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