Friday, 31 March 2017

Nicola Sturgeon has left politics to join the Royal Navy

Today it has emerged that the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party has resigned from public life to pursue a career in the navy. Speaking recently she said, “I’ve been a politician for 30 years but the navy has finally given me a purpose and a chance to turn my life around”.

When questioned about this change of direction, she replied, “I was getting fed up of having no friends. Theresa was really unkind to me and the man at NATO was not very welcoming at all. Even the EU commissioners were surprisingly rude”. Asked what made her choose the navy, she said, “Someone recently commented that SNP policy was ‘all at sea’ and it got me thinking. I was beginning to bore even myself, banging on about how we need another referendum. So I decided to bury the hatchet and do something that will serve the interests of everyone. I went down to the navy recruitment office and the friendly people there offered me another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”, she said tearfully. “Now I’m a sailor I no longer have to put up with all those tedious meetings at Holyrood. I was born in Scotland but made in the Royal Navy” she added.

But it seems some old habits die hard; “I’m looking forward to serving on a Scottish-based ship, preferably with a Scottish name, operating in Scottish waters, protecting the people of Scotland” she said. On hearing that she would have to do basic training at Britannia Royal Naval College in England, she called for the establishment to be immediately re-located to Glasgow.

Following Nicola’s lead, in an open letter to the internet, Scottish cybernats have also apologised for years of online abuse and dogma and have promised that, from now on, they will only tweet about Bake-off and post pictures of cats on Facebook. CND has also announced it now plans to “jack it all in”. A protestor at the Faslane peace camp commented “We’ve been here since the 1980s warning everyone we are about to die in a nuclear holocaust unless we abandon Trident. I’m getting a bit disillusioned as nuclear war has not broken out and I’m still alive. Maybe deterrence does work after all, besides it’s always cold and raining up here.”

Nicola’s brave example has inspired other political figures. Boris Johnson says he feels it’s his duty to keep doing a stellar job as Foreign Secretary but has signed on as a Royal Navy Reservist in his spare time. On joining his first ship, he was heard to say “So let’s go sink some Frenchies… er… I mean Ruskies… gosh you have lady sailors now… oh…er… how marvellous… I mean er… anyway where’s my cabin? does it have a sea view?… wake me if it comes on to blow…”

A serious shortage of personnel has seen the RN raise its upper age limit for entry and relax its eligibility criteria. An RN spokesperson stated, “we are proud to be an equal opportunities employer and welcome anyone to apply to serve, regardless of their age or background, although we might draw the line at Nigel Farage.”

Jeremy Corbyn also tried to join the Royal Navy but during initial training he was given a rifle and accidentally shot himself in the foot, sadly putting an end to his brief naval career. “This has confirmed my worst fears that weapons are unhelpful” he said gravely “but I’m now supporting a plan to build a large, but entirely unarmed navy. I want us to build more ships because it creates lots of jobs.” He added “Jobs are great but weapons are quite nasty”.


Please note, this article was written in good faith by our finest defence reporter but it has come to our attention that this may contain a few inaccurate statements. Our normally impeccable source has since admitted to “making up a load of complete b*llocks”.


from Save the Royal Navy

Friday, 24 March 2017

Infographic: Timeline for delivering carrier strike

This infographic looks at the schedule for delivery of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and their embarked aircraft. Prepared using MoD statements and public domain information, some dates are estimates and programs are likely to be subject to change.


Timeline - Delivering Carrier Strike
PDF Version available here


from Save the Royal Navy

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Restoring the UK’s maritime patrol aircraft capability (Part 1)

The axing of the troubled Nimrod MRA4 project in 2010 SDSR has left Britain unable to properly patrol its waters and left a serious gap in anti-submarine capability. In 2015 the government tacitly admitted its mistake and announced the plan to purchase nine Poseidon P-8A Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) from Boeing in the United States. In the first part of this article we will look at the programme and infrastructure behind its introduction into service, and the aircraft itself.


