Saturday, 30 December 2017

Thoughts on Future Force Design

Based on the #SDSR18 series in which I defined a number of general conditions, risks and approaches this post is a few thoughts on a resultant force structure. Part 1 – Breaking the Crisis Cycle Part 2 – Risks Part 3 – Alliances and Politics Part 4 – Defending Europe Part 5 – Middle East [...]

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from Think Defence

Thursday, 28 December 2017

“The year of the Royal Navy” – a review of 2017

On 1st January 2017 the MoD published a press release that proclaimed it would be “the year of the Royal Navy”. Ministers may have come to regret such a bold statement but it certainly helped shine the spotlight on a service during turbulent times. Here we review some of the highlights and some of the difficulties the RN has experienced this year. 


It was revealed in a leak to the press that there had been a failed Trident missile test launch during the Demonstration and Shakedown Operation (DASO) conducted by HMS Vengeance in June 2016. Despite the Trident II D5 being consistently the most reliable ICBM on the planet, the ill-advised cover-up helped create a false impression the system has serious problems. The haemorrhage of people leaving the RN has been stemmed somewhat but the personnel shortage continues, figures released in January showed the service to be 2.4% under liability, i.e. 720 short of the meagre 30,170 the RN is supposed to have. In the first revelation of the MoDs budget problems that were about to explode into view this year, it was stated that the navy now faces a shortfall in its annual budget of at least £500 million. It became clear that the March date originally set for HMS Queen Elizabeth to begin sea trails had slipped slightly and June was now the likely target date for her to sail. First of the new MARS tankers, RFA Tidespring was quietly accepted from her builders DSME in South Korea, nearly a year behind schedule, but on budget at least.


In February the Sun published a story claiming all seven of the RN’s attack submarines (SSNs) were alongside either in refit or experiencing material defects. This was certainly the case for a short period at the start of the year and represented a very serious weakening of UK defence, symptomatic of ageing Trafalgar class boats and problems with the new Astute boats. The Daily Express went a step further claiming HMS Trenchant would never sail again and the Trafalgar class boats had terminal defects that would end their carriers. Fortunately, this was proved to be total nonsense and HMS Trenchant has been at sea for much of this year. The Sea Venom light anti-ship missile successfully completed its next round of trials on the way to being in RN service by 2020.


First, of the batch II river class OPVs, HMS Forth was formally named at a ceremony in Scotstoun, Glasgow. The Lynx Mk 8 Helicopter and the Sea Suka missile went out of service, leaving the RN with no light anti-shipping missile for two years. The RN conducted their first Exercise “Information Warrior” (alongside the regular Ex Joint Warrior) and tested naval cyber and AI capabilities.


The RN announced it was reducing the Royal Marines by 200 men in order to free up funding for more sailors while 42 Commando was being downgraded in size and capability. This was the first indication that amphibious forces were the only place left to go for the RN to make cuts as it was being squeezed in the funding crisis. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee finally confirmed the ugly rumours that there exists at least a £10 billion ‘black hole’ in funding for the MoDs equipment programme.

The 4th Astute class submarine, HMS Audacious was rolled out of the build hall and into the water at Barrow, 10 months behind schedule and £200M over-budget. (Image: BAE Systems)

The MoD had stated in January that the keel for the 7th Astute class (HMS Ajax?) would be laid in 2017 but this has not happened. Although some steel has been cut, it would appear the delays to boats 4-6 means there is not space or manpower available to lay the keel of boat 7. On appeal, Royal Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman was cleared of committing murder during deployment in Afghanistan and was finally freed, after serving 3 years in prison.


HMS Daring returned after a successful 9-month deployment in the heat of the Persian Gulf confounding the critics who claim Type 45 always break down in in hot weather. On return Daring went into long-term lay up as a harbour training ship, replacing HMS Dauntless which has been in a similar state for the last 2 years.


Defence was largely given low priority by politicians and media in the General Election campaign. The Tories just hung on to remain in government but in a chaotic and much-weakened state. However, the same ministerial team remained in place at the MoD and continuity in defence policy seemed likely. The new government began its “National Security Capability Review” which was supposed to be a low key review assessment of UK security across government departments, rather than a full defence scale review. HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from Rosyth to begin sea trials. A landmark moment for the RN and the progress of this great ship which, for better or worse, would dominate media coverage of the navy for the rest of the year.


The US Navy kindly lent the USS George H W Bush to the RN for 2 weeks to conduct Exercise Saxon Warrior to help regenerate carrier battle group command skills. HMS Queen Elizabeth’s sea trials were interrupted by a propeller shaft issue which was corrected during 2 weeks alongside in Invergordon, amid much media speculation. After a gestation period for the new frigate programme of more than 20 years, the first still was finally cut for HMS Glasgow, the first type 26 Frigate. It was subsequently announced the 3rd ship in the initial batch of 3 will be named HMS Belfast. HMS Torbay was decommissioned after 32 years of outstanding service, reducing the SSN force to just 6 boats until HMS Audacious commissions.


The iconic image of the Royal Nay in 2017. On a truly memorable day for the RN, procedure Alpha for HMS Queen Elizabeth as she made her first entry into Portsmouth with universal media coverage. The Prime Minister also visited the ship on the same day and made a speech on board.

