Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The case for a 21st Century Royal Navy Home Fleet

John Dunbar argues a re-branded Royal Navy Home Fleet would be understood both politically and publicly and would provide a much stronger basis to argue for the necessary resources to bolster protection of UK waters and economic interests.

Throughout history, the role of the home fleet has evolved in response to the political and military context. During the Napoleonic wars, the Home fleet blockaded the French Navy and provided a counterpoint to their Fleet In Being – in two world wars the Home fleet fulfilled the same role against the German high Sea Fleet and the Italian Navy, as well as managing active operations throughout the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. This is not a proposal rooted in nostalgia for the multiple fleets of our imperial past, rather a suggestion that appropriate assets be put under a more recognisable umbrella for UK maritime security.

Today, British Maritime Doctrine currently splits the warships and capabilities of the Royal Navy into three key elements. The Committed Force encompasses any Royal Navy assets allocated to meet core security and deployment commitments; The Responsive force, capable of responding to the full range of threats or eventualities for which the British Military should be prepared, and which for the navy includes a Rapid Reaction Task Force and a brigade of Royal Marines; and the Adaptive Force incorporating those elements winding down from or working up for deployment or in refit.

All very logical in and of itself. However, reductions in the surface fleet mean that in reality, most ships are either in the Committed or Adaptive Force, with precious little in the way of responsive resources available once standing commitments have been met. The Navy has done exceptionally well to adapt to plug gaps by clever deploying of surface escorts and with RFA and survey ships utilised in full to ensure that the UK continues to play an active and valued role in Europe and East of Suez.

Unfortunately, the inherent deficits in the size of the surface fleet have been made more apparent by the relatively swift shift in the geopolitical order. Russian Submarine activity increased significantly in UK waters, most noticeably off the North West coast of Scotland. The now permanent militarisation of the Eastern Mediterranean means the UK can expect a much higher level of Russian Naval traffic as ships and submarines transit to and fro between Russia’s Baltic, northern and Mediterranean fleets.

Growing Russian naval activity means the RN, already stretched by overseas deployments, now faces increasing demands to be more present in UK waters

Whether there is genuine Russian intent to hunt down the British Nuclear Deterrent or to threaten the UK more directly, remains unknown, but failing to address these threats in a proportionate and effective manner makes the UK a hostage to fortune – history tells us that appeasement rarely works in the favour of the appeaser.

The Navy faces many challenges in addressing these issues. Even with the small increase in the long-term defence budget, financial constraints are ever pressing, and any growth in surface escort numbers is unlikely until 2025. Press reaction to all 6 Type 45s being alongside at the same time last summer suggests a PR battle to understand the value of the navy in UK waters also needs to be won, particularly if additional funding is to be provided.

A modern day home fleet

The role of a modern day home fleet will be very different to its antecedents. In the absence of active and open conflict, the UK must observe international law, making maritime transit for other navies through both economic exclusion zones and territorial waters acceptable providing that maritime law is properly observed. Unlike many previous eras, the UK does not face the threat of imminent invasion or attack by a grand fleet.

The UK does remain reliant on overseas trade, and increasingly on undersea pipelines carrying fuel, power and telecommunications between the UK, Europe and the US. Whilst much of the UK’s critical infrastructure, including power generation, is based on the coast or offshore, these are all vulnerable to attack by actors ranging from terrorists to other nation states.

The key objectives for a new Home Fleet could be;

  • Establishing a dominant surveillance capability in UK territorial waters and Exclusive Economic zone, both above and below the surface.
  • Maintaining a credible capability against surface incursions to deter aggression.
  • Maintaining a credible capability to respond to submarine threats to UK infrastructure and the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent.

Focusing on the first objective (surveillance) will enable effective deployment of scarce high-end capabilities to best effect to deliver against the other objectives.

The reintroduction of Maritime Patrol capability through the purchase of the Poseidon P-8 will eventually address the most glaring omissions in UK capability. Unfortunately only 9 Poseidons on order and only 3 of them are expected to be in service by 2020. The RAF is also keen to exploit their overland capabilities in addition to their primary maritime role, so the P-8 fleet will be stretched.

