Thursday, 27 April 2017

Why a portion UK overseas aid money should be given to the armed forces

Britain’s £13 billion annual international aid budget is extremely controversial and re-directing this money often cited as a way of solving the defence funding crisis. Theresa May recently said she remains committed to the current level of spending on aid. There is a strong moral, economic and security case for Official Development Assistance (ODA) and humanitarian aid but there is little doubt we should be allocating the funds more intelligently. The armed forces are key enablers for aid delivery and disaster response – a portion of the generous DFID budget should be re-directed to finance more ships, aircraft and personnel.

There are many that say the funding crisis in defence (and other areas of the public sector) could be quickly solved by simply axing the entire international aid budget. This point of view is typical of the simple solutions to complex problems that are a regular feature of the tabloid press, but which could do us more harm than good. It is the often the same people saying the RN should not rescue migrants, but let them drown at sea, so as to discourage others.

In most cases, common humanity and co-operation are far more likely to create a secure, stable and prosperous world for everyone, than the brutal application of short-term self-interest.

Some UK ODA projects have been wasteful failures, plagued by corruption or were unsound enterprises from the start. The tabloids may exaggerate and distort some of the cases but there has been mismanagement and excess on a substantial scale. David Cameron foolishly enshrined a commitment to always spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid into law, resulting in a ludicrous situation where DFID is forced to shovel money out, just to meet this arbitrary annual target. We are also effectively subsidising other nation’s defence budgets by providing welfare for their poorest citizens. For example, Pakistan has long been the largest recipient of UK aid (£370 million in 2015) yet has a nuclear weapons programme and is expanding its navy. It could also be argued that the logistic support the Taliban received via Pakistan was a decisive factor in NATO’s failure to defeat them and cost British lives in Afghanistan. With such serious implications for all concerned, in some cases, our aid priorities should be reconsidered and have strings attached.

Poor strategy and mismanagement is clearly an issue for aspects of DFID’s work and this must be addressed urgently. Unfortunately, few government departments are immune from accusations of bureaucratic waste, the MoD, for example, is in no position to lecture about strategy or efficiency. The methods, results and politics of international aid is a complex subject which we will not attempt to cover in detail here. However, the respected OECD still rates DFID overall as one of the most effective and efficient aid agencies in the world. There are many success stories with thousands of lives saved, communities stabilised and poverty reduced, all of which far outnumber the failures.

The case for international aid

The moral case. It would be disingenuous not to admit that Britain bears a measure of historical responsibility for some of the poverty and problems in the world. Furthermore, some of our wealth has been derived from the exploitation of other nations. Aid is a small if incomplete, recompense for this. As one of the very richest nations, it is quite reasonable to give a relatively small proportion of our income to help the very poorest. We may argue about how much we donate and where it goes, but in principle, it is simply the right thing to do.

The economic case. Britain aspires to be an outward looking and engaged member of the global community. Brexit makes it especially important that this remains the case at this time. To abandon overseas aid would be perceived as another sign of Britain retreating from the world. Aid is another UK foreign policy lever, and just like the Royal Navy and helps support and promote Britain’s global brand, critical in trade and diplomacy. By improving the economic prospects of poor nations, ultimately we all benefit from increased trade and prosperity.

The security case. By improving conditions abroad we reduce some of the threats that may be imported into the UK. Where there is a healthy economy, stable government, healthcare and education there will be less room for political and religious extremism, terrorism or an incentive for mass migration. Containing epidemics and disease at source prevents them spreading globally and to the UK. Contributing to multi-national peacekeeping efforts also help restore stability to war-torn regions and prevent further conflict.

A brief photographic history of recent RN disaster response

  • RFA Argus alongside in Freetown, part of the UK forces response to the Ebola outbreak. After transporting vehicles and supplies, Argus acted as a logistics hub, helicopter base. This very successful forces and DFID operation ran from October 2014 until November 2015 when Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free.

  • RFA Lyme Bay off Dominica in 2015. Using her embarked Lynx helicopter and mexflote she provided assistance to the island following storm Erica which caused fatal flooding, mudslides, landslides and rock falls.