HMS Forth sailed from Glasgow to begin contractors sea trials. 3rd of the 4 Tide class tankers RFA Tidesurge was officially named in South Korea. HMS Ocean sailed for her final deployment to lead a NATO group in the Mediterranean.


When Hurrican Irma hit the Caribbean, RFA Mounts Bay was already in the region and prepared to assist. The scale of the damage demanded a major response from UK armed forces in the form of Operation Ruman. HMS Ocean was hurriedly re-tasked to sail from the Eastern Mediterranean to store in Gibraltar and cross the Atlantic to assist. The humanitarian aid effort across the Caribbean led by the RN was a demonstration of the flexibility and utility of naval forces and did a great deal to alleviate suffering in the British dependencies. The outline specification for the Type 31 frigate was issued by the RN with a very low budget set at £250M per ship. The second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales was formally named at a ceremony in Rosyth. It was discovered that minehunters HMS Atherstone and Quorn would not complete the refits that they had begun and would be decommissioned early as a cost and manpower saving measure. The RN sensibly decided to defer the previously planned retirement of its semi-obsolete Harpoon anti-ship missiles until 2020, pending a replacement. Rear Admiral Alex Burton, Commander UK Maritime Forces handed in his resignation, ostensibly in protest at the possible plan to axe HMS Albion, Bulwark and large numbers of Royal Marines. Leaked proposals to scale back UK amphibious capability generated enormous controversy and have cast a long shadow of the “year of the Royal Navy”.


HMS Queen Elizabeth departed Portsmouth for part 2 sea trials off the Cornish coast which were conducted successfully over a 3 week period in very benign weather. 2nd OPV HMS Medway was formally named at a ceremony in Glasgow. At Barrow a ceremony was held for the Defence Secretary to start the first steel cutting for the new Trident successor submarine, which it was announced will be named HMS Dreadnought.

HMS Ocean

HMS Ocean off Crete, leading Standing NATO Maritime Task Group 2 after returning to the Med from her aid mission to the Caribbean. She visited Hafia, Israel and Lisbon, Portugal before coming home to Devonport from her final overseas deployment in December. She will conduct a tour of UK ports before decommissioning without replacement on 31st March 2018.


Michael Fallon resigned suddenly amidst a scandal about his personal conduct and was replaced by the former chief whip, Gavin Williamson. The NAO published a report which revealed the growing extent of cannibalisation of stores and spare parts across the RN. In a relatively low key ceremony, the Prince of Wales opened the new Naval Support Facility (NSF) HMS Juffair in Bahrain which will greatly improve alongside support for RN vessels deployed in the Gulf region. After covering for HMS Ocean doing NATO duty in the Mediterranean, HMS Diamond was forced to return home from her planned Gulf deployment with a serious propellor shaft problem. The lack of alternative vessels to cover this kind of contingency left the RN with no major warship East of Suez for the first time in living memory. RFA Tidespring was dedicated into the fleet at a ceremony in Portsmouth. The 4 new tankers will be fantastic additions to the RFA and are designed specifically to refuel the aircraft carriers. RN sailors provided the guard at Royal residences in London for the first time in 400 years.


HMS Queen Elizabeth was commissioned in the presence of her majesty – another landmark moment and a demonstration of the RN’s enduring ability to excel in the organisation and presentation of ceremonial events. Just a week later, more negativity and disinformation about the carrier project was generated by the Sun newspaper grossly exaggerating the significance a minor leak on a stern seal of HMS Queen Elizabeth. HMS Prince of Wales was floated out of the basin in Rosyth to begin fitting out with sea trails scheduled for mid-2019.

The adventures of Gavin
In the two months Gavin Williamson has been defence secretary there has never been a dull moment. The new man had no previous track record of interest in defence matters and many perceive him as a clever and ambitious schemer using the post as a stepping stone to the Tory leadership. However, rather than continuing the bland and conformist approach of Micahel Fallon, he has given the impression that he will fight for the department. Of the commitment to 2% GDP spending on defence, he said : “I’ve always seen 2% as base, not a ceiling”. It was reported he has demanded significantly more money from the Treasury and even had a physical altercation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Westminster. He also barred Philip Hammond from using RAF transport aircraft until the Treasury paid money owed. On British Jahdis who had gone to fight for ISIS he said they “should be shot, bombed or banned from coming home”. He blocked the Army’s plan to ditch their strapline “Be the Best” because consultants deemed it “elitist”. Speaking on Russian warships and submarines operating close to UK territorial waters he said: “I will not hesitate in defending our waters or tolerate any form of aggression”. One could interpret his statements as a carefully stage-managed attempt to get attention and appeal to a section of disenchanted Tory voters. A less cynical view is that he has listened to the procession of experts warning about the sorry and dangerous state of UK defence and he is determined to actually do something about it. The appointment of the new defence secretary has been used as a reason to extend the ongoing “defence review” into 2018. There is greater public opposition and awareness about further defence cuts than there was in 2010 and at least 20 Tory MPs are likely to rebel against the government if new funding is not forthcoming.

Still doing the business?

There is no doubt that the RN is in a poor state in many ways but there remains much to be positive about. As the summary above shows, this year has been one of contrasts. New equipment has reached important milestones on its way to join the fleet but at the same time manpower shortages, not enough ships and further possible cuts continue to blight the service.

