Sunday, 29 April 2018

Storm in a teacup? A setback for the Royal Navy’s newest ship, HMS Forth

First of the new batch II River class OPVs, HMS Forth was accepted by the Royal Navy in February 2018 and formally commissioned on 13 April. After suffering a major electrical problem, she is currently alongside in Portsmouth without power. Discovery of a small number of missing, stripped and snapped bolts (marine fixings) that secure various items throughout the ship is also being addressed.

An incompatibility with the ships’s electrical switchboards and the shoreside power supply blacked out the ship earlier this week. Following established procedure, all non-essential personnel were landed as a precautionary measure, but an emergency evacuation was not necessary. The cause is under investigation by a team from BAE Systems and the subcontractors who supplied the switchboard.

Less sympathetically viewed was the discovery that around a dozen snapped bolt heads in various parts of the ship had been simply glued back on instead of being replaced. Some of these botched fastenings secured racks holding the lifeboats, although straps would prevent the liferafts falling from the ship. None of these bolts are critical to the safety of the vessel but sub-standard workmanship is clearly unacceptable. Upon discovery, BAES moved quickly to make repairs and issued an internal quality alert to all employees, demanding better performance. The contents of the alert were leaked to the media and will cause embarrassment to BAES and unwanted headlines for the RN.

HMS Forth was already undergoing a scheduled engineering period, receiving additional communications and electronics equipment when the electrical issue arose. All the faults will be rectified in the near future and it is unlikely to delay the ships work-up and sea training programme significantly. Before arriving in Portsmouth, HMS Forth had spent a total of 20 days at sea on trials and was accepted by the RN as meeting specification on 26th February. The approximately 100 small snagging issues discovered during sea trials that need to be rectified by the contractor are actually well below average for a ship of her type.

The vessel has a 12-month warranty period after acceptance and the navy will not have to fund the cost of rectifications. To sustain BAES and its workforce during delays to the commencement of the Type 26 frigate programme, a government agreement resulted in each of the Batch II River class OPVs costing around £114 Million. HMS Forth is currently the most expensive OPV in the world, the contractor can afford the repairs.

Issues of this nature are to be expected with new vessels and are not an indication of fundamentally poor design or major construction flaws. (HMS Forth is not strictly the first of her class, BAES have already delivered three similar ships for the Brazilian navy. The RN vessels are built to a higher specification and may have different electrical arrangements.) As we have witnessed in the last year, HMS Queen Elizabeth has suffered a series of well-publicised engineering problems some of which emerged into the media, out of context and in exaggerated form. None have proved to be a show-stopper and all have been quickly rectified.

Occurrences like this are not especially newsworthy, as these kind of difficulties are a normal part of operating warships the world over. Resolving engineering issues, large or small, is the whole reason that facilities like Portsmouth exist. The PR ‘optics’ may not appear ideal, “Expensive new OPV suffers technical faults just weeks after commissioning” but this is not untypical of bringing new vessels into service.


Rear Admiral Gardner (Senior Responsible Officer for Batch II OPVs) confirmed on her commissioning day that HMS Forth will sail for the South Atlantic in the latter part of this year and will replace HMS Clyde as the permanent Falklands guard ship. HMS Clyde is not owned by the MoD, but is leased from BAES and she will be returned to her owners, who will probably have little difficulty selling an 11-year-old ship.

Main Image: Lesley Doubleday via Flickr


from Save the Royal Navy

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Why will the Royal Navy not have its first Type 26 frigate operational until 2027?

Defence Procurement Minister Guto Bebb stated in Parliament on 23rd April that the first Type 26 frigate, HMS Glasgow is due to be accepted from the builders in the summer of 2025. Eighteen months of further trials and training should see her become operational in 2027. Here we ask why the navy must tolerate such a leisurely eight-year construction schedule.

The Type 26 promises to be a superb submarine hunter and, if adequate investment is made in equipping them with the right weapon fit, they have the potential to be one of best surface combatants in the world. They will be the backbone of our anti-submarine capability and escort for the QEC aircraft carriers, in a world that everyone agrees is becoming more dangerous.

For the Royal Navy, obtaining replacements for the venerable Type 23 frigates has been like chasing a mirage. Successive governments, the RN and the MoD dispensed with concept after concept, for more than 23 years, (spending £millions in the process) before steel was finally cut for HMS Glasgow in July 2017. You can read the 14,000-word Think Defence account of the absurdly convoluted history of the Type 26 which started with the ‘Future Escort’ as far back as 1994. From early concept studies to HMS Glasgow commencing sea trials will be half a lifetime – 31 years.

A lack of urgency

Not only should these vessels have been ordered at least 5 years ago, we now find that an extraordinarily leisurely build schedule has been agreed upon. Since the 2015 SDSR, the in-service date for the first T26 has been officially described as in the “mid-2020s”. Using historical precedent, many had assumed a construction time of around 5-6 years, expecting HMS Glasgow would probably begin sea trials in 2023. A comparable complex warship HMS Daring, the first Type 45 destroyer, was laid down March 2003 and accepted by RN in December 2008, a build time of 5 years and 9 months. The Type 45 was arguably more complex and innovative than the T26, with 80% of its equipment new to RN service. T26 is a sophisticated design but relatively low risk. The ‘mission bay’ concept and Mk 41 VLS are new to the RN but already in use with other navies. Significant de-risking work on the design and major components has already been conducted using virtual reality and land-based test rigs. There will be some challenging systems integration work and a bespoke propulsion system but the majority of its key weapons, sensors, decoys, combat system and engines are already proven, and in many cases, already in service on other platforms.

The 8-year build time makes for an unfavourable comparison with foreign equivalents. The first Franco-Italian FREMM frigates were constructed in about 5 years and the programme is delivering ships to a consistent drumbeat of about one vessel every 12 months. The Royal Navy’s preceding first-of-class Type 22 and Type 23 frigates also took around 5 years to build. Whatever the reason for the slow construction, it does not look good in the brochure for the T26 Global Combat Ship design that BAE Systems is looking to export to Australia and Canada. Extended construction time also increases the risk the ships maybe semi-obsolete, even before they begin active service. As a light cruiser-sized vessel, T26 comes with space and power generation facilities to support future upgrades but the £3.7Bn build contract for the first three ships certainly does not allow for major changes during construction.