  • HMS Bulwark arrived in the central Mediterranean in 2015 to acted as a rescue hub for thousands of migrants in small boats attempting to reach Europe from Africa. This operation is effectively still on-going. HMS Enterprise, Echo and Mersey, as well as UK Border Force cutters, have been involved at different times since 2015.

  • Lynx from HMS Daring and RN personnel provide assistance after the Philippines was devasted by severe a Typhoon in November 2013. HMS Illustrious (main image above) loaded supplies in Singapore and also joined the relief effort.

  • On 12th Jan 2010 a powerful earthquake hit Haiti, killing 200,000 people and left more than 1.5 million others in need of food and shelter. Vehicles, food and other supplies were sent directly from the UK aboard RFA Largs Bay, seen here being unloaded by mexflote.

Moving foreign aid money to defence

The growing financial problems at the MoD demands responsible government look at every means to address the issue. Increasing taxes, national debt or cuts to health education or welfare look politically extremely unattractive. Re-directing aid money to our forces would help avoid dangerous cuts while boosting our ability to respond to emergencies around the world. The Public Accounts Committee says the MoD is now facing a funding shortfall of at least £1Bn a year just to meet the existing programme. New money would quickly relieve this pressure which is hollowing out or forces and damaging long-term capabilities.

If just 20% of the DFID budget (approx £2.6 billion annually) was passed to the MoD and earmarked for spending on defence assets that are frequently used as tools for humanitarian operations, it would make an enormous difference.

Government is quite happy to manipulate internal accounting methods to make it appear that we spend 2% GDP on defence. They should, therefore, have little compunction about counting funding provided to the forces for aid-related tasks, as part of the DIFD budget. The headline figure of 0.7% GDP on aid can be maintained without Parliament having to change the law, even if not strictly within OCED rules.

The vessels of the RN and RFA are prime platforms for humanitarian operations. (See previous article) With additional funding, the maintenance and running cost of some of its assets could be shouldered by the aid budget. This would free up funds for other areas of the service. The new funding could also provide a contribution to the general cost of the RN surface fleet as ships companies are routinely trained for disaster relief and evacuation work. Although this is only an outline proposal, some other specific suggestions could include;

Funding the running costs for the 3 Bay class Auxiliary Landing ships. It costs less than £10 Million per year to run a Bay class vessel but cuts forced the MoD to sell one of these 4 valuable ships in 2010. These are proven aid delivery platforms and benefit from a large flight deck and well dock that allows supplies to brought ashore by landing craft or mexeflote, especially useful in remote locations or when there are no functioning port facilities nearby. A further 2 Bay class vessels could be built, perhaps with one stationed permanently in the Carribean on call for disaster relief work.

Fund the replacement and running costs of RFA Argus . Old and in need of replacement, this ship has a hospital on board and provides aviation training for the RN. She is another proven aid platform that could be replaced with a merchant ship conversion at low cost.

Build a dedicated hospital ship. We have already made the strong case for a ship that conforms to the Geneva Convention rules on hospital ships and provides free healthcare overseas in this article.

Purchase more Merlins and fully marinize some of the Chinook helicopter fleet. Helicopters are a key asset in disaster relief. They can quickly conduct aerial surveys of devastated areas, then bring in personnel and equipment direct to where it’s most needed. They can also airlift injured people out to ships or hospitals. There are just 24 ‘Junglie’ Merlin HC3/4 transport helicopters and this could be increased with either brand new aircraft of or at least by reviving the 12 orphaned Merlin airframes currently in storage. Additional aircrew and support personnel would be needed. The RAF Chinooks that may embark on the aircraft carriers do not have folding rotors and are not modified for the marine environment. Their heavy lift capability would be very useful for disaster relief.

Expand MoD owned sea-lift. It should be noted that merchant ships with significant capacity are usually needed to bring in large scale supplies after the initial emergency response is provided by the military. The MoD has 4 Point class Ro-Ro vessels on charter which are used for transporting military equipment overseas. This capacity could be expanded by chartering or building additional ships. New money could also contribute to the cost of the 3 planned Fleet Solid Support Ships which provide food, ammunition and spares to the RN at sea.

