Tuesday, 30 January 2018

HMS Queen Elizabeth sails for training, flight trials and Gibraltar

HMS Queen Elizabeth sails from Portsmouth today for around 6-8 weeks. During this voyage, she will conduct Operational Sea Training and head into the Eastern Atlantic to commence, what will be the first of many flying trials, beginning with the Merlin helicopter.

Since commissioning on 7th December, the ship has been alongside conducting further engineering work and the minor leak on the stern seals that was the cause of such media hysteria before Christmas has been repaired. The Aircraft Carrier Alliance and their contractors are expected to continue snagging and final work on the ship for up to 6 months beyond the commissioning date.

SAT (Air)

While still in Portsmouth, a Merlin Mk2, ‘Dolphin 14’ from 820 Naval Air Squadron landed on board for two days in mid-January to conduct Sea Acceptance Trials (Air) which tested that the systems on the flight deck and in the hangar designed to support embarked were working correctly. The aircraft was connected to electrical supplies and the telebrief system which allows non-wireless communication with the ship before take off.  Refuelling arrangements were also tested and firefighting and rescue crews took the opportunity to rehearse emergency drills, damage control and fuel spillage procedures with a real aircraft. Taken below the Merlin was lashed down in the mid-section of the hangar with the fire-curtains lowered. This completion of this short trial gives confidence that the ship is ready and safe to operate aircraft at sea.

Merlin Mk2 Helicopter Hangar HMS Queen Elizabeth

The first aircraft taken into the vast hangar. The Merlin brought down on the forward aircraft lift is moved by the by the Remote Aircraft Mover (RAM) mini tractor.


A specialist team from FOST has been on board for some time starting to compile the unique Queen Elizabeth class training syllabus for a new class of ship that is very much larger than anything else there’s been in the fleet for a long time. For the first 2 weeks, the ship is likely to operate in the Western Approaches as the FOST staff focus on ensuring the ship’s company is fully competent in safety and survival procedures. Fire, flood, casualty and evacuation exercises are likely to be the main focus, the warfare elements that usually comprise a large part of a FOST period will be conducted at a later date. Further Sea training periods are scheduled for next year and beyond as more aircraft are embarked and the ship becomes more ‘warlike’, before achieving initial operating capability in 2020.


With sea training completed, the focus will be on conducting First of Class Rotary Wing (FOCRW) trials. QinetiQ and military test pilots from the Rotary Wing Test and Evaluation Squadron (RWTES) based at MoD Boscombe Down, will fly Merlins out to the ship. The ship and the aircraft are fitted with sensors and instruments to determine the sea states, roll, pitch and wind limits within which it is safe for the three Merlin variants to operate from the Queen Elizabeth class. Data from these repetitive trials will be used to compile the Ship Helicopter Operating Limitations (SHOL) clearances for the Merlin. Every aircraft type has to be tested and certified for each class of ship it may fly from, to ensure the limits of safe operation are understood. In time, the QEC will be required to conduct trials with many other types including Wildcat, Chinook, Apache and the F-35B Lightning II. The Eastern Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay should provide a variety of testing weather conditions for the flying and test the ship in higher sea states than have been experienced so far. This round of trials is likely to only involve 2 or 3 Merlin aircraft, a full Squadron (820 NAS) will embark for the first time in mid-2018.


Although not yet confirmed, HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to visit Gibraltar for fuel, stores and a brief rest period at some point during the trials period. The ships programme remains fluid and the timing of visit depends on the progress of the flight trials but the ship can probably be expected sometime in late February or early March. The Rock is a vital staging point and logistical support hub with connections to the Royal Navy going back centuries. QE can expect a big welcome in Gibraltar and will provide an iconic photo opportunity. The visit will also be a helpful reminder to the Spanish they would do better to improve relations with post-Brexit Britain, instead of making repeated futile incursions into the waters of the territory. There are considerable numbers of junior sailors for whom QE is their first ship, and this will be their first foreign run-ashore. (Invergordon does not count) Few sailors have a bad word to say about the Rock and it’s sure to be memorable for everyone. Expect the QEC to be regular visitors to the base for many decades to come.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/hms-queen-elizabeth-sails-for-training-flight-trials-and-gibraltar/

Sunday, 28 January 2018

New Content – Military Motorcycles

Where quad bikes are focussed on load hauling, motorcycles tend to a focus on speed. The military motorcycle has generally lost favour in most western forces but is it time to have another look? Click to read… Military Motorcycles  

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from Think Defence http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2018/01/new-content-military-motorcycles/

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Military Quad Bikes (Small ATV)

A new long form post on the military application of quad bikes (small sit on ATV's) and a description of possible improvements in gap crossing, logistics and general utility

The post Military Quad Bikes (Small ATV) appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2018/01/military-quad-bikes-small-atv/

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Understanding and responding to the Russian naval threat

Russian naval activity is now at its highest levels since the Cold War. This threat posed to Britain and NATO is often counter-balanced by those who say that the Russian Navy is actually in decline, hampered by budget problems and shipyards struggling to deliver new vessels. With the head of the British Army publicly admitting this week that we are ill-matched to counter the Russian threat on land, it is also instructive to consider what threat they pose at sea.