The shortage of surface escorts means that typically a maximum of two frigate or destroyers will be available in UK waters at a given time. UK territorial waters cover around 3,230 Km2 and the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) amounts to nearly 300 million Km2. Clearly far more resources are required to patrol this important space.

And whilst the best way to kill or track a submarine is with another submarine, the UK’s fleet of 7 nuclear attack submarines is insufficient in size – with one SSN deployed to protect the Navy’s new aircraft carriers, one east of Suez and a third protecting the continuous at sea deterrent, there is precious little availability to monitor the movements of other sub-surface threats.

Short term fixes

There are no zero-cost solutions to close these capability gaps, but there are a number of ways that capability could be improved relatively quickly, and sustained over the next decade.

The Navy has 12 Merlin HM1 helicopters in dry store – these are capable anti-submarine platforms and could be reactivated to provide a significant boost to maritime surveillance of UK waters without the need to be upgraded to HM2 standards (though this would be desirable).

Working in consort with the new Batch 2 River Class OPV’s (which can support helicopter operations for short durations at distance from shore) and alongside Poseidon MPA from 2020 onwards, a dedicated UK based Merlin HM1 squadron would significantly narrow existing shortfalls in surveillance, anti-shipping and anti-submarine capability. In an ideal world and if manpower could be found, these would be based on HMS Ocean which would remain in service until 2030 as the flagship of the Home Fleet and as an anti-submarine / helicopter assault ship. This would also improve the availability of Merlin throughout the fleet which may prove particularly important given the need for airborne early warning and anti-submarine protection of the new carriers as they come into service in 2018.

To close remaining gaps in persistent surveillance capability, Batch 1 River OPV’s should be retained in service and utilised as platforms for unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles, and with a view to being used as platforms for future investment in unmanned underwater surveillance vehicles for which they are ideally suited as mother ships in UK waters. Exploring the use of containerised towed array sonars may prove the quickest way to support the work of the limited number of Type 23 frigates available in UK waters in improving detection of submarines.

As well a fixing the glaring lack of RN anti-ship missiles, in the medium term, serious consideration needs to be given to reintroducing maritime strike missiles into the RAF inventory on fast jets as well as on Poseidon. The pragmatic choice would be to equip (Poseidon, Typhoon and Type 23 / 45) with a new purchase of Harpoon Block II, rather than investing large sums in alternative systems that will probably be replaced by FCASW within a decade of coming into service.

Perhaps the most important decisions relate to the protection of the UK’s underwater infrastructure. Investment in unmanned underwater surveillance technology should become a priority. There is also a clear and sound case to be made for the development of a fleet of between six and nine Diesel Electric / AIP submarines to provide enhanced surveillance and deterrence and to provide enhanced protection of the UK’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent.


Utilising existing assets and investing in emerging technologies could deliver significant improvements to UK maritime security. This would involve retaining Batch 1 OPV’s and HMS Ocean in service, reactivating the remaining mothballed Merlin Helicopters and investing in unmanned technologies in the short to medium term. Sensible but urgent decisions are also needed on a replacement anti-shipping missile between 2018 and 2020.

Additional money will still be required to deliver these capability improvements but at only a fraction of the cost of ideal alternatives (i.e. more frigates, submarines and dedicated Maritime Patrol Aircraft already being in service). The concept of the Home Fleet is one which is easy to understand both politically and publicly and would provide a much stronger basis to argue for necessary resources to bolster protection of UK waters and economic interests. It would also send a clear and important message to other nations of the UK’s intention to defend its national interest.

Main Image: Fleet Ready Escort, HMS St Albans shadows Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov through the English Channel, 25th January 2017. © Crown copyright


from Save the Royal Navy

Monday, 23 January 2017

Why we should have every confidence in the Trident missile system

On 22nd January the Sunday Times revealed that a routine Trident missile test conducted by HMS Vengeance off the US coast in June 2016 had been a failure. A telemetry problem had caused the unarmed missile to be destroyed in flight. Previous test-firings have been announced to the media but this test had remained secret. Government stands accused of hiding a politically inconvenient fact close to the time when Parliament was due to approve the Trident renewal program.