Although the US Navy operates its own aircraft, by a historical anomaly the RAF have always owned the UK MPAs – a critical naval capability. This arrangement will continue as only the RAF has the facilities and experienced personnel needed to support the next generation. Since the 1950s, the RAF operated the Shackleton and then the Nimrod MR1 and MR2 maritime patrol aircraft which were largely successful in this role. The planned successor to the Nimrod MR2 was another Nimrod, the MRA4. The tale of woe that led to the eventual cancellation of the MRA4 is long, complicated and depressing and has been discussed in much detail elsewhere. In broad terms the decision to build a ‘new’ aircraft utilising existing ancient Nimrod airframes was disastrous. This and many other factors, meant that by 2010 the project was £789 million over-budget and over nine years late. It should be noted that a production aircraft was flying in 2009 and the first aircraft had been delivered to the RAF. Although there were still serious flaws, it was not perhaps as unsafe or hopeless as government claimed at the time. Anyway, the MRA4 was cancelled and the airframes were chopped into pieces with extraordinary haste, effectively throwing away the £4Bn already spent on the project.

Even by normal dismal defence procurement standards, this government, MoD, BAE Systems and RAF collective failure was a scandal of spectacular proportions.

Enter Posiedon

The P-8A Poseidon has been in development since 2004 intended to replace the venerable turboprop Orion P-3. The P-8 has little in common with the Nimrod or the P-3, being based on a modern, and extremely successful commercial airliner, the Boeing 737-800. On 25 March 2016 the US government approved the sale of nine P-8s to the UK. Although the Japanese P-1 was given cursory consideration, the P-8 was always the strong favourite and is being procured as a direct government sale. Controversially no competition was held and the purchase is not subject to the MoD’s single source regulatory framework. Given the urgency of the situation, this was perhaps sensible. Although expensive, the P-8 is the simply best available option and ease of interoperability with the US Navy is always desirable. The US Navy is buying at least 117 aircraft, Australia 12, India 9 and Norway 5, so the UK will benefit from a multinational development programme and economies of scale.

Having shot itself in the balls with the MRA4 debacle, the UK aerospace industry is in no position to complain about this major foreign purchase. Fortunately, as part of the P-8 deal, Boeing has agreed to expand its UK workforce from 1,300 to 4,000 and is opening a major new aircraft repair and maintenance hub at Boscombe Down. UK industry will also have opportunities to be involved in training and support work for the P-8.

On 11 July 2016, the UK signed a $3.87 billion contract with Boeing for the 9 aircraft and elements of their support which will be delivered in 3 batches. The schedule calls for the first two aircraft to be delivered in 2019, with three more in 2020 and the final four in 2021. This drawn out delivery is convenient for the Treasury as invoices to be spread out into the future. This alarming lack of urgency will mean almost 20 years will have passed between the end of the Nimrod MR2 (which at one time numbered 35 aircraft) and the re-establishment of a ‘full strength’ squadron of 9 P-8s

Regenerating on the front foot

There were those, including some in the RAF, who were not especially enthusiastic about the P-8 and hoped that the focus could be steered away from maritime and instead obtain a more generic ISTAR Multi-Mission Aircraft and/or long range UAVs. However the RAF did have the foresight not to make all its Nimrod aircrew redundant in 2010. The Seedcorn exchange programme has seen around 30 RAF personnel serving aboard US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand aircraft on 3-4 year tours. UK personnel have already accumulated more than 1,000 hours of flying time on US Navy P-8s and even have won various awards in international anti-submarine warfare competitions. This demonstrates the wealth of skill that the Nimrod force had acquired and will be able to contribute to bringing the P-8 into service. The RAF has also persuaded personnel who previously served on Nimrod to assist with the P-8 introduction. 12 have recently re-joined the RAF and more are set to re-join in the future.

The P-8 will be based at RAF Lossiemouth in North East Scotland. (The Nimrod’s former Scottish base was at RAF Kinloss which has since been converted to an Army base). Despite the ongoing complaints by nationalists about lack of defence investment in Scotland and worries over the future of the Union, the UK government is set to invest further in new support infrastructure including new runways and hangars. Boeing will also set up a P-8 maintenance hub at Lossiemouth and is investing £100M and will create around 100 new jobs. An extra 600 personnel are expected to be stationed at the base by 2020.

Aircraft overview


Main Features of the P-8A. Diagram by kind permission of

Although based on the 737-800ERX, the P-8A is very a different aircraft. The wings are based on the 737-900 but have been substantially re-designed to cope with the stress of more low altitude flying than a commercial jet and the to provide four hard-points for weapons. The fuselage has been substantially redesigned with a bomb bay and additional fuel tanks replacing luggage holds. The airframe life will be around 25 years or 25,000 flying hours in tough high and low conditions over the sea and is able to operate in icing conditions or extreme temperatures.

