, son and friend who was deeply committed to family life; always there for those who needed him, nothing was ever too much trouble”.

Falkland Islands, 8 June 1982

56 servicemen died and many more were badly injured when the Argentines attacked two Royal Fleet Auxiliary Landing ships. In the fog of war a series of mistakes and bad luck had left RFA Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram exposed, virtually defenceless and with troops still on board. The casualties were predominantly Welsh Guardsmen but amongst those killed were 7 RFA sailors, technically civilians but taking the same risks as everyone who served in the South Atlantic. Considerable bravery by naval Sea King helicopter pilots flying close to the ship as fires took hold and ammunition was exploding, helped save further loss of life.

RFA Sir Galahad, Bluff Cove, Falklands War 1982

Bluff Cove, the single deadliest British loss of the Falklands War

Mediterranean, June 1940

During an exceptionally difficult period for the submarine service, the Royal Navy lost 3 boats in a single week; HMS Grampus, HMS Orpheus and HMS Odin. HMS Grampus was sunk while laying mines off Sicily on the 16th June 1940. She was spotted and attacked by 3 Italian torpedo boats. The submarine and was destroyed with the loss of all 59 crew members on board. The submarine service was to endure the loss of 76 boats during the war, the majority lost with all hands.

HMS Grampus

An early casualty of world war II, HMS Grampus, a large mine-laying submarine sunk by the Italian Navy

from Save the Royal Navy

Friday, 4 November 2016

Type 31 Frigate – unwanted child of austerity or bright hope for a larger fleet?

It is widely accepted that the current total of 19 surface escorts falls far short of what is needed to meet the UK’s strategic aims. With the Type 26 frigate programme now fixed at 8 ships, the only way surface escort numbers are ever going to be increased is to build more of the cheaper Type 31 frigate (General Purpose Frigate – GPFF). The 2015 SDSR committed government to “at least 19” frigates and destroyers but on 4th November 2016, when talking in the context of frigates, the Defence Secretary said “We will have fleet larger than the fleet at the moment”. This is a positive sign and at least suggests intent in government build more than 5 Type 31 frigates.

Could exports and economies of scale put greater numbers within reach?

The recent devaluation of the pound by 20%, with speculation that its value will bottom out at $1.10 (meaning around a 30% devaluation) makes UK based shipbuilding considerably more competitive than even six months ago. The export potential of a Type 31 and even the Type 26, which until recently appeared very limited, may be more realistic in this new financial reality.

The Treasury-led development of a National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) begun in January 2016 and is primarily focussed on naval surface ship construction, is due to report before the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 23rd November. The NSS has a lot of ground to cover and the RN must hope it can offer more than George Osborne’s feeble 2015 plan to build one new warship every two years.

France has recently announced construction of its new 4,200 tonne FTI frigate at an estimated cost of £690 million per ship, and shipbuilder DTMI estimates there is market potential for at least 40 such frigates. If government wants a thriving warship building sector, investing a little more in making the Type 31 a more powerful flexible design at a better price point than the FTI offering could reap dividends. UK warship exports lag way behind France and Spain and there is much work to be done to get back into this important market. If government is able to commit to more than the bare minimum 5 ships for the RN, this could leverage economies of scale and increase confidence from potential foreign buyers.

25 escorts, a realistic target ?

The RN manpower crisis may have stabilised by the late 2020s but the lower manning requirements of the Type 26 and Type 31 will be very welcome. The Type 23s and 45s fleet combined needs around 3,550 but the overall requirement should fall by about 1,000 to around 2,550 or allow more vessels to be manned. A younger fleet should be able to offer a slightly higher level of availability.

The 2008 defence review suggested that 30 surface escorts were needed to meet the RN’s operational requirement. Commitments and threats have in no way reduced since 2008.