Provide additional amphibious equipment. The Royal Marines are about to see their LCVP landing craft reduced from 16 to 12 when HMS Ocean commissions in 2018. New craft to operate from the Bay Class and HMS Albion would be useful. The 10 larger LCU craft capable of carrying vehicles are old and slow and could be replaced with faster more modern equivalents

In cases where there are serviceable runways available, RAF transport aircraft are often the first on the scene of a disaster. RAF heavy lift capability could be expanded by funding additional C-17 Globemasters. In sustained operations, providing trained personnel on the ground is important. Additional funds should be provided to the Army particularly for medical, engineering and logistics personnel and equipment.

It should be noted that this spending shift could strengthen our ability to respond to emergencies at the cost of some of DIFD’s more long-term economic projects. However, with improved management and tougher controls on aid spending, the impact on development projects should be small, especially as we are only proposing a 20% shift in priorities.

In time or war or conflict all these assets would obviously be directed to that purpose. Alternatively, in the case of a large-scale humanitarian crisis, additional naval and military assets would be allocated. This inherent flexibility would allow an appropriate response to events without an additional burden on the taxpayer.


from Save the Royal Navy

Saturday, 15 April 2017

UK Amphibious Capability – Today and Tomorrow

This is the first new piece of content on Think Defence for a while, a look at existing UK amphibious capabilities, issues and plans and a half a dozen ideas for the future.

The post UK Amphibious Capability – Today and Tomorrow appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Trading marines for sailors – the Royal Marines, reduced or just restructured?

On 11th April the MoD spin masters announced that the “Royal Marines are to be restructured in line with a growing Royal Navy”. Only around 200 regular Marines will go and there will be no redundancies. There had been grave concern and recent media speculation that up to 2,000 marines were going to be cut so this announcement is something of a relief.

Since the scale of the RN manpower crisis began to become apparent around 2013, the RN has been working on a variety of measures to improve recruitment and retention. In developing the Manpower Recovery Plan, it has also examined what roles can be filled by FTRS (Full Time Reserve Service) or civilian personnel in an effort to make the use of its manpower allocation as efficient as possible. This project has been extended to the Royal Marines with the aim to generate as many people for the fleet as possible, within its liability (agreed and funded strength). Trading 300 officers for 600 ratings was planned before the 2015 SDSR. In addition, a very modest 400 additional personnel were agreed in 2015.

The plan

Around 100 regular Royal Marine posts will be replaced by 30 civilians and 70 marine reservists. At present, there are three Commando Units 40, 42 and 45 which rotate annually to be the ‘Lead Commando’. This entails 1,800 men ready for deployment at short notice anywhere in the world, supported by embedded engineers, artillery, reconnaissance and logistics units. The three units also have to generate detachments for a variety of maritime operations. These including ship force protection teams, small boat teams, counter-piracy operations etc. When the carriers deploy they will embark a newly formed Royal Marine Special Purpose Task Group (SPTG) who can recover downed pilots and sensitive material in enemy territory. Under the new structure, 42 Cdo will become a specialised maritime operations unit only and provide the personnel for these tasks.

Lead Commando duty will then be shared between 40 and 45 Cdo. Completing the 200 post reduction, 42 Cdo will lose around 100 personnel, no longer relevant to its new maritime operations role, such as heavy weapons units. These reductions will be achieved through natural wastage, and thankfully no marines will be made redundant. This restructuring plan has been already sent out to RN and RM personnel and has apparently not been met with great resistance.

Around 100 marines may also be moved from 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group to join 42 Cdo while the other independent elements, including 1 Assualt Group will be unchanged. This means 42 Cdo will not be reduced in numbers and overall the Marines will only lose around 100 men (less than 1.5% of its manpower strength). However, by making 42 Cdo the provider of specialised units, 3 Commando Brigade loses some of its potential fighting mass, if called upon to deploy in strength. Across UK defence we continue to trade mass and depth for quality and reduced numbers.