A variety of additional sensors and antenna are mounted externally, all linked to the sophisticated mission systems. It is these sensors and electronics that are the real cost-drivers for an aircraft that will cost around £350 Million (Before support and weapons costs are added). The computing and data fusion abilities of the aircraft are what set it apart from other MPAs. the P-8 has the world’s most powerful onboard sonobuoy data processing capability has space for more sonobuoys than any other MPA. The P-8 was also designed from the outset to be able to control and monitor data from the MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aerial vehicle. Although a highly desirable force multiplier and rumours about UK Triton orders prior to SDSR 2015, the MoD has no plan or funding in place for such a purchase.

  • Flight deck of the P-8.

  • MPA basics – Port and starboard observer windows allow the sea to be scanned with the “Mark 1 eyeball” (US Navy Photo)

  • Under the hood – AN/APY-10 synthetic aperture radar designed for both coastal and overland surveillance (Image: KeyAero)

  • The retractable MX-20HD electro-optical camera and infrared sensor turret (Image: US Navy)

  • Open bomb bay showing the 5 hard points for torpedos. Also visible forward are the 6 sonobuoy dispenser openings flanked by the Common data link (CDL) attennas. (Photo: Rami Khanna-Prade, via Flickr)

  • Under the APU exhaust is the AN/AAQ-24(V) Directional Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM) system for protection from heat seeking missiles. (Photo via

  • Removing a Sonobuoy from storage rack ready to be placed in dispenser (US Navy Photo)

  • RAF aircrew at one of the P-8’s five mission workstations – serving with US Navy operating the P-8 under the ‘Seedcorn’ initiative to keep UK MPA skills alive (US Navy photo)

The aircraft is powered by two CFM56-7 turbofans, one of the most widely used jet engines in the world, with over 30,000 manufactured as of 2016. Most MPAs have four engines which provide a measure of redundancy when operating for long distances away from land. However the CFM56 is exceptionally reliable with shutdown rates around three per million flight hours. In the three years the P-8A has been in service it has yet to have an in-flight engine shutdown. Electrical power is provided by a 180KVA generator on each engine and a standard 90KVA back-up APU. With a total of 450KVA available, there is more than enough to support the mission systems with plenty of capacity for additional equipment to be fitted in future.

The P-8 has an endurance of around 10.5 hours at an economical cruising speed of around 500 knots at high altitude with an approximate unrefuelled range of 4,500 miles. Operating at low level, the aircraft can fly in a fuel efficient regime at 180Knots, just 60m above the sea. Crews are trained to refuel their own aircraft so the P-8 can land at civilian airports and utilise standard commercial jet fuelling facilities, if required. Unfortunately, when first delivered, only US tanker aircraft will be able to conduct in-flight refuelling with the UK P-8. The RAF Voyager tanker is fitted with a probe and drogue system rather than the flying boom used by the USAF. Hopefully the aircraft can be modified in future to address this problem.

The in US Navy service the Poseidon is operated by nine aircrew which includes the flight commander, two pilots, two tactical coordinators, two anti-submarine weapon systems operators and two electronic warfare weapon system operators. There is no dedicated flight engineer.

Although the process is far too slow, the UK has retained just enough skills and is putting the right infrastructure in place to gradually re-enter the MPA game. By selecting the P-8, the RAF will have the best platform available to conduct maritime patrol, anti-submarine warfare and search and rescue. We will consider the more complex questions about how the aircraft may be operated and weapons integration in part 2 of this article.


from Save the Royal Navy

Monday, 13 March 2017

Air Ambulance in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Air ambulance service is going to be in operation within few weeks as per Michelle O’ Neil who is the Health minister of the place. As per the starting of the project, they are planning to have two air ambulances available 24×7 across Northern Ireland. These air ambulances are going to work based out of Maze Long Kesh Site which is found exterior to Lisburn. It is estimates that about 50 lives can be saved in an year with the help of the HEMS – Helicopter Emergency Medical Service.

