Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Successful flight trials period vindicates design of HMS Queen Elizabeth

HMS Queen Elizabeth returned to Portsmouth today after 25 days. During this time she visited Gibraltar, conducted rotary wing flying trails and met up with RFA Tidespring for her first Replenishment at Sea.
56 aircrew, analysts and engineers from the Air Test and Evaluation Centre (ATEC) at MOD Boscombe Down have been onboard the aircraft carrier for the past month with two Merlin Mk2 and two Chinook Mk 5 test aircraft. Just 8 months after she first put to sea, HMS Queen Elizabeth has already successfully conducted 1,000 deck landings in a range of sea and weather conditions. The Chinooks and Merlins flew an average of 10 hours a day gathering data about how the aircraft perform operating from the ship. Chinooks performed 450 deck landings while the Merlins made 540. QinetiQ will process this information over the coming months and will eventually provide the Ship Helicopter Operating Limits (SHOL) that will inform the operating limits for helicopters flying from the QEC carriers in the future.

For the majority of the time, the ship was in the Atlantic to make use of the wide range of weather conditions available there. In the more extreme weather, the ship was tested further and aircraft were flown to their limits. The trails went extremely well, even though it was within a compressed timescale (The ships originally planned departure was delayed by a few days)

RN test pilot and Detachment Commander for the trials team, Commander Matt Grindon said: “We’ve been learning about the wind patterns on deck, this is a new design of ship and the way wind moves across the deck and affects flying is something that we’ve focused on in these trials. Whilst turbulence is normal, one of my pilots has described it as the ‘Hand of God’ grabbing you and pushing you down onto the ship, which obviously requires a big power demand to stop the aircraft descending, so that’s given us some interesting insight.” 

The trails have helped vindicate the design of the ship, in particular, the unique twin islands which help reduce wind turbulence over the deck. It is encouraging to note that the trials team have reported the ship can be cleared to operate aircraft in a much wider range of conditions than expected. Commander Air, Cdr Mark Deller said: “The ship has held up well, the deck is good and consequently the aircraft have behaved themselves, so all good news.”

Royal Marines from Lima Compay, 42 Commando joined the ship for an initial exercise in sending troop ashore. “Assault Stations” was called for the very first time, troops were processed from their accommodation, through the ship, collecting weapons and ammunition in a carefully orchestrated process, into the hangar and then onto the flight deck to simulate being launched ashore by helicopter.These are the first steps on the way to declaring Initial Operating Capability in the Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) role and more complex LPH evolutions are planned for this autumn.

This initial exercise used one of the embarked Merlin Mk2 helicopters but in future will be practised on a much larger scale using Merlin Mk3 or Mk4 aircraft.

While making her way back toward Portsmouth the first Replenishment at Sea Trial was conducted with the new support tanker RFA Tidespring. A line was passed across to the tanker from the deck of QE but the evolution was abandoned due to the conditions. Poor weather would not normally prevent RAS if really needed, but while undertaking an initial trial with two new platforms it is sensible not to take unnecessary risks. The QEC are equipped with 4 refuelling points, 2 on each side and the Tide class tankers have dual probes so diesel and aviation fuel can be passed across simultaneously, reducing the time needed for the replenishment which makes the ships more vulnerable. The sight of these impressive new vessels at sea together is another encouraging step on the way to regenerating a globally-deployable carrier capability.


On arrival in Portsmouth, the QE was berthed on Princess Royal Jetty with her bows pointing south for the first time. This will allow maintenance to be conducted on the Port side of the ship. Eventually, she will ‘wind ship’ and be turned 180º so that her starboard side is adjacent to the jetty which allows better access to the engineering teams via lowered aircraft lifts. The ship will be fitted with additional deck landing aids and other equipment required to support fixed-wing aircraft before she deploys to the United States in the summer, when the first F-35B Lightning will land onboard.



from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/successful-flight-trials-period-vindicates-design-of-hms-queen-elizabeth/

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Leander concept for Royal Navy Type 31e Frigate inspires interest from British industry

Cammell Laird and BAE Systems have teamed up to compete for the Type 31e frigate programme with their ‘Leander’ concept. CL will be the prime contractor with BAES providing the design and systems integration expertise. More details of the Leander design have emerged and it appears CL and its suppliers are very determined to make a very credible bid. From the RN’s point of view it is encouraging to note there will evidently be very stiff competition between CL/BAES Leander and the BMT/Babcock Arrowhead.