A little lost amongst the focus on equipment is the day to day business of the RN. The service is just about able to manage the tasks mandated by government and has achieved a great deal in protecting the nation’s interests in 2017. As a snapshot, on 22nd November 2017 the RN had 32 ships and submarines either overseas or on operations (including RFAs but not including P2000 boats) and around 8,000 people actively deployed. (Reflecting the growing concern about Russia, the majority of these vessels were deployed in European or northern waters.) At Christmas, the numbers deployed had about halved mainly because for this sake of morale, the RN is determined to give Christmas leave to as many of its people as possible.

Decisions that will be taken in Westminster in the early part of 2018 will determine if the RN will have a more stable future or must endure yet further reduction and over-stretch.


from Save the Royal Navy

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Site Update and a Look Forward to 2018

As we draw to the end of the year a look forward to 2018 and a site update. You may have noticed a new site design, hopefully this is faster and easier to navigate on desktops and mobile devices. Have also split the long form content into reference and journal articles, the former comprises programme [...]

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from Think Defence

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Towards #SDSR18 – Middle East and Africa

The final of the ‘scene setting’ posts in this series, a look at the UK’s defence and security commitments and approaches in the Middle East, Africa and a small section on further east. Click HERE to read  

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from Think Defence

Friday, 22 December 2017

Listening to the ocean – the secretive enablers in the underwater battle

Critical in the ongoing battle to detect hostile submarines in a little-known network of ocean sensors that support the more visible deployment of frigates and maritime patrol aircraft. Here we examine the history and development of this network, a key to UK maritime power.

The Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) codenamed Project Caesar, was began in 1954 as a classified US programme to use an extensive network of hydrophones laid on the seabed to track Soviet submarines. The technology was successfully refined and gave NATO a great advantage over their underwater adversaries throughout the Cold War. The UK has been fortunate to have involvement and access to this project since the early days. SOSUS had been built under the cover of civilian oceanographic research and was not made public until 1991. The Soviets were largely unaware of its importance until its existence and scale was revealed to them in the intelligence passed on to them by the Walker spy ring in the 1970 and 80s. Soviet submarines were notoriously noisy and easy to detect but, partly on learning of the passive detection capabilities of SOSUS, they began to build quieter submarines. In general US and RN submarines were considerably more stealthy but Russia has now closed that gap, its newest submarines are comparable to NATO designs in terms of stealth.

SOSUS comprised fixed, passive linear hydrophone arrays for long range detection of the noise radiated by submarines. In simple terms, the noises from the machinery and the cavitation effects of a submarine propellor can potentially be detected hundreds of miles away because seawater is a very good conductor of sound energy. Using hydrophones at dispersed locations it is possible to triangulate and locate the source of the noise to a precise point in the ocean. The arrays were laid at strategic points around the Atlantic and Pacific and relayed information to shore stations via undersea cables. The shore stations were linked by satellite and phone lines. At its Cold War peak, SOSUS employed around 4,000 personnel working at 20 shore stations. In 1974 a SOSUS station was constructed at RAF Brawdy in Wales and by 1980 over 300 personnel were stationed there, analysing acoustic data gathered from arrays laid around the British Isles.

Dam Neck

In October 1995, NAVFAC Bawdy was closed and its functions moved to the Joint Maritime Facility at RAF St. Mawgan in Cornwall. In 2009 St Mawgan was closed and the combined USN and British operation was moved to Navy Operational Processing Facility (NOPF) at Dam Neck in Virginia. Data collected from ocean sensors across the Atlantic is now processed at this single facility before the intelligence is passed onto the frontline. (There is a parallel facility that serves the Pacific region at NOPF Whidbey Island in Washington State). It must be assumed that the analysis and submarine tracking information gathered here is passed on to the UK Joint Headquarters at Northwood to the RN Commander Maritime Operations (COMOPS) where it is used to cue submarines and warships to their targets.

Photocall for the approximately 50 RN and RAF personnel stationed at NOPF Dam Neck, Virginia (2014). They get little mention compared with others serving in the US, for example on the P-8 Seedcorn exchange or with the F-35 programme.

Going mobile

By the late 1980s, SOSUS had evolved to become just a part of what is now known as Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS). Purpose built towed array sonar ships were integrated into the system in the form of the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) ships. Designed to be quiet, stable in all weathers and able to track targets at long range from the optimum location, their data is transmitted back to IUSS land stations by satellite. Unlike the SOSUS seabed arrays, they also incorporate Low-Frequency Active (LFA 100-500hz band) transducers that transmit energy into the water. If reflected back off the target, the sound is detected by the long passive arrays trailed behind the ship. The RN does not have the luxury of single-role dedicated towed array platforms but 8 of the 13 Type 23 frigates carry the renowned Type 2087 system. RN submarines also deploy towed arrays which must be attached to the submarine by a support vessel before leaving for a patrol. Following the “Asia pivot”, SURTASS vessels now operate almost exclusively around the Chinese coast and Western Pacific but the USN is in the process of fitting all its destroyers and cruisers with a new TB-37/U Multi-Function Towed Array (MFTA) sonar system.

During the Cold War, the Warsaw pact had deployed their own towed array platforms, although it is likely they were not as effective as western equivalents. During ‘Operation Barmaid‘ in August 1982, HMS Conqueror was fitted with special pincers and undetected, managed to cut and steal an array belonging to a Polish AGI to be taken to the US for analysis.