Essentially the liability for 200 personnel is being transferred from the Royal Marines to general service. In the short term, this will help provide resources to recruit additional sailors to man the aircraft carriers. Of course, the challenges of recruitment and retention remain, even where the RN has the funding in place.

These pressures can create an unfortunate division within the service between Marines, and the rest of the navy. There are those who think “Why should the Marines, who have fought with distinction in almost every conflict since WWII, be cut so the Navy can man its shiny new aircraft carriers?” This very limited view obviously fails to value the ships that protect and get the Marines into action. Despite constant rumours in the last 30 years that the Navy was about to ‘sacrifice’ the Marines, they have survived endless rounds of cuts pretty well. The Marines have steadily maintained their strength at around 7,000 since the late-1980s, while the general service as seen its sailor numbers plunge, from around 65,000 down to just 22,300 by December 2016.

The Royal Marines are admired and respected by any decent senior naval officer, who will have experienced their professionalism at first hand when working with them during their careers. Much to the chagrin of the Army, many, including politicians, regard the Marine Commandos as the UK’s finest fighting formation. If cuts really have to be made, logic would suggest they should fall on generic Army infantry regiments, not the best of the best.

The future of the Royal Marines

The marines are extremely versatile with niche capabilities such as mountain, arctic and desert warfare, as well as providing 47% of all UK Special Forces. The UK retains a small but highly competent specialist amphibious capability that very few nations possess (and we would be foolish to weaken further). There are however, some bigger existential questions about the main amphibious role of the Marines in the wider defence picture. How well would the marines fare in an opposed landing? In the age of UAV/USV swarms and precision weapons is landing by small assault craft suicidal? Do cuts to the RN fleet and aircraft leave the Marines with enough transport for landings of sufficient scale and the ability to support them once ashore? Is the main employment for the Marines in the future likely to be operating in small detachments on specialist maritime security or COIN tasks? Or should 3 Commando brigade be strengthened and focus on the ability to mount large amphibious assaults or engagements in large scale ground conflicts?

Maximising the assets

The restructuring plan is sensible in the circumstances and demonstrates the service doing all in its power to make the best use of its slim resources. By delegating the budget to each command, the government has conveniently absolved itself of responsibility as it can present cuts and restructuring as “the choices of the Navy Board”. There may be little alternative to operating at ‘bare bones’ efficiency but ultimately credible defence is about contingencies. When a crisis arises, regular personnel doing apparently less important desk jobs may act as a valuable immediately-available reserve. These disappearing backroom roles may also provide respite for personnel who have been on operations and need a period serving with regular hours for the benefit of their family life.

The fact the RN needs to go to such efforts to generate just 200 people indicates just how tight manpower issues remain. There is relief that a large cut to Royal Marine numbers has been avoided but the overall fighting capability of 3 Commando Brigade is being reduced. This is another price the RN has to pay for the disastrous decision to make 5,000 redundant in 2010. If nothing else, arguing for further increases in RN personnel numbers in the 2020 SDSR must be a priority.


from Save the Royal Navy

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Restoring the UK’s maritime patrol aircraft capability (Part 2)

In part 1 we examined the background to the UK MPA programme and the P-8A Poseidon Aircraft itself. In part 2 we will look equipment integration and the role of the aircraft in service.

P-8A, the high flyer

MPAs have historically operated at medium or low altitude over the sea. This requirement primarily comes from the need to be able to drop sonobuoys or weapons accurately. Dropping an ASW homing torpedo with a small parachute required the MPA to descend a low as 100ft. Based on the 737, a commercial airliner designed to cruise efficiently at around 30,000 ft, the P-8A is intended to operate predominately at much higher altitudes than legacy MPAs. Low flying uses more fuel and demands a more rugged airframe able to cope with the thicker, more turbulent air. Contrary to popular belief, the P-8 airframe has been strengthened for this regime and can perform well at low altitude. During the first part of its life in service with the US Navy, it has been operating predominantly down low. This is partly because the adapted weapons and sensors needed for use at high altitude are not yet available.