Head of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Korolev stated that in 2016 their submarine fleet had spent more than 3,000 days at sea and this figure will keep rising for the foreseeable future. Of particular concern to the RN, are submarine penetrations, either close by or within UK territorial waters and attempts to track and record the acoustic signature of Trident submarines.“The Russians are operating all over the Atlantic, they are also operating closer to our shores.” says NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “Russian submarine incursions are stress-testing our military, political and media response… it is a challenge we must take seriously, our values & way of life is being challenged… access to the sea is crucial to our prosperity” (Colonel John Andreas Olsen, NATO representative giving evidence to the Commons Defence Committee, 24th Jan 2018).

The Russian Northern Fleet is the most important and its activities are of most interest to the RN, in particular, its submarines. Its order of battle in 2018 is 8 x SSBNs, 17 x SSN / SSGNs, 6 x SSKs and several mysterious nuclear-powered ‘special purpose’ boats. Availability is hard to assess, but assuming 25-30% are deployed, there are probably around 6 Northen Fleet attack boats at large at any given time. 13 submarines have been added to the Russian Navy’s order of battle since 2014. Just a few of them are new construction, most are formerly inactive, but newly upgraded late Soviet-era boats.

The Russian surface fleet is also an odd mix of large and very old Soviet-era vessels and small modern combatants. On paper at least, the capital ships of the Northern fleet comprise 1 aircraft carrier, 1 nuclear-powered battle cruiser, 1 cruiser and 7 large destroyers. All of these vessels were designed in the 1970s and laid down in the 1980s. Some have undergone lengthy modernisations and, despite their age, are powerful combatants. For example The Kirov class Battle Cruisers Pyotr Veliky is already capable of launching 20 P-700  ‘Shipwreck’ supersonic anti-ship missiles. Her sister ship Admiral Nakhimov is completing a very slow refit but should emerge sometime after 2020 capable of launching the potentially far more lethal 3M22 Tsirkon hypersonic anti-ship missiles. It is planned the Oscar class ‘carrier-killer’ SSGNs will also be upgraded to fire new generation missiles and are a long-range threat to surface ships that are difficult to counter.

The dilapidated aircraft carrier ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ and battlecruiser ‘Pyotr Velikiy’ escorted through the English Channel by HMS St Albans, January 2017. Russian warship transits of the Channel and the North Sea are an obvious parade of Russian power to which the British media often over-reacts, while submarine activity is a much greater problem. These large but ageing vessels offer Putin highly visible status symbols but are an expensive drain on resources that could be spent on modern platforms.

Putin has given priority to nuclear weapons and development of their delivery platforms. Three of the eight planned Borei class SSBNs are operational and the initial problems with their Bulava SLBMs appear to have been overcome. The Russians also retain nuclear-tipped torpedoes and cruise missiles in their naval inventory, although it is unknown if and when they are deployed. It was revealed in 2015 the Russian are developing the Status-6 (NATO reporting name ‘Kanyon’) nuclear-armed UUV which can be launched from a torpedo tube. Having a range of more than 6,000 miles, it is designed to attack ports and coastal areas by creating a tsunami and contaminating the area with radioactive cobalt-60. This an exceptionally dangerous and hard to counter weapon, immune to Western missile defence systems.

The network of undersea cables which carries the majority of internet traffic critical to our economy now offers the Russians another hybrid warfare opportunity to exploit. The Russian navy has at least 9 ‘special purpose submarines’ and several ‘oceanographic research ships’ capable of interference with subsea cables. This kind of activity was carried out by both sides in the Cold War but in the days when data carried by this network was a fraction of what it is today. Russian vessels have been observed operating near to these cables on many occasions and interference operations by their submarines are even more difficult to detect or deter. Only be increased surveillance, which requires more maritime assets, can this activity be prevented.

Yantar is a modern Russian spy ship that has been observed operating near subsea cables. She is equipped with 2 deep-diving mini-submarines and her missions may include cable cutting, cable tapping, recovery of sensitive equipment and other underwater intelligence missions.

Assessing naval strength is not simply a matter of counting numbers of ships and submarines. The quality of the platforms and their capabilities are what is important. Making such assessments is complex and many elements are highly classified, but in general terms, the majority of their fleet is old, but partially or fully modernised. Russians vessels tend to be solidly constructed, more heavily armed than NATO equivalents and benefit from industry skilled and developing anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems. The less obvious quality of personnel training, propulsion systems, sensors, electronics and general situational awareness are probably inferior to NATO in many areas.

The limitations on Russian naval ambition

Publicly the Russian state has announced it intends to design and construct three very large and ambitious warship classes. The 90,000 ton Project 23000E Shtorm aircraft carrier, the 17,550 ton Project 23560 Lider class cruiser and the 24,000 ton Lavina class assault ships. Fortunately for NATO, the Russian economy and shipyard infrastructure is very unlikely to be able to deliver such ships, and must be seen as something of a fantasy fleet.

The Russian navy has a total of 24 major surface combatants but of these, only 3 frigates of the Admiral Grigorovich class were laid down after the end of the Cold War. A few modern Steregushchiy class corvettes and smaller Admiral Gorshkov class frigates have also been built, along with several icebreakers, research ships and intelligence gatherers. Submarine construction is slightly more healthy and in theory, Russia can produce more submarines per year than the US. While the USN initiates a new submarine design every decade or two, Russian submarine designers continuously develop new classes. Recent financial problems have resulted in priority being given to exporting Kilo-class conventional submarines as a generator of foreign currency.