Michelle has announced that the service is supposed to commence within another 12 weeks. It is not something that happened all in a sudden but out of the work and struggles from many people who were demanding such an ambulance system from a long time. It is mainly done in the memory of Dr. Hinds who was a consultant anesthetist and more precisely was called as flying doctor as he was there to do so much of emergency support during the high speed races like North West 200. He died in motorcycle crash when he was providing volunteer medical cover and his partner Dr Janet Acheson was doing the campaigning work. Dr Janet Acheson who was his partner then lead the whole struggle for the higher speed races.

The service is something that is going to be a great way so many lives could be saved with very emergency and quick support. The support that was given by local and public businesses were just amazing and it is also necessary that all these things should be supported. The funds for running the operation is expected to be collected from the generous local people as they really understand the need and use of such a service. Equipment and medical staff may be provided as well as funded by social care and health services.

The post Air Ambulance in Northern Ireland appeared first on RNMS Stretcher Carry.

from RNMS Stretcher Carry

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Defence procurement: where it has all gone wrong?

In this guest article, Jag Patel examines the deep-seated problems that have plagued the existing, flawed defence procurement process which has been the cause of persistent delays and cost overruns on equipment acquisition programmes for as long as anyone can remember.

When it comes to procuring new equipment for the Armed Forces, the first and foremost question politicians always ask is, how much is it going to cost?

Any meaningful attempt at answering this question is hampered by the fact that, very few people in Whitehall understand and appreciate that the single most important factor that determines the ultimate whole life cost of any defence equipment programme is the maturity of the existing starting-point for the Technical Solution in the possession of Defence Contractors – the closer the developmental status of the starting-point to the Requirement, as described in the technical specification, the lower the cost the Exchequer will have to bear associated with completing the remaining work to bridge the shortfall.

Even more worryingly, those who do know, are not in decision-making or leadership positions.

Figure 1

The maturity of a starting-point for the Technical Solution can fall anywhere between two extremes, as shown in Figure 1. At one end, starting from a ‘blank sheet of paper’ amounts to a non-existent solution whereas at the other end, an off-the-shelf equipment corresponds to a readily available, fully engineered and supported Technical Solution which satisfies the totality of the Requirement at no additional cost or risk to MoD, that is to say, it does not require any development work laden with risk to be performed upon it.

Additionally, MoD does not possess the capability in the form of intelligent and experienced procurement officials who have an adequate understanding of what it takes (in terms of skill types, funding, tools, processes, materials, scheduled work plan, inter-business contractual agreements etc.) to advance an immature Technical Solution from its existing condition, to a point where it will satisfy the technical specification requirement, within a Private Sector setting driven by the profit motive and people who instinctively employ unethical business practices – leaving them susceptible to exploitation and manipulation by Defence Contractors.

So instead of simply telling the truth, Defence Contractors are consciously engaged in an exercise in subterfuge to take advantage of the ignorance of procurement officials, by making exaggerated claims (depicted in Figure 2) about the maturity of their starting points for the Technical Solution – a scam which has led directly to initial programme costs being grossly underestimated by MoD Abbey Wood – a condition referred to as the conspiracy of optimism.

Figure 2

To add to this wanton act of deception, Defence Contractors have also been deploying the old favourite of touting the so-called, minimal development solution – a commonly used ploy advanced to con procurement officials into believing that they have a nearly-ready Technical Solution on offer, when in reality, they probably have something in hand which is closer to starting from a ‘blank sheet of paper’!

This deceitful behaviour is a common trait in the defence manufacturing industry, beginning with the Select Few at the top, and extending right down the entire supply chain.

So what else has gone wrong with Defence Procurement?

Despite the countless reviews undertaken by MoD over the last several decades to identify shortcomings in its defence procurement process, there remain intractable problems which continue to hamper the achievement of acquisition goals. Key amongst these problems are:

  • It is MoD’s long-standing policy of disclosing the total budgeted expenditure figure or associated year-on-year financial funding profile in the invitation to tender (ITT) that causes Defence Contractors to quote identical bottom-line Selling Prices on DEFFORM 47 – an entirely predictable result! It is not for MoD to tell the Private Sector what the price of a new equipment programme should be. Instead, it is very much the business of Defence Contractors to tell MoD how much each new equipment programme will cost, based upon the prevailing value of goods, services, labour and finance in the free market shaped, not by the interfering hand of people in the pay of the State who always get it wrong, but by competitive market forces.
  • Frequent changes made to the technical specification requirement expressed in the System Requirements Document and elsewhere in the ITT have resulted in punitive increases in costs and massive delays being introduced into equipment acquisition programmes.
  • Under the presently applied ‘sudden death’ competition (see Figure 3), MoD has allowed technical risks to accumulate towards the end of the equipment acquisition cycle where they suddenly morph into ‘show stopping’ risks and come to the fore immediately after the main investment decision has been taken (never before), forcing Abbey Wood Team Leader to raise Contract Amendments and/or let short-term, renewable Post Design Services contracts which, in turn, has led to MoD getting appallingly poor value for money these last several decades.

Figure 3

  • MoD’s Competition Policy is further undermined by the ‘revolving door’ which continues to allow procurement team members to take up appointments with Bidders whilst the competition is still under way.
  • Instead of asking Contractors to scope a fully costed Programme of Work to advance the developmental status of their existing starting-points for the Technical Solution during the follow-on Contract performance phase, MoD is requiring Contractors to submit a plethora of Management Plans as a response to the ITT, which has given them a chance to stuff these plans full of warm soothing words, pretty pictures and hollow statements of intent crafted in such a way as to allow them to rescind on work commitments later on.
  • The talent pool from which appointees for acquisition roles are drawn has only succeeded in supplying a steady stream of people who are woefully ill-equipped to deal with the Private Sector – and yet they are put in charge of spending public money! This situation has, in turn, led to dramatically reduced confidence in any new policy initiatives advanced by MoD Abbey Wood amongst wider MoD stakeholders and interested observers, such as Members of Parliament and Treasury officials. Indeed, after years of mismanagement and false promises of improvement, MoD has forfeited its right to make independent purchasing decisions because the Treasury is no longer convinced that capital funds allocated for acquisition will be spent wisely. Sadly, the powers of a once Great Department of State have been reduced to a level where it has become subservient to the all-mighty Treasury – due to its own incompetence! Moreover, the responsibility for undertaking Strategic Defence and Security Reviews has been taken away from MoD and handed over to the Cabinet Office.
  • New equipment commissioned into service with the Armed Forces continues to exhibit the same flaws and weaknesses as the equipment it replaces because Abbey Wood Team Leader has not undertaken a lessons-learned exercise to document these shortcomings and transmit them to Defence Contractors, with instructions to design them out.
  • There is not a single person in the pay of the State who is equipped with the necessary blend of leadership/communication skills, specialist knowledge, cross-discipline expertise or prior experience to, not only correctly identify the deep-seated problems associated with the existing, flawed procurement process but also come up with simple, workable, easy-to-apply solutions which will tackle these shortcomings – yet, it is the responsibility of Government to shape, and then implement acquisition policy that will deliver equipment to the Armed Forces which is fit for purpose, adequately sustained in-service and constitutes value for money through-life, as tested in fair and open competition. This lack of leadership talent in Whitehall would explain why there is a massive void in equipment acquisition policy.
  • The extended industrial Supply Chain remains infested by distortions and inefficiencies because lower-tier Subcontractors are continuing to mark-up goods and services without adding any value. In addition, competition is not being applied by ITT recipients to select first and lower-tier Contractors. Instead, they are chosen using the old boys’ network or during a gathering at the 19th Hole limited to the great-and-the-good from subsidiary companies wholly-owned by the ITT recipient, or some other favoured, old school-tie chums – which has, in itself, allowed the continuance of corrupt
  • The presently applied ‘sudden death’ competition has been rendered ineffective by Bidders who are quoting identical bottom-line Selling Prices against the same Requirement, which amounts to price-fixing on a grand scale, with the active connivance of the Secretary of State for Defence. Additionally Abbey Wood Team Leader is denied the opportunity to choose the single preferred Contractor on the basis of price competitiveness. Figure 4 illustrates this scenario.

Figure 4

  • The predominance of the here-today-gone-tomorrow defence procurement official at Abbey Wood means that:
    1. Each individual is free to take procurement decisions and experiment with new acquisition procedures safe in the knowledge that if things go wrong, his successor will have to face the consequences of his actions.
    2. There is no consistency in the application of procurement policy nor are Defence Contractors provided with continuity of direction during the full period of the competition because of this constant turnover. Moreover, newly assigned procurement officials, almost always of the type intent on making a mark, will invariably insist on an immediate change in direction which has only succeeded in annoying counterparts on Contractors’ side.
  • Instead of seeing it as a long-term career opportunity, newly assigned civil servants have demonstrated a lack of commitment and loyalty to furthering MoD Abbey Wood’s business interests – by preoccupying themselves with how they can get into the Private Sector as the next stop, yet at the same time, continuing to collect pay from the public purse!
  • The probability of the pre-programmed schedule being ‘eroded’ during performance of the Contract is 100 percent, on account of Contractors at every tier of the Defence Industry enforcing a minimalist staffing policy of being just ‘one-man’ deep in many of their specialist core functions, with no slack or succession plan. Worse still, this practice has served to deny Defence Industry workers the opportunity to associate with like-minded people in the work environment, severely impeding their professional development.
  • There exists no corporate repository of domain knowledge, experience or cross-discipline expertise within each equipment procurement team – making it more likely that mistakes of the past will be repeated again and again and again.
  • Investment made repeatedly in training newly assigned procurement officials is lost the moment they leave MoD to join the Private Sector.
  • There is no evidence of MoD’s long-standing policy of securing input of Private Sector capital into defence programmes being applied, which means that projects continue to be funded exclusively by the taxpayer – yet, the Intellectual Property Rights for the resultant fully engineered equipment, which rightly belongs to the Exchequer, is simply handed over to the main Contractor for nothing in return.
  • The widespread practice of digging out old ITTs from the archives, dusting them off, searching & replacing the project name and despatching them off to Industry has resulted in the highly prescriptive practice of mandating adherence to a whole raft of Defence Standards and Data Item Descriptions for documentation deliverables (which has stifled innovative approaches being put forward by Bidders) being continued.
  • Because there exists no clear, auditable link between the Programme of Work intended to be performed by Contractors and the bottom-line Selling Price quoted on DEFFORM 47, they are free to engage in anti-competitive practices, such as predatory pricing which has had the effect of denying market entry to potential new suppliers (particularly SMEs) whilst strengthening the market position of the Select Few – thereby hampering competitiveness.
  • Instead of directing all their effort onto advancing the developmental status of the starting-point for the Technical Solution during the follow-on Contract performance phase, Bidders are preoccupied with trying to contrive situations which will entice acquisition officials into partaking in detailed design decisions relating to the evolving Technical Solution, and then using this involvement to coerce acquisition officials into raising and processing Contract Amendments much later on, when things go wrong.
  • Tacit acquiescence for Contractors’ people to lie, cheat and distort has prevented Abbey Wood Team Leader from establishing the true picture on the ground which has, in turn, resulted in ‘show stopping’ risks coming to the fore and surprising everyone after down-selection to the single Contractor has been made.
  • The market in defence equipment which MoD says is open to all and sundry, is not working at all – it is broken, and has been for several decades because the existing procurement process is skewed in favour of the Select Few thereby excluding the many, in particular, highly innovative small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as, COTS & MOTS equipment manufacturers.
  • Project Management has become confused with Personnel Management in the minds of both, procurement officials at MoD Abbey Wood and Defence Industry workers, with disastrous consequences – because it has led to people on overheads ending up specialising in the latter discipline which is easier to master, as it involves simple things like conducting annual performance assessments, hiring new or replacement staff, negotiating pay & conditions, obtaining security clearances and signing holiday cards. Worse still, these same people have been assigned to fill roles in the former discipline!
  • Fresh talent with innovative ideas, particularly young people with degrees in STEM subjects are shunning a career in the Defence Industry because of its negative image in the press & media, persistent failure to deliver military equipment within time, cost and performance boundaries and a complete absence of professional, ethical and moral leadership. Older, wiser defence workers will be familiar with having to perform under a brutally repressive management regime, put up with poor work conditions and have their work-life balance destroyed by excessive workloads.
  • Inherent in the existing, flawed defence procurement process is an extremely high risk that intellectual property owned by first and lower-tier Defence Contractors, which includes SMEs, will be misappropriated by ITT recipients (most notably the Select Few) because the practice of submitting Management Plans requires them to provide a full description of the composition and detailed functioning of their sub-system Technical Solutions, in their responses to ITT recipients.
  • The existing defence procurement process which subsidises failure instead of rewarding success has encouraged Defence Contractors (right down the extended Supply Chain) to design poorly engineered products which are not only seriously uncompetitive in the domestic market, but also in export markets. Only a genuinely open and competitive market can incentivise Contractors to deliver innovative products which will satisfy the requirements of the Armed Forces as well as export customers, at a price they are willing to pay.

It is hard not to conclude that the existing procurement process was created to serve the career interests of people in the pay of the State than for the purpose of procuring equipment for the Armed Forces which is fit for purpose, adequately sustained in-service and constitutes value for money through-life.

Jag Patel is an independent Defence Procurement Adviser with over 30 years experience of researching, analysing and solving a wide range of entrenched procurement problems. He tweets as @JagPatel3

from Save the Royal Navy

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Fleet solid support ships – an important part of the naval logistic chain

The 2015 SDSR confirmed the intention to build 3 new solid stores support ships. This kind of logistic support vessel is critical to the global reach of the RN but are low profile and do not get the focus of attention given to warships. Government commitment to build the new ships is positive but entirely lacking in urgency, the first ship will probably not be ready for sea until around 2025.

By the time HMS Queen Elizabeth achieves initial operating capability in late 2020, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will have six modern tankers able supply the carrier and other warships with fuel. In contrast, the three solid stores support ships which supply ammunition, food and spares are antiques. The 3 Fort-class vessels have served the RN well, RFA Fort Austin and Fort Rosalie were built in the late 1970s and saw action in the Falklands War. RFA Fort Victoria was commissioned in 1994 and is semi-permanently deployed in Gulf and Indian Ocean. Until the new Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) arrive, these hardy veterans must stagger on into the mid-2020s. The official out of service dates are 2023 for Fort Austin and 2024 for Fort Rosalie by which time they will be well over 40 years old. It is unclear when Fort Victoria will go but she is also a tanker but does not conform to current double-hull MARPOL legislation.

Main gate approval is for the FSS is expected in December 2019 with the main contract for FSS construction signed by March 2020. 

The slow pace of the project to build new stores ships, opens up the possibility of yet another ‘capability gap’ during the period 2023-27. With two or less solid stores ships it may not be possible to always have one available to support the carrier.

The three ship plan is already a bare minimum, one likely to be assigned to support the carrier, one forward-based, probably in the Gulf and one in refit. In partial mitigation, an advantage of large-size of the QEC is that they can embark large stores of ammunition and food so they will be a little less reliant on the support of their RFAs than the preceding and much smaller Invincible-class. In the early years of the QEC, lack of available F-35s may mean the embarked air group may also be below its full strength and therefore require fewer stores. However in high-intensity operations, either acting in the Carrier Strike or Littoral Maneuver role, the RFA will be hard pressed to meet the carrier group’s demands or will have to rely on supply from allied auxiliaries.

Design concepts

Only early outline proposals for the FSS exist in the public domain at this stage. The FSS is a part of the MARS (Military Afloat Reach Sustainability – a ludicrous acronym!) project that the MoD embarked on in the early 2000s to replace the ageing RFA fleet. Budget cuts have drastically reduced the scope of MARS which originally included both the FSS and a separate Combat Support Ship Auxiliary (CSS(A)) to provide additional logistic support for amphibious operations. After the brutal cuts of the 2010 defence review, the CSSA and FSS were merged and the Naval Design Partnership Team produced a new concept for a stores ship which included a vehicle deck and stern ramp. This would allow vehicles and stores to be offloaded by landing craft or by Mexefloat at sea. (This ‘steel beach’ arrangement is a simple ramp, not a fully floodable dock that is a feature of the HMS Albion/Bulwark and the Bay class RFAs). The loading ramp can only be used in very benign weather conditions but would be a very useful addition to RN amphibious and general transport capabilities.

  • SSS genreal arrangement

    This is an early general arrangement proposed by BMT Group. Note the large vehicle deck with considerable capacity that would run almost the full length of the vessel.

  • This a a basic 3D rendering of the initial proposal done by the Naval Design Partnership in 2011. Note the ramp at the stern

The FSS is likely to be a large vessel with displacement in excess of 30,000 tons. A spacious vessel allows efficient movement and storage of cargo plus a large hangar and flight deck. The RN has always made good use of the extra decks provided by its auxiliaries and the FSS will be no different. Armament is likely to be 2 or 3 phalanx mounts and a couple of 30mm cannons. Such a large vessel often attracts suggestions that more sophisticated weapons be fitted. Sea Ceptor would provide much better self defence and add to the carrier group’s firepower. Fitting a bank of Tomahawk missiles or even anti ballistic missiles has been suggested. Although desirable, such weapons add considerably to cost and complexity of the build, through life costs and manning requirements. It is very unlikely FSS will have anything but a basic self-defence weapon fit.

The approximate MoD budget allocated for the three FSS is around £1bn and the priority must be to deliver an affordable ship that can efficiently provide solid stores at sea. The MoD held an industry day for companies interested in bidding for the FSS work in July 2016. The itinerary mentioned nothing about the amphibious capability. It is possible that budget limitations may not allow for a vehicle deck and stern ramp but hope remains.

Supplying the aircraft carriers

Under a £25M contract, Rolls Royce has already developed and built a prototype Heavy Replenishment at Sea rig (HRAS) that will equip the FSS. A test rig was installed and successfully trialled at training establishment HMS Raleigh between 2013-14 and has been left in place as a training aid. Capable of transferring 25 loads per hour weighing up to 5 tonnes, this system promises to be highly efficient, able to supply the carrier at sea quickly. This reduces the window of vulnerability when ships have restricted manoeuvrability as they steam in parallel for RAS. Most importantly HRAS is also capable of transferring a complete Pratt & Witney F135 engine that propels the F-35. The ability to change aircraft engines at sea is an important consideration for extended operations and there is limited space to store such large items on the carrier.

Visualisation of QEC and FSS conducting a heavyweight replenishment at sea

The FSS will have 2 HRAS rigs fitted on their port side which align with the QEC aircraft lift openings on their starboard side. The QEC can then receive stores straight into the hangar. Arriving on standard pallets they can be quickly struck down into magazines and store rooms using the Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System (HMWHS). The QEC are designed to receive oil on their port side and the Tide class tankers have 2 rigs on their starboard side. Both the Tide class and FSS will have a single rig on the opposite side that can replenish other warships simultaneously with the carrier.

Build at home or abroad?

A beneficiary of retaining such an elderly RFA stores ship fleet is Cammel Laird which has been kept busy with frequent maintenance of these vessels under its ‘cluster’ contract with the MoD. A reliable workflow has allowed CL to invest and make a gradual return to new ship construction. Last year it won the prestigious contract to build the 12,790 tonne RRS Sir David Attenborough. (AKA Boaty McBoatface) Cammel Laird now appears well placed to participate in the FSS project if it can beat foreign competition.

With the completion of HMS Prince Wales there will be a significant shipbuilding capability left at Rosyth. The GMB Union and Scottish interests are already lobbying for Rosyth to be involved in FSS construction. Having recent experience of block building the carriers and a spacious facility, it would make sense. However, there are questions about the strength of the workforce as many of the BAES workers employed on the carriers will returning to Glasgow to work on Type 26. The Goliath crane at Rosyth used for the assembly of the large aircraft carrier hull blocks was put up for sale some time ago and the Aircraft Carrier Alliance hopes to get £6m for it if a buyer can be found. If the Goliath crane is retained it could be very useful in constructing the large FSS.

“There is the opportunity with the FSS for UK firms to make competitive bids, and hopefully secure the contract, thus contributing further regional economic benefits in the UK.” Sir John Parker, Report to Inform the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

The weaker pound and the problems with the MARS tankers built in South Korea may also strengthen the case for UK construction of FSS. £500m for the 4 Tide class tankers is great value for money but the experience has been soured by delays to the first vessel Tidespring. At the time of writing, she is on her delivery voyage and set to arrive a year later than scheduled. A corruption scandal at DSME, together with a major error during installation of electrical cabling blighted the project, although delivery of the remaining three vessels is set to follow quickly. Building RFAs abroad has also proven politically explosive with the fine line between warships and auxiliaries misunderstood and the project seen by many as a government betrayal of UK workers and industry.

Although pure speculation at this stage, a joint Cammel Laird & Babcock Rosyth consortium block-building the FSS appears to be an attractive prospect. For the Royal Navy the FSS is another important element of carrier-enabled power projection and the fleet’s continued ability to deploy globally. For the next seven years the RN must make do with old ships and hope they can be kept going until the arrival of badly needed new vessels.


from Save the Royal Navy