There are considerable advantages that will come when the P-8A is able to routinely fly at higher altitude, including greater fuel efficiency. With just 9 aircraft available, the time on station dictated by fuel consumption will be particularly important for the UK P-8s, especially as the RAF cannot provide its own air-air refuelling for them. Aircrew also suffer less fatigue in the smoother air at altitude.

Increasingly sensitive sonar means the noise of low-flying aircraft can be detected by submarines at times. Various attempts have been made to develop submarine-launched anti-aircraft missiles, and it is only a matter of time before they are perfected and become a lethal threat to aircraft at low-level or helicopters. For search & rescue and surface surveillance missions, flying at higher altitude also vastly increases the sea surface area that can be surveyed by the multi-mode radar, electro-optical/infrared camera. The USN is developing the Multi-Static Active Coherent (MAC) system which uses dispersed active and passive sonobuoys, greatly enhancing submarine detection capability. This new generation of sophisticated sonobouys with modern batteries are able to work for longer, have GPS to track their exact position and allow one aircraft to handover monitoring to another aircraft or ship. The powerful onboard processing capabilities of the P-8A are intended to interact with widely dispersed sonobuoy fields from high altitude.

Of course, if within range of enemy warships and land batteries equipped with medium/long range anti-aircraft missiles (such as the lethal Russian S300/400 series) the aircraft becomes far more vulnerable than at low altitude. The increment 3 P-8A does not have a full set of robust countermeasures such as radar jammers and decoys needed to protect it from modern SAM systems.


Buying all-American aircraft and kit

It is clear from MoD statements that the UK will be buying the P-8A directly “off the shelf” with no modifications and no plan to integrate UK weapons. The platform has successfully evolved in a series of increments, with capabilities added over time. The UK will get aircraft fitted to Increment 3 standards, identical to those being delivered to the US Navy. Initially, the UK will have to purchase a stock of US Mk 54 torpedoes. Performance is classified, but the British-made Stingray Mod 1 Torpedo is probably slightly superior to the Mk 54. Both weapons experienced development problems, but the Stingray is now very mature, while there are still question marks about the Mk 54 in demanding environments.

A British company, Ultra Electronics is the world leader in sonobuoy manufacture and is continues to work with QinetiQ in conducting research and development supporting the Merlin ASW platform. There will be little UK-supplied sonobuoy and acoustic processing input into the P-8A, at least initially. The sonobuoy is a British invention but the P-8A will not benefit from the considerable UK expertise available in this field. The P-8 processors and dispenser are not fully compatible with UK sonobuoys, so US stocks will have to be acquired. The UK will have to support the cost of two parallel inventories of, sonobuoys and torpedos, but there may be some operational advantages of commonality with US equipment. RAF, US and Norwegian P-8As will all be able to share a common pool of stores and spares held RAF Lossiemouth, Keflavik Air Base (Iceland) and other US bases.

In order to be effective at higher altitude, the US is developing two specific enablers. Boeing has the contract to build a glider kit for the Mk 54 torpedo, the High Altitude Anti-submarine warfare Weapon Capability (HAAWC). HAAWC integrates an air-launched accessory (ALA) kit with a GPS guidance system and folding wings. This will allow the launch of the weapon from 30,000ft under operator control so the torpedo can be put into the water with precision and at the considerable distance from the aircraft that launched it.

BAE Sytems in the US is developing the High Altitude ASW (HAASW) Unmanned Targeting Air System (UTAS). This is a small dispensable drone equipped with a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) that can be dropped from the P-8A weapons bay at high altitude. Previous MPAs (and India’s P-8i) have a MAD boom on the tail of the aircraft which require the aircraft to fly at low level over the suspected contact. Small changes in the earth’s magnetic field are detected if there is a submarine present. MAD has only a short detection range but is a useful tool for localising and confirming the presence of a submarine if no active sonar emitter is available. UTAS will enable this to be done by the P-8A at high altitude without the need to descend.

  • Mk 54 Torpedo P-8

    Mk 54 ASW being loaded onto US Navy P-8A. At present, this can only be dropped from low level (US Navy Photo)

  • The Mk 54 gets its wings. Due to be dropped by a P-8A for the first time in 2017, this system should be operational 2020 and be available for the UK to purchase


    A truly obscure piece of defence kit. HAAW UTAS a MAD equipped drone, being developed by BAE Systems in the US under a $8.9M contract

  • CATM-84D Block IC Harpoon anti-ship missile (training version) carried by USN P-8A. Whether the UK will purchase stocks of this weapons remain to be seen. If so, the RAF could be in the curious position of having anti-ship missiles while the RN has none. (Photo

P-8 Operations

The table below shows the missions the P-8A will be expected to carry out when it enters service plus some additional roles that it could be equipped for. With just 9 aircraft, it is clear the force will be in great demand and raises some interesting questions about how is tasking will be prioritised. A continuous ASW watch over northern waters and GIUK gap would be desirable with an aircraft available to respond to SAR emergencies. Keeping at least two aircraft in the air or at very high readiness would probably require the entire squadron and leave limited options for other tasks. The more numerous Nimrod MR2s were frequently used to provide overwatch and co-ordination for UK military operations around the world. The RAF has an inadequate number ISTAR aircraft and there maybe be pressure to take the P-8A away from its primary maritime patrol duties.

In-service capability Notes Possible future capability Notes
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Detect, track, classify and potentially prosecute submarines using HAAWC and UTAS Anti-Shipping (ASuW) Would require UK purchase of Harpoon or interim weapons until FCASW* available
Surface surveillance  Monitoring of naval and merchant vessels. Anti-smuggling / trafficking / illegal immigration / crime Control of surveillance UAVs Would require UK purchase of long-range UAV such as Trition
Long range search and rescue. (SAR) UK Search and Rescue Region (SRR) amounts to nearly 1.25 million sq nautical miles of ocean Long range strike If existing Storm Shadow missiles or FCASW integrated with P-8
Mission co-ordination For variety of military operations (land and sea) Minelaying An absurd capability gap, but UK has no existing stock of naval mines
Overland surveillance The P-8 is not specifically designed for this but has some capability.

FCASW* Future Cruise and Anti-ship Weapon – Anglo/French missile in development but unlikely to be operational before 2030.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a lone MPA will struggle to detect a modern submarine, and should be considered as just on of the essential parts of the ASW matrix that includes seabed arrays, ships and other submarines.

A Cold War submarine captain I know once suggested to me that he feels the only way a MPA could find a properly operated SSN was if it bumped into it. “MPA radar is a good deterrent, which makes you keep your head down,” he explained, “but the only time one SNN I commanded was detected by a sonobuoy was when we passed about 20 feet away from it and the contact was fleeting.” Cold War-era British MPAs fared better against the Russians, however. “Nimrods used to get away with it when tracking earlier Soviet submarines,” the SSN captain also observed, “but they were pretty hopeless against a Victor III. Against an Akula, I would have given them hardly any chance at all.” (Iain Ballantyne blog)

The P-8A has some classified capabilities, that are subject to much speculation but may give it the edge in ASW. It is known that it has a hydrocarbon sensor that can detect trace amounts of exhaust from ships, or more importantly conventional submarines snorting (recharging their batteries using their diesel engines). Such leading edge technology, including MAC sonobuoys and powerful onboard processors, justify the high financial cost of the P-8A. This investment may well be vindicated, particularly when up aginst a new generation of very quiet Russian submarines.


from Save the Royal Navy

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Think Defence – The Story So Far

As per previous posts, an update on progress. To recap, no more regular short blog posts, but occasional long form documents once the existing long form content has been refreshed and updated. Some of the older posts have been split apart with additional content added. Here is where I am on that, roughly 217 thousand ...

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from Think Defence

The History of Airborne Aircraft Towing

As we approach the RAF’s 100 year anniversary year it is interesting to note the absence of information about airborne towing, a discipline that has been proven to be effective over many years and one which continues to be used by all major air forces today. During early combat air operations, low payloads and fuel loads ...

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from Think Defence