The backbone of the Russian navy is the Akula, Sierra, Victor III and Oscar class attack submarines. All of these, once impressive, platforms are Soviet designs and most have passed their 30th birthday. The only replacement SSNs coming out of Russian yards are the Yassen class, of which just two of the planned eight have been delivered since the first was laid down in 1993. The Yassens are known to be sophisticated and stealthy boats, almost on a par with NATO’s best. Lack of funds, skilled labour and supply chain issues are restricting delivery schedules and there will be a huge gap in capability when the older generation of SSNs reach the end of their useful lives. As the RN fully appreciates, old submarines become costly to maintain and spend increasing time alongside being repaired. In the past, Russia has succumbed to the temptation to send old or defective boats to sea, with an increased risk of accidents.

The best Soviet SSN design – the Victor III. Impressive, stealthy but approaching 30 years old, with few replacements under construction.

Putin’s domestic popularity is increased by his ‘strong man’ actions in Ukraine and Syria but the resulting Western sanctions and the loss of access to important shipyards and factories in Ukraine have severely hampered the efforts of the Russian Navy to modernise. Constrained by internal corruption and sanctions, the Russian economy is stagnant and very dependent on oil exports. There is little hope oil prices will recover as Russia eclipsed by the USA as the world’s largest fossil fuel producer and the world transitions to greater use of renewables. In simple terms, Russia’s infrastructure, economy and declining population cannot sustain its superpower ambitions. This inherent weakness is also a danger to peace and insecurity may propel Putin to further aggression.

In broad terms, the Russian navy is in a long-term decline, quite unable to replace its existing capital ships or nuclear submarines fast enough. Despite these problems, it will remain a powerful threat to NATO at sea, especially during next 10 -15 years.

Faced with the reality that their capital ships may never be replaced or believing such vessels to be inherently vulnerable, the Russians may adopt a pragmatic new asymmetric naval strategy, based on small, heavily armed combatants and conventional submarines with long-range cruise missiles (The conflict in Syria has provided a convenient showcase for this new capability, both as a show of strength and for export sales purposes).

How to respond?

Britain has never traditionally been a land power, even at the peak of the Cold War the British Army of the Rhine (numbering 55,000 troops that could be reinforced by a further 100,000 from Britain in a crisis) together with all the other NATO land forces were overmatched by the Soviets. The scale forces on both sides are very much smaller today but the Russian superiority remains. On paper, NATO may have more soldiers, but regular large-scale battlefield exercises are lacking and many European armies are in a poor state. The Army of the Russian Western Military District is a cohesive force, rapidly modernising, and becoming adept at using cyber, UAVs and unconventional warfare with recent battlefield experience in Syria and Ukraine.

From a UK perspective, given our limited resources it would be sensible to support NATO by playing to our strengths and adopting a maritime-first strategy while assertively encouraging continental Europeans to strengthen their armies. A strong and capable British Army with a significant presence on the continent is desirable but even if the money was available, it is questionable if it could recruit, train and retain at least another 20,000 additional troops needed to reconstitute a credible contribution to a deterrent on mainland Europe. (Not to mention the huge investment needed to modernise its tanks, vehicles and equipment) On the other hand, an uplift of two or three thousand personnel for the RN would be transformational and is a more achievable target.

It is at sea where Britain can do most to further NATO’s cause.

Increased Russian activity in the North Atlantic is behind the announcement that NATO plans to re-establish an Atlantic Command centre. Maritime Command (MARCOM) at Northwood has been strengthened, doubling its personnel numbers to at least 200 while the US Navy plans to revive its Atlantic command facility in Norfolk, Virginia. The nuclear deterrent is the cornerstone of UK protection and the range of naval assets to protect our SSBNs is perilously thin. Rear Admiral Roger Lane-Nott wrote recently, “The Submarine Flotilla is in a difficult place… The Anti-Submarine Warfare capability of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force is at an all-time low”. Keeping the sea lines of communication across the Atlantic remains as strategically important today as it as it has been for more than a century and we must become better equipped for this task. Building and maximising the availability of the 7 Astute class SSNs should be a priority for the RN, second only to the deterrent. Instead of considering cuts we should also be improving our amphibious capability, especially as means of reinforcing NATO’s Northern flank to protect Norway.

The Russians may play down the importance of UK Carrier Strike capability in public and have labelled them mere “missile magnets”. This is inconsistent with their own efforts to keep their ancient aircraft carrier operational and their plan to build new carriers. In reality, the UK Carrier Strike group and its F-35s clearly concern the Russians, any further investment, to both better defend the carrier and enhance its offensive striking power, would be money well spent. Since the UK mainland UK has virtually no defence against a potential volley of cruise missiles fired from submarines or bombers our best defence is to be able to strike back in kind. Vastly increasing our stocks of Tomahawks to launch from our SSNs, Type 45s destroyers and Type 26 frigates should be a priority.

British politicians with the courage to stand up?

President Trump maybe mostly reviled by Europeans but has appointed a very competent and perceptive Defence Secretary supportive of the NATO cause. James Mattis has authored a new national defence strategy that identifies the threats from China and Russia who “want to create a world in line with their authoritarian model”, as by far the most serious threat to the US and its allies. Terrorism is correctly identified as a far less significant and non-existential threat, despite its prominence in the media. This is every bit as true for Britain, with the increasingly aggressive Russians being the closer immediate concern. The US is beginning to address these threats with a significant rise in defence spending but China and the Pacific region is its biggest challenge. Across Europe, endless defence cuts have at least been slowed, but few countries are planning major increases. Britain is now conducting its own defence review (now named the ‘Modernising Defence Program’) but most expect that, even in the best-case scenario, the MoD may get a small bail-out which will just about maintain the existing hollowed-out force. In reality, the Navy needs a major uplift in funding to match the threats it is now confronted with.