HMS Vengeance launched the missile correctly and there was no failure by the submarine. Exact details of what happened are sketchy but the problem concerned a malfunction in the telemetry and communications which track the missile. The missile may have been performing correctly, but lacking certainty as to its position and course the sensible option was to destroy it in flight. The missile was intended to splashdown far away in the West Atlantic but some less credible media reports suggested it veered off toward the US coast, threatening to crash in Florida.

The Mistry of Defence has stated: “HMS Vengeance and her crew were successfully tested and certified, allowing Vengeance to return into service. We have absolute confidence in our independent nuclear deterrent”


After completion of a major refit period, RN Vanguard class submarines conduct a DASO (Demonstration and Shakedown Operation) that tests the chain of command, the submarine and its systems and ensures the crew are competent to safely operate the boat. The DASO culminates in a rest-firing of an unarmed Trident missile at the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC). This facility, situated between the Florida coast and the Bahamas, provides an instrumented range where NATO submarines can check their sound signatures and test-fire torpedoes, missiles and decoys. Seabed arrays, radars and other instrumentation feedback data to shore stations that can track and evaluate performance.

The 2016 test conducted by HMS Vengeance was the 11th Trident missile launch by a Royal Navy Submarine at AUTEC. Costing around £17m per missile, the UK can only afford to conduct a test around every 3-4 years. DASO does incidentally, provide a welcome and very rare run ashore in the sun for the sailors who man the ‘bombers’ as the boat usually comes alongside in Florida or a few days before or after conducting the trials.

Trident – the world’s most reliable large ballistic missile

Lockheed Martin is the most experienced missile manufacturing company in the world and the Trident D5 is the sixth in a series of missile sea-based nuclear deterrent systems that began development more than 60 years ago. LM continues to support the UK deterrent with engineering services for its stock of missiles purchased under the 1968 US/UK Polaris Sales Agreement. Although the submarines and the warheads are UK built, the RN is exceptionally fortunate to have access to the Trident missile delivery system acknowledged as the best ICBM system in the word. The three-stage ballistic missile can travel a nominal range of more than 4,000 nautical miles and carries multiple, independently-targeted reentry vehicles carry separate warheads that make it very hard to intercept.

There have been 158 Trident II D-5 missiles test-fired since late 1989. There have only been 6 failures, (the majority of which occurred in the first few years of the programme. Last year’s failure was the first for more than a decade). Although the USN has conducted most tests, the data is shared with the RN. The USN conducted a successful double test-firing from USS Kentucky off the California coast in Nov 2015 and since the UK test failure, subsequently carried out another successful test in Sept 2016.

Nothing that has ever been engineered by mankind can be guaranteed to have continual 100% success rate. Given the complexity of the Trident missile system, a 96.2% success rate in testing over 28 years is remarkable and is unmatched by any foreign equivalent. After all, tests are conducted to find faults and eliminate failures so the system performs correctly if needed for real. With the full weight of The US Navy and Lockheed Martin committed to supporting Trident, it is safe to assume a thorough investigation has been conducted and the problem will be quickly eliminated.

It should also be remembered that the RN’s Vanguard class submarines carry 12 Trident missiles in their 16 tubes, should one missile fail, another could be launched in its place. Even in recent times and possessing decades of experience in developing ballistic missiles, the Russians suffered multiple failures of their Bulava missile system during trials. Many other nations have zero public transparency about their missile programs so failures remain hidden. Trident is simply the most reliable ballistic missile in existence, anyone who has even a basic understanding should conclude the US and UK governments rightly have every confidence in the system.

A political story

Historically the DASO test-firings have been made public and, because they have been successful, generate little controversy and conveniently act as a powerful deterrent to our nuclear adversaries. In 2012 the media was given special access to HMS Vigilant conducting her test and Russian observers were even invited. If you set a precedent of being open and transparent it is, therefore, important to be consistent and admit when there are problems. The government now faces a backlash and is quite reasonably being accused of a cover-up.

Julian Lewis, the highly respected pro-Trident chair of the House of Commons Defence select committee said “This sort of event is not one you can play both ways. These tests are routine but infrequent in this country… whenever they work, which is 99% of the time, film is released of them working, so whichever person decided they wanted to draw a veil over one that didn’t work should have been sacked…You have always got to assume that something like this will come out.”

When there has been a technical failure there is an understandable temptation to keep it quiet using the convenient veil of military secrecy. The press coverage that has followed this weekend’s revelations in the Sunday Times has demonstrated why there were fears about making the truth public. There is a virulent anti-nuclear lobby and a hostile section of the media that has already used the story to make wild and inaccurate claims about Trident, using every opportunity to undermine public support for our deterrent. The Guardian’s defence correspondent, Ewen MacAskill even claimed: “Trident failure undermines the basic justification for nuclear weapons”. There may be a few valid argument against Trident but using a very rare failure as an excuse to question a very mature and reliable system is nonsense.

This story is essentially just a political and media issue and the real concern is why and who made the choice not to inform the public of the test failure. Journalists and politicians will no doubt continue to argue this out, meanwhile, the RN will quietly get on with conducting deterrent patrols which have help prevent world war since 1945. Any sensible military analysts will conclude that Trident retains credibility and its deterrent effect cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, it is very easy for the media to give an alternative impression.

MoD video of HMS Vigilant conducting successful test-firing of Trident missile, November 2012


from Save the Royal Navy

Friday, 13 January 2017

F-35B the right choice and the only choice for the Royal Navy

The F-35 Lightning II has proved highly controversial since the program’s conception in the 1990s. There are still those in the UK who would be happy to see the back of it, but the arguments in favour of the aircraft that is an essential part of the RN’s future are overwhelming.

The F35 has problems, all aircraft have problems

The scope of the project is incredibly ambitious; producing a 5th generation, multi-role aircraft to replace many different aircraft types and meet the needs of multiple international partners was always going to be costly and technically demanding. The F35 has attracted an army of critics, including President-elect Donald Trump, calling for its cancellation during his election campaign, even as the aircraft is coming into service. The F35 hate mob, armed with half-truths and simplistic alternatives can be found across the internet, and their influence extends to high places. As a complex, the multi-faceted project, the F35 does not sit well with those who want to live in a world of easy-to-understand, quick solutions and sound bites. Every aircraft design projects has to overcome unexpected hurdles. Innovating at the cutting edge will always involve risk. During the development of the much-admired F-15 (In production for 45 years and over 1,200 built), it was criticised as too big, too complicated and too expensive. Many very successful aircraft designs experienced major issues along the way but the discussion was mostly confined to aviation experts and specialist analysts. In contrast, today’s online world allows the detail of F-35’s problems to be quickly put in the public domain and subject to the instant judgement of anyone with an internet connection.

It is undeniable that the F35 is late, around seven years behind the original schedule and the price is approximately double that quoted in 1997. There have been mistakes in the program and a ‘conspiracy of optimism’ in the early days that has been a regular feature of many UK and US defence projects. Because of the scale and ambition of the project failures are inevitably magnified. Those who still advocate axing the F-35 entirely fail to explain how it could be replaced more cheaply. Billions of dollars have already been spent on three decades of research, development and manufacture. It would be madness to throw that away. The entire lifetime cost of the F-35 will supposedly be around $1.5 Trillion dollars which seems staggering, but replacing each of the 4th generation aircraft designs in the US inventory, is estimated at $3 Trillion. Unfortunately, some of the expected cost savings through large-scale production has been more than offset by growth in development cost. The F-35 will never be cheap, but the unit costs are falling and will continue to fall, to date more than 220 aircraft have been built, already making it the most numerous 5th generation aircraft in exitance. The predicted cost-death spiral has not materialised with international partners sticking with the project, even cash-strapped Britain has the intention to buy 138 eventually.

The latest report from the Pentagon on the F-35 project highlights significant on-going problems. Most notably the Block 3F software which is critical to many of the aircraft’s capabilities will not be ready until 2018. There are also a variety of other issues with the Automated Logistics System, the new pilot’s helmet and the safety of the ejector seat. These are serious concerns, but with at least 11 nations buying a total of up to 4,000 aircraft, it is too big to be allowed to fail, there is such momentum and finance behind it that the problems will eventually be solved. This situation is not ideal but the RN does not expect to deploy HMS Queen Elizabeth operationally until at least 2021 by which time more of the F-35’s issues will have been fixed. Aircraft are operating under some restrictions and is far from full its full potential, but the US Marines already have enough confidence in its ability to forward-deploy F-35Bs to Japan on 9th January 2017.

A networked aircraft for a networked age

The majority of the critics of the F-35 have limited aviation experience or are retired pilots who flew 3rd or 4th generation aircraft. The F-35 is not just an upgrade on earlier aircraft, but is conceptually quite different, drawing its greatest strength from its situational awareness. The older generation may question its close-range dogfighting capability, but it will be very hard to kill an F-35 when it can see you in any direction at great distances while itself almost invisible to radar. It can manoeuvre hard, but just doesn’t have to. Early beyond-visual-range missiles were unreliable, so all good fighter pilots believed in having an aircraft and the skill for the dogfights that were inevitable. Radar and missile technology has moved on to the point where the F-35 pilot can reliably expect to engage the enemy from a distance almost every time.

If recent history is a guide, the F-35 will probably spend more time on strike missions than in air-air combat. Its situational awareness, stealth and networking capabilities will make it exceptionally capable and its mere presence will act as a significant deterrent. The perception that F-35B is just an upgraded Harrier is entirely wrong. Vastly superior to the Harrier, its has longer range, is supersonic and can penetrate advanced air defence systems which the Harrier could never have contemplated. Even when only a handful of F-35s are embarked aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, the RN will have a step-change in capability that can even mitigate for some of the weaknesses in its undersized fleet. By buying into a massive international program, the RN will benefit from interoperability with the US and other NATO allies. Its potential will still be being expanded into the 2030 and 40 as new software and weapons are developed.

Royal Navy CATOBAR is dead, long live VSTOL

There is no question that a conventional aircraft carrier (CATOBAR) with catapults and arrestor gear would be more flexible and powerful than the Vertical Short Take Off and Landing (VSTOL) configuration of the QEC. CATOBAR offers the ability to operate a much greater variety of aircraft than the just helicopters and the F-35B. Unfortunately, the cost of building and maintaining a conventional carrier is beyond the inadequate resources government is willing to provide the RN. With more money and more time, pinning the success of the QEC project on the F35-B could have been avoided. Although we could have purchased F-18 Super Hornets much more cheaply than the F-35, the F-18 will look out of date in 10-15 years while the F-35 is a generation ahead. As a Tier-1 partner, the UK has a significant financial stake in the F-35 project, worth around £1Bn a year to the British economy and sustaining around 24,000 jobs, a fact that government just cannot ignore. Alternative imported carrier aircraft such as the Super Hornet or Rafale would have no such benefit.

Many believe that the costs quoted by BAE Systems in 2012 for fitting EMALS (Electromagnetic launch system developed by the US Navy) were inflated as it was not in their commercial interest to allow anything but F-35B to fly from the QEC. The US Navy was even willing to subside the cost of EMALS to some extent. What is certain is that 2010 CATOBAR plan was adding costs and significant further delays to the QEC program. In 2017 the RN budget is still stretched to breaking point, the pound is weak against the dollar and the US Navy having teething problems with the EMALS while at the same time, F-35B has achieved Initial Operating Capability with the US Marines. CATOBAR operations require more manpower, involved greater complexity and more training. Against this background, it looks sensible for the UK to have compromised on the VSTOL concept, at least in the short-medium term. Only the unlikely prospect of Donald Trump cancelling the F35 entirely puts this at risk.

Trump won’t cancel the F-35

Axing the F-35 would have a worldwide impact on the defence planning of many US-aligned nations. Trump may be rather less bothered about international partnerships than his predecessors but fortunately, from a NATO and UK perspective, the appointment of hardened US Marine Corp veteran James Mattis as his defence secretary, seems to indicate the F-35B at least will be safe. The USMC has bet the farm on the aircraft and Mattis is a big supporter. Trump campaigned on a platform of protecting American workers. Around 150,000 US jobs depend on the F-35 so Trump would have a hard time explaining why he as making thousands redundant. As Trump seems to be more of a businessman the politician, he may ultimately see the bottom line is that it will cost as much to cancel F-35 than continue. His actions may at least help drive down the cost by forcing Lockheed Martin to reduce their profit margin and find further efficiencies. The F-35C is probably the most vulnerable of the variants. The US Navy has never been as enthusiastic about the aircraft as the Airforce or Marines, and the C variant is having the most development problems. Lobbying by Boeing and delays to the F-35 has kept the F-18 Super Hornet production lines open. In 2013 Boeing revealed the Advanced Super Hornet concept with new engines, radar, conformal fuel tanks and a more stealthy design. Although an evolved 4th generation aircraft, lacking real stealth/low observability characteristics, it would offer maybe 70% of the F35’s capabilities at 50% of the cost. Perhaps a compromise will be reached where Trump shows he delivered something by axing the F-35C and the US Navy is content to get the cheaper Advanced Super Hornet instead. On 11th January 2017 Trump rather optimistically stated “

On 11th January 2017 Trump rather optimistically stated “we’re going to do some big things on the F-35 program and perhaps the F-18 program. And we’re going to get those costs way down, and we’re gonna get the plane even better, and we’re going to have to competition. And it’s going to be a beautiful thing.”

  • US Marine Corps F-35Bs transit the Pacific from Yuma, Arizona to be forward-deployed at Iwakuni, Japan

  • Four F-35Bs perform a flyover above the amphibious assault ship USS America during the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration, November 2016 (US Navy photo)

  • Boeing’s Advanced F-18 Super Hornet concept demonstration aircraft seen in 2013

  • CGI of F-35B on take off from HMS Queen Elizabeth. The first real F-35 should fly from the ship sometime in late 2017 or early 2018 .

VSTOL is the now only realistic option for the RN and accepting that means accepting the F35-B is the only credible fixed wing aircraft choice. Any change to this plan would either be unaffordable in the current defence budget and would involve delays measured in years. It is pretty safe to predict that F-35Bs will continue to be delivered to the UK, albeit more slowly than everyone will like. It is also safe to say that the introduction into service will see more problems emerge but they will be overcome. Ultimately the F-35B Lightning II and the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers will give the UK a very powerful tool of foreign policy. A little less complaint and criticism from the media and others is the least the project deserves.


from Save the Royal Navy

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Will 2017 be “the year of the Royal Navy” ?

On New Years Day the Ministry of Defence stated “2017 is the Year of the Navy”. The Defence Secretary said “2017 is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting Britain’s influence globally and delivering security at home.” There is no doubt that there will be some very significant milestones in the programme to deliver new equipment to the RN and there are many reasons to be positive. But this is just one side of the story. While it is very heartening to see new vessels arrive, this must be seen in context of the size and strength of the fleet as a whole.

Delivery of new kit is exciting but it should not distract attention on what is happening on the frontline at present and in the next couple of years. While the headlines are all about new equipment, the relentless demands on the RN continue and the MoD noted that 2017 will “follow one of their busiest years since the end of the Cold War”. At the peak of activity in 2016, the Naval Service was involved in 22 operations at home and abroad with 8,325 of 29,500 personnel (28%) actively deployed.

On this evidence, perhaps it should be argued that every year is ‘the year of the navy’ as the service is clearly flat out, continuously contributing the security of the UK.

We do not want to dim the excitement about the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth which will make a bold statement to the world (and be of some relevance to Brexit negations). The carriers have huge potential and, although controversial and subject of great mis-information, are the right choice for the RN. Unfortunately it will be 2023 before HMS Queen Elizabeth achieves full operating capability with her F-35B fixed wing aircraft. Ever since the orders for the aircraft carriers was secured back in 2007, successive ministers have used them as evidence of their ‘support for the navy’ while their size and profile provided a convenient smokescreen to hide damaging cuts and procurement mistakes elsewhere. There is a major re-equipment program underway but in almost every case the project is delivering late either leaving a complete capability gap or the RN making do with ageing assets. Most significantly, in general the new equipment replaces old equipment with a fewer number of units.