To escort the operational aircraft carrier and maintain the existing global commitments appears to require, at the very least 10 surface escorts deployed at any one time. Assuming that these units can achieve 40% availability, this suggests a surface fleet of 25 frigates and destroyers. This would require the construction of 11 Type 31. In the current climate where the Type 26 construction is not set to start before summer 2017 and the Type 31 exists only on paper, this seems fanciful. There is some hope that attractive industrial and export benefits with UK-wide construction could just tempt the Treasury to properly back the programme. Currently the future frigate budget is set around £8Bn. If the 8 Type 26 cost around £750M each, as it stands the 5 ‘planned’ Type 31 can have a maximum unit cost around £400M. Adding another 5 or 6 ships to what is already in the funding plan might cost something like £200m per year. This would seem a small price to pay when this could help re-balance the capability of the surface fleet and sustain several shipbuilders for a decade or more.

It seems quite likely the Type 31 will be built by a consortium (similar to the Aircraft Carrier Alliance) led by BAE Systems, but with work shared around UK shipyards. The NSS should shed more light on this but such an arrangement helps spread the economic benefits around the UK and beyond the Clyde which will be largely occupied with Type 26 work.

Can the Type 31 project deliver a credible frigate?

As we touched on in a previous article the Type 31 concept is attempting something extremely challenging. Within a constrained budget and relatively tight timeframe, industry must deliver a frigate that will be an effective platform into the 2030s and 2040s. As an example to avoid, work on the Type 26 will begin two decades after the project to replace the type 23 then called the “Future Escort” was announced in 1997. The 10-year design to delivery schedule will require very tight discipline by the customer in not moving the goalposts during the project and the contractor to deliver on time and on cost. This is possible but will be in contrast to the problems of most large UK defence procurement projects in the last 30 years.

The Type 31 will emerge into a world of new and challenging threats to surface ships. Hypersonic missiles, lasers, weaponised unmanned vehicles and super-quiet conventional submarines are all proliferating. In this high-intensity conflict even the Type 26 may struggle, will the less sophisticated Type 31 cope?

In terms of design, the basic Type 31 model must be a capable patrol and general purpose frigate, suitably equipped to undertake independent deployment, but also capable of stepping up to act as carrier or amphibious escort if needed. The main cost savings over Type 26 must be found in its smaller size, lighter armament, reduced survivability and more basic propulsion.

If the Type 31 is going to perform as a useful escort then it needs more than self-defence weapons. Like the type 26, it will still need good sensors, command systems and some self-protection. Assuming Sea Ceptor is fitted then it can provide and basic air defence umbrella over a few ships. Growing underwater threats demands the RN have more anti-submarine platforms. The Type 26 will undoubtedly be a fine submarine hunter but the Type 31 must also be a deterrent to submarines if it is to be considered of real use as an escort. One of the big cost-drivers for the Type 26 are the noise-hygiene measures to reduce self-radiated noise that impairs in passive detection of submarines. The Type 31 will inevitably have nosier propulsion. Perhaps operating a few of its own unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) as sensor platforms could be an answer for the Type 31’s need for effective anti-submarine capability on the cheap. The Thales Captas 4 offers very compact towed array sonar that should also be a minimum requirement for the Type 31. Fitting of anti-ship or land attack weapons will probably have to take a lower priority.

At around £1Bn each the Type 45 and the Type 26 can almost be considered ‘capital ships’, with which few risks can be taken. A cheaper, more ‘expendable’ ship offers important flexibility on operations. During the Falklands war, lacking available minesweepers, it was the cheap Type 21 frigate HMS Alacrity that that was the sacrificial lamb tasked to sail through Falkland Sound to see if there were any mines. (Fortunately there were none and she survived unscathed).

In conclusion

The Type 31 remains controversial, one respected defence commentator has even called it “the pointless class”. The specification is still very fluid, even within the navy apparently “everyone within NCHQ has a different view”. Ultimately the design will have to be evolved fast and an off the shelf solution seems to be the most realistic way forward. The main image above shows the BMT Venator-110, probably the best baseline option of the 3 outline design proposals for the Type 31 in the public domain at the time of writing. We will examine these proposals in a subsequent article.

What is certain is that the importance of decisions on the Type 31 programme should not be underplayed or seen as of secondary importance to the Type 26 programme. A well designed Type 31 frigate has the potential to maximise the potency of the fleet whilst rejuvenating warship building in the UK. But a leap of faith is needed to choose the right design, and then follow through and build in sufficient quantity to ensure economies of scale.

Many thanks to John Dunbar for his considerable contribution to this article.

from Save the Royal Navy