“This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom” (Winston Churchill, October 1938)

Faced with a nuclear-armed power, with a strong, unpredictable leader who will probe for weakness and get away with what he can, British politicians must face up to this inconvenient reality. The Russians are adept at exploiting information, cyber and other non-direct military means to de-stabilise and threaten its opponents. There are plenty in Britain who just want to believe this is “fear-mongering” by vested interests, playing up threats for their own ends and that Russian intentions are benign and of no direct concern. This is a dangerous head-in-the-sand mentality that plays into Putin’s hands and is contrary to the overwhelming evidence of Russian intentions, aggression in Crimea and Ukraine, cyber attacks across Europe, including interference in the US elections and Brexit referendum. To bow to the shrill voices of appeasement who prefer to spout comforting lies instead of the unhappy truth, is to ignore the lessons of history and will encourage further instability and risk the peaceful prosperity that Europe has enjoyed for so long. We must continue to engage and respect Russia but remember that it is strength, not international law or the trappings of soft power that contain them.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/understanding-and-responding-to-the-russian-naval-threat/

Monday, 22 January 2018

The Overburdened Infantry – New Long Form Content

Since there were first soldiers, the weight they have carried has been subject to cyclical variation but the upward trend that saw its zenith during operations in Afghanistan is now subject to a realisation that it is both unsustainable and undesirable. This is a new long form article on the subject that includes a look [...]

The post The Overburdened Infantry – New Long Form Content appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2018/01/overburdened-infantry-new-long-form-content/

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Should the Type 31e frigate be reclassified as a corvette?

Plymouth MP, Luke Pollard, suggested last week in Parliament that “the debate around the Type 31e Frigate could be resolved simply if we renamed if from a frigate to a corvette“. This is proposal is unlikely to be welcomed by the Navy, the MoD or industrial partners but does raises questions about the Type 31’s capabilities and results from the general confusion over how surface combatants are to be classified.

How are warships classified?

Unlike merchant ships, there are no internationally recognised standards for the way warships are classified. Over time conventions have evolved but are not applied consistently. There is enormous variation in size between vessels that have the same classification, even within NATO. A very crude classification scale in descending order of surface combatant capability would be (1) aircraft carriers and battleships, (2) cruisers, (3) destroyers and frigates, (4) corvettes and fast attack craft and (5) Offshore Patrol Vessels.

The main trend is that warships are much bigger than their equivalents in the past. The motivation to downgrade classifications may partly come from a wish to play down their cost and size from politicians and the Treasury. The RN and majority of NATO navies generally designate surface combatants optimised for anti-air warfare as destroyers, and those designed for anti-submarine warfare, as frigates. The Type 26 frigate will be almost as large as the Type 45 destroyer and at 8,000 tons will be nearly double the displacement of the Type 23 it replaces.

HMS Belfast (Type 26 frigate) and HMS Belfast (1938)

This is a mock up of how the future Type 26 Frigate, HMS Belfast might look alongside the museum ship HMS Belfast (1938). It demonstrates how classification of warships has changed. The Type 26 frigate of c2028 is 70% WWII Cruiser size. (The Type 26 actually has a broader beam than the cruiser). A typical frigate of WWII displaced just 1,400 tons.

Defining a corvette

Modern Corvettes are usually considered to be the smallest credible surface combatant. Larger and more capable than a fast attack or patrol vessel but smaller than a frigate. Some may have the weapons and sensors fit similar to a frigate but compromise on range and endurance to make them smaller and cheaper. Corvettes are normally operated by second-tier navies that may need to engage in full naval combat operations, but not for a sustained period or over long distances. (This excellent piece by Chuck Hill discusses the definition of a corvette in more depth).

Examples are the small 650-ton Swedish Visby class stealth corvette that has a range of just 2,550 nm and is designed to primarily to fight in the confined waters of the Baltic. A more typical mid-range corvette is the German Navy’s Braunschweig class that have a range of 4,000nm and 7-day endurance without support. Possibly the best all-round corvette design at sea today is the Russian Steregushchiy class which have balanced armament, genuine anti-submarine capability, 15-day endurance and 3,800nm range. 

At the top end of the endurance, scale is the British-built Khareef class of the Omani Navy that have a range of 4,500 nm and can operate for 21-days without support. An enlarged version of the Khareef design forms the basis of the BAE Systems/Cammel Laird Leander concept which is a contender for the Type 31e frigate.

The last vessel designated a corvette in service with the RN, HMS Oakham Castle, decommissioned in 1950. The castle class were simple 1,060 ton ships, evolved from the more famous flower class which were designed to be quickly mass produced for convoy escort work in WWII. The Type 31e is likely to displace around 3-4,000 tons, have little in common with its wartime ancestors and will be larger than any corvette in service with any of the world’s navies.

How will the Type 31e meet the Royal Navy’s requirements?