The Type 2087 sonar system on a Type 23 frigate. The ‘wet end’ comprises the LFA (yellow towed body) and a passive array. It is likely that the Type 23s can also upload sonar data via satellite in real time to contribute to the big picture of the IUSS network. This equipment will be transferred to the Type 26 frigate as they enter service. Its open architecture will allow the software to be upgraded continually. (Based on original image from Thales)

The behaviour of sound waves in water varies enormously depending on conditions such as depth, currents, salinity and temperature layers. These variables will affect if, when and where submarines may be detected. The Royal Navy’s hydrographic ocean survey ship HMS Scott does not just collect data for creating charts but contributes oceanographic information for both submarine operations and anti-submarine warfare. By understanding the composition of the water column it assists the deterrent submarines in knowing where they may be safest from detection. For the submarine hunter, understanding the composition of the ocean helps them predict how their sonars will perform. As submarines have become quieter, ASW has had to move back to a greater reliance on active sonar. Active sonar gives a more precise fix on the location of the target but has the disadvantage of immediately alerting the submarine that it is being tracked.

USNS Zeus Devonport

USNS Zeus is the US navy’s dedicated cable-layer and is primarily employed building and maintaining the IUSS network of hydrophones. The Zeus has been a regular visitor to UK waters in recent times, seen here alongside in Devonport during 2015 (Photo: Lewis-Clarke via Geograph).

China and Russia spur renewed US ASW developments

The US is now in the process of making the biggest upgrade to the IUSS since the Cold War. The key component is the Deep Reliable Acoustic Path Exploitation System (DRAPES). This system will be far less reliant on potentially vulnerable seabed cables and utilises acoustic modems that allow it to pass data through the water allowing the creation of something like an undersea wireless network. Wireless underwater communications have been available for some time but only at relatively low speed and short range. Recent breakthroughs make it possible to scale this up and transmit much greater volumes of data. acoustic Sensor data can be transmitted long distances through a series nodes which may include other hydrophone arrays, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) or a surface buoy. Data is then either sent via satellite back to Dam Neck for evaluation or to nearby surface ships and MPAs. The USN is also experimenting with the ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) which is can deploy sonar specifically designed to detect and trail very quiet conventional submarines and will be another node on the network that feeds data via satellite to IUSS.

The USN has already proved this concept with its Seaweb system but designed for use in shallow littoral water less than 300 meters deep. DRAPES will be on a vastly bigger scale, and able to span the deep ocean. Reliable Acoustic Path Vertical Line Arrays (RAPVLAs), bottom-mounted, high-grain sensor systems, will be laid at significant depths in the open ocean where background noise levels are very lower. This gives them a very large field of view to detect submarines passing overhead. These are a maritime equivalent of a satellite and are known as subullites. The Reliable Acoustic Path (RAP) refers to the dense and quieter waters in the deeper parts of the ocean where sound transmission is more detectable and predictable.

Since 2013 the US has been trialling the Submarine Hold at RisK (SHARK), an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) designed to provide a mobile active sonar to track submarines after initial detection has been made by another platform. It can lie dormant on the ocean floor, potentially for years until activated to follow a submarine that has been detected. (Image: DARPA / Bluefin robotics)

Although submarines are getting even quieter and there is more man-made background noise in the shallower parts of the oceans than ever, IUSS has the advantage of the enormous computer processing power available today. Huge volumes of sensor data can be quickly analysed by computers to filter the background noise and amplify even the very faint telltale sound of the submarine.

The location of an explosion that points to the loss of the missing Argentine submarine ARA San Juan was established using ocean hydrophone arrays. The official story is that the source of the location was data gathered by from hydrophones belonging to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). It is possible that this is a cover story for a more accurate fix provided by the more sophisticated and extensive IUSS network, although its coverage of the South Atlantic is less than that of the North.

Recent reports of increased Russian submarine activity in the waters around Scotland and the GIUK (Greenland-Iceland-UK) gap probably stem from initial detections by IUSS sensors. The media has suggested we “rely on Scottish fishermen reporting when they see a periscope” but of course the initial detections probably come from seabed hydrophone arrays or towed arrays trailed by frigates and submarines. NATO Maritime Patrol aircraft flying from RAF Lossiemouth or Keflavik Air Base in Iceland are unlikely to find a submarine by chance and must also rely heavily on this data to cue them to the approximate area before they can localise submarine contacts with sonobuoys.

The RN’s submarine force appears to have recovered slightly from the material defects that had limited its operations in the last 18 months or so and the service is now described as “busy”. We can assume SSNs are much in demand to trail Russian submarines in the North Atlantic. Observing the recent increase in US Navy Virginia and Los Angeles class SSNs visiting Faslane also confirms this. IUSS, surface units and MPAs all contribute but a submarine is by far the best platform to detect another submarine and then keep on its tail.