On 20th February, Cammell Laird, BAE Systems and the Society of Maritime of Industries hosted a supplier conference which attracted 200 delegates from potential supply chain companies in the UK and overseas. Demand was so high that a second event for a further 100 companies will be held next month. CL see the overwhelmingly positive response by industry as a strong endorsement of the aims and aspirations of the National Shipbuilding Strategy published by the government last year.

CL project director, Tony Graham said  “In order to win this competition, we must be better, cheaper and faster than anyone else… fundamentally, we recognised that this ship has to work straight out of the box” MoD is expected to award the Type 31e contract in March 2019 and if the Leander bid was successful it could see steel cutting beginning on Merseyside in March 2020.

CL says they have identified opportunities to export the Type 31e to around 20 overseas customers beyond the 5 ships for the Royal Navy and they hope to build an export business based on Leander. BAE Systems has a network of global relationships in regions such as South America and the Gulf which will be a useful asset when marketing Leander overseas. Government is keen to assist in this export drive and work in a partnership, in a way that has been largely absent in UK shipbuilding for several decades.

According to CL, the Leander design will be flexible and could enter production quickly, offering modest ownership costs. The three main through-life costs are manning, fuel and the combat system. Leander has a flexible manning profile, is very fuel-efficient and the BAE Systems combat system that is already in use by the Royal Navy. The design must be low risk with straightforward engineering design.

Khareef class covette

The Leander design is evolved from the 3 Khareef-class corvettes built by BAE Systems in Portsmouth for the navy of Oman under a £400M contract between 2009-2014. This is the Al-Rasikh (US Navy Photo).

The Leander appears to be essentially a ‘stretched’ Khareef with mission bay inserted amidships. Fitted with Sea Ceptor, Phalanx CIWS, medium calibre gun and anti-ship missiles this looks like an attractive armament package. However it is doubtful if all this would be included in the £250M baseline price.

Leander concept for Type 31e frigate

The Flight deck can probably land a Merlin sized helicopter but hangar that can only accommodate Wildcat sized helo. The large mission bay for UAVs, UUVs and USVs is critical for the Type 31e to remain credible platform into the 2030s and 40s

BAE Systems Type 31e Chief Engineer, Gavin Rudgley offered some more detail about the Leander design. The ship is expected to be around 4,000 tonnes and 120 metres in length with a ship’s company of about 120 and capable of operations in the extremes of the Gulf or Arctic. The design has been evolved from the Khareef Corvettes. The Leander design will use mature and proven systems from other ships including the Type 45, Type 26 and the River Class Batch 2 offshore patrol vessels and is designed to be rugged and easy to maintain. The boat bay and mission space a scaled-down version of what has already been designed for the Type 26 frigate. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems is based on experience gained with the Khareef and Type 45. It will carry the proven Type 997 Artisan radar and Sea Ceptor anti-air missile system. For the 5 Royal Navy ships, these systems will be removed from the Type 23 frigates as they decommission and fitted to the new ships, helping reduce costs.

The Khareef class are powered by twin diesel engines and it is assumed for simplicity and economy that the Leander will feature all-diesel propulsion.

Leander concept for Type 31e frigate

A ‘dazzle’ camouflage scheme is also available for Leander…  A memorable image appropriate to a project designed to help kick-start British manufacturing industry. Top work by someone in the marketing department.

Although there may be many who wish to see the Type 31e competition won by anyone but BAE Systems, it is clear that the Leander has an advantage over its competitors given their ownership of mature technology and intellectual property together with recent experience of building warships already at sea with the RN. Cammell Laird is also a modern success story and is demonstrating its global competitiveness by securing a string of shipbuilding orders. It is clear that Leander will be a formidable competitor.



from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/leander-concept-for-royal-navy-type-31e-frigate-inspires-interest-from-british-industry/

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Light Strike Brigade – A Concept

Counter insurgency operations in the Middle East and South Asia resulted in light forces becoming heavy forces. With a renewed interest in conventional operations in Europe and the evolving nature of operations elsewhere, a concept that gets back to mobility. Click to read The Light Strike Brigade – Concept and Requirements The Light Strike Brigade [...]

The post The Light Strike Brigade – A Concept appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2018/02/light-strike-brigade-concept/

Saturday, 17 February 2018

A bad day at the office – perspective on the HMS Ambush collision

On 20th July 2016, HMS Ambush collided with the merchant ship MV Andreas, just off Gibraltar. At the time Ambush was conducting the ‘Perisher’ Submarine Command Course (SCC) and was under the command of ‘Teacher’ Cdr Justin Codd. After a lengthy independent Service Inquiry, Cdr Codd’s court-martial took place in Portsmouth this week, inevitably attended by a flurry of negative publicity. Here we take an all-around look at the incident.

The incident

On the day of the collision, HMS Ambush was under the control of a student practising controlling the submarine at periscope depth and observing shipping movements. The court-martial found that Cdr Codd was focused on teaching other students and had not made adequate observations of the surface picture himself, assuming the student was safe to proceed. Avoiding action to due to the presence of a small yacht, took Ambush onto a collision course with the merchant ship.

Fin of an Astute class boat

How its supposed to look… close up of the fin of an Astute class boat. This gives an idea of the size and complexity of the vessel, the fin alone weighs 65 tons. One of the Optronic masts is visible with the electronic support measures (ESM) antenna mounted above. Note the openings for a number of masts, the conning position, portable compass mount and the sensor array below.

The Ambush suffered a glancing blow as she passed under the merchant ship, with the impact crushing the upper forward part of the fin. One might speculate that the initial contact with the side of the ship pitched the submarine’s bow upward so the transducer on the fore-casing impacted on the bottom of the ships hull. The conning position on the fin was completely destroyed but the most expensive casualty was probably the sensor array mounted below. This is possibly a high-frequency sonar used for under-ice navigation and obstacle avoidance. The Intercept Array Transducer (Hull Outfit 51R) on the forecasing is mounted in a free-flooding, carbon fibre dome and is optimised for detecting active sonar transmissions from warships. This may have suffered some damage as the protective dome was destroyed. Details of the Astute boats are highly classified but the vessel does have many separate external sensors that give them probably the most effective sonar suite in the world today.

The pictures look dramatic but the repair cost a relatively modest £2.1 million. At no time did the damage to the submarine create any danger to the crew or vital systems, including the nuclear reactor as the very tough pressure hull was untouched. Fortunately, it appears the various masts in the fin escaped damage and the main periscope could still be raised an lowered. The bigger immediate concern was the loss of an available SSN for several months. Ambush would probably have been scheduled to complete a patrol somewhere after Perisher course concluded but instead, after temporary repairs in Gibraltar, returned to Scotland on 12th August and she was still under repair alongside in Faslane well into 2017. For a short period in 2017 no RN attack submarines were at sea at all, and the unexpected loss of Ambush only exacerbated the RN’s chronic shortage of boats.

Adapting to new optronic periscopes

Instead of traditional optical periscopes, the Astute class boats are fitted with two CM010 non-hull-penetrating optronic masts. The new electric periscope provides imagery to screens in the control room and has the tactical advantage that it and can be raised, quickly rotated through 360º and then lowered so as to minimise the time the periscope is exposed to possible detection. The recorded high-resolution imagery can be analysed at leisure with the submarine safely out of sight. The Astute class have two masts, one combining a high-definition colour television (HDCTV) camera and a thermal imager, the other has an HDCTV and image intensification camera. The CM010 also features 3-axis stabilisation which gives a much more stable and clear picture, even if the boat is pitching or rolling when at periscope depth in rough seas.

The first optronic periscope used by the RN was trialled aboard HMS Trenchant in 1998 but, for the majority of submariners commanders, they will have spent most of their careers using traditional periscopes. Although the new optronic mast clearly offers great advantages, to realise these benefits and operate safely requires a new mindset for the command, especially in confined waters. Evidence given at the court-martial suggests that procedures involving the use of this new technology may have partially have contributed to the accident. Cdr Codd had been involved in writing the manual for the use of optronic periscopes in RN submarines but after the collision, he has been assisting in developing revised procedures.

Many will wonder how a boat with sensors that can potentially detect vessels hundreds of miles away, managed to collide with a ship in broad daylight. When the periscope is not raised a submarine is blind and must rely on sonar alone. In busy shallow waters with high ambient noise, the sonar picture may become confused. Students are taught to use the periscope as infrequently as possible but in this case, the movement of the merchant ship went unobserved, clearly human error.

How to remain the best of the best

Without discussing the full details of the SMCC, it is safe to say the course is arduous for both the students and ‘Teacher’. The course is run over about 4 months and includes a significant time ashore using simulators. It is the final ‘cockfight’ phase where the student is put in command of a submarine at sea and is expected to perform very demanding tasks requiring exceptional situational awareness and quick decision making under pressure. The course was near to completion when the accident occurred and fatigue may have been a factor.

Only the very best submarine commanders get selected to become Teacher, Perisher is also recognised as one of the toughest command courses run by any navy and is foundational to the high reputation of the RN submarine service. Cdr Codd had an outstanding career until the time of the incident and this was recognised by the court. “You have, save for this incident, an exemplary record. It was more in the nature of a momentary aberration than a careless attitude,” said Judge Advocate Robert Hill.

HMS Ambush’s captain Cdr Alan Daveney was also on board at the time of the accident. When conducting Perisher, the CO is in a delicate position, still ultimately responsible for the boat but delegating control to ‘Teacher’ who is the same rank but has more seniority and experience. Theoretically, he could intervene if he was in the control room at the time and considered the boat to be in danger. It is interesting to note that Cdr Daveny has not been court-martialled, although the incident will not be career enhancing.

Learning from mistakes

Despite the embarrassment for the navy and a £2.1million repair bill, Cdr Codd was not sacked as teacher, severely reprimanded or dismissed the service which has happened to officers in similar cases in the past. His punishment will be a loss of a year’s seniority and this will have a small impact on his pay. This is not a case of the RN being over-lenient but the court recognising a good man made a momentary mistake, he was found not to have deliberately ignored an obvious threat or taken any unjustified risk.

A Commander in the RN (OF-4) typically earns between £70-80k depending on length of service, but all submariners get extra pay which may add at least another 10% on top. Considering the incredible responsibility carried by an officer in command of a nuclear submarine, pay levels are very modest in comparison with similarly responsible such jobs in the civilian world. The nature of naval appointments cycle means that typically after two years or so as one down from God in command of a submarine or warship, most officers will suddenly find themselves ashore behind a desk and some will never go to sea again. This can lead to frustration and many good officers leave the navy at this point. Having invested enormous expense in training and having attained vast experience, the navy is reluctant to lose men like Cdr Codd and continue to utilise his talents. He will have to live with this blemish on his career for the rest of his life but has persevered and continues to serve. In the world of aviation, a culture of openness and transparency surrounding accidents and near-misses has helped improve flight safety.

Punishing people for making mistakes by sacking them, does not always improve matters. In cases where there is not gross negligence or misconduct, it is perhaps better to build on the personal experience gained to improve procedures.

Pushing the limits

The RN submarine service has not achieved such a reputation for success without a measure of aggression and willingness to take risks. Modern simulators enhance training and can reduce the amount of time needed at sea but there is no substitute for the real thing. The RN’s reduced fleet leaves little option but to conduct training using a submarine worth more than £1Billion and ties up one of the 2 or 3 available boats. Smaller conventional boats would perhaps be a less risky and more economical platform for submariner training but obtaining some for the RN is unrealistic when even getting 7 Astute boats is now in doubt. The SMCC is run in conjunction with the Dutch Navy (officers from other NATO navies can also take the course) and sometimes conducted aboard their small conventional Walrus class boats.

Perisher students must continue to be pushed and take risks operating in confined and congested waters. The possibility of accidents remains inherent in all naval operations and preparation for combat requires constant and realistic practice. Training accidents are experienced across the board, for example, the RAF has suffered at least 50 non-combat related losses of Tornado jets since 1983. The British Army suffered 88 fatalities during training exercises between 2000 – 2015. Applying the lessons and efforts to eliminate future mistakes must be a high priority but forces training will always be a difficult balance between safety and realism.