The outline specification issued for the Type 31e frigate states it should be “capable of global operations, in between the marginal ice zones and including the Gulf/Red Sea, with self-sustaining food and water for 28 days and a fuel range of 6,500 nm at economical speeds.” While the combat capability and survivability of Type 31 may be more limited than the typical frigate, the RN is very clear that the ship it wants must be able to serve around the globe. Type 23 frigate has a range of 7,500 nm and can stay at sea without replenishment for around 40 days. Type 31e is not expected to match this, but will have greater endurance than most corvettes.

The emerging concept of operations for the RN frigate force is that in the main, the high-end Type 26 will escort the aircraft carriers while the lower-end, general purpose Type 31e will conduct maritime security duties. (Whether this role could be done by cheaper OPVs instead is another discussion). Typically this might include deployments to the Caribbean, Indian Ocean or South Atlantic where endurance and sea-keeping are important factors.

Type 31e splits opinion

As the comments made in Parliament suggest, the Type 31e is becoming increasingly controversial. Supporters are keen to see a broad revival in UK shipbuilding and break the cycle of ever-fewer and more expensive warships. Off-board, unmanned systems may yet be able to mitigate the budget weapon and sensor fit and poor baseline anti-submarine capability. Opponents argue against the National Shipbuilding Strategy, saying it would be more efficient to cede all warship building to a single ‘super yard’ (BAE Systems) and see the Type 31e as a dangerously compromised “snatch Land Rover of the seas”. There is fierce debate about whether the RN would be better off abandoning Type 31e in favour of obtaining a further two Type 26s, or if it is better to maximise hull numbers and hold out for the chance of a warship export revival.

Growing awareness about of the state of the navy in Parliament

The four and a half hour defence debate in Parliament on the 11th January proved there are a growing number of MPs who have a real understanding of UK defence issues and even a few with a genuine grip on the specific problems faced by the RN. There was also an encouraging cross-party consensus against any government attempt to make further cuts. However, defence is still a relatively low priority in Parliament, only around 45 out of the UK’s 650 MPs attended the debate. The column inches and hand-wringing devoted to the similarly parlous state of the NHS, will outnumber defence by a hundred to one.

Luke Pollard did make a substantive point about how the very low price tag will make the Type 31e such a big step down from the Type 26. However, the RN does not want limited-range corvettes and the export appeal of the Type 31e would be diminished by this classification. The designation of “light frigate” is a better fit, reflecting the global capability of the ship, even if its anti-submarine credentials are in doubt.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/should-the-type-31e-frigate-be-reclassified-as-a-corvette/

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The painfully slow process of dismantling ex-Royal Navy nuclear submarines

There are currently 20 former Royal Navy nuclear submarines awaiting disposal in Rosyth and Devonport. They do not represent a great hazard but maintaining them safely while they await dismantling is a growing drain on the defence budget. Nuclear submarines are arguably Britain’s most important defence assets but the failure to promptly deal with their legacy has been a national scandal. Although there has been discussion and consultation going back years, only recently has there been action to actually start the disposal process.

Status of submarine disposal in early 2018. OSD – Out of Service Date. Hull age – years since hull laid down.

Plans for the safe and timely disposal of nuclear submarines should have been drawn up as far back as the 1970s but successive governments have avoided difficult decisions and handed the problem on to their successors. RN submarines were designed so the Reactor Pressure Vessel could be removed from the hull. Other nations cut the entire reactor compartment out of the submarine and transport it to land storage facilities. The US has successfully disposed of over 130 nuclear ships and submarines since the 1980s. The Russians have disposed of over 190 Soviet-era boats (with some international assistance) since the 1990s while France has already disposed of 3 boats from their much smaller numbers.

The first Royal Navy nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought decommissioned in 1980, has now been tied up in Rosyth awaiting disposal longer than she was in active service.

As any householder knows, It is sensible practice to dispose of your worn out items before you replace them with new ones.

The capacity to store more boats at Devonport is limited, every further delay adds to cost that will have to come from a defence budget that is much smaller in real terms than when the boats were conceived at the height of the Cold War. Apart from the attraction of deferring costs in the short-term, a major cause of delay has been the selection of a land storage site for the radioactive waste. It has also taken time to develop a method and ready the facilities needed to undertake the dismantling project.

Afloat storage

While awaiting dismantling, decommissioned submarines are stored afloat in a non-tidal basin in the dockyard. Classified equipment, stores and flammable materials are removed together with rudders, hydroplanes and propellers while the hull is given treatments to help preserve its life. The 7 submarines in Rosyth have all had their nuclear fuel rods removed but of the 13 in Devonport, 9 are still fuelled. This is because in 2003 the facilities for de-fuelling were deemed no longer safe enough to meet modern regulation standards and the process was halted. Submarines that have not had their fuel rods removed have the reactor primary circuit chemically treated to guarantee it remains inert and additional radiation monitoring equipment is fitted.

The former HMS Resolution in dry dock at Rosyth in 2014 for hull inspection and preservation

More than £16m was spent between 2010-15 just to maintain these old hulks alongside, and costs are rising. Apart from regular monitoring, the hulks need to be hauled out of the basin for occasional dry docking for inspection and repainting to protect the hull from corrosion. All this effort and expense is a drain on precious resources for no direct gain. Responsible care of the growing number of hulls means they pose little risk to the local population, but a tiny risk does remain. This makes some people living nearby uneasy and provides another grievance for those idealogically opposed to nuclear submarines and Trident.