This underwater battle of wits and technology has varied in intensity since submarine warfare began in earnest in World War I. Britain has twice been close to the brink of starvation and defeat as its lifeblood of merchant shipping was almost cut off by submarines. Today we are arguably more vulnerable to this threat than ever. The giant modern container ships that deliver goods to the UK may have cargoes valued in millions of pounds and transport the equivalent of a 50-ship World War II convoy. We are also reliant on a steady stream of tankers delivering LNG from the Middle East to keep many of our power stations going. Even one or two well-handled submarines could easily disrupt this shipping and quickly cause chaos and economic paralysis to the UK. For the RN to conduct carrier strike and other offensive naval operations, a prerequisite will be having the upper hand in the undersea battle. IUSS is a critical and little-known part of this fight, every penny invested in equipment, training and development of anti-submarine measures is money well spent.



from Save the Royal Navy

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

HMS Queen Elizabeth – a large and convenient media target

“Navy’s new £3.1Bn aircraft carrier is leaking” screams the front-page headline in today’s Sun newspaper, The Daily Express then helpfully adds to the hysteria by claiming “the ship is sinking”. The simple facts of this rather routine occurrence is that a leaking stern seal on one of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s propeller shafts was discovered during sea trials and is allowing small amounts of water into the ship.

Stern seals are one of the more challenging aspects of marine engineering. There are two opposing requirements when designing the seal, the propeller shaft must exit the hull and be free to rotate with minimal friction but sealed sufficiently tight to keep out the pressure of seawater. Modern mechanical seals use a series of spring-loaded rings that require lubrication by oil and seawater and are complex assemblies that often cause problems. One very experienced naval officer commented today, “on every ship I served on we experienced issues with the stern seals at some point”.

All ships are designed with bilges where water and oil tends to collect from small leaks. The bilges are equipped with powerful pumps that can discharge this water and, if necessary much larger volumes of water in the event of a serious breach of the hull. To get some perspective on how insignificant this leak is, the 200 litres per hour that is leaking into the 65,000 tone HMS Queen Elizabeth is about the same as 2 bathtubs full of water and can easily be removed by pumps with a vastly greater capacity. The ship is also sub-divided into many watertight compartments, even in the highly unlikely event the stern seals failed completely, it would not sink the ship as it would be contained within a compartment. Aside from the ships ME (Marine Engineering) department on board QE, the rest of ships company were not even aware of this issue.

The ship went through a series of rigorous inspections before she was accepted off contract by the RN, almost unnoticed amongst the ceremonial hoopla of the commissioning day on 7th December. The Sun article even claims the ACA had “mugged off” the RN by getting the ship accepted before this issue was discovered. The RN has hundreds of years of accumulated experience in managing complex warship programmes and did not just blithely sign on the dotted line. In fact, the leak came to light during sea trials, only by subjecting the propeller shafts to the forces experienced at sea and during manoeuvring can the seals be properly tested. Furthermore, the ship remains under warranty and the cost of this repair and other snagging issues will not be borne by the taxpayer. ACA engineers are expected to be on board competing further snagging issues for the next six months or so. The media perspective seems to be we have paid £31.Bn for this ship so why is everything not working perfectly? The whole point of the trials process of a ship that is a prototype, first of her kind is to expose any problems and remedy them. There is not a single major engineering project in history that did not encounter snags along the way that were overcome. With diver support, the seal problem is going to be repaired alongside in Portsmouth and it will not delay her departure planned for late in January 2018.

The fourth rate fourth estate

By midday, the BBC website and more serious news outlets were was leading on this story and the general public, having been continuously drip-fed negative news on HMS Queen Elizabeth might be forgiven for thinking we have a leaky aircraft carrier with no aircraft. Journalists insist this routine occurrence is a big “story” and doubtless, their editors are very happy with them. It is a story because they have made it so, taking a small fact out of context and magnifying its significance is how one of the less reputable aspects of journalism works. There are several very good defence journalists who have been very helpful to the navy’s cause, particularly in the recent current defence funding crisis but in this instance, the media is making something out of nothing and misleading the public.

We predicted back in 2014, long before QE was completed, that the size of the carrier project would make it an irresistible target for media criticism. In the last year, the progress of HMS QE has been covered extensively by media worldwide and we have endured overblown stories about, paint peeling off the hull, paint peeling off the deck, being stuck in port due to bad weather, breaking down at sea and now sinking alongside in Portsmouth. It is just so easy to write simplistic news articles or draw silly cartoons about “aircraft carriers with no aircraft”, ignoring the timescale and complexity involved in delivery a project like this. It does not sell papers or get clicks on your website to talk about what a triumph of British engineering the QEC represents. While many naval projects all over the world continue to experience horrendous technical problems at the outset, HMS Queen Elizabeth has passed her initial sea trails with relatively few issues, none of which have proved to be a show stopper.

It would be wrong to suggest there is a concerted conspiracy by the media to knock the carriers, this is just part of the cynical news cycle. Last week the Sun was loudly proclaiming our “brave boys and girls” and trumpeting the achievements of the sailors and the armed forces at their Millies Awards, this week the Navy is a bunch of bungling amateurs with sinking ship. A brief media frenzy over this leak has ensued which will soon pass away, although it all adds up to further incremental damage done to the public perception of the Navy and the carrier project. Putting aside the damage to the service’s image, the RN’s biggest concern is over the source of a leak to the press, rather than a routine, repairable leak on a ship.