The first hull sections of HMS Glasgow under construction at BAE Systems Govan yard, Glasgow, January 2018

Why won’t these frigates be built faster?

There no problems with the available space or manufacturing facilities in Glasgow, neither are there issues with the supply chain or the overall complexity of the ship. It is not BAE Systems dragging their feet, rather the MoD is deliberately slowing delivery. The shipbuilding facility and workforce has therefore been sized and scaled to meet the requirements of the customer. The reality is that constricted annual budgets force the MoD to make short-term savings by spreading the cost over a longer time period. Stretching out procurement programmes with artificially-induced delays may reduce the annual expenditure, but over the lifetime of the project always adds significant additional costs.

If the RN’s frigate force is not to shrink further, the Type 23s must be expensively maintained to keep them going until replacements are available. Not only is the RN not getting the ships it needs fast enough, but the total cost of the project is needlessly inflated. Economies of scale could surely have been achieved by ordering all 8 T26 together but the government has used the excuse that there was a “risk of long-items becoming obsolete”.

Ship 2, HMS Cardiff will be laid down in the second half of 2019 and ship 3, HMS Belfast will commence manufacture in the first half of 2021. This indicates the overall programme schedule is also disappointingly slow, and will probably only deliver a new ship every 18-24 months. The schedule and contract for the remaining 5 ships is still under negotiation and the timings are completely unknown at present. If the Treasury would allow the MoD to write bigger cheques each year, sources say BAE Systems are quite capable of building the later ships in around 5 years.

Enter the Type 31e

Assuming the Type 23 frigate fleet survives the MDP 2018 intact (and subsequent defence reviews), HMS Argyll is scheduled to leave service in 2023, followed by another ship of the class, every year for the subsequent 12 years. It is clear that the first three T26s (HMS Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast) will not ready in time to replace the first ships to decommission. Another motive for the creation of the cheaper/simpler Type 31e Frigate now emerges. The first T31e is supposed to begin construction in 2019, with a Planning Assumption for Service Entry (PASE) date of 2023, theoretically just in time to replace HMS Argyll.

We are in the extraordinary situation that the T31e design has not even been finalised but the first of class is scheduled to be at sea, at least 2 years before HMS Glasgow, which is already under construction.

The Type 31e project aims to hold a competition, design, build and deliver a credible warship in the space of 8 years (since it first became a thing in 2015). This kind of pace is what we should expect to be the norm in defence procurement. It is not unreasonable when compared with some foreign warship projects, (especially the Chinese) but by recent UK standards, is the blink of an eye. T31e is a much simpler vessel but the schedule demands the first ship is constructed in half the time required to manufacture a T26.

MPs asking the wrong questions

The brief Parliamentary debate about the Type 26 included a routine question from an MP, the type of which are tabled on a regular basis. Paul Bloomfield, (MP for Sheffield) requested a T26 be named HMS Sheffield. In this instance, he may have a good chance of success, but MPs are constantly asking for warships to named after their town, city or county. Other recent requests by MPs include an HMS Plymouth, HMS Exeter, HMS Colchester and HMS Goole. Perhaps the solution would be to build an RN fleet of 650 vessels so every MP can have a name of their choice! Civic affiliations with RN vessels are a very positive way of linking communities to the navy but the naming committee need to ensure the names selected are consistent with the class convention and have historical resonance.

Instead of focussing on purely local interests, we would be better served if more MPs were asking penetrating questions about the state of the Royal Navy. “Can the minister please explain why it will take at least 8 years to build the first Type 26 frigate and what steps are you going to take to accelerate delivery of these warships, critical to our national defence?”




from Save the Royal Navy

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

HMS Queen Elizabeth – preparing to operate fast jets

HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently in Portsmouth with the islands encased in scaffolding and tents covering parts of the flight deck. After commissioning, and having spent time at sea, some have wondered why the ship is alongside for so long and needs further engineering work. Here we examine how the ship is being readied for the critical next phase of her introduction into service.

There is an understandable impatience to see HMS Queen Elizabeth operating her F-35B Lightning II aircraft. There is a frequently repeated myth that the RN has an “aircraft carrier with no aircraft”, when in fact the ship is still being tested and brought through the normal phases needed to safely operate aircraft. It should be noted that HMS Queen Elizabeth is very much in line with the historical average for previous RN aircraft carriers which have typically taken around a year between initial sea trials and the first fixed-wing aircraft landing on the ship.

After returning from rotary wing trails at the end of February, QE is now part way through a 13-week “Capability Insertion Period” (CIP). When the ship first sailed from Rosyth in June 2017, it was always planned that some of her equipment and systems would be fitted subsequently. During the time alongside between the sea trials phases, additional equipment to support rotary wing, and now fixed-wing aircraft is being added. The hotly anticipated next phase of trials will see F-35 aircraft land on board for the first time which demands specific additional equipment. When the ship was originally designed in the early 2000s, some of the capabilities she requires had not even been conceived, and some were still under development when the ship completed initial construction.

Fixed-wing aircraft landing aids are now being fitted, the most important of which is the US-developed AN/SPN-41/41A Instrument Carrier Landing System (ICLS). This is an electronic landing aid that broadcasts flight path data to the approaching aircraft which the pilot can see in the Head-Up Display. The ICLS comprises 2 antennas; the azimuth transmitter which will be installed on a sponson at the stern of the ship (slightly to port and below the catwalk), the elevation transmitter will be installed on the rear of the aft island.

In order to aid Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL), QinetiQ has developed a system of lights that will be embedded in the centreline of the flight deck which will guide pilots when landing the F-35B while maintaining forward speed. This has been in development for some years and was proven using a Harrier test aircraft, with a total of 230 SRVL approaches flown on board the French carrier Charles De Gaulle in 2007 and HMS Illustrious in 2009. The Bedford Array is not being added to HMS Queen Elizabeth at this time, though it will be installed on HMS Prince of Wales, initially as a technical demonstrator.

HMS Queen Elizabeth alongside in Portsmouth, March 2018

Photo: Steven Vacher via Flickr. Click for full-size version.