The flotilla of retired attack submarines in number 3 Basin in Devonport, continues to grow. Three more T-class submarines will decommission and join them before 2023, with 4 large Vanguard class to follow between 2028-34. There are now more boats laid up in Devonport alone (13) than there are in entire active submarine flotilla (10).

The good news is that the Submarine Dismantling Project (SDP) finally started in 2016. HMS Swiftsure is in number 2 dry dock in Rosyth and will be the ‘pathway’ project to prove the dismantling process. Disposal of the eventual total of 27 boats will cost at least £10.4bn over 25 years and continue into the 2040s. The MoD Disposal Services Authority (DSA) is in consultation with Babcock (with owns both the Rosyth and Devonport sites) to agree on the final timescales and costs for the project. The task at Rosyth is easier with just 7 submarines that all had their fuel removed some time ago.

Preparing the sites

Work has been continuing at Devonport over the last few years on the De-fuel, De-equip and Lay-up Preparation (DDLP) project which centred on preparing number 14 Dock for submarine dismantling. This work had to be done concurrently with the initial decommissioning work on HMS Turbulent and HMS Tireless and the refits of HMS Trenchant and HMS Talent in number 15 dock. In the early 2000s a major upgrade to the nuclear refitting facilities was completed (Project D154), to support both the maintenance and future dismantling of submarines. The giant 80-ton crane at the centre of the Submarine Refit Complex that used to dominate the dockyard skyline was used for lifting reactor components but this has been dismantled and replaced with a safer and more efficient Reactor Access House (RAH). The RAH is a moveable enclosure that spans the dock and is mounted on rails on the dock walls. Number 14 and 15 dock floors were raised, multi-cellular, impact resistant caissons now seal the dock entrances and new isolating submarine cradles have been installed along with seismically qualified dockside cranes.

For fuelling or de-fuelling operations, the RAH is placed over the submarine reactor compartment and provides a stable, protected area that houses the crane and de-fuelling tools from which the operators can work safely. The RAH concept has been used successfully at across the basin in number 9 dock for refuelling the Vanguard class for some years.

Devonport nuclear facilities

The upgraded nuclear facilities at Devonport that will be used for the submarine de-fuelling and dismantling process.

As the only site that can de-fuel submarines, Devonport is well equipped to undertake dismantling work and it’s facilities now meet the latest Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) standards. In addition to the docks, there is the only seismically-qualified railway in the UK and the Low-Level Refuelling Facility (LLRF) which can store spent reactor cores and fuel rods, prior to being sent for storage at Sellafield.

In July 2017 the MoD announced that URENCO Nuclear Stewardship Ltd at Capenhurst in Cheshire has been selected as the interim site for storing the nuclear waste. The Reactor Pressure Vessels (RPV) removed from the submarines are classed as Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) and will be stored in purpose-built buildings above ground. They will eventually be moved to a permanent underground Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) that is supposed to be constructed in the UK, sometime after 2040.

The dismantling process in simple terms

Once the submarine is in the dry dock, the first main task will be to remove the two steam generators through holes cut in the top of the pressure hull and into containers suspended from the RAH. Then the primary circuit pipework, pressuriser and coolant pumps can then be removed. The Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV) head is classed as LLW and is removed separately and a temporary head put in place. The primary shield tank (PST) which surrounds the RPV has to be drained of hazardous chemicals before the RPV is then attached to a lifting cradle in the RAH. The RPV is then lifted out and placed in a special container ready on the dock bottom. Once the RPV is sealed in the container, it is lifted onto a transporter to be taken away. The remaining parts of the PST are also removed and cut up into manageable sizes. All liquids and materials removed during the process have to be sorted, segregated, size-reduced if necessary and packed into appropriate containers ready to be stored, reprocessed or recycled.

A very simplistic diagram of a Nuclear Steam Raising Plant (NSRP) showing the primary circuit pipework and Steam Generator (SG) on the left. Once the fuel rods and core have been removed, the Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV) is the largest and most radioactive element that must be removed.

Scrapped on site?

Only about 1% of each submarine comprises the more radioactive ILW. Around 4 % is LLW and 5% is non-radioactive hazardous waste. The remaining 90% is mostly steel that can be sold for recycling. (Depending on the class of boat, anything between 3,000 – 7,000 tons). As yet, there has been no public announcement about how the submarines will be broken up, once the hazardous components have been removed. The pressure hull will have to be cut open in places for the NSRP removal and if the hulks were going to be transferred elsewhere, more work to make them seaworthy would be needed. Submarines are notoriously difficult to tow, even when manned and with a working steering gear. There is very little ship-breaking done now in the UK (most ex-naval vessels are scrapped up in Turkey) so it is almost certain the hulks will have to be broken up at Devonport and Rosyth and the scrap metal taken away by sea.

Limited options

Government has admitted there is a shortage of expertise available for the Submarine Dismantling Project. There is plenty of competition from the civil sector which is occupied decommissioning old nuclear power stations. The SDP is a very necessary but rather unglamourous task and may struggle to attract engineers who have the opportunity to work on more exciting projects. Faced with limited budgets and personnel, the MoD has little option but to proceed at this very slow pace. Until the work on HMS Swiftsure is completed the MoD is reluctant to commit to a timetable but says current assumptions are that on average, one submarine will be dismantled every 12 – 18 months at each site from 2022. Let us hope faster progress can be made otherwise, whatever the future of Devonport Naval Base, the dockyard could still be disposing of Vanguard class submarines in the 2050s.