Getting on with the job

While the media circus surrounding the ship continues, the RN is getting on with delivering the carrier strike programme. Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) team is now aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth making their assessments and writing a training syllabus for a brand new class of ship. Safety will be the focus of the FOST period that will be conducted when the ship sails in late January for the South West Approaches and Eastern Atlantic. Once completed, the formal Merlin helicopter first of type acceptance trials will be conducted, allowing full clearance to operate the type under a relevant SHOL (Ship Helicopter Operating Limits) so essential to the QE’s overall capability.

Meanwhile, HMS Prince of Wales remains in the dry dock in Rosyth, the planned float-out has been delayed slightly, not because of any technical problems but because the ACA has decided it is easier and more efficient to work on her where she is, rather than afloat in the basin. Last week the 14th British F-35B (ZM148 BK-14) was delivered by Lockheed Martin to the British Joint Lightning Force training contingent at USMCAS Beaufort in the US. The 5 aircraft based a Beaufort (which will eventually number 12) will be allocated to 207 Squadron, Operational Conversion Unit which will officially stand up in July 2018 and provide training for UK F-35 pilots before they join the operational squadrons.


from Save the Royal Navy

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Dreadnought class submarine in focus

The programme to construct the 4 submarines that will replace the Vanguard class boats, will soon become the largest defence project in the UK. Ballistic missile submarines are some of the most sensitive and closely guarded defence assets and there is understandably limited information about them in the public domain. At this early stage in the construction programme, we look at what is known about the Dreadnought project.


Outline concepts to replace the Vanguard class have been under consideration by the MoD since 2002 but the 128 people of the Future Submarines (FSM) Integrated Project Team (IPT) started work at Barrow in 2007. Two initial concepts were made public in 2009. The radical ‘Advanced Hull Form’ had a rectangular hull cross-section, with propulsors embedded in ducts. In addition to Trident missiles, 16 x Mark 36 vertical launch tubes, suitable for conventional missiles such as the Tomahawk were sited outside the pressure hull. This design also offered greater stability and manoeuvrability than conventional designs but the costs would have been prohibitive. The alternative ‘Concept 35′ was a more conservative evolution of the Vanguard design with a conventional cylindrical hull form, its main innovation was shaftless electric drive and it appears that this design was used as the basis for Dreadnought.

Design work began in earnest on what was known as ‘Successor’ in May 2011 after passing MoD Main Gate approval. The loss of experienced designers and problems with the Computer Aided Design (CAD) system that plagued development of the Astute class are now consigned to history and the teams working in Barrow benefit from a much more settled organisation. The design was 70% complete and in line with the original schedule when first steel was cut for HMS Dreadnought in late 2016. The first section, now under construction, will form the structural steelwork for auxiliary machinery compartments containing switchboards and control panels for the reactor.

Much of the technology used in the Astute class submarines will find its way into Dreadnought but the new design can in no way be described as a ‘stretched Astute’ with missile tubes. The Astute hull is not large enough to accommodate the height of the Trident missile, neither does it have sufficient beam for two missile tubes to be placed side by side. Most commonality between the Astute and Dreadnought is likely to be found at the forward end, where the 6 Torpedo tubes, weapons handling system, world-class Type 2076 sonar and Common Combat System (CCS) are likely to be fitted. Commonality of control systems, weapons and sensors will save money and make it easier for RN submariners to move between Dreadnought or Astutes as needed

The Dreadnought will be the first RN submarine to feature combined hydroplanes and rudders in an ‘X tail’ configuration at the stern. This arrangement is more complex to build and to control but allows for smaller planes and reduces noise. It is likely the Dreadnought uses an electric permanent magnet motor to drive the boat instead of the steam turbines used on all RN nuclear submarines until now. This follows developments in the surface fleet where Integrated Electric Propulsion (IEP) is being used in the latest generation of ships. On Dreadnought the nuclear reactor will drive steam turbo generators that provide power for the motors and the rest of the boat’s requirements. Motors avoid the need for noisy reduction gears and allow more flexibility in the layout of the propulsion system. There is a slim possibility that Dreadnought has adopted the submarine shaftless drive (SSD) system with an electric motor mounted outside the pressure hull in a watertight enclosure integrated into the propulsor unit.

Dreadnought will be slightly larger than the Vanguard class, with a submerged displacement some 8% greater, totalling 17,200-tons. They will also be 3 metres longer than their predecessors, despite having fewer missile tubes. The growth in displacement will allow for a larger reactor, further quieting technology and provide more room for crew facilities. Improved accommodation is a priority as the submarine service struggles to recruit and retain people while serving on ‘bombers’ can be perceived by some as rather dull. This will be the first RN submarine designed from the outset to accommodate both male and female personnel and have improved sickbay, gym, and education facilities on board as well as a new lighting system simulating day and night.


Dreadnought will have 12 Trident missile tubes, a reduction from the 16 carried by the Vanguards. The missile tubes will be the same 87-inch diameter as the Vanguard, but have been extended in length by 12 inches to accommodate future missiles. To save duplication of costs and effort, the Common Missile Compartment (CMC) is being designed in co-operation with the US and will equip their Columbia SSBNs as well as the UK’s Dreadnoughts. Design work on the CMC began in 2008 and is now mature. The modular ‘quad pack’ design is cheaper to produce than the legacy method of inserting and fitting out individual tubes into the completed hull and allows other sub-contractors to build them at dispersed locations. Babcock in Rosyth has won an £80M contract to fabricate a batch of 22 tubes for use in British and American submarines.