Tents covering the flight deck are to keep the work area dry while scheduled maintenance of the thermal metal spray (TMS) covered areas to take place. TMS has been applied in sections at the rear of the flight deck to protect the flight deck steel from the temperatures up to 1,500 °C generated by the F-35’s jet wash during vertical landing. TMS requires very careful application, done by injecting powdered metal through a jet of plasma at almost 10,000°C. The remainder of the flight deck is coated with textured anti-slip Camrex paint which needs to be renewed every three years, and this work will be carried out in stages during each scheduled maintenance period.

The scaffolding around the two islands provides safe access for the addition of new cabling and fittings, painting, and work being done on the bridge windows and diesel exhaust funnels. Large new funnel badges bearing the ship’s crest are also being added. The incremental fit of the Phalanx close-in weapons system has begun, ensuring the infrastructure is in place for the weapons system itself to be installed and set to work.

When QE was accepted by the MoD from the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (on the morning of her Commissioning in December 2017), it was agreed to extend the completion period until June 2018. In addition to the fitting of new equipment, ACA staff are rectifying defects that were thrown up during sea-trials. From June, maintaining the ship will be entirely a BAE Systems responsibility, delivered under the MoD’s Maritime Support Delivery Framework, worth around £69 Million annually.

This is the second maintenance period that has taken place on the ship, with the first before Christmas. This is the longest period so far and is challenging for the contractors as this is the first time many of the tasks have been done. In many cases, standard procedures do not yet exist and the manual is being written as the systems are understood better.

During the build process, it was recognised the Junior Rates’ scullery was too small to cope with the demand. It is now being doubled in size and a new dishwasher system is being installed that uses a conveyor system to get the washing up done more efficiently. Seemingly small details such as this can make a significant impact on the efficient working of the ship.

“The capability insertion period is planned activity (in fact it’s one of three such periods the Ship will undertake before QE reaches full operational readiness). There is an extraordinary amount of work in turning a trials ship into a warship and every month sees a graduated increase in the capability the ship can deliver. With over 1,000 helicopter deck landings already under our belt, we are developing more expansive clearances for helicopters than we have ever seen before. Next up are the Jets, and the Ship is being fitted with all the kit and communication systems required to ensure the aircraft and carrier can work together as a ‘system’. This is highly technical and time-consuming stuff and our sailors, airmen and shipyard workers are doing a great job in piecing it all together. Occasionally the ship will look like it’s held together with scaffolding – it isn’t and without it that mast, aerial, radar, funnel, anemometer or even paint job won’t get done. These are exciting times; the Ship is on track, as is HMS Prince of Wales. When the Ship gets to the States in the autumn, things are going to get noisy, pointy and fast!”.
Rear Admiral Keith Blount CB OBE, Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) for QEC

First of the eagerly anticipated, 3-part Chris Terrill documentary “Britain’s Biggest Warship” was shown on Sunday 15th April on BBC2. This excellent series gives a real insight into the challenge of bringing a huge new prototype vessel into service while capturing the human story of a ship’s company coming together. The next episode will reveal in more detail some of the issues encountered during sea trials.


Main image via Gary Davies, Maritime Photographic




from Save the Royal Navy

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Why did no Royal Navy submarine launch missiles against Syria?

Contrary to expectations, there has been no announcement that a Royal Navy submarine fired Tomahawk missiles during the operation against Syrian regime targets in the early hours of 14th April. In this is a brief speculative piece, we look at some of the the possible explanations.

Urgent tasking elsewhere

it is possible that the routine, but critically important business of shadowing Russian submarines in Northern waters was considered a greater priority for the RN submarine force. Protection of the UK deterrent submarine is always a prime concern and it may have been felt their were sufficient assets already in the Med for the task. This kind of choice may not be especially great for the Royal Navy’s public image, but would be a sensible prioritisation of scarce assets.

Supporting the operation in a less overt way

Instead of firing TLAM, RN submarine(s) were possibly involved in collecting intelligence and intercepting communications off the Syrian coast. Alternatively they were used to protect the surface warships by tracking Russian Kilo class SSKs, known to be in the eastern Med. These kind of operations require stealth and launching TLAM would comprise this. Today’s Sunday Times tells a wonderful tale, reported as ‘fact’ that an Astute class boat was in a duel with a Kilo class boat. Such reports are within the bounds of possibility but should be treated a speculation only.

Lack of Tomahawks, an abundance of Storm Shadow

Submarine-launched TLAMs have been used in several conflicts since the UK purchased a stock of just 65 Tomahawks in 1998. (These launches were all followed by public announcement of their use.) In 2015 an unspecified number of additional missiles was purchased. Assuming this was just to make good missiles already used, stocks of this precious weapon probably number a maximum of 70. In contrast a huge stock of 900 Storm Shadow was purchased for the RAF, entering service in 2003. 27 were used during the second Gulf War and a further 80 were used in operations against Libya in 2011.

Niche capability of Storm Shadow

Storm Shadow has a much shorter range than TLAM but has a more sophisticated warhead designed specifically to penetrate hardened bunkers. TLAM produces a much wider blast effect like a conventional bomb. The majority of ordnance used in the recent attacks on Syria were US Navy TLAM. It is possible that the RAF was tasked with hitting a few select hardened targets for which Storm Shadow was best suited.

No submarines serviceable?

Casual open source observation of recent RN submarine movements suggests this is almost certainly not the case and at least 2 boats are probably at sea. The short-term crisis of zero attack submarines availability of early 2017 was only a temporary and lasted a matter of weeks.



from Save the Royal Navy

Thursday, 12 April 2018

On the brink. Royal Navy submarines ready to attack Syrian targets

The media has widely reported that the Prime Minister has ordered Royal Navy submarines to prepare for Tomahawk missile launches against the Syrian regime. Here we look at the UK’s military options and the wider consequences of involvement in Syria.

Assets in play

The MoD never comments on submarine movements, but it is likely that at least one RN SSN has been deployed to the region. The RN’s submarine-launched Tomahawk UGM-109 land attack missiles (TLAM) missiles have a range of around 1200 kms (780 m) which puts Syria in range from the central Mediterranean. The RN can typically only manage 2 attack boats at sea simultaneously. Such limited numbers imply that this operation potentially disrupts the shadowing of Russian submarines close to UK waters and protection of the nuclear deterrent submarines. HMS Trenchant was seen in the Arctic, involved in ICEX 2018 in March which was supposedly a 5-week exercise, although the length of her intended participation is unknown.

Even if two RN boats are in the Med and are carrying a full load of TLAM their contribution would be relatively modest compared to the US navy which has destroyers cruisers and submarines that can all launch TLAM. A Trafalgar class submarine has a maximum weapons load of up to 30 Spearfish torpedoes or Tomahawks, while the Astute class have a slightly bigger capacity of 38. It would be surprising if a least a portion of their weapons storage was not allocated to Spearfish.

Since the late 1990s, TLAM have been the naval weapon used in anger most frequently. Despite the clear value of this weapon, we are still in the absurd situation that no RN surface vessels have been fitted to launch Tomahawk and we must rely on our tiny submarine force that already has other demands upon it. Together with lack of funding, there has also been some resistance from the RAF to the RN expanding its TLAM stocks and capability as it could threaten their deep strike role.

HMS Duncan is in the region as falgship of SNMG2, which paid a port visit to Trieste, Italy and Split, Croatia in the Northern Adriatic recently. HMS Duncan is well equipped to provide air defence for Cyprus and can monitor large sections of airspace if required. The Eastern Med looks like a potential area for naval conflict. Satellite photos show that Russian warships (including a Kilo-class submarine and modern frigate, Admiral Grigorovich) have left their Syrian base at Tartus. Either to avoid potential strikes or even threaten NATO warships or submarines.

Russia’s ambassador in Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin has said “If there is a strike by the Americans then the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired”. There there is some doubt about this translation or if he exceeded his authority to make such a statement, but this kind of threat shows Russia is increasingly willing to escalate the conflict.

Further options for UK strikes on Syria lie with RAF aircraft based at Akrotiri in Cyprus. There are 6 Typhoons, and 8 GR4 Tornado aircraft there, some of which have been involved in Operation Shader since 2014. This has been part of a coalition effort that has largely been successful in helping eradicate ISIS from Iraq and parts of Syria. These air strikes, often co-ordinated to avoid Russian assets, have been a key enabler for ground forces fighting ISIS.

Actions with consequences

The proposed action in Syria against Assad and his Russian backers is very different to Operation Shader. This would not be in support of specific forces on the ground and but is a “punishment” for Assad and Russia. The Russians say they would retaliate and have installed sophisticated air defence missile systems that protect parts of Syria. The renowned Russian S-400 (SA-21 Growler) and Pantsir (SA-22 Greyhound) puts at risk any manned aircraft mission. As well as the RN’s Tomahawk, the RAF could use air-launched Storm Shadow stand-off missiles to avoid entering Syrian airspace. There is some concern that Russian air defence systems may now have the ability to intercept at least some low-flying cruise missiles.

59 Tomahawk missiles were fired by the US Navy at the Syrian airbase of Shayrat in April 2017 in response to the use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun. This strike was supposed to “teach Assad a lesson” but it would appear the attack made little difference. A few conspiracy theorists will try to say the chemical weapons attack on Duoma was a ‘false flag operation’ staged by rebels but every independent source and the intelligence points to Assad resorting to old tactics. What is not in doubt is the evil of Assad who has murdered thousands of his own countrymen and destroyed a nation to hold onto power. Since Russia is using Syria a marker for its ambitions, involvement by western nations, however well-intentioned, is now fraught with dangers.

Over time Putin appears to have become increasingly bellicose and willing to contemplate a war with the West. Striking Syria now creates a risk of global conflict, probably on a par with the worst moments of the Cold War. It may be appealing to just launch a few missiles to punish Assad’s barbarism but this time the risks are bigger and a calm longer-term view is required.

The respected chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, Julian Lewis MP has said “Embroiling ourselves in a military clash with Russia in the context of a civil war between an inhumane government and opposition-controlled by jihadi fanatics is not a sensible one, to put it mildly”.

Opinion polls suggest less than 25% of the British public support military action. This is not a sign of moral bankruptcy or weakness, rather a recognition that it is very easy to get involved but rather harder to end a conflict, especially if you do not start with a coherent plan.


from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

A continuous Royal Navy presence in the Pacific region this year

The Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has announced today that HMS Albion will be deployed to join HMS Sutherland, already in the Pacific region. The primary purpose of this deployment is to help enforce UN sanctions against the North Korean regime which is attempting to continue prohibited trade by sea.

Illegal trade with other nations provides a major source of funding for North Korea’s nuclear programme. Over the last few years, it has been enhancing its missile capability and the Hwasong-15 ICBM, successfully tested in November 2017 has a 13,000 km range, which puts targets as far away as Europe within reach. Initially, the main interest in RN deployments to the region had been on the pre-announced transits of the South China Sea in response to illegal Chinese territorial claims. Assisting the US and other regional partners in keeping the pressure on North Korea is a more urgent priority.

The Royal Navy had been absent from the Pacific region for the last 5 years, until the arrival of HMS Sutherland in February 2018. After visiting Diego Garcia, she then made visits to the Australian ports of Freemantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney. A significant part of her mission in Australia was to exhibit RN Anti-submarine technology and, assisted by BAE Systems representatives, she hosted receptions to promote the Type 26 design as an option for the RAN’s SEA5000 Future Frigate competition. Departing Sydney on 16th March, she conducted exercises with the Australian Navy before sailing for Guam. Joint training exercises and defence diplomacy with allies and partners, including Australia, the US, the Republic of Korea and Japan, is a central part of these deployments.

HMS Sutherland in Japan

At the time of writing, HMS Sutherland has just arrived at the US Naval facility at Yokosuka in Japan. (Photo: US Fleet Activities, Yokosuka)

HMS Albion sailed from Plymouth on 6th of February with around 300 Royal Marines embarked and has been in Meditteranean until recently. She was expecting to relieve HMS Duncan as the flagship of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) but this has not happened. The plan had been to relieve HMS Duncan so she could deploy to the Gulf on operation Kipion. HMS Diamond’s planned 9-month Gulf deployment was curtailed as she returned home prematurely before Christmas because of a serious propellor shaft defect. HMS Duncan remains in the Meditteranean with SNMG2. Should RAF Akrotiri be used as a base for strikes against Syria, HMS Duncan could provide a useful air defence platform to defend Cyprus against any reprisal. There is also considerable Russian naval activity in the Eastern Mediterranean which needs to be monitored.

HMS Albion herself is not the ideal vessel to shadow, stop and search merchant vessels carrying illicit cargoes. Albion is a versatile ship and has a useful command facility that may be used to coordinate a multinational force of warships operating off Korea. The Royal Marines could be embarked on smaller ships to form boarding teams if needed. In the dire event that hostilities should break out on the Korean Peninsula, Albion would be a prime platform for landing friendly forces or evacuating civilians.

Albion was expected to return to Devonport in July for maintenance and the summer leave period. Late in the year, she was due to lead the JEFM (Joint Expeditionary Force, Maritime) deployment and be the centrepiece of a major amphibious and military exercise, Saif Sareea 3 which will involve 4,500 UK military personnel in Oman. Depending on how long Albion is deployed in the Pacific, there may be knock-on effects that would jeopardise these plans. Live operations obviously must take priority and change to ship’s programmes is a normal occurrence that demonstrates the flexibility of the Navy, although such a small fleet gives planners limited options. HMS Bulwark is non-operational and the Bay class auxiliary amphibious ships are already heavily utilised. RFA Mounts Bay is forward-deployed in the Caribbean for 3 years. RFA Cardigan Bay is also on a long-term deployment based in Bahrain, primarily supporting mine warfare vessels, although she could be involved in Saif Sareea 3. RFA Lyme Bay has just completed a major refit in Falmouth and is the only other available amphibious vessel.

HMS Albion, together with Bulwark still remain under threat of being axed but the “mood music” and leaks coming from Whitehall about the progress of the Modernising Defence Programme, suggest that political pressure will see the amphibious capability and most of the Royal Marines retained, possibly at the expense of other RN assets. The high profile deployment of HMS Albion to the Pacific could be seen as a useful ploy by the Defence Secretary to highlight her value and to maximise political embarrassment, should proposals to axe these ships remain.

It is interesting to note that, despite the opening of the new UK Naval support facility HMS Juffair in Bahrain, for various reasons, the number of RN warships deployed to the Gulf region has actually declined in the last 2 years. There is also currently no US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf right now since USS Theodore Rosevelt departed in March. The USS Harry S. Truman carrier Group left Norfolk this week and is expected to arrive in the region in May. For now, the threat from Russia and a new focus on the Pacific have forced the RN to make the Gulf a lower priority for its thinly spread fleet. At the same time, a new UK Joint Logistics Support Base is being developed at Duqm Port in Oman where the Queen Elizabeth class carriers will potentially be able to come alongside for engineering support. Duqm port will also provide a logistic base for Exercise Saif Sareea 3.

HMS Argyll is scheduled to arrive in the Pacific region in the later part of this year when she will participate in a Five Power Defence Arrangements exercise with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore before also travelling to North East Asia for further joint training and exercises. The deployment of HMS Sutherland, Albion and Argyll will mean the RN will have an almost unbroken presence there this year, representing something of a new strategic direction for the UK.



from Save the Royal Navy

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Sailing under a different flag – former Royal Navy vessels serving with other navies

With the recent sale of HMS Ocean to Brazil, we take this opportunity to examine the considerable number of RN and RFA vessels that have been sold on for further service with foreign navies and are still operational today.

Upholder class submarines

It is still a source of controversy and regret today but in the early 1990s it was decided to decommission the RN’s 4 conventional Upholder class submarines after just a few years service, as part of the Cold War “peace dividend”. After spending time in storage they were eventually sold to Canada but suffered a tortuous and difficult return to service, not helped by a fatal fire on board HMCS Chicoutimi during her delivery voyage in 2004. It took until February 2015 for the RCN to declare their submarine fleet was operational but the Upholders are now proving to be excellent boats and are deployed globally. HMS Upholder was re-named Chicoutimi and after lengthy repairs commissioned in September 2015. HMS Unseen became HMCS Victoria, HMS Ursula became HMCS Corner Brook and Unicorn became HMCS Windsor.

Ex-HMS Unseen, HMCS Victoria serves in the Pacific fleet. (Photo: Canadian Navy)

Type 23 Frigates

The sale of 3 modern Type 23 frigates was announced in the 2003 and was a precursor to many more cuts to the fleet in the 21st Century. Seen in a wider context, the sacrifice of these ships was partly to help fund the war in Iraq and in part the Treasury’s required ‘pound of flesh’ in return for the eventual order for the QE class aircraft carriers. The ships were converted for Chilean service in Portsmouth between 2006-08. HMS Norfolk recommissioned in 2006 as Almirante Cochrane. HMS Grafton recommissioned as the Almirante Lynch in March 2007 and HMS Malborough recommissioned as the Almirante Condell in May 2008. Lockheed Martin Canada has recently been contracted to replace the combat management system with their CMS 330. According to an unconfirmed Janes report in October 2017, Chile is interested in buying additional second-hand Type 23 frigates after the MoD suggested: “up to five ships may become available for sale”. (It seems likely this plan will be abandoned in the MDP 2018 review currently underway).

Apart from the darker paint scheme, these frigates have had little modification since their RN service. This is ex-HMS Norfolk, Almirante Cochrane seen in the Pacific in 2016. (Photo: US Navy)

Type 22 Batch 1 Frigates

The 4 batch 1 Type 22 Frigates were sold to Brazil between 1995-97. Ex-HMS Broadsword became Greenhalgh, ex-HMS Battleaxe became Rademaker – both continue to serve today. Ex-HMS Brilliant became Dodsworth but was scrapped in 2012 and ex-HMS Brazen became Bosísio but was sunk as target in 2017.

Ex-HMS Battleaxe, Greenhalgh seen alongside HMS Dauntless in Key West, Florida in 2012 (Photo: US Navy).

Type 22 Batch II Frigates

The decommissioning of the 6 very young batch II Type 22s between 1999 -2001 was mired in controversy as the MoD failed to raise much from their sale, HMS Boxer & Brave were sunk as targets, HMS Beaver scrapped and the others sold at knock-down prices amidst a corruption scandal.

Commissioned into the Romanian navy in September 2004, ex-HMS Coventry, ROS Regele Ferdinand was stripped of her Sea Wolf and Exocet and for such a large vessel carries very light armament. Together with her sister, ex-HMS London, ROS Regina Maria, they are frequent participants in NATO Black Sea exercises. (Photo: NATO Marcom)

Sold to Chile in 2003, Ex-HMS Sheffield, Almirante Williams has been significantly modified with Sea Wolf replaced by 2 x 16-cell Israeli Barak VLS, 1 Oto Melara 76mm gun and 8 Harpoon AShM. (Photo: US Navy)

Type 21 Frigates

All 6 surviving Type 21 frigates were sold to Pakistan between 1993-94. Always seen as somewhat under-armed in RN service, they were quickly modernised and upgraded with new weapons and sensors and reclassified by Pakistan as ‘destroyers’. Ex-HMS Amazon, PNS Babur and ex-HMS Alacrity, PNS Badr have now been decommissioned but the remaining 4 ships are still operational.

Ex-HMS Avenger, PNS Tippu Sultan. Note the Chinese made 6-cell LY-60N Hunting Eagle SAM replacing the Exocet launchers below the bridge (Photo: US Navy).

Still fine looking ships, Ex-HMS Active now PNS-Shahjahan. Note the Phalanx CIWS that replaced the obsolete Sea Cat SAM on the hangar roof and the Harpoon AShM launchers instead of the Hunting Eagle fitted to the Tippu Sultan. (Photo US Navy)

Patrol ships

HMS Dumbarton Castle and HMS Leeds Castle were sold to the Bangladesh Navy in April 2010. These ships were upgraded between 2011-14 and given a new sensor fit, 4 Chinese-made C704 anti-ship missiles and an Ak-176 76.2 mm gun. They are now rated as ‘corvettes’.

Ex-HMS Dumbarton Castle, BNS Bijoy and Ex-HMS Leeds Castle, BNS Dhaleshwari take part in a fire-fighting exercise in the Bay of Bengal, December 2017. (Bangladeshi Navy photo)

Five of the six Island Class OPVs were delivered to the Bangladeshi navy between 2002-04. Ex-HMS Lindisfarne became BNS Turag, ex-HMS Shetland became BNS Kapatakhaya, ex-HMS Alderney became BNS Karatoa, ex-HMS Anglesey became BNS Gomati. ex-HMS Orkney was sold to the Trinidad and Tobago Coastguard in 2001 and served as TTS Nelson until she was decommissioned in 2015.

Ex-HMS Guernsey became BNS Sangu, seen here in 2012. (Photo: US Navy)

The 5 RN Peacock class vessels were built to patrol the waters of Hong Kong. When Hong  Kong was handed back to China in 1999, 3 of the ships were sold to Indonesia in August 1999 for a bargain $20M. HMS Peacock became BRP Emilio Jacinto, HMS Plover became BRP Apolinario Mabini and HMS Starling became BRP Artemio Ricarte. Indonesia is very happy with the vessels which continue in service with upgrades planned. There were calls for them to be retained for patrolling UK waters but after a period laid up, the remaining two vessels were eventually sold to Ireland in 1989, where they continue to serve. HMS Swallow became LÉ Ciara and HMS Swift became LÉ Orla.

Ex-HMS Plover, BRP Apolinario Mabini, of the Philippine Navy.

Ex-HMS Swallow, LÉ Ciara seen alongside at the Irish Navy’s base at Haulbowline, Cork.

The 12 River class vessels built in the early 1980s were originally designed as minesweepers but were quickly converted to patrol duties and mostly manned by Royal Navy Reservists. In was decided in 1993 that all would be decommissioned and sold off. 4 were sold to Bangladesh, 7 to Brazil and 1 to Guyana. The entire class remain operational with their new owners.

Ex-HMS Humber now named NPa Amorim Do Valle and serving in the Brazilian Navy as an inshore hydrographic survey and buoy tender vessel. (Photo: Diario Portuario via Flickr)

Ex-HMS Blackwater, now called NPa Benevente and classified as a “Small Patrol Corvette” by the Brazilian Navy. (Photo: Santos Shiplovers)

Ex-HMS Helford renamed BNS Shaibal and serving as a hydrographic vessel in the Bangladeshi navy. (Photo: Bangladesh Navy)


In the last decade, the RN has been slowly reducing its fleet of modern plastic-hulled minehunters. These vessels are an attractive proposition for foreign navies and the 3 Sandown class SRMH and 4 Hunt class MCMVs are frequently seen serving in NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups.

HMS Sandown, Inverness and Bridport were sold to Estonia between 2007-09. This is ex-HMS Sandown, EML Admiral-Cowan-Estonia. (Photo: Estonian Navy)


HMS Biscester and Berkeley were sold to Greece in 2011. This is ex-HMS Berkeley, Kallisto. (photo: Hellenic Navy)

After serving as a fisheries Protection vessels in their later years in the RN, HMS Dulverton and Cottesmore were sold to Lithuania in 2011. These ships were returned to their minehunting role, upgraded with Thales Type 2193 sonar and given a 40mm Bofors gun. This is ex-HMS Dulverton, now named Kursis.

Survey vessels

Just one of the Herald Class hydrographic survey vessels built for the RN in the 1960s survives in Indonesian service. 2 of the 5 Bulldog class survey vessels survive but are unrecognisable. Ex-HMS Beagle was completely rebuilt as a motor yacht Titan and ex-HMS Fox has been rebuilt as motor yacht Toy Heaven.

KRI Dewa Kembar

Ex-HMS Hydra, sold to the Indonesian Navy in 1986 now named KRI Dewa Kembar and still listed as active.

Ex-HMS Roebuck was sold to Bangladesh in 2010 and is now called BNS Anushandhan, seen here arriving in Chittagong. To starboard, note the ancient former RN Type 41 frigates which were transferred in 1978 but have now been scrapped. (Photo: Bangladesh Navy)

Auxiliary ships

One of the much-regretted decisions of the 2010 defence review was the sale of RFA Largs Bay to Australia for £65 Million. Costing a very modest £25M per year to run, the 3 remaining ships have proved versatile and able to perform all kinds of tasks beyond their primary amphibious role.

Ex-RFA Largs Bay seen docked down during amphibious exercise Talisman Sabre in 2015, now in service with the Australian Navy and renamed HMAS Choules. (Photo: Royal Australian Navy)

Ex-RFA Sir Bedivere, now renamed NDCC Almirante Saboia. (Note ex-HMS Broadsword, Greenhalgh and British-designed Niterói-class Independência in the background of this image.) Sir Bedivere was built in 1967 but rebuilt and a hull extension inserted during a major Life Extension refit in 1994. She was converted for Brazilian service in Falmouth during 2009.

Ex-RFA Sir Galahad, now called Garcia D’Avila conducting a direct beach landing, something rarely practised by the LSLs when in UK service. Sir Galahad was completed in 1987 as a replacement for her namesake destroyed during the Falklands war. She was sold to Brazil in 2007.

Ex-RFA Blue Rover was sold to the Portuguese Navy in 1993 and renamed NRP Berrio. The Portuguese Navy is currently examining possible replacements for this ship that they only originally planned to keep in service until 2005.

Ex-RFA Green Rover was sold to Indonesia in 1992 and re-named KRI Arun. In March 2018, failure of ballast pumps during a replenishment at sea with hospital ship KRI Dr Soeharso caused a severe list to starboard. Arun was towed to Surabaya and it is expected the ship will be returned to service. (Photo: Indonesian Navy)

HMS Challenger

After a botched and over-budget construction on the Clyde, HMS Challenger was commissioned into the RN as specialist diving and seabed operations vessel in 1983. She was considered an unaffordable ‘luxury’ by short-sighted ministers and was paid off in 1990, having barely shown her potential. She was sold in 1993 and eventually converted to a mining vessel used to extract diamonds from the seabed, being renamed MV Ya Toivo.

Now owned by the De Beers mining Group, the MV Ya Toivo has been significantly re-built including crudely increasing her beam. Only the bridge is vaguely recognisable from her days as HMS Challenger. Ya Toivo features regularly on

Around the world, the “ex-Royal Navy flotilla” consists of something like, an assault ship, 4 submarines, 12 frigates, 24 patrol vessels, 7 mine warfare vessels, 2 survey vessels and 5 auxiliaries. Sales of surplus vessels can generate useful income for the MoD and strengthen defence relationships but some vessels were valuable assets that were disposed of in haste. In the long run, the National Shipbuilding Strategy suggests that the RN offers its warships for sale to overseas buyers at a younger age and replace them with new vessels, providing regular work for UK shipbuilders.


from Save the Royal Navy

Monday, 2 April 2018

Five priorities for the Modernising Defence Programme 2018

The MoD is now running a public consultation for its on-going defence review, now named the “Modernising Defence Programme” (MDP). The MDP will consist of four ‘work streams’. This is our submission for consideration, primarily focused on the naval aspects of the most critical Defence policy, outputs and military capability work stream (Although some principles may also be applicable to the Army and RAF).  

1. Grip the manpower crisis

Without sufficient qualified and experienced personnel, almost every defence endeavour and procurement is hampered or even worthless. Any plans to genuinely grow the RN fleet are unworkable in the current situation as there is insufficient SQEP just to man the existing ships and submarines. Currently, 2 escorts (HMS Daring and HMS Iron Duke) are laid up for lack of crew, even at a time when the Type 23 frigate Life Extension Programme sees a greater than usual number of virtually unmanned ships in major refit. Lack of available personnel leaves ships going to sea with ‘gaps’, puts pressure on everyone and leaves little contingency or flexibility for the unexpected. It was announced on 20th March that £12.7M had been found from the EU Exit Preparedness Fund to maintain the three Batch 1 River Class OPVs alongside after they are decommissioned against the possibility they could be re-activated at some point in the future. The RN has no spare or reserve manpower available and that any plan to reactivate these small vessels could only be done with civilian crews.

In October 2017 the RN had a trained strength of 29,280 (including 6,530 Royal Marines and 350 Full-Time Reservists) and was about 1,070 people short of its 30,350 allowed ‘liability’. In the long-term, manpower strength probably needs to be raised by at least 3,000 to provide greater reserve and flexibility.

Although the RN has implemented a range of measures to improve recruitment and retention over the last 5 years, it has met with mixed success. Recruitment is fairly buoyant and retention has improved slightly but the RN needs to grow its manpower quickly and retain its engineers and technically qualified ratings in particular. The simplest immediate cure would be a new series of generous financial retention incentives. A package of ‘golden handshake’ and ‘golden handcuff’ bonus could be paid to everyone on 3 – 5 yearly intervals, after time served and on signing up for further service. The level of bonuses would be in proportion to the personnel ‘pinch points’ and shortages in different trades. Such a system does already exist in part, but it could be extended and the size of bonuses raised considerably.

2. Deepen stocks of ammunition and spares and don’t skimp on maintenance

Last year a report by the NAO on cannibalisation of spare parts in the Royal Navy revealed the practice has increased by 49% in the past 5 years. Constant pressure to save money has seen a reduction in stocks of spares and vital equipment. The effects are not always immediately visible but contribute to a continuing erosion of resilience and flexibility across the UK armed forces. Statements by senior officers have also hinted that there are insufficient stocks of munitions that would be required to support a sustained conflict. The quantities of complex weapons such as Sea Viper, Sea Ceptor, Spearfish or Stingray in storage is understandably classified, conveniently protecting government from accountability on this issue. Re-stocking our logistic hubs, warehouses and Defence Munition stores must be addressed quickly.

HMS Northumberland appears immaculate as she leaves Devonport for the first time after a major life extension refit.