The blame for this situation cannot be laid at the door of today’s politicians, rather it is the fault of many administrations, going back several decades. In the civil nuclear industry, operators are required by law to put aside funds and make plans during the life of the plant to pay for decommissioning. It would be prudent if a similar principle was applied by the MoD to all new nuclear submarine construction.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/the-painfully-slow-process-of-dismantling-ex-royal-navy-nuclear-submarines/

Monday, 8 January 2018

Diverse consortium formed to bid for Type 31e frigate contract

Babcock Marine has announced the formation of a consortium of shipbuilders and designers who will bid for the Type 31e Frigate. Design and construction of the 5 Royal Navy ships is worth around £1.25 Billion but a major goal of the programme is to attract export orders.

Babcock will be the lead contractor for the consortium called Team 31, with Thales BMT, Harland & Wolff and Ferguson Marine participating. It was clear from announcements as DSEI in September 2017 that BMT and Babcock would be co-operating but the partnership has expanded so there are now 4 shipbuilding facilities that could be involved if Team 31 are the winners.

It is possible that sections of the frigate would be constructed at the smaller yards owned by Ferguson on the Clyde and by Babcock in Appledore and then taken by barge for assembly at larger facilities, either Harland & Wolff in Belfast or Babcock in Rosyth. Harland & Wolff possesses the world’s largest dry dock and their two 1600-tonne capacity Goliath cranes are more than capable of lifting blocks for assembly. Their inclusion maybe somewhat politically motivated as they not been involved in shipbuilding for many years, concentrating instead on engineering for the offshore energy sector. With the DUP holding the whip hand on the government, providing naval work in Belfast could be advantageous when government is considering the bids. Alternatively, blocks could be assembled by Babcock in Number 1 dock in Rosyth, although the Aircraft Carrier Alliance seems intent on selling the £12.2 million Goliath crane they imported from China to assemble the aircraft carrier blocks.

By creating a broad consortium of companies, Team 31 may gain a useful political advantage by distributing work across the UK. Their main competitor is the BAE Systems / Cammell Laird consortium which probably plans to do the majority of work in Birkenhead, possibly with some work subcontracted to A&P Tyne. To coincide with the Team 31 announcement, the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is due to visit Babcock’s Appledore shipyard in Devon today to reiterate government commitment to the Type 31e programme.

BMT and Thales add significant warship design and systems integration experience to the capabilities that Babcock already possess. It is unclear whether the BMT Venator-110 concept will have any influence on the final offering or if the Babcock Arrowhead concept will be the foundation for the design offered by Team 31.

Type31e- Procurement Timeline

MoD timeline for the Type 31e procurement process

With the first Type 31e required to enter service with the Royal Navy in 2023, progress on this project is going to have to be refreshingly rapid in a way that those involved with large defence procurement projects are quite unaccustomed to. The competing consortiums will have to present their final design and tender documents to the MoD by the end of 2018, with the contract to begin construction to be placed just over a year from now.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/diverse-consortium-formed-to-bid-for-type-31e-frigate-contract/

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Why the Fleet Solid Support ships should be built in the UK

In a previous article we discussed the importance of the Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships to the future of the RN. Here we focus more on the industrial aspects of the project and look at why building these ships in the UK is the only sensible way forward.

When the Tide class oil tankers were ordered in 2012 (a remnant of the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) project), no British company had bid for the construction work. There were two main reasons, most UK yards were occupied working on the QEC aircraft carriers blocks but they also knew they would not be able to compete on price with foreign state-subsidised shipyards. The controversial decision to look abroad made sense at the time, the MoD got four ships at a bargain £452M and no British shipbuilder could claim they would go under without the work. (£150M was spent in the UK with BMT who designed the ships together with A&P Falmouth who are fitting them with additional military equipment). Five years later the landscape has changed significantly. The QEC construction project is in its final phase but one of its very positive legacies has been to help stimulate a modest revival in commercial shipbuilding and there are now yards hungry for further naval work.

“We plan to procure the three Fleet Solid Support ships, announced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, through international competition” (Harriet Baldwin, Defence Procurement Minister, 5th September 2017).

The National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS), published in 2017 stated that the contract to build the FSS ships would be subject to an international competition and this policy has been reiterated several times by Ministers in Parliament. The NSS says the reason for the open competition is to incentivise British companies to become more efficient and able to match the prices offered by overseas shipyards. This may be a worthy goal but unfortunately, the ‘open competition’ may not be as fair as it appears. Many foreign shipbuilders receive support from their government, either in the form of direct or indirect subsidies, loan guarantees or even complete bail-outs following bankruptcy. This may allow them to submit high-risk, low-price bids which a UK shareholder-owned yard cannot match. British shipyards, entirely reliant on maintaining a sustainable and profitable business, are therefore not competing on a level playing field.

“The defence industry plays an important role in the prosperity agenda of the nation.” (Phillip Dunne, Defence Procurement Minister, September 2015)

Open competition may be in line with Conservative party policy which is broadly against intervening in the free market, but it should not be against intervening in a rigged market. Many foreign governments, even within the EU, have no compunction in subsiding their shipbuilders and government should recognise this. Should UK companies lose out to an overseas yard, it would be a direct contradiction of the Conservative ‘prosperity agenda’ which has been part of their manifesto on UK business since 2010. Placing substantial shipbuilding contracts within the UK has very obvious benefits to the local economy and the wider supply chain. There NSS admits there is a need for a clearer definition of the ‘prosperity agenda’. The Type 31e is supposed to help create a framework that would allow the economic benefits of shipbuilding contracts in specific, and often deprived parts of the UK, to be quantified.