Leaving Gibraltar after temporary repairs


Main images by kind permission: David Parody.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/a-bad-day-at-the-office-perspective-on-the-hms-ambush-collision/

Friday, 9 February 2018

Reflecting on the demise of HMS Ocean

HMS Ocean made her final entry into Devonport today and will be alongside until decommissioned in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen on 31st March. The impending loss of HMS Ocean has been known about for very a long time and has attracted considerable comment and opposition.

Difficult choices

Lack of manpower dictated that keeping HMS Ocean in service was never an option for the RN, once it was decided that HMS Prince of Wales would join the fleet after all. We have always argued that HMS Ocean should have been retained in reserve pending a similar replacement. Depending on who you listen to, some say this is not a viable option because its too expensive to keep modern warships in reserve, better to sell in running condition and get a few quid for her now than suffer the inevitable deterioration that occurs when a ship is inactive. Others argue we could maintain her in usable condition as a low-readiness asset without great expense. As an example of how it can be done, HMS Bulwark is currently non-operational in Devonport but has a skeleton crew and is being maintained in a much better state than her sister Albion when she was kept in mothballs between 2011-15. Albion required a two and a half year refit to bring her back to fighting condition. (She deployed this week to replace HMS Duncan as flagship of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 in the Meditteranean). Despite the very uncertain future for the two LPDs, the RN is making the best use of them and underlining the value of amphibious forces.

Second-hand bargain?

Sources in Brazil say they have already agreed to purchase Ocean for £84 Million, although the MoD has so far refused to confirm this. If true, the Brazilians will probably be getting a bargain but it is unclear if the sale includes the powerful Artisan radar system, the three Phalanx mounts and assorted other removable equipment needed to make her an effective warship. There are those who claim HMS Ocean is a “worn out old heap” but this not really the case. She was built to mostly commercial design standards with a nominal 20-year hull life which has been reached. However the ship had a £90M refit 2015-16 and despite some mechanical issues, she has life left in her. There are plenty of other warships that have, and will have to, serve the RN far beyond their intended lifespan. With more regional interests, the Brazilian navy is unlikely to run her as hard, or deploy her as far as the RN would, so will probably be able to keep her going for another 10 years. Like almost any type of kit, the running costs will increase with age and spares may harder to find.

While some corners were cut in the construction of Ocean, what can be said is that the taxpayer has obtained great value for money from a large ship that cost less than £200M (around the cost of a contemporary frigate). Procurement done this way perhaps should be considered more often for specialist ships. In contrast, the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers (QEC) take the complete opposite approach, designed to the highest warship survivability standards and intended to last 50 years, if properly maintained and upgraded.

The world’s largest LPH

Excitement grows as HMS Queen Elizabeth makes continuous good progress towards initial operating capability. The QEC will assume the LPH role of HMS Ocean, with the second vessel, HMS Prince of Wales taking the lead in developing this capability. We still strongly contend that using the carriers in this way is unsound, inviting risk and putting too many eggs in one basket. Doubtless the RN will somehow manage to make the best of what they have but should not have been put in this position.

As would be expected, the construction of PoW has benefited from the lessons learned from QE. The internal fitting out of PoW, while she was in dry dock, was more extensive and she weighed 3,000 tonnes more than her older sister at the same point when she was floated out into the basin in late December.

The 2015 SDSR allocated £60 million to modify the QEC for the Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) role. HMS Prince of Wales is being fitted with additional communications systems for amphibious operations, improved accommodation for the embarked military force and additional ammunition storage. The number of helicopters operating spots is being examined (Potentially 10 Merlins could be launched simultaneously). It should be noted the QEC has no capacity to embark or land vehicles and heavy equipment in the modest way that Ocean could. The RN is reliant on the LPDs for this. (The Bay class auxiliary landing ships do carry a single landing craft (LCU), compared to the 4 that the LPDs can operate.)

Scheduled to be decommissioned at the end of March, her CO stated recently that Ocean will be maintained at 5 days notice to deploy, for the next few weeks at least. A planned farewell tour of UK ports appears to have been scrubbed from the programme and Ocean has in effect, come home early. The government doubtless does not want to draw attention the controversial loss of another warship. The RN has at least managed to secure the presence of Her Majesty at the decommissioning ceremony, a fitting farewell and tribute to those who have served on this fine ship on operations around the globe.



from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/reflecting-on-the-demise-of-hms-ocean/

In photos: HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Gibraltar

HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Gibraltar this morning for her first overseas visit. Here are some images of her arrival and operations since leaving Portsmouth last week. (Main image: Moses Anahory / @MAnahory )

Photo: David Sanchez / @86_dmjs

Photo: David Sanchez / @86_dmjs

Approaching Gibraltar


Image: Boatshed Gibraltar / @boatshedgib

“It is a great privilege for me to be bringing our new aircraft carrier into Gibraltar for her first ever overseas port visit. It’s the perfect stop for HMS Queen Elizabeth as we conduct our flying trials in the waters off the Iberian Peninsula. Our visit also underlines the incredibly rich history and special relationship the Royal Navy and Royal Marines share with Gibraltar. I am personally very lucky to have visited the Rock many times in my naval career, but well over a quarter of my sailors have not yet experienced what, for the Royal Navy, is something of an iconic run ashore.” Captain Jerry Kyd, CO, HMS Queen Elizabeth


Wildcat from HMS Somerset providing force protection lands at RAF Gibraltar. Photo: David Sanchez / @86_dmjs

As the ship made her way in heavy seas towards Gibraltar, the fifty FOST personnel on board have been testing the ship’s company’s response to fire, flood and casualties

While at Anchor in Mounts Bay on the 6th February, Merlins from 820 Naval Air Squadron and MOD Boscombe Down landed on to carry out flying trials.

Merlin goes down on the aft lift

The first 27 Squadron RAF Chinook, configured for trials, was brought down on the aircraft lift and into the hangar. It’s a tight fit but the QEC hangars and lifts were designed to handle this aircraft from the outset. The non-folding rotors are very unlikely to be addressed unless the RN can find some money and persuade the RAF to marinise a few aircraft. The operation looks precarious but the decks have non-slip coating and wheels are locked with brakes and chocks while the aircraft and rotors are secured by multiple lashings. It is interesting to speculate what would be the highest sea state in which this evolution could be safely undertaken.

From this angle it does not look like such a tight fit – with some clearance to spare

The Chinook in the hangar. On the Invincibles and HMS Ocean, this would only have been possible by removing the blades entirely, a lengthy and difficult procedure. Although non-folding blades are far from ideal, with careful arrangement other aircraft can be stowed around or even partially under the rotors in the very large hangar.

4 Merlins and 2 Chinooks in the hangar

4 Merlins and 2 Chinooks in the hangar

from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/in-photos-hms-queen-elizabeth-arrives-in-gibraltar/

Monday, 5 February 2018

One of our submarine orders is missing

There is deepening concern that the funds for the completion of the seventh and final Astute class submarine are not available. Failure to build this vessel would not only be damaging to the Barrow construction yard and its supply chain, but also to the protection of the UK, at a time when the undersea threat is increasing.

Until very recently government ministers talked confidently about the delivery of the final 4 Astute boats. (The first 3 have commissioned into the RN.) “Four Astute class and the first Dreadnought class submarines are currently in production.” (Defence Procurement Minister, Harriet Baldwin, 25 April 2017). Despite the stated plan for 7 boats, the emerging crisis in defence budget has raised concern that the £1.64 bn need to complete the 7th boat cannot be found. Barrow MP, John Woodcock asked the Defence Secretary on 25th January in Parliament to confirm that the boat would be funded. The answer was less than convincing. Although sympathetic, Gavin Williamson said it was “too early in the [Modernising Defence Programme] process to comment”.

The NAO report on MoD finances delivered last week says the ten-year equipment plan is somewhere between £4.9 bn and £20.8 bn short of commitments already made. The general lack of funds and potential cuts at the MoD are not a surprise but the axing of a submarine would be a big shock. The NAO discovered the full £1.4Bn cost of the Type 31e programme had not been accounted for, now it appears the funding for a submarine has not be put aside. This is indicative of the problems enveloping the MoD and why the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond who, as Defence Secretary, had a large hand in creating this situation, must provide a bail-out to the department.

Initial work on the 7th Astute class submarine actually started back in March 2014. This submarine has never been formally been allocated a name, although many have speculated she will be called HMS Ajax. In 2015 the National Audit Office reported on progress with Ajax to be “the fabrication of main sub units within the new assembly shop with the production of the gear case and assembly of the main machinery raft delivered to baseline.” It is known that contracts for some of the very long-lead items for Ajax have been already been purchased, including the reactor core, number H13 (from Rolls Royce, 2012) and heat exchangers (from DCNS, 2013).

Interminable delay and rising costs

“Subject to negotiations with the contractor, they [HMS Agamemnon and HMS Ajax] are expected to be handed over to the Royal Navy in 2023 and 2024 respectively.” (Armed Forces Minister, Lord Howe, November 2016). Since boats 4-6 are averaging 9 years from keel-laying to commissioning, Ajax should have had her keel laid before the end of 2015 in order the achieve her previously announced in-service date of March 2024 (to replace the last Trafalgar class boat HMS Triumph). With a programme of this kind, it would normally be expected that build times would be reduced as lessons were learned, but there has been surprisingly little improvement the time needed to construct an Astute.

The delays and issues with the first 3 Astute boats are well documented and can largely be attributed to loss of specialist skills after the Vanguard submarines were completed. There is much less transparency about why boats 4-7 have continued to experience delays. For the MoD and BAE Systems, difficulties and mistakes can be conveniently hidden behind the extra secrecy that surrounds the submarine and nuclear enterprise. Even the National Audit Office has been unable to fully understand and analyse the financial problems of the programme.

Astute class submarine build programme

HMS Astute commissioned in 2010 and if boat 7 is actually completed, will commission sometime after 2024 at best. It will have taken more than 14 years deliver the 7 Astute boats. This contrasts very poorly with the 7 preceding Trafalgar class boats, delivered with few problems over an 8 year period. Defence inflation runs ahead of baseline inflation adding dramatically to the cost of the later boats as delays have mounted. The first boat, HMS Astute cost around £1.2Bn. After very protracted negotiations, the £1.4Bn contract to build boat 6, HMS Agamemnon was signed with BAE Systems on 18 the April 2017. In 2015 boat 7 was forecast to cost £1.64Bn. The recent report on MoD finances by the NAO said that the cost of the final 4 Astute boats had risen by an alarming £365M in the last year. Rumours of serious flaws with the reactors and propulsion systems of the Astutes have circulated for some time but it had been promised that these issues had been resolved after boat 3. There are clearly significant further difficulties that are swallowing money and being kept from the public.

The last thing we should cut

As we have highlighted many times, the Royal Navy’s attack submarines (SSNs) are arguably Britain’s single most important conventional asset. The list of tasks for our SSNs grows longer. These include; protecting the deterrent submarine, trailing increasing numbers of Russian submarines close to the UK and in the North Atlantic, providing the only Tomahawk missile launch platform and gathering sensitive intelligence that often goes straight to the desk of the Prime Minister. It is our submarines that are by far the best deterrent to our adversaries on the high seas, representing the greatest threat to warships and other submarines. 7 boats is already an inadequate number and a further reduction would be a gross error. It would also be a colossal waste of money, as millions of pounds have already been spent on the initial stages of construction.

The House of Commons Defence Select Committee recently heard evidence about the importance of the Arctic and North Atlantic to the security of the UK. When asked what are the main challenges for the RN in that area today, Professor Eric Grove said “maintaining the operational availability of a very limited number of submarines. There are not enough SSNs, there should be at least 8… when they work the Astute class submarines are magnificent, they have best ASW potential of any submarine in the world”. In current circumstances, Britain should be considering ways to increase the submarine force rather than reduce it, even if it must come at the expense of other capabilities.

If the Treasury fails to reduce the budgetary pressures on the MoD and tough choices are forced on the RN, then however reluctantly, cuts to the amphibious capability or the size of the F-35 buy must be made before reducing our submarine fleet. Without the capability to dominate the undersea domain, carrier strike or amphibious operations incur increasing risk.

Alarm that the boat will not be completed may yet prove to be unwarranted, although delayed delivery is now unavoidable, we call on government to formally name the 7th boat and sign the contract for her construction as a matter or urgency.

The unquestionable importance of attack submarines means this should be done now, abandoning or delaying boat 7 should not even be an option for consideration in the 3 – 6 month defence review process currently underway.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/one-of-our-submarine-orders-is-missing/