2017 will not actually see the RN gain a great deal in the way of operational capability.

Of the 9 major items listed by the MoD, almost all are some years away from fully operational status. Assuming we make it without facing a serious global conflict, then the RN can look forward to a real step-change in capability sometime in the mid 2020s. In a previous post (that provoked a huge response) we assertively laid out some of the problems and capability gaps facing the RN that need to be urgently addressed. We will not repeat them here but will provide some context to the major milestones of 2017 listed by the MoD .

9 milestones

HMS Queen Elizabeth, will sail from Rosyth, ready to conduct sea trials in summer and debut in Portsmouth later in the year

We certainly look forward to the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth which will represent a huge design and industrial achievement as well as a boost for a Navy that has endured so much bad news. It will be at least a further 5 years before she achieves full combat capability.

HMS Prince of Wales will enter the water for the first time in the summer as work on her continues and is due to be formally named in the autumn

David Cameron’s decision to keep both aircraft carriers will prove to be one of his few good decisions on defence issues…

Design and manufacture will begin on the multi-million pound Crowsnest, the early-warning ‘eyes in the sky’ system for the helicopters that will protect the new carriers

A programme that has been advanced slightly to ensure this capability is ready just in time for HMS Queen Elizabeth becoming operational. Some commentators dismiss helicopter-based AEW but, although not as capable as fixed-wing Hawkeye, this system has served the RN pretty well since 1982.

In the summer, steel will be cut on the first of eight Type 26 frigates in Glasgow

Construction should really have begun about 5 years ago and we must fervently hope that it can deliver the ships without technical problems or delays. Whether the gamble on cutting the order from 13 to 8 ships can pay off, will be determined by the success of the parallel “cheaper” Type 31 frigate program.

The first of four Tide-class tankers, RFA Tidespring – crucial for supporting the new aircraft carriers – will arrive from South Korea in the spring to undergo UK customisation work

No mention by the MoD that RFA Tidespring delivery has been delayed by a year due to faulty electrical cable installation. Despite this unfortunate issue, these four large ships should prove to be great value for money. They are desperately needed to replace ancient or already decommissioned ships.

In the spring, the first of the Navy’s five next-generation patrol ships, HMS Forth will begin her sea trials

These ships are really a job creation scheme to keep workers on the Clyde employed until the delayed Type 26 frigate project begins. They are only a very marginal improvement on the ships they will replace. There would be some reason to be excited if the four relatively new existing OPVs were being retained so the RN could actually grow it fleet slightly, but this is not the current plan.

The fourth Astute Class submarine HMS Audacious will enter the water for its commissioning phase in spring

The Astute class are probably the best hunter-killer submarines in the world. Unfortunately we will only have 7 of them. HMS Torbay will decommission in 2017 and we will be down to just 6 boats until HMS Audacious is operational in late 2018.

The keel for the seventh and final Astute-class submarine – as yet unnamed – will be laid in 2017 as work continues apace on the fifth and sixth, HMS Anson and HMS Agamemnon in Barrow

The latter part of the Astute submarine programme is now in its stride and delivering boats on schedule and on budget. Hopefully some lessons have been learned during the lost decade and more than £1Bn wasted in the early part of the programme.

The opening of the first permanent Royal Navy base East of Suez in nearly half a century

Construction of HMS Juffair has been funded by the Bahraini government will be a welcome improvement in accommodation and support for RN personnel and vessels deployed to the Middle East. It is sign of a sensible UK strategic commitment to the region but Bahrain’s poor human rights record will make the new base a focus for controversy.


from Save the Royal Navy

Monday, 2 January 2017

New Long Read and a Quick Update

From my last update I reminded everyone that whilst the Think Defence blog would be winding down, the Think Defence long form content would not be. The latest long read is a piece on Multidrive Vehicles, arguably, an opportunity lost for the British Army and UK defence industry. Multidrive Vehicles What else is happening? Various ...

The post New Long Read and a Quick Update appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence