Sunday, 31 July 2016

Quick Update and Look Forward

The post rate has been pretty slow recently and to be honest, have been thinking how to evolve TD, taking time to read some and gathering research materials. Will be continuing with Parliamentary Questions and news posts but as before, concentrating on the ‘long reads’ This is the official list of things on the to ...

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from Think Defence

Saturday, 30 July 2016

All six Type 45s in Portsmouth this weekend – rare but not an indication of something sinister

National media has reacted to the observation that all six of the RN’s Type 45 destroyers are in Portsmouth this weekend. Although a rare occurrence, it is not unprecedented. The propulsion issues that have dogged the class have been widely reported in the media and their operations and whereabouts now attract an unusual amount of attention. Apart from HMS Dauntless, in long-term lay up as training ship due to manpower shortages, all the Type 45s are in a normal operating cycle.

The fact they are all in port this weekend (and have been a couple of times in the last few weeks) is really a coincidence. Ship’s future programmes are not normally published in advance but the Type 45s have recently been active and in during June, five of the six ships were all at sea simultaneously.

HMS Daring – test-fired Aster missile 11/7/16. Due to deploy to Gulf soon?
HMS Diamond – completed Operational Sea Training. Has just returned from visit to Ireland and operating in Scottish waters.
HMS Dragon completed major refit, recommissioned 8/7/16 and has just returned from visit to Amsterdam.
HMS Defender – undergoing routine maintenance after returning home on 7th July from successful 9-month deployment to the Gulf.
HMS Duncan – Completed Gulf deployment last year. Been in UK waters and led Jutland 100 commemorations in May. Now in refit.

Living with propulsion problems

The very serious problems with the Integrated Electric Propulsion that can cause the complete propulsion and power failure are explained in more detail in our previous post. By applying a mixture of temporary fixes and operating restrictions, the RN has managed to keep the ships in operation and breakdowns are now almost eliminated. The situation is a scandal that succesive governments are responsible for but a permanent cure will be applied. The MoD is unfortunately fully responsible for the risky decision to use untried WR-21 gas turbines and the taxpayer, not the builders or engine manufacturers will have to bear the full cost. Project Napier, which was set up to look at the options, has now made recommendations about the best solution and the MoD is now in discussions with contractors to undertake the work but it may not be started until 2019.

Even as HMS Defender was conducting a high successful deployment in the summer heat of the Arabian Gulf media outlets have been running dumbed-down stories about how “Type 45s break down in hot weather”. As ever the situation is more complex that this. Heat does adversely affect the efficiency of all gas turbines and exacerbates the existing issues with the Type 45. Nevertheless the ships are regarded as one of the best air defence platforms in the world, recently operating as trusted escorts to US aircraft carriers in the high-threat environment of the Gulf.

People matter most

The summer leave period may also contribute to more ships alongside than usual. The 5,000 redundancies forced on the RN by the 2010 SDSR have left a disastrous legacy and it is no secret there is an ongoing manpower shortage. Critical to the future of the navy is retaining its best and most experienced people. The RN leadership is trying to ensure predictable programmes for ships and ensuring promises about leave are kept. This has meant more ships kept alongside or in UK waters that in the past would have been rushed off on deployment as soon as possible. This situation is far from ideal but is the right policy in the face of a toxic legacy of underfunding and over-work.

Keep calm and carry on.

from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

News story: New ministerial appointments at the MOD: July 2016

The final ministerial team is as follows: Secretary of State for Defence – The Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP Minister of State for the Armed Forces – The Rt Hon Mike Penning MP Minister of State in the House of Lords – Rt Hon Earl Howe PC Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for ...

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from Think Defence

Monday, 25 July 2016

Speech: First Sea Lord’s defence and security lecture to the City of London

From the MoD… Speech by First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones. My Lord Mayor, It is a tremendous privilege to be the first service chief invited to deliver your annual Defence and Security Lecture, and to be joined by so many distinguished representatives from the City of London and beyond, including many of the ...

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from Think Defence

Speech: Britain’s global role: stepping up

FROM THE MoD… Speech by Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence. This year marks 70 years on from Winston Churchill’s famous speech “The Sinews of Peace” delivered in Fulton, Missouri in March 1946 in which he talked about the “special relationship.” While that phrase is well known, it is perhaps less well known that ...

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from Think Defence

Friday, 22 July 2016

Why relocating Trident away from Scotland is virtually impossible

On 18th July the House of Commons voted to construct new Successor submarines to replace the current Vanguard boats that carry the UK nuclear deterrent. The arguments in favour of the deterrent are compelling, delivering cross-party support and carrying the vote overwhelmingly. Unsurprisingly the 58 Scottish nationalist MPs voted against and their defeat will be another ‘grievance’ used to push for another referendum on independence. Many in Britain seem to think we could simply move the deterrent from its base in Scotland to England. Here we will look at the extensive Scottish infrastructure that supports Trident and the very limited options for moving it south.

Although around half of Scots are in favour of keeping Trident the issue is used obsessively as a political weapon by the nationalists. The SNP want to axe Trident but be part of NATO, an explicitly nuclear alliance. They are desperate to leave an established and successful political union with England but remain in a fragile and failing European Union. They give the impression that axing Trident would end poverty in Scotland, yet Trident is just 6% of defence spending and less than 0.2% of total UK government outgoings. Despite their incoherent policy and poor record of devolved government they have some popular support and Scottish independence is not unthinkable.

Many people commenting on defence matters under-estimate or overlook logistics and infrastructure, this is particularly true in the case of Trident. When the UK signed the agreement to obtain the Polaris nuclear missile from the United States in 1962 the MoD had to begin an immense project to create the submarine-based deterrent. Amazingly Polaris was delivered within the very tight timescale and the first deterrent Patrol was made on schedule by the Royal Navy in 1968. Although the public and media attention was focussed on building the 4 submarines and developments at Faslane, another critical element was the construction of the armaments depot at nearby Coulport.

RNAD Coulport

The facility at Coulport is used to store the missiles and nuclear warheads before loading them aboard the submarines. (To save costs, the Trident missiles are actually serviced in joint facility in the United States). Built on the shores of Loch Long, this site is close enough to Faslane to allow the submarines to make a short passage to load or unload missiles. A complex network of underground bunkers, roads, support buildings and jettys was constructed between 1963-68. Replacing the obsolete Polaris missile with the Trident D5 in the 1990s required major new construction at the site because the Trident missile is considerably larger than its predecessor. As an indication of the scale of the facilities, the Trident Works Programme at Faslane and Coulport took 13 years and cost around £1.9 billion (at 1994 prices), the second most expensive works project in the UK after the Channel Tunnel.

The heart of the Coulport site is the Trident Storage Area which includes 16 large underground bunkers with air-locked doors which each store a single Trident missile. The rocket fuel in each missile has the explosive power equivalent to 70 tonnes of TNT so the bunkers have to be well separated and able to withstand explosions or the remote possibility of an earth quake. There are also stores for the British-made nuclear warheads which are manufactured and serviced at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Berkshire and are transported to Scotland in regular road convoys. The warheads are joined with the missiles in the Nuclear Process Building and then taken by to the Explosives Handling Jetty. One of the world’s largest floating concrete structures, the EHJ is a specially constructed covered floating dock. The submarine enters and the missiles are loaded vertically into the tubes by overhead crane.

Remote from public gaze, Coulport is one of the most sensitive and well guarded defence facilities in the UK. It is has an area of around 2 Sq miles, more than twice the size of Faslane naval base. It has about 20 miles of internal roads and 18 miles of alarmed razor wire fence.

RNAD Coalport and HMNB Clyde facilities map

The main features of the extensive Scottish facilities required to support the Royal Navy’s nuclear deterrent submarines. (Click image for larger version).


The base at Faslane has been developed from the 1950s and news facilities have been added continuously until the present day. The large shiplift building can raise submarines out of the water for maintenance in a covered hall. There is dedicated finger jetty for the Trident submarines and the newer 44,000 tonne floating Valiant jetty for use by attack submarines which cost around £150M. The berths are equipped with backed-up, power supplies to maintain and monitor nuclear submarine systems and much of the site is expensively hardened to withstand earthquake, fire, explosion or tidal surges. There are also berths used by visiting warships and the Sandown class minehunters based in Faslane. Ashore there are large engineering workshops and storage areas. In the last decade considerable effort has gone into upgrading accommodation, including construction of the new ‘supermess’, shopping centre and sports facilities. There also a large number of married quarters for service families located close to the base.

Other facilites

Besides Faslane and Coulport there are other important defence sites in Scotland that either directly support the deterrent or are critical to the RN operations. Three underwater ranges around Western Scotland are used to measure acoustic signature of ships, submarines, torpedoes and underwater vehicles. Located at Loch Fyne, Loch Goil and the Isle of Rona these facilities are critical to ensuring submarines retain their stealth and assist in the development of underwater weapons and countermeasures. It is also likely there are other classified installations around the Clyde area that support the deterrent and listen for foreign submarine intruders.

Besides Coulport there are three other important defence munitions sites in Scotland that support the RN. DM Glen Douglas covers almost 650 acres and has 56 underground magazines. It provides ammunition to RN vessels berthed at Glen Mallen jetty on Loch Long where there is also a naval oil depot. DM Crombie on the River Forth is one of the few depots in Britain with deep water and a jetty that allows the largest warships to load or unload munitions. DM Beith south-west of Glasgow produces, tests and stores missiles and torpedoes. Able to store 18,000 cubic metres of explosives, Beith also assembles Spearfish torpedoes and is involved in handling much of the UK forces’ precision-guided weaponry including Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAM).

  • RNAD Coulport

    A small section of the secretive RNAD Coulport surrounded by 18 miles of fence. Photo: Wikipedia

  • HMS Dauntless passes the Explosives Handling Jetty on Loch Long where Trident missiles are loaded into submarines

    HMS Dauntless passes the Explosives Handling Jetty on Loch Long where Trident missiles are loaded into submarines

  • Shiplift building and finger jetty at Faslane

    From left to right: Valiant Jetty, Finger Jetty and Shiplift building at northern end of Faslane naval base

  • Minehunter berths and workshops. The accommodation blocks are at the southern end of the naval base

  • Valiant Jetty Faslane. SSNs HMS Ambush and Triumph alongside

    Valiant Jetty, Faslane. Attack submarines HMS Ambush and Triumph can be seen alongside

  • RFA Fort Austin loads ammunition at Glen Mallen Jetty. Photo: Colin Smith / Geograph

    RFA Fort Austin loads ammunition at Glen Mallen Jetty. Photo: Colin Smith / Geograph

Even from this cursory examination of Scottish facilities, it is obvious that replicating them in England would be exceptionally expensive. Although some equipment could be removed it is clear that huge investment has literally gone into the ground, tunnels, roads, jettys and buildings that can’t be moved. There has been phased construction and development going back more than 50 years at these sites and the armament depot would have to be built from scratch, even if suitable new sites could be found. A very optimistic estimate made by RUSI in 2014 that extrapolated recent historical costs put the relocation figure around £4Bn. In the much more regulated environment of the 2020s, such a project would surely run into the £10s of billions.

Alternative sites in the South?

Let us suppose that the against the backdrop of reduced tax receipts after Scottish Independence, the additional money required to relocate Trident could be found. The MoD has already examined alternative sites and concluded that they all have very serious drawbacks. Not only would the expense stretch the fragile defence budget to breaking point, but any transfer would require enormous political will to overcome inevitable strong local opposition.

Devonport is the leading contender to accept the Trident submarines as it would not require starting from scratch. It can still refit two nuclear submarines concurrently and has nuclear-certified berths. However it being run-down as an operating base for submarines and is nothing like was during its 1980s heyday. Devonport has the space but would still require major development match the facilities of Faslane. Studies have concluded that it would just be physically possible to build an armaments depot just across the Tamar by taking over the Anthony House Estate (owned by the National Trust). Unfortunately it would be very close to the 250,000 inhabitants of Plymouth exposed to the (small) risks of missile explosion and possible plutonium release. Although Plymouth is used to having nuclear vessels on its doorstep, local protest against such a plan involving increased risks and the destruction of a National Trust site would be understandable.

Falmouth is another contender, at least for the armaments depot and EHJ, assuming the submarines were based in Devonport. The plan would involve taking over the whole Penarrow peninsular and demolishing the villages of Flushing and Mylor. The depot would not create many long-term jobs and would impact badly on area heavily reliant on tourism and water sports as well as being too close to the 26,000 people living in Falmouth.

Portland The former naval base and air station have been considered as a possible alternative to Faslane. Since the base closed in the 1990s the site has been redeveloped as the Olympic sailing centre and Osprey Quay leisure centre which would have to be demolished. The only possibility for an armaments depot in the region would be in an area of considerable natural beauty, taking over the Army’s Lulworth tank training ranges with the EHJ located close to the renowned Lulworth Cove beach.

Milford Haven, Wales has a deepwater port with space for both submarine base and armaments depot. However the port is now Britain’s most important energy importing and storage site. Daily arrivals of large tankers and  stores of oil and LNG make it dangerously incompatible with submarine movements, explosives and nuclear materials.

Barrow in Furness. Home to all British submarine construction, the Walney channel that submarines would have to navigate is extremely shallow and only usable by an SSBN a few times in the monthly tidal cycle an unacceptable tactical limitation. The potential sites for a submarine base or armaments depot are extremely exposed. Although the site is quite remote from other main population centres, it would be too close to the 70,000 inhabitants of the town.

Foreign basing. As a last resort it has been suggested that the submarines could operate from Kings Bay, Georgia in the United States. Although many of the US Trident facilities are compatible with the UK deterrent, there would be considerable political complications. Even if US congress approved the idea, sending British nuclear warheads to the United States would be in breach of the Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT). The deterrent would also become considerably less independent of the US than under the current arrangement. An even more unworkable proposal would be to share the French SSBN base at Ile Longue in Brittany. The site is already very compact with little room expansion. The RN boats and Trident missiles are considerably larger than the French boats and their M51 missiles and incompatible with virtually all the French facilities. Despite growing defence cooperation efforts, the political implications of basing UK nuclear weapons on French soil would probably be even more convoluted than for the US.

It is hard not to conclude that if an independent Scotland will not allow nuclear weapons to remain on its soil this would probably signal the end of the British nuclear deterrent.

It is clear an independent Scotland would be a disaster for UK defence and the Royal Navy in particular. As Britain moves towards a future outside the EU, it is critical that a strong Union is maintained which would benefit us all. Those in Westminster must determine to make this case to the people of Scotland while ensuring they serve their interests with equal vigour to those in England.

from Save the Royal Navy

Thursday, 21 July 2016

How to Fix UK Land Power

I have recently looked at both the brigades of the U.S. Army and the German Heer on my blog. It's an interesting thought experiment to do the same to about the army of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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from Think Defence

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

FOI release: FOI responses published by MOD: week commencing 18 July 2016

Ministry of Defence (MOD) Freedom of Information (FOI) responses published during the week commencing 18 July 2016 Request for list of bidders and scorecards for ‘supply, servicing, repair and procurement of mobile hot pressure washers’ contract (includes annex A) Ref: DE&S FOI 2016/05504PDF, 1.17MB Maintenance and support contracts for vehicle telematics plus supplier manufacturer make ...

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from Think Defence

42451 – Trident (Answered)

Andrew Rosindell To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what steps his Department has taken to ensure that the actual cost of replacing Trident does not exceed the current estimated cost. Harriett Baldwin As set out in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, we are taking steps to manage the defence nuclear enterprise ...

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from Think Defence

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

42048 – Royal Fleet Auxiliary (Answered)

Ian Mearns To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what information his Department holds on the number of (a) women and (b) men employed as (i) merchant navy (A) officers and (B) ratings or (ii) merchant seafarers by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in each of the last 10 years. Penny Mordaunt The number of ...

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from Think Defence

42392 – Middle East: Military Intervention (Answered)

Tim Farron To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, how many Brimstone missiles have been fired by RAF warplanes in (a) Iraq and (b) Syria since the UK joined the coalition fighting against Daesh in those countries. Penny Mordaunt The following number of Brimstone missiles have been released by RAF aircraft engaged on Operation ...

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from Think Defence

41981 – HMS Queen Elizabeth (Answered)

Philip Davies To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what the (a) initial estimate and (b) actual cost was for the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Mr Philip Dunne As reported in successive Major Projects Reports, the original approved cost of the Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) Aircraft Carrier programme was £3.9 billion, including the capitalised costs ...

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from Think Defence

News story: The UK decides to renew continuous at sea deterrent

MPs on all sides have voted by an overwhelming margin, to renew our nuclear deterrent – the ultimate guarantee of our national security. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: We have voted to protect our nation from the most serious threats we may face in the 2030s, 2040s and 2050s. The British Parliament has sent a ...

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from Think Defence

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Another Tale of Two Engines

Am genuinely excited about these two stories, they show the UK is at the absolute cutting edge of aerospace technology. The first is news that the UK Space Agency is investing £4.2m in a National Propulsion Test Facility Click the image to read. Second, a briefing from BAE and Reaction Engines that additional investment has ...

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from Think Defence

Fire Extinguishers

As long time readers of Think Defence will know, I do like to find things of interest that don’t generally get discussed. How about fire extinguishers? As we know, portable fire extinguishers are an essential part of the Complete Equipment Schedule (CES) for any vehicle. They tend to be conventional types, painted green, but no ...

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from Think Defence

Some immediate steps that would support UK plc and restore RN strength

This is a guest post by John Dunbar who argues that Brexit and the end of austerity mark a turning point for the future of the UK, and for the Royal Navy. With some modest additional funding there are several potential ‘easy wins’ for the new government of Theresa May to consider that could strengthen the RN.

Whilst remaining fully engaged with European Partners, the UK now has the opportunity to be more outward looking while building stronger economic political and military ties with other nations. The RN has always played a vital role in supporting UK ‘soft power’ with the offer of military cooperation, and it is vital that steps are taken to re-establish that global reach. Brexit has resulted in a record low cost for Government borrowing, and this could be taken advantage of to re-invest in the Navy whilst stimulating economic activity in the UK.

With the entry into service of the two new aircraft carriers, the RN, even in its diminished form, will be by far the most powerful navy in Europe. Time should be taken to establish a sustainable ship building programme based on an appropriate RN strength that can be maintained in the long-term. A revitalised RN could help to secure European security and would be a useful bargaining chip during exit negotiations.

There are a number of immediate steps that should be considered;

Increase manpower

A serious lack of manpower has left the navy stretched and ‘hollowed out’, with the result that valuable assets are being placed at extended readiness to reduce demands on personnel (including HMS Albion, HMS Dauntless, HMS Lancaster). Overstretch on crews for longer deployments also impacts on retention and morale. Ideally personnel numbers should be increased by 3,000 as rapidly as possible to ensure that the Navy’s existing assets can be fully utilised. The Royal Naval Reserve would benefit from a similar increase to provide some resilience and depth.

Invest in forces housing and ‘value added’ benefits for service personnel

As public sector pay restraint appears to be here for good, the RN needs to find other ways to offer the best possible quality of life for its service personnel to aid recruitment and retention. Ensuring that new service housing is built or existing stock brought up to a consistently high standard should be a priority. At the same time this investment would provide work for a construction sector that may face challenges as the economy adjusts to Brexit. The MoD should be able to get the best possible prices for work which would need to be carried out at some point in the futures in any case.

An immediately implementable inducement would be to increase the level of armed forces housing subsidy in lieu of a pay increase. This would help attract recruits and retain existing personnel in the short term. A fund should be provided to finance university degrees or high quality vocational qualifications in return for a commitment to a defined period of service.

Maximise availability and potency of the existing fleet

Building new ships takes time, so steps should be taken to ensure that the existing surface fleet has maximum availability. Once manpower issues are addressed the Type 45 Destroyer propulsion problems should be speedily addressed. These issues have resulted in HMS Dauntless being laid up for use as a training ship.

The capability of the existing surface fleet should also be maximised. This means; equipping all Type 45 Destroyers with Harpoon (while bringing forward deployment of the UK next generation anti-surface missile); installing Vertical Launch systems into the Type 45 Destroyers to provide land attack capability; fitting towed array sonar to the 5 Type 23 Frigates that are not currently equipped and installing Sea Ceptor missiles and Artisan Radar as soon as possible on all the Type 23’s.

This work will provide a stimulus to UK industry, and in particular would provide expanded activity in Devonport which could undertake the majority of the re-fit and improvement work. It will also mean that the surface escort fleet can deliver a full array of fighting capability, whether deployed individually or as part of a larger task force.

Sustain or bring existing assets back into use

The decision in SDSR 2015 to place one of the Albion class LHD’s into extended readiness should be reversed, and HMS Ocean retained in service beyond 2018, or at least in put reserve until their is sufficient available manpower. This would provide the RN with a more robust and always readily deployable amphibious capability (Helicopter carrier, 2 Landing Hull Docks, 3 Landing Ship Docks). Retaining HMS Ocean avoids the need for the aircraft carriers to undertake amphibious operation in littoral waters to which they are unsuited. If HMS Ocean needs a major life-extension refit this is work that can be undertaken in UK shipyards.

The eight Merlin HM1 helicopters that are currently mothballed should be brought back into service and modified to meet HM2 standards – work to help sustain or increase activity at the Westland plant in Yeovil, and a welcome increase in the Merlin fleet which is heavily tasked at the moment. An order for additional Merlins should be considered.

Utilise the current OPV building programme to stop ‘role drift’

The strain on the Royal Navy and RFA to meet deployment requirements has resulted in ships intended for specific roles being shoe-horned into roles for which they are not well suited, or deployed in such a way as to diminish the effectiveness of the fleet capability as a whole. For instance, the deployment of HMS Bulwark, and RFA auxiliaries, to undertake rescue missions, command and control or patrol activities denudes the RN of flexibility to respond in force or to train to the highest level of capability. Time to train is being limited by constabulary or defence diplomacy deployments.

Many of these tasks – rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean, anti-piracy duties on the East African Coast – could be undertaken by the planned Batch 2 Offshore Patrol Vessels currently being built. If the three Batch 1 OPV’s currently planned for retirement were retained in service, and the new build number increased from five to six, this whould provide enough flexibility to allow RFA and Royal Navy vessels to return to a more effective model of training and deployment.

Start Type 26 construction now and bring Type 31 programme forward

There is an urgent need to resolve delays in the Type 26 Frigate building programme. Clearly, the MOD needs to ensure value for money – but increasing the flow of money into shipbuilding in the short term to support the economy is a real consideration. Bringing forward construction of Type 31 frigates in parallel with the Type 26 construction to enable a sustained increased level of shipbuilding would also be beneficial, and see an increase in surface escort numbers which can be sustained in the longer-term.


There are a number of short-term quick fixes to revitalise the RN which would also help to stimulate or sustain economic activity over the next three to four years. These improvements will also offer a more credible capability that is badly lacking elsewhere in Europe. This could help ensure successful negotiations for the UK in exiting the European Union. A stronger Navy can also offer support in strengthening other important relationships overseas. With the cost of borrowing at record lows, this looks like a chance to invest in the UK economy while increasing the Royal Navy’s influence in the global maritime environment.

John Dunbar is an analyst with a particular interest in naval policy.


from Save the Royal Navy

German Security Policy – White Paper

The introduction from Angela Merkel in the German Security Policy – White Paper, that has today been approved by the German Cabinet; The world of 2016 is unsettled. We in Germany and Europe are seeing and feeling the impact of a lack of freedom and of crises and conflicts. We are experiencing that peace and ...

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from Think Defence

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

41865 – Ministry of Defence: UK Withdrawal from EU (Answered)

Louise Haigh To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what official contingency plans his Department had in place prior to the referendum result planning for the eventuality of a vote to leave the EU. Mr Julian Brazier None. from Filtered Feed for Question and Answers:

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from Think Defence

41980 – Special Forces: Finance (Answered)

Yasmin Qureshi To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, if he will assess the potential merits of appointing a committee of parliamentarians to oversee the operations and budget of special forces, similar to the functions of the Intelligence and Security Committee in respect of the intelligence services. Michael Fallon No. from Filtered Feed for ...

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from Think Defence

Monday, 11 July 2016

News story: MOD seals the deal on nine new Maritime Patrol Aircraft to keep UK safe

The new aircraft, which will be based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, will play a vital role in protecting the UK’s nuclear deterrent and the UK’s two new aircraft carriers. They will also be able to locate and track hostile submarines, and will enhance the UK’s maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) capability. This capability will ...

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from Think Defence

News story: MOD orders new fleet of cutting-edge Apache helicopters for Army

The new fleet of Apaches are much more capable than their predecessors. Flown by Army Air Corps pilots from the Joint Helicopter Command, they will continue to give the British Army the edge over any future adversaries. The AH‑64E model of the helicopter can also carry more weapons while being more fuel efficient, allowing it ...

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from Think Defence

News story: MOD signs new partnering arrangement with Leonardo Helicopters UK

The new arrangement recognises the mutual relationship between the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Leonardo (formerly AgustaWestland), and includes commitments to working together on year-on-year improvements in cost effectiveness. It also recognises our respective roles in enhancing national prosperity through exports, where success generates revenue for the company and helps sustain valuable UK jobs and ...

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from Think Defence

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Transparency data: MOD Government Major Projects Portfolio data, 2016

Each government department has published detailed information about projects on the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP). This includes a Delivery Confidence Assessment rating, financial information (whole life cost, annual budget and forecast spend), project schedule and project narrative. The data reflects the status of the GMPP at 30 September 2015 and is published in support ...

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from Think Defence

FOI release: FOI responses published by MOD: week commencing 4 July 2016

Ministry of Defence (MOD) Freedom of Information (FOI) responses published during the week commencing 4 July 2016 from Ministry of Defence – Activity on GOV.UK   Total spend on external consultants by Royal Navy 2012 to 2016 Ref: Navy FOI 2016/05337 PDF, 66.6KB Number of women and men in Fleet Air Arm (FAA) and ...

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from Think Defence

News story: UK to enhance NATO’s ability to rapidly respond to threats

The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has authorised a package of defence support to allies in the East of Europe as they face threats such as aggression from Russia. The package includes: 500 troops to Estonia to provide reassurance and to react immediately to any crisis or incident. Thousands of troops on standby to deploy within ...

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from Think Defence

Research and analysis: Women in ground close combat roles review 2016

In 2014 the current Secretary of State for Defence welcomed the prospect of opening ground close combat (GCC) roles to women, which was reinforced by the Prime Minister in December 2015. However the Secretary of State noted that lifting the exclusion without conducting further research to understand the risks to servicewomen’s health could expose women ...

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from Think Defence

News story: Defence Secretary welcomes increased support for Afghanistan

The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has authorised an uplift to the UK’s enduring commitment to Afghanistan. Around 50 extra personnel will deploy to Kabul in 2017, joining the 450 British troops already in country. The troops, who will be deployed in non-combat roles, will contribute to on-going training and mentoring of Afghan forces, including at ...

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from Think Defence

News story: HMS Mersey to extend Royal Navy presence in Aegean

The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has authorised the deployment of HMS Mersey to the Aegean in support of NATO activity to counter migration. This is a significant extension of the UK contribution reflecting our continuing commitment to tackle illegal people trafficking and migration in the Aegean Sea. The announcement comes as the NATO Secretary General ...

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Speech: NATO Summit, Warsaw: PM’s press conference – 9 July 2016

From the MoD… Britain’s membership of NATO is vital for our country because it helps to keep our nation secure and our people safe. It is vital for NATO too because for 65 years the United Kingdom has played a leading role at the heart of this successful alliance, deploying British troops alongside our Allies ...

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New Project – Conflict Prevention from Above

A proposal for SDSR 2020 (assuming we have any money left) that explores extending the value of air power to the defence engagement and conflict prevention agenda but at the lower end of the capability spectrum. Click here… Conflict Prevention from Above  

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Thursday, 7 July 2016

What would a Donald Trump presidency mean for UK and European defence?

Donald Trump’s recent ascendency to the position of the Republican Party’s presidential candidate has been controversial to say the least. Throughout his campaign, Trump hasn’t minced his words or left anyone in doubt on a number matters. The issue of American defence spending has not escaped Trump’s attention, specifically his nation’s contributions to NATO.

In an interview with the New York Times (March 26, 2016) he stated: “NATO is unfair, economically, to us, to the United States. Because it really helps them more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.” In a foreign policy speech in Washington Trump went a step further saying: “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defence … and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.” Trump’s perception is that countries are ‘free-riding’ on American defence spending support for NATO.

Trump is suggesting the US could pull out from NATO if the majority of nations don’t start pulling their weight. NATO wants its member to contribute 2% of their GDP to defence spending, currently, only five do. The UK itself only committed to the 2% target last year and has really only achieved it by ‘creative accounting’.

Trump’s claims aren’t without merit. The US accounts for by far the largest expenditure in NATO because it has the largest military budget. The US represents 73% of defence spending of the NATO alliance as a whole. As a result the US military is spread all over the globe, having a large presence in Europe.

The withdrawal of US assets from Europe would create a dangerous vacuum that could not be easily filled. Europe is not accustomed to the same level of defence spending nor does it have sufficient industrial infrastructure in place to quickly fill the gaps that would be left.

Since the end of the Cold War the presence of American naval assets in European waters has declined. The size of the US Sixth Fleet has reduced from two carrier groups to just four Arleigh Burke destroyers, maritime-aircraft patrol assets and small patrol boats. The destroyers host the Aegis RIM-161 SM-3 missile, forming the backbone of US missile shield in Europe. Despite fewer larger naval assets being based in Europe, the US is still a lead player in the NATO exercises around the continent. The annual BALLOTS exercise now has increased in its importance due to growing Russian threat in the Baltic region. This year’s exercise has placed greater emphasis on high-end maritime warfare, including amphibious landings.

USS Porter

USS Porter, one of 4 Destroyers ‘forward-deployed’ in Europe carrying SM-3 anti ballistic missiles (US Navy photo)

Britain’s amphibious capability lis precarious. HMS Ocean will go in 2018 , leaving only HMS Albion and Bulwark (one of which is the mothballed) and 3 RFA Bay class auxiliary landing ships, which are currently filling other roles, plugging gaps that were once filled by the main surface fleet. (The RN’s new strike carriers will have to double as assault ships, a situation that is far from ideal). American hardware and numbers send a simple message to those in the Kremlin: America is committed to European defence. Donald Trump’s posturing does raise an important question: how much longer should the US tax-payer be subsidising European defence spending?

On a domestic front, the Royal Navy has certainly benefitted from American defence projects. Co-operation with the US has allowed Britain get a very effective nuclear weapon delivery system without bearing the full weight of research and development, only contributing around 5% of the cost. (According to the Pentagon, the Trident program had cost the US $39.546 billion by 2011). UK media often misunderstand that the successor submarine project is just one-third of the complete system. The warheads and submarines are built in Britain, but the missile is made in America. The RN leases missiles from a joint pool in Kings Bay, Georgia where they are maintained. This arrangement is unlikely to be significantly altered during a Trump presidency but Trident’s life comes to an end in 2040. It could have an effect on negotiations for the replacement which will surely start a decade before.

Trump has a well know dislike of the F-35 and says he would axe the project. $163 billion over-budget, and experiencing development problems, the F-35 is an easy target for critics. In Trump’s black and white world view this is just another simplistic judgement about an exceptionally complex programme. There is now much evidence that despite initial problems, the F-35 will prove to be a great success but it may take years to shake its ‘problem child’ reputation. The success of the RN’s carrier project is almost entirely reliant on the delivery of the F-35B. The only alternative would be a lengthy and costly return to CATOBAR configuration. While this maybe desirable in many ways, there are simply not the funds available and it would delay the carriers coming into service for years.

F35-B in UK Airspace

Axing F-35 would be a colossal waste of the money already invested and would have disastrous consequences not just for the RN, but the defences of the entire Western world.

The F-35 is another example of UK reliance on American hardware. Britain, being the only level 1 partner has a major stake in this aircraft. British defence companies are responsible for around 15% of the construction of each aircraft. This is great for British industry and jobs, but there is still a major issue. The software source code: the foundation of the F-35’s central computer core is not being shared with any partner nations. The problem with this is that any maintenance and upgrades won’t be able to occur without American involvement. This allows the Americans to maintain its software security but also its partners fleet updates. Britain has pleaded on many occasions for this to change, but as of yet, there appears to be no change in the US administration’s decision on the matter. Trump and Clinton would both likely take a similar line, the source code is a matter of national security, hence the current reluctance to distribute them now.

A Trump presidency would probably deliver limited initial change and he may find internal opposition thwarting many of his more wild policies. In the long-term there could be greater reason to worry. If the European NATO partners did not step up their defence spending quickly this could further embolden Putin and put peace in Europe at risk. Trump doesn’t like to appear weak and only time will tell how much of what he says he actually believes. He certainly hasn’t been afraid to be provocative but if he did begin a US withdrawal from NATO it would completely undermine the credibility of European defence.

The huge political fallout from the Brexit vote will take time to be resolved and there is much work to be done in re-defining our relationship with the continent. France, Germany and the UK would have to work quickly and effectively together, should the US abandon NATO. Some may fear Trump’s rhetoric but he highlights Europe’s lax attitude to defence and its reliance on America. This could be an opportunity for Europe to fundamentally rethink its defence policy and resourcing before a move towards greater independence.

Although Trump appears to want to adopt isolationist policies for the US, his outspoken and bellicose approach suggests his presidency has the worrying potential to trigger conflicts around the globe. As ever the UK should be prepared for the unexpected but the ‘Trump factor’ can only add to uncertainty. The majority of Europeans maybe hoping that we do not have to endure a Trump presidency, but either way, it’s a wakeup call.


This is a guest post from Peter Henson, a former Royal Navy communications specialist and postgraduate military blogger. Twitter:@phenson1987

from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Iraq Inquiry – Open Thread

Today is the day the Iraq Inquiry, all two million words of it, is published.

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from Think Defence

Friday, 1 July 2016

Brexit Open Thread

Does Brexit offer opportunities for defence, or is it only doom and gloom? Can the UK offer the substantial resources of the MoD to support exit negotiations, how can we reassure our allies, particularly those in the east of Europe, that we still have their backs, is there a good case for an increase in defence ...

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1st Special Report – Shifting the goalposts?

It might seem like rather a point of little importance in these turbulent times but lots of really interesting information in the response. Defence expenditure and the 2% pledge: Government Response to the Committee’s Second Report of Session

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