“HMS Northumberland is on sea trials after completion of a multimillion-pound refit. Headline upgrades to weapons systems use the bulk of the constrained budget so serious engineering defects have been largely ignored. The 4 main diesel engines and the switchboards used for main power distribution have major issues remaining. Due to a lack of funding there is no repair plan in place for these problems. There are also on-going issues with the chilled water plants used for air conditioning and to cool the weapons control systems. These engineering issues in Northumberland are typical of what I experienced with frigates throughout my career in the Navy” (Former RN engineer quoted by Susan Elan Jones, MP in Parliament, 11th January 2018)

3. Determine to take a lead in new weapons technology

Rear Admiral Chris Parry wrote recenty “We are approaching a ‘Dreadnought’ moment with regard to maritime technology, one that will divide the world into countries that can prevail and sea and those that frankly, need not bother”. Unless Britain gets serious about the development of these new naval weapons, our surface fleet, including the valuable capabilities offered by the aircraft carriers, will become obsolete and a liability when pitted against several potential adversaries. The RN needs to be at the forefront of developing and adopting these specific technologies;

  • Hypersonic missiles
  • Laser Directed Energy Weapons and Railguns
  • Unmanned platforms (UAVs, USVs & UUVs)
  • Cyber (both defensive measures and offensive weapons)
  • Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (especially applied to command and control)

There has already been modest efforts to develop some of these technologies for the UK. The Anglo-French FCASW project may (or may not) deliver a hypersonic missile in the early 2030s. The RN’s Unmanned Warrior exercise and formation of 700X Naval Air Squadron are examples of small steps in the right direction to develop unmanned platforms. However, across the board, there is a lack of urgency, scale and resources. These projects must not be allowed the status of ‘hobbies’ or token efforts to provide evidence of our ‘forward thinking’. Instead, funding needs to be increased dramatically in what should be treated as a struggle for survival to match our adversaries. This will involve scientific and operational research closely co-ordinated with industry on tight timetables.

The Dragonfire Laser Directed Energy Weapon (LDEW) Capability Demonstrator Programme (CDP) is intended to provide a short-range air defence, counter-UAV and close-in protection for naval vessels. The image is a mock-up of a LDEW co-mounted with the Phalanx system on board a Type 45 destroyer. Dragonfire is an excellent project but we need many more similar initiatives.

Major investment now would not only ensure our security but has potential economic benefits, stimulating British industry and academia and giving us the advantage of being able to export cutting-edge technologies to our allies in the future. In some instances, the size of the technical challenge may require the formation of new partnerships with the US or the French with an offer of British funding and industrial help to build on the expertise they already possess.

4. Renew the focus on undersea warfare

As navies around the world invest heavily in submarines that are increasingly stealthy and capable, the battle for control of the undersea domain will probably be the decisive factor in any future naval conflict. The Royal Navy was once a great anti-submarine navy, respected by the Soviets who recognised the fearsome reputation of our submariners and the hunting expertise of the substantial surface fleet. Since the end of the cold war, this capability was allowed to decline too quickly and too far. Although the RN retains a core of expertise and some good platforms, numbers are wholly inadequate. UK ASW capability and our submarine fleet need to be expanded and revived.

Building more SSNs, Type 26 frigates and purchasing more Merlin helicopters would be the ideal solution but we recognise this to be a very long-term aspiration. Immediate steps would make every effort to maximise the operational availability of the Astute class submarines, possibly using a 2 crew system, as soon as manning levels allow. An urgent feasibility to study into the costs, and options involved in quickly obtaining a small fleet of conventional submarines, possibly off the shelf from Germany or Sweden should be undertaken. This would relieve the pressure on the SSNs and by providing additional boats for the defence of UK waters, SSBN protection and training duties.

Additional funds should be provided to ensure the Type 31 a credible anti-submarine platform by fitting towed array sonar and investing in UUVs and USVs to support the ASW mission. The Type 26 frigate should be given more submarine killing power, specifically by purchasing a stock of RUM-139 ASROC missiles for its Mk 41 VLS.

5. Fully fund the existing equipment programme and scrap unrealistic efficiency targets

Head of the MoD, Stephen Lovegrove has euphemistically described the efficiency targets set for his department in SDSR 2015 as “challenging”. As the NAO has highlighted, the reality is that the supposed savings and the equipment plan are completely unattainable without further hollowing out and cuts to frontline strength. There is no doubt that defence procurement and the MoD could be run more efficiently in many areas and there are some modest savings to be made in the rationalisation of the defence estate. The Treasury must have greater confidence that new money provided to the MoD will not be wasted, as has been the case so often in the past. However, the excuse that “the MoD has a track record of inefficiency so we cannot increase defence spending” is an irrelevance when we need to address very real immediate and future threats.

Completely unrealistic savings targets which are factored into future spending plans should be torn up and reviewed again. Admiral George Zambellas, the former First Sea Lord said recently “I’ve been helping deliver efficiencies for my 37 years in the navy. We have reached the bottom of the efficiency barrel”. A halt to the endless cycle of cuts, closures and capability gaps would help improve morale and retention in the services and stop further hollowing out of defence.

Footing the bill

The Defence Secretary has recognised the MoD budget is wholly inadequate for the challenges we face but there seems to be only grudging acceptance or outright denial of this unfortunate reality amongst much of the Cabinet. There are those in Westminster who seem to think we have a simple choice between either funding measures to protect us from emerging threats, particularly cyber and terrorist attacks, or funding conventional defence. There is no choice to be made, our adversaries are strengthening their conventional, nuclear and asymmetric capabilities and we must respond to all three.

An ‘additional’ £800M was recently provided for start-up costs of the Dreadnought submarine project and to help head off an immediate crisis at the MoD. This money was provided from Treasury contingency reserves and by bringing forward spending planned for future financial years. Although positive, such measures are just tinkering around the edges and will not resolve chronic underfunding. There is widespread recognition that the 2% of GDP supposedly spent on defence is inadequate, Michael Fallon said recently we should spend at least 2.5%. Most defence analysts say at least 3% is what is needed for Britain to remain secure and support its stated ambitions. Finding an additional £10 – £20 Billion per year for the MoD will require a realisation that there are hard political choices for the Government and Treasury.

Almost two-thirds of voters now recognise that the NHS and social care cannot be funded to the required levels and would be willing to accept a specific tax rise to pay for it. Although it will not be electorally as popular, a parallel specific measure to fund defence is now needed. 30 years of decline must be addressed, it would be irresponsible to be funding a revival of the NHS while risking our national security at a time when there is cross-party agreement that “strategic challenges have intensified”.


from Save the Royal Navy