The 2010 SDSR stated that only 8 Trident II D5 missiles will be routinely carried by the new deterrent submarines (each missile is tipped with 5 separate re-entry vehicles that with a nuclear warhead). The remaining 4 tubes have the potential to carry equipment and munitions that could extend Dreadnought’s role beyond that of a pure deterrent submarine. This could include The US-developed multiple all-up round (MAC) canister with can hold 7 Tomahawk cruise missiles per tube, special forces equipment or vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) decoys and sensors and encapsulated unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). For the Dreadnoughts to be used for launching Tomahawks or special forces would require a significant change in operating doctrine. SSBNs are expected to disappear in the ocean depths and avoid any action that might reveal their presence. With its shortage of SSNs this flexibility might be attractive for the RN but would incur additional equipment costs and expose a multi-billion strategic submarine to increased risk.


The PW3 reactor that will power the Dreadnoughts is a brand new design and is not just an evolution of the PW2 used on the Vanguard and Astute class. There is no better demonstration of the close naval relationship between the US and the UK than in the sharing of highly sensitive nuclear reactor technology. Rolls Royce are the technical authority for all RN Nuclear Steam Raising Plant (NSRP) and the US has granted their designers access to their latest S9G reactor that powers their Virginia class submarines. The generous sharing of this information saves time and expensive research but has worked both ways, with the US benefitting from British nuclear expertise, especially in extending the life of existing reactors. The PW3 is larger and more expensive to build than the PW2 but it will meet even higher safety standards, be easier to maintain and should have much lower through-life costs. It is also a simpler design that requires fewer coolant pumps making it significantly quieter. Theoretically, the PW3 reactors should last at least 30 years and not require refuelling. There is some concern that the PW3 project is already over-budget and RR is struggling to find enough specialist nuclear engineers due to competition from the civil sector.

  • Probably the most realistic depiction of Dreadnought currently in the public domain.

  • The 12 missile tubes behind the sail and ‘X tail’ are clearly visible in this rendering.

  • A Common Missile Compartment quad pack prototype built by Electric Boat in the US.

  • Architects cross-section of the Central Yard Complex, now under construction in Barrow. The overhead gantry cranes will be able to lift the vertically-constructed modules onto transporters to be moved to the DDH for assembly.

  • The Devonshire Dock Hall at Barrow used the assemble the Vanguard, Astute and soon the Dreadnought class submarines.

Construction and support infrastructure

In 2013 the MoD announced the signing of the first ‘Foundation Contract’ with Rolls Royce under its Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme (SEPP). Other Foundation Contracts will also provide BAE Systems and Babcock guaranteed funding to invest in new facilities and maintain skills required for the Dreadnought programme while focussing on efficient delivery. SEPP takes a sensible, holistic approach to contractors cash flow during this giant enterprise and it is estimated will save over £900 million in the long-term.

To build a completely new class of submarines has required major new investment at several sites around the UK. A vast new facility at Barrow, the Central Yard Complex (CYC) is being built that will be used to fit out sections of the Dreadnoughts. BAE Systems and the Unions at Barrow have agreed on new working practices, pay scales and additional automation introduced as more of the welding will be done by robots.

Construction will be sub-divided into 16 blocks, grouped into three mega blocks – Aft, Mid and Forward.

Although slightly longer than Vanguard, Dreadnought should be accommodated within the existing facilities that support the deterrent submarines. These are: (1) The DDH construction hall at Barrow (2) The 186m long ship-lift at Faslane that allows a fully armed submarine to be lifted out of the water for maintenance. (3) The Explosives Handling Jetty (EHJ) – a covered floating dock at Coulport where the Trident missiles are loaded vertically into the submarine’s tubes by overhead crane. (4) Number 9 dock at Devonport where Long Overhaul Period (LOP) and Deep Maintenance Project (DMP) refits are carried out.


The Dreadnought programme is immense and, although work has already been underway for some years, the first boat is not scheduled to be on patrol until around 2028. There will be many technical and political challenges along the way but it is encouraging to see so much investment and far-sighted planning has been put into in a project that will guarantee UK security into the 2050s. HMS Dreadnought is a name associated with landmark naval vessels – the revolutionary battleship (1906) and the first RN nuclear submarine (1963). The Navy has stated the other 3 boats will be given names “with historic resonance”. Assuming that names used by both former battleships and submarines are chosen, HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant and HMS Sovereign are perhaps likely options.


from Save the Royal Navy

Charles Edward Inglis and his many Bridges

Although most have probably heard of Donald Bailey, few have heard of Charles Inglis. yet it is Charles Inglis that designed the worlds first sectional military bridge. A number of different designs saw service in WWI and WWII. Click HERE to read more  

The post Charles Edward Inglis and his many Bridges appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence

Friday, 8 December 2017

Towards #SDSR18 – Defending Europe

Next in the series; the UK’s approach to the collective defence of Europe Click to read Toward SDSR 2018 – Defending Europe

The post Towards #SDSR18 – Defending Europe appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

HMS Queen Elizabeth prepares for commissioning into the Royal Navy

Today HMS Queen Elizabeth formally commissions in the presence of the ship’s sponsor, Her Majesty the Queen. This ceremony marks the transition from being a ship to a warship as she becomes part of the Royal Navy, serving in the fleet potentially for 50 years. The Queen will arrive by royal train at Portsmouth Harbour and be taken by car to the ship which is alongside at Princess Royal Jetty. The ceremony will be held in the vast aircraft hangar with a reception for around 3,000 people including the ship’s company, their families and many invited guests.