As the QEC project has already demonstrated, building in Britain would help industry invest and become more efficient so as to be able to compete for future work. When the MoD next needs to place a shipbuilding contract it would then more choices available from a broader and healthier industrial base, offering more competition and value for money. It may also provide another stepping stone towards British yards moving back into the commercial shipbuilding market which could provide a sustainable future.

Five options for competition

There are essentially five possible options government can consider when seeking contractors to build the FSS ships.

  1. Hold an ‘open competition’ with no caveats or restriction and open to any British or overseas companies (assuming only non-aligned nations such as China or Russia are excluded). This appears to be the option that government is pursuing at present.
  2. Hold an open competition but exclude any companies that have been bailed out of bankruptcy by its government or received any form of state subsidy. This would level the playing field and exclude a very broad swathe of foreign shipyards such DSME in Korea, Naval (formerly DCNS) in France, Navantia in Spain or Fincantieri in Italy.
  3. Exclude all foreign companies and allow only British companies or consortiums to bid against each other.
  4. Ask British companies to form a single consortium to share the work.
  5. Form a single consortium of British companies of which the MoD owns a percentage (using a similar model to the Aircraft Carrier Alliance)

EU rules no longer apply

For security reasons, warship construction is allowed under EU rules to be restricted to sovereign nations. Under existing EU regulations, the construction of support vessels must be open to international competition and government is using this as one of its justifications for not restricting bids to domestic companies. Britain will leave the EU in March 2019, so by the time the FSS construction contact is placed, we will no longer be bound by such rules and could quite reasonably ignore them for the competition phase. Brexit can be seen as a signal that the public wish government to pursue an industrial policy in British interests and exists as a clear mandate to place the FSS contract in the UK.

Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System

The FSS ship is likely to incorporate some of the Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System (HMWHS) technology used in the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. HMWHS uses a series of automated ‘moles’ on tracks which transport palletised munitions around the ship. This system is quick, efficient and most critically, reduces expensive manpower requirements.

They may not be warships but the FSS vessels could be more accurately described as “complex naval support ships”. The project to build the three 35,000 tonne ships is expected to cost at least £1Bn, a clue that these are no ordinary vessels. The need to safely embark, store and transfer explosives adds complexity to the design beyond simple merchant vessels or even the Tide class tankers. Ammunition and explosives require careful handling and storage so the ship must be equipped with measures to mitigate the effects of blast and additional fire protection far beyond what is found on a standard merchant vessel. Otherwise the design is intended to follow merchant ship practices where possible and the NSS states that there will be “a focus on ensuring that the military features and standards that deviate from the commercial norms are minimised”.

Tight timetables

Within Navy Command, Brigadier Jim Morris RM, Assistant Chief of Staff (Maritime Capability), was appointed Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) of the FSS project in September 2017 and is expected to have this role until at least December 2019. QinetiQ beat off competition from BMT and Frazer-Nash to secure a 4-year, £10M contract with the MoD to provide analysis and consultancy services for the assessment phase of FSS. The project began its initial assessment phase in back April 2016 and a pre-qualifying questionnaire will be issued to potential bidders in the next few weeks. The competition phase will begin officially on 30th April 2018 so there is only a short window of opportunity for Government to decide to revise the terms.

The timing of the FSS and the Type 31e projects presents an interesting conundrum for the Navy. If we assume the Type 31e is not intended as a carrier escort and if carrier strike is the RN’s stated priority, then why is FSS scheduled to pass main gate approval in December 2019, a full year after the Type 31e? The geometry and design arrangements of the RAS rigs on the three current Fort class ships do not permit them to resupply the aircraft carrier’s full range of needs. They do not have heavy RAS rigs compatible with the carrier (capable of supplying big items such as F-35 engines). The only alternative would be vertical replenishment (VERTREP) using helicopters to transfer loads which is a slow process and fatigues the airframes. Effectively a key component that enables the carriers to deploy globally will be missing until the first FSS ship is delivered sometime around 2025. Should the FSS not then be taking precedence over T31e as the more urgent requirement? (Type 26 deliveries can replace the initial Type 23 frigates being disposed of).

The only possible benefit from allowing the FSS ships to be constructed overseas might be a lower price which benefits the MoD’s cash flow in the short-term. The Treasury should take the longer-term view that a very substantial part of any money spent in the UK is returned to the Exchequer through VAT, corporate taxes, income taxes and healthier local economies and may outweigh any savings made by foreign construction.

As a matter of urgency, we call on government amend its policy and restrict the FSS project to a domestic competition only, to the long-term benefit of British shipbuilding and the naval service as a whole.



from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/why-the-fleet-solid-support-ships-should-be-built-in-the-uk/

Monday, 1 January 2018

A Royal Navy FLO-FLO

I was having a conversation about the utility of the US Expeditionary Transfer Dock and its potential for the UK recently, so I thought a quick post on the subject would be interesting.

The post A Royal Navy FLO-FLO appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2018/01/royal-navy-flo-flo/