The commissioning does not actually signal the formal hand over of the ship from the builders. QE is still owned by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance and there is a long list of items that must be certified as working correctly before the ship can be accepted. The MoD must be completely satisfied the ship meets the specification before handing over a very large final cheque. It is hoped this will be done very soon.

Captain Jerry Kyd: “We are proud to have flown the blue ensign but now it’s time to transition to the White Ensign and special sense of pride that goes with that”.

The captain is adept at dealing with the media and for a man carrying enormous responsibility, he has a relaxed and friendly style. Speaking with obvious excitement about the visit of Her Majesty for the ceremony he said: “She is very supportive of the armed forces, she married a naval officer and two of her sons served in the navy – I think she will be very proud and I hope she enjoys it”. He also noted the incredible achievement that the QEC represent; “Putting together an aircraft carrier and all its various facets is a complex business that takes time… building aircraft carriers is not for the faint-hearted, it has been a national endeavour that few other nations can match”.

17-year-old steward AB Hui is the youngest member of the ship’s company, and in keeping with tradition will cut the commissioning cake with the Captain’s wife.

For the ceremony, the hangar has been temporarily converted into an auditorium with seating, and stage lighting.

PO Dean Allen, galley manager – cooking for the Queen and responsible for managing the team catering for 3,000 people.

There are normally 48 chefs on board HMS Queen Elizabeth but for the commissioning ceremony, extra catering staff from the Defence Maritime Logistics School at HMS Raliegh have been brought in. An additional function for 200 people in aid of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) will be held on board in the evening.

The QEC are designed to carry food stores for up to 45 days without replenishment. The ships’ company presently number around 720 but this number could more than double when the air group and EMF (Embarked Military force) are on board. A healthy 500-calorie breakfast is served each day except Sunday when the full English is available. Trivia enthusiasts will be excited to know that QE’s storerooms currently hold about 12,000 tins of beans, 60,000 sausages and 50,000 pieces of bacon.

Security around HMS Queen Elizabeth is reassuringly tight. Visitors must not only be allowed into the naval base, but must also pass through further security checks to gain access to Princess Royal Jetty. Armed Royal Marines are on guard and on the waterfront, at least 3 police boats patrol around the ship 24/7.

A nice final touch – engraved steel plates bearing the names of the thousands of contractors, civil servants and forces personnel who helped build HMS Queen Elizabeth have been mounted on the forward hangar doors.

The ship’s wooden name board being craned into place on the starboard side of the forward island.

The two ABs who will be responsible for raising the white ensign for the first time rehearse the ceremony with the blue ensign.

The vast flight deck. Note the 2 x 4m Electronic Information Display boards. Four are fitted on the islands and two in the hangar. They can show real-time data to pilots and aircraft handlers including wind speed, ships speed, heading and aircraft movements. They are also handy for the ship’s company to watch football matches.

The aircraft handlers offices and rest/briefing compartment in the aft island. Note their branch motto painted over the door “Nostris In Manibus Tuti” which translates as “safe in our hands”.

Aircraft Lift

The scale and design of the QEC require special gangways for accessing the ship. Also visible is the extendable gantry that carries the High Voltage cables providing shoreside power. The 90-year-old Queen will access the ship via the temporary passenger lift (on the dockside far right) to take her up to hangar level.

For the majority of the part 1 and part 2 sea trials the ship encountered unusually benign weather, so far the ship has only been briefly exposed to a moderate sea state (6). Some slight rolling was experienced but very little pitching. Unsurprisingly, the ship has proved immensely stable and sea trials threw up no serious issues. The ship’s company is still very much learning about how to operate the vessel but reports about living on board are generally very favourable.

The ship will sail for Operational Sea Training (OST) sometime in January. OST will not be conducted in and around Plymouth as normal (QE cannot go alongside in Devonport). The FOST sea riders will embark in the ship for a training period in the South Western approaches. As the ship is not yet fully equipped for combat, the focus will be on safety and damage control. In February or March, the ship will head into the Atlantic for heavy weather trials and will embark Merlin Mk 2 helicopters of 820 Naval Air Squadron. In the summer the ship will cross the Atlantic to the US to embark the first F-35s.

The Queen first visited the ship when she formally named her on 4th July 2014 in Rosyth. Three and a half years later she makes her second visit to attend the commissioning which will be another memorable milestone on the long journey to restore carrier capability to the UK.


from Save the Royal Navy

Monday, 4 December 2017

Towards #SDSR18 – Alliance and Politics

Next in the series, alliances, politics and a future direction of travel. Click to read Toward SDSR 2018 – Alliances, Politics and a Future Direction of Travel

The post Towards #SDSR18 – Alliance and Politics appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence

Friday, 1 December 2017

Towards #SDSR2018 – Risk

The next in the occasional series on SDSR 2018 the National Security Strategy Review. This time, a look at the main risks facing the UK If the UK is to avoid its finite defence resources being spread across multiple risk area in increasingly thinner layers it must prioritise, and learn to live with consequences. Some discussion ...

The post Towards #SDSR2018 – Risk appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence