Wednesday, 27 June 2018

New engines for the Royal Navy’s Type 23 Frigates

Originally designed with a service life of around 18 years, the RN’s Type 23 Frigates will now have to serve for around 30 years. All 13 frigates are undergoing life extension (LIFEX) refits and an important component of these upgrades is the Power Generation Machinery Upgrade (PGMU) to replace the ships’ four diesel generator sets.

The Type 23 LIFEX programme is being run by the Surface Ship Support Alliance (a partnership between the MoD, Babcock and BAE Systems) and began in June 2015 when HMS Argyll was taken in hand at Devonport. At the time of writing HMS Argyll, Westminster, Montrose, Northumberland and Kent have all completed LIFEX refits. The most obvious external change is the fitting of the CAAM Sea Ceptor missile system to replace the ageing GWS-26 Sea Wolf but the refits also include major changes to equipment, the combat system, chilled water arrangements and work to extend the life of the hull and superstructure. Unfortunately, the first ships to undergo LIFEX have not received new engines and will have to wait until their next major refit. HMS Richmond will be the first ship to receive the machinery upgrade and is currently mid-way through her refit in Devonport. Work has also started on the LIFEX of HMS Portland and HMS Lancaster at Devonport. The LIFEX refit of each Type 23 is costing at least £35M per ship, not including the PGMU. Totalling around £600M for this work across the frigate fleet, this is a very necessary and worthwhile investment but could have been much reduced if the Type 26 frigates had been ordered earlier.

The oldest Type 23s HMS Argyll and HMS Lancaster will never receive the PGMU. Assuming they survive future defence cuts, they will have to soldier on with their Paxman diesels until they go out of service in 2023 and 2024 respectively. The project is set to be completed by 2024 when last of the other 11 ships receives its new engines.

The MTU 20V-4000 M53B Diesel Engine (Photo: Rolls Royce)

The first of the new MTU 12V 4000 M53B diesel generator sets were delivered to Devonport Naval Base in late 2016 for fitting to HMS Richmond. The new gensets are manufactured in Germany by MTU (A subsidiary of the Land & Sea division of Rolls-Royce) and provide 1.65MW each. This will provide the ship with approximately 20% increase in available power for onboard weapons, sensors and electronics as well as for cruising propulsion. The old Paxman Valenta 12 RP2000CZ diesel design dates from the 1960s and are becoming increasingly maintenance-intensive. They are rated at 1.3MW but and have reduced power output as low as 1MW in hot climates. The new diesels perform better in hot conditions and will drastically reduce maintenance time and running cost. The MTU 4000 gensets include sophisticated noise reduction and shock resistance measures and are exceptionally reliable. The PGMU project presented a considerable engineering challenge as new equipment had to fit within the existing structural and compartment constraints and integrate with the ship’s services and systems.

The PGMU project comprises 5 separate components (which the DE&S tendered for in ‘lots’); diesel generators, power conversion equipment, electrical switchboards, the machinery control and surveillance system (MCAS) and the integration work. A £68M contract was signed by the DE&S with MTU to supply the 48 generator sets in April 2015. The contract includes a complete logistics package, spare parts and initial training. The RN’s mechanical engineering training establishment, HMS Sultan will receive equipment and electronic manuals so it can provide relevant training for MEs serving on the upgraded Type 23s.

Hitzinger UK won a £12M contract for the voltage converters and Rolls-Royce signed a £18M contract in January 2016 to deliver the updated MCAS. Babcock Marine and Technology is responsible for the integration of the new systems aboard the ships and was awarded a £3.6M for this task. The project includes installing 600m of new pipework in each ship together with over 8km of new cable. The Upper Auxiliary Machinery Room (UAMR) and the Forward Auxiliary Machinery Rooms (FAMR) have to be almost entirely stripped out and new machinery foundations and uptakes and downtakes fitted.

The MTU 4000 gensets have specialist mounting and are surrounded by an acoustic enclosure, ensuring low radiated noise levels, critical to anti-submarine warfare. (Photo: Rolls Royce)

The new propulsion package fitted to the Type 23s will not only improve ship availability, fuel efficiency and available power but will provide useful experience for the RN as similar MTU gensets are being fitted the future Type 26 frigates. Although the Type 26 is an evolution of the Type 23’s propulsion system there are significant differences. Type 23 utilised a CODLAG arrangement – Combined Diesel Electrical AND Gas Turbine. Both the gensets driving the motors and both Spey Gas Turbines are required to be online to achieve full speed. The Type 26 is CODELOG Combined Diesel-Electric OR Gas Turbine. The single MT-30 gas turbine alone is sufficient to drive the ship at full speed without the need for the motors, and in that mode the gensets can provide power purely for the ships electrical needs.

Although the Type 23’s legacy Spey gas turbines do not, the new MTU propulsion system meets the requirements of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) III emissions directive. Meeting civilian emissions standards is challenging for the unique requirements of naval vessels but it is obviously desirable to maximise fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. The RN has utilised various new hydrodynamic features to minimise drag on its ship hulls. These have been incorporated at the design stage of the modern vessels Type 45, the aircraft carriers and the Type 26 but the older Type 23s have undergone some modifications in service including self-polishing anti-fouling coatings on the hull and propeller blades, stern wedges, and improved propeller designs. The intention is that the Type 26 frigates will be fully compliant with IMO’s MARPOL (Nitrogen oxides) NOx regulations and will be fitted with a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system together with the efficient MTU4000 20V diesel generators and MT-30 Gas Turbines.

HMS Montrose in the final stages of her LIFEX (May 2017) in Devonport. Babcock’s Frigate Refit Complex comprises 3 covered dry docks and is being heavily utilised for the LIFEX programme. The future Type 26 frigates will not fit inside this facility, although the Type 31 designs probably can be accommodated.




from Save the Royal Navy

Friday, 22 June 2018

Video & photo essay: HMS Queen Elizabeth conducts first replenishment at sea

HMS Queen Elizabeth conducted her first Replenishment at Sea (RAS) with RFA Tidespring this week. While the main purpose of her current deployment is to conduct helicopter flight trials in the Eastern Atlantic, the opportunity was taken to prove her RAS capability.

A first replenishment at sea for QE with RFA Tidespring was planned to take place February. The two ships came together but no lines were passed because in the rough weather it was not worth taking risks for a trial that could be postponed until a better opportunity was available.

HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from Portsmouth on 10th June so had only been at sea for 11 days, assuming she sailed with full fuel tanks, she did not actually need to conduct RAS. For the purposes of the trial, just 200 tonnes of F76 marine diesel oil was transferred from RFA Tidespring.

Both port and starboard fuelling stations on the carrier were tested.

RFA Tidespring was designed from the outset to provide fuel to the QEC aircraft carriers

To conduct the RAS, the two ships steam at 12 knots, around 42 metres apart.

If needed, the Tide class tankers can deliver 800 cubic metres of fuel per hour

Of the four Tide class tankers, RFA Tidespring is fully operational while RFA Tiderace is on the verge of entering service. RFA Tidesurge is being fitted out in Falmouth and RAF Tideforce will soon be delivered from her builders in South Korea.




from Save the Royal Navy

Thursday, 21 June 2018

One step forward, two steps back – delivering the Royal Navy’s new OPVs

As we reported in April, significant defects have been found aboard HMS Forth which was delivered to the RN in February. Initial assessments were that the problems would be remedied in a couple of weeks but this has not proved to be the case.

HMS Forth’s defects list has not expanded beyond what was originally reported; sheared bolt heads, failed marine fixings and the electrical system. However, the investigation and agreeing on the rectifications by all parties took much longer to complete than initially expected.

The ship has not been “handed back” to BAE Systems and remains a commissioned RN warship. However, that is really a technicality because, as is standard practice during deep maintenance, the contractor has taken over over care and protection of the vessel with no RN personnel living on board. After the delay caused by the investigation and scoping, there are now are teams of contractors working on board the ship to correct the problems. HMS Forth will definitely not require dry-docking for this work as the issues are all internal and not related to propulsion, steering or the hull. The date the work will be completed is unknown at this stage but sources can only say “well before the end of this year”. The ship is effectively under warranty and BAES are meeting all costs for this work.

HMS Forth is due to replace HMS Clyde as the Falkland Patrol ship. The delays to HMS Forth commencing work up and FOST will have the knock-on effect of extending HMS Clyde’s time in service. The RN is down to just one active OPV in UK waters right now and there is some speculation HMS Tyne could be re-activated. The RN is performing a delicate juggling act rotating crews between OPVs and MCMVs under Project Jicara. HMS Tyne’s crew joined HMS Forth in March 2017 and she was then manned until decommissioning by a crew loaned from the 2nd Minehunting Squadron. They then moved to HMS Mersey so her crew could join HMS Trent in build in Glasgow. There is no spare crew available for HMS Tyne so it is unlikely the RN will reactivate her in the near future.

HMS Tyne was formally decommissioned on 24 May and, along with HMS Severn already decommissioned, and HMS Mersey, due to decommission in 2019, will be preserved alongside. This has been funded by a £12.7M allocation from the EU Exit Preparedness Fund, should the ships be required to patrol UK waters following Brexit. Unfortunately, the RN does not have the people to crew these vessels while at the same time providing manpower for the new Batch IIs. Reactivating the Batch Is would require innovative alternative manning arrangements.

BAE Systems has sensibly initiated inspections of the next 2 OPVs, Medway and Trent, currently under construction to ensure these issues are dealt with before the ships are handed over to the RN. This inspection is ongoing and rectifications being completed where necessary. So far only one sheared and glued bolt head has been discovered on Medway. Medway was named two months earlier in her schedule than Forth so their schedules do not compare. Medway is due to go on sea trials later this summer and the MOD and working with BAES to agree on the schedule for the remaining ships to come into service.

The RN’s relationship with BAE Sytems, its monopoly warship supplier is akin to an arranged and essentially loveless marriage. With absolutely no prospect of divorce, there is little choice but to live with reduced expectations and make the best of the situation, focusing on the positive aspects. (Some serious flirting with Babcock has not yet developed into a full-blown affair.) BAES have been embarrassed by this episode, the OPVs are, after all, relatively simple vessels and have proved a very expensive way of sustaining Clyde shipbuilding. The company has taken it very seriously and is working very hard to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.

More positive news is the very strong indications that the BAES Type 26 (GCS-A) design is going to win the SEA5000 Australian frigate competition, an announcement is expected by the end of next week. This would be the first major UK warship export success in more than 2 decades and will be of far greater significance than relatively minor issues with the OPVs.



from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Astute Class Submarine Owners Workshop Manual – Book Review

£14.69 (Hardback)

Astute Class Nuclear Submarine – Owners Workshop Manual is the third in a trio of engrossing submarine-themed books published in 2018. Using the well established Haynes technical manual format, Jonathan Gates has written a detailed and comprehensive guide that explains the design, construction and operation of the RN’s newest submarines.

Those without at least a basic understanding of submarine design will find this book a steep, if fascinating learning curve. This is many orders of complexity above the average Haynes manual that might typically describe how to service a Ford Escort and is an amusing way to frame such a subject. Of course, a complete technical manual and the blueprints for the Astute class and its equipment would be highly classified and run into thousands of pages.

This book follows on from the similar Haynes Type 45 Destroyer Manual that Gates published in 2014. In both cases, the author has done a very good job of explaining some demanding technical subjects in a way that can be understood. Lavishly illustrated with a good selection of photographs, the diagrams are consistent and easy to read throughout, this is another triumph for Haynes’ graphic designers.

Cutaway of Astute class submarine

An example of the superb anotated diagrams used throughout the book

The first chapter outlines the painful birth and beginnings of the Astute project, a victim of political, financial and corporate pressures that took many years to recover from. The next chapter describes the challenges of construction followed by a lengthy section describing the nuts and bolts anatomy of the boat and its many sub-systems. Also included is possibly the best description of the principles and components of a nuclear power and propulsion system available to the layman. The combat systems and weapons are covered in some detail with a glimpse into how the boat may conduct operations. There is also a good introduction to the basics of ocean acoustics and deep water anti-submarine warfare.

At first glance the depth of technical information is astonishing and if content with the same level of detail published in this book was posted on a website or social media, there would probably be accusations of breaching operational security or revealing state secrets. Knowing his subject so well, Gates is clearly well aware of what technical and scientific information is already in the public domain and within the classification boundaries. The book was written with assistance from BAE Systems and the MoD and care has been taken not to reveal the many deeper secrets of the Astutes. The use of broad stroke schematics and the absence of precise specifications allows the reader to understand how things work without revealing their specific performance or full capability.

The book also brings home the scale of the engineering challenge posed by nuclear submarine construction. The boat must be able to safely float, submerge, move, navigate, fight and communicate while being home to its crew for several months. To do this requires a system of systems, many with emergency backups and redundancy. All this technology must be constructed and contained within the confines of a steel tube capable of withstanding the enormous pressures experienced deep underwater. The very ambitious performance specification laid down for the Astute’s helps explain the SSN’s £1billion+ price tag and why the project has faced so many difficulties and delays.

Despite the expense and challenges of bringing these submarines into service, it has been very well worth the journey. In his closing remarks the author provides this upbeat assessment of their capability: “Studies of future operations have suggested the Astute will be able to evolve to fulfil its roles for the foreseeable future, a testament to her enduring utility and flexibility. Future strategic challenges will predicate a greater requirement for Astute’s inherent qualities known as the ‘seven deadly virtues’ – of flexibility, mobility, endurance, reach, autonomy, stealth and punch”

For anyone interested in submarines and wishing to take a deeper dive into understanding their technicalities, this book is a must-read. There is also a broader appeal beyond just the naval aspect for those who want to explore the story of a 21st Century engineering project at the cutting edge of technology.

£14.69 (Hardback)

from Save the Royal Navy

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Scottish nationalism continues to cast a shadow over the Royal Navy

At the SNP conference last weekend, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted she was “more certain than ever before” of achieving her dream of Scottish Independence. For now she urged members to focus on “winning the argument” rather than pushing too soon for another vote. Here we look at how Nicola’s ‘dream’ would actually be a nightmare for UK security as a whole. The RN would arguably be the single British institution to suffer most, with both its main submarine base and shipyards under threat.

Theresa May has blocked another referendum for now but her weak and unpopular government, stoked by Anglo-Scottish divisions over Brexit, fuels SNP hopes they will get one day get their way. There is limited enthusiasm for another referendum amongst the public in Scotland but opinion on independence remains almost evenly split, exactly the same as the 2014 referendum result, 55 / 45% against. A swing in public opinion of just over 5% is not unimaginable. Should Jeremy Corbyn ever make it into Downing Street, his hard-left, anti-Trident views would conveniently dovetail with those of the SNP. (although the Labour party claims to officially be against independence and pro-Trident). Corbyn’s personal foreign policy instincts are essentially to align with actors who are the adversaries of Britain and the United States. Independence would probably destroy or severely hamper Trident and the nuclear submarine enterprise where US-UK relations are especially close, which would suit the SNP, Corbyn (and Putin).

The nuclear deterrent in peril

Surveys done in 2016 show only 20% of the British public completely oppose Trident, although the figure in Scotland is higher at 38%. Perhaps this is unsurprising as the Scottish public is fed a much stronger diet of SNP propaganda that inflates its costs, exaggerates risks and ignores its benefits. Overall there is still broad public support for the British nuclear weapons and the case for retaining our ultimate insurance policy is strengthening further as the post-Cold War consensus is ebbing away. Scottish independence would see the enforced removal of the Trident nuclear missile submarines from their base at Faslane. Such an upheaval also threatens the 6,700 Royal Navy and civilian workers at Faslane and even if a suitable deep water base could be found in England or Wales, as we examined in a previous article, the Trident submarine replacement program is already at the very limits of what the defence budget can bear. The costs of relocating facilities could well put an end to the UK nuclear deterrent on financial grounds. The loss of Faslane would also require the seven Astute class attack submarines to be re-located to Devonport, together with attendant costs.

If you follow the Glasgow-based UK Defence Journal on social media, you can witness the considerable time they spend correcting misunderstandings and deliberate falsehoods about Trident, shipbuilding on the Clyde and the aircraft carrier project that emerge on a daily basis. In the war of disinformation, the cybernats are entrenched in their position and unwilling to let facts get in the way of their view that London has “cheated” Scotland of its fair share of defence contracts. Not only is this view incorrect, but in their polarised view of the world, no time is given to understand the nuances and complexities of defence issues.

Scotland – the powerhouse of RN warship construction

The SNP website proclaims “Scottish shipyards have been sold down the river by the Tories”. It is true that the Tories have underfunded the navy and we are not building enough warships overall, but the idea that Scotland is not getting its fair share of the work is absurd. English yards have been allowed to close while, apart from submarines, all new UK warship construction is now done north of the border. Although the number has been reduced from the planned 13 ships, the BAES Clyde shipyard is in possession of the richest warship contract in Europe, building the 8 Type 26 frigates. The deliberately slow pace of Type 26 construction guarantees work for the highly skilled Clyde workforce for the next two decades, very few shipyards in the world have this kind of certainty.

The Clyde and Rosyth have had the lion’s share of work involved in the construction of the QEC aircraft carriers, the largest ships ever built for the RN. The QEC project is an extraordinary example of engineering from across all parts of the UK, supporting 4,000 Scottish workers, despite this, the Scottish Government has almost entirely ignored this British success as it does not fit with their grievance narrative. Should Babcock win the Type 31e Frigate competition, there will be further work for Rosyth and Ferguson Marine on the Clyde. The SNP is right to challenge the government on its flawed policy to allow foreign yards to compete to construct the Fleet Solid Support Ship. A UK-only competition could offer the prospect of more work for Rosyth.

In the event of independence, the RN would find its primary shipbuilder is now in a foreign country. Britain has never built its warships abroad both for security and economic reasons. Whether the Treasury would allow billions of Pounds to be spent on the Type 26 in ‘foreign’ yards is very doubtful. Chaos and uncertainty would ensue over how and where the RN would build its warships, potentially severely decimating the frigate programme. Enormous expense and upheaval would be involved in re-establishing English construction facilities. There would be inevitable job losses in Glasgow and Rosyth and the shipbuilding needs of an independent Scotland would be negligible in comparison to those of the Union.

HMS Trent rolled out of the construction hall at Govan on the Clyde for her naming ceremony. One of 5 OPVs built at great expense to provide continuity of work for the Clyde yards until the start of the Type 26 frigate programme.

Defending Scottish waters

The SNP does at least recognise the importance of the maritime domain to the UK, Scotland alone has a longer coastline than China. They are rightly critical of Westminster’s failure to invest in maritime forces, in particular, the axing of the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft and the lack of patrol vessels. Unfortunately, their position is undermined by the fact a newly independent Scotland would face financial problems and even if the SNP had the political appetite, it would be unlikely to increase defence spending above the 2% of GDP it currently enjoys. The SNP claim axing Trident is a big part of the answer to making its public spending plans work. The average annual cost of the entire Trident enterprise is around £2Bn per year, releasing Scotland’s £200m ‘share’ would not make a big difference to their public finances as a whole. It would also take around a decade and cost around £10Bn to decommission Britain’s nuclear weapons infrastructure.

The SNP frequently complains that “no major warships are based in Scotland”. It is true the frigates and destroyers are based in Portsmouth and Devonport but the lack of numbers already leaves the English bases arguing over their share of the shrinking fleet. In an ideal world where the RN had sufficient escort numbers, some would be based in Scotland but in the current financial climate, another frigate base cannot be justified. The support infrastructure for each class of ship would have to be duplicated and it also would complicate manning issues. Escorts have not been based in Scotland (Rosyth) since the late 1980s but surface ships now maintain a frequent presence in Scottish waters. For example, at the time of writing HMS Westminster has been operating from Faslane as the Towed Array Patrol Ship (TAPS) around Scotland and in Arctic waters for several weeks while HMS Diamond was patrolling in the North Sea and visited Invergordon last week.

Overall armed forces personnel numbers have declined in Scotland but this is just a reflection of the national picture, just ask the people living in the Plymouth area about the shrinking defence estate. Despite the threat of independence, considerable investment continues at Faslane which will shortly become the RN’s sole submarine base. Further investment and new jobs are being created at RAF Lossiemouth to support the new P-8As. £10M has been spent on recommissioning the Remote Radar Head at Saxa Vord in the Shetlands to improve coverage of the airspace over the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea. A resurgent Russian navy has seen a renewed focus on naval operations in the North Atlantic, GIUK gap and the Arctic which increases Scotland’s strategic importance for NATO.

The ‘Scottish Navy’

According to defence policy formulated before the 2014 referendum, the ‘Scottish Navy’ will consist of two frigates, four mine countermeasures vessels and a ‘command platform’ all taken from the Royal Navy. There is also vague talk of talk of constructing OPVs and auxiliary support ships ‘shared with the UK’. The new navy is supposed to number about 2,000 personnel, initially to be drawn from Scots already serving in the RN. This assumes that Scots serving in the RN will be allowed to transfer when required by Scotland and that they would actually want to leave one of the world’s foremost navies to serve in this baby navy. As a hasty paper exercise it is easy to create a navy based on what the SNP considers to be its share of RN assets. Whether this division should be done on the basis of GDP, head of population or even length of coastline is another discussion, but the devil is in the detail. Taking a couple of frigates and basing them in Scotland may sound simple, but like most defence assets they require a complex logistics and support tail. Ammunition and spares are managed by a UK-wide system run by the MoD and a sophisticated training pipeline is needed to produce competent crews, not something that can be replicated easily.

Taking a global view

The Royal Navy is a globally-deployed force reaching overseas to support the wider interests of the UK. The SNP’s vision of defence appears to be rather more parochial, although it vainly hopes to have some wider relevance through NATO. Perhaps understandably turned off by Britain’s problems in recent overseas interventions, they see defence as something that can be done purely in their own backyard. This is a failure to recognise an independent Scotland would still be as reliant on global maritime trade as the UK. Unable to project power overseas they would simply be passing the burden of protection on to navies of other nations or hoping for the best.

As well as making dubious assumptions that an independent Scotland could remain in the EU, the SNP also expects to be able to join NATO. After adopting an aggressive anti-nuclear stance and having just paralysed the nuclear forces of a founding NATO nation, whether Scotland would be welcomed to join the alliance is highly doubtful. In reality, both Scottish and UK security would be weakened by independence, most significantly because whether Scots recognise or approve of it or not, the nuclear deterrent that protects us would be gone. Taking other assets from an already over-stretched RN to build a Scottish waters fleet will simply undermine the ability to support the wider interests of both countries. For example, it may be useful and symbolic to have a few more minehunters in Scottish waters for contingencies, the reality is that the threat of mines in the Persian Gulf is a much more immediate threat to Scottish economic interests. It is obvious is that Scotland would be heavily reliant on London’s co-operation for its defence forces to have any credibility, at least for the first decade post-independence. In the meantime they would need to be making considerable investments in duplicating support infrastructure just to field this small force. London will have the advantage in many of the negotiations and perhaps some of the damage could be mitigated, eg the RN could keep its frigates it return for Scottish forces making use of training and support facilities in England.

Better together

Separation would weaken both nations, undermine global credibility while duplicating costs to both country’s taxpayers. For the RN breaking up the Union would be disastrous from both an operational and support perspective, further weakening an over-stretched service. Historically many Scotsmen have served with distinction in the British armed forces. Their engineering and shipbuilding prowess was at the heart of naval power and this still holds true today, albeit on a lesser scale. Scotland already rightly has a great deal of independence over its domestic affairs but we are stronger and safer together, both economically and strategically. Those in Westminster also need to work harder to demonstrate that Scottish interests are best served by remaining in the Union, greater investment in RN would certainly help this cause.



from Save the Royal Navy

Sunday, 10 June 2018

HMS Queen Elizabeth sails for part II helicopter trials

HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from Portsmouth this morning to conduct a second set of rotary-wing flying trials. Her sailing had been delayed by a few days after a defect with the power system emerged. This was quickly rectified and the delay will not affect her overall programme for this year.

She has been alongside for the last 13 weeks for a “Capability Insertion Period” during which time engineers have been working hard to upgrade her systems and carry out planned maintenance tasks. This included painting the non-slip coating on sections of her deck – something planned to be done in stages, every time she’s alongside.

30 BAE Systems engineers have sailed with the ship and will continue to carry out work onboard during the 2-3 weeks away. Their focus working on setting-to, testing and fine-tuning systems to support the F-35 flying trials which will be conducted later this year.

Note the large new ship’s crests installed on the port and starboard side of the after island

The first four 617 Squadron F-35s arrived in the UK this week and many have assumed they will join quickly the ship but operational aircraft will not embark on the ship until late 2019 at the earliest. 617 Squadron will receive the remaining aircraft to bring it up to its strength of around 12 aircraft by the end of 2018. Its initial focus will be flying from RAF Marham on land-based training, aiming for formal Initial Operating Capability (IOC/Land) to be declared in by December. Specially instrumented F-35s will be the first to land on board QE when the ship is off the Eastern Seaboard of the US in the autumn.

Phase 1 helicopter trials with the Merlin and Chinook were a success, Apache and Wildcat have yet to be cleared to operate and it is assumed they will participate in the phase 2 trails. The flying serials are used to write the Ship Helicopter Operating Limits (SHOL) which define the safe operating envelope for each aircraft type flying from the QEC carriers.

QE will return home sometime in July to begin preparations for the trip to the United States. QE is due to visit New York, probably in September and will be escorted on the deployment by Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose. Press reports that F-35s will perform a demonstration landing on board QE in Portsmouth for the visit Donald Trump on 13th July should be taken with a very large pinch of salt!

Notice wind turbulence sensor aerial installed on the forward flight deck for use in gathering data for the flight trials.

Round Tower and Old Portsmouth dwarfed by the mighty ship. Will aircraft carrier movements in an out of Portsmouth ever become “routine”?

Photos: BAE Systems



from Save the Royal Navy

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Photo & video essay: The aircraft carrier’s main armament, first F-35s arrive in the UK

After sensibly postponing the trip for 24 hours due to bad weather, yesterday the first four UK-owned F-35Bs touched down at RAF Marham after a trans-Atlantic flight from the United States. Despite the postponement, the jets have arrived two months ahead of the original schedule and those involved in the programme deserve to be congratulated. These aircraft of 617 Squadron will form part of the initial main armament for the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and will be the cornerstone of the UK carrier strike capability. The MoD has provided some outstanding imagery and video which tells the story of their arrival.

F-35 Taxiing

The aircraft taxing ready for take off at USMC Beaufort, South Carolina, where Britain has more of the jets and 150 personnel in training.

The approximately 3,600 nautical mile journey across the Atlantic required each aircraft to conduct 9 air-air refuelling serials. The F-35B can fly for around 1,800nm but they were kept are topped up to allow an aircraft to reach a diversionary airfield in the case of a refuelling problem.

The flying petrol station – RAF Voyager tankers provided air-air refuelling.

In flight over the Atlantic, the F-35B looks beautiful and sleek

“Permission to buzz the tower”

Landing sequence

Lieutenant Commander Hogg, RN, the Executive Officer of 617 Squadron, lands the second F35 at RAF Marham.

Lt Cdr Adam Hogg is congratulated on his flight by Vice Admiral Ben Key – Fleet Commander, Air Chief Marshal Stephen Hillier, Defence Procurement Minister – Guto Bebb and Group Captain Ian Townsend – Marham Station Commander.

The newly-arrived aircraft are attended by mixed RN and RAF ground crews.

As part of ‘project Anvil’, around £550m has been invested in RAF Marham to get the base ready for the F-35. The base has seen an upgrade in facilities, resurfaced runways and the addition of new landing pads to accommodate the jet’s ability to land vertically.


Ever since aircraft first operated to and from ships, the Royal Navy has been at the forefront of maritime aviation and the arrival of our first F35Bs in the UK today, flown by both RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots, is another important milestone on the way to restoring our place as leaders in the field of aircraft carrier operations.” First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones

Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, Cdre Andrew Betton speaks about F-35B arrival in UK.

from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Arrowhead V Leander – the leading Type 31e frigate candidates compared

The competition for the Type 31e frigate programme is now between two contenders. The BAE Systems/Cammel Laird Leander and the Babcock/Team 31 Arrowhead-140. Here we provide a basic comparison of the two options.

The competitive design phase contracts have been awarded and both designs are likely to evolve further before the Type 31 competition winner is announced in the first quarter of 2019. The chart below shows an overview of the essential characteristics of the two contenders. It should be noted that weapons and sensor fit (in the middle band) are all optional and the final selection may, or may not, include the equipment listed. With a very tight budget of £250M per ship, funding for the weapons fit maybe dependent on how efficiently the hulls can be constructed.

The Arrowhead-140 design announced last month has certainly raised the bar. For some time even before the birth of the Type 31e, there have been those advocating the adoption of the successful Danish Stanflex modular system as the basis for cheaper warships. As a proven, in-service and affordable design, it is even being suggested the Arrowhead could be a contender for the US Navy’s FFG(X) competition. It will be interesting to see if BAE Systems responds with a revised Super Leander, given the ‘on-paper’ inferiority of Leander to Arrowhead-140.

Prepared using publicly available information, June 2018.

from Save the Royal Navy

Saturday, 2 June 2018

On Her Majesty’s Nuclear Service – Book Review

£15.18 (Hardback)  £11.70 (Kindle)

2018 has seen the release of 3 separate new titles with a big focus on Royal Navy submarines. After The Deadly Trade comes On Her Majesty’s Nuclear Service, a fascinating personal memoir from Eric Thompson, a submarine engineer officer who served from 1961-1998.

This is an intensely enjoyable read, one man’s journey in the navy from schoolboy to commander of Faslane Naval base. The majority of naval officer memoirs are written by those who commanded ships or submarines but Eric Thompson was a naval engineer and leader, but never a CO. The book provides an alternative perspective on stories that overlap with other recent titles, in particular, Dan Conley’s Cold War Command which also covers the troubled development of RN torpedoes. There is also much discussion about the merits and failures of commanders that Thompson served under, echoing some of the leadership themes of Ryan Ramsey’s SSN14.

Thompson was initially reluctant to become an engineer but his eyesight ruled out a career in the warfare branch. He studied for 5 years at RENC Manadon before graduating to join the fleet as a submarine electrical officer. He modestly glosses over his obvious ability with the complexities of naval and nuclear engineering which are mastered only by an elite minority.

His first appointment in conventional submarine HMS Otter nearly ended his career, undermined by a bullying captain and unsupportive wardroom, Thompson attempted to resign. Further appointments to conventional boats – the elderly HMS Andrew and then HMS Osiris turned his career around, inspired by officers who understood real leadership and were keen to help and nurture others.

At the time those serving conventional submarines were seen very much as the second XI as the nuclear submarine fleet became the RN’s priority and Thompson feared being left behind. However, he developed a passion to improve the RN’s hopeless anti-submarine torpedoes which left the whole fleet almost toothless. He made the naval appointer’s day by requesting to go to False to work on torpedo development. Although it was a frustrating process complicated by commercial pressures, Civil Service politics, bad weather and unhelpful locals he played a part in the eventual success of Tigerfish. The modern and highly effective Spearfish that arms today’s submarines owes a lot to the work done by this team.

Thompson later trained as nuclear propulsion specialist and then served in HMS Conqueror on demanding missions in Soviet waters. Unwilling to take up a job in Chatham, he resigned from the navy and spent a very uncomfortable period working out his notice. During this time he played a part in the recovery of HMS Warspite when she suffered an engine room fire whilst alongside in Liverpool in 1976. (The most serious incident the RN’s nuclear fleet has ever experienced).

Short of people to crew the Polaris submarines, Thompson was offered a rare second chance to stay in the RN and serve aboard HMS Revenge. While the MEO of Revenge, she suffered a major steam leak and he was awarded an MBE for his actions that saved the boat from the disastrous consequences of having to terminate a nuclear deterrent patrol.

After coming ashore for good, Thompson spent time at the MoD, conducting further torpedo development work and finishing as a Commodore in command of the nuclear submarine base at Faslane, where diplomatic and political understanding were as important as technical skills.

An important thread that comes through in his story is a very strong relationship with a loving and supportive wife that gave him a confidence and bedrock that helped him endure tough times. On at least two occasions he put his naval career on the line for sake of his wife and family but managed to bend the Navy to his will, benefiting from being an experienced engineer which are always in short supply.

Thompson is an articulate and strong advocate of the nuclear deterrent which he gave a large part of his life to serving. The book devotes several pages of the closing chapter to making the case for Trident and its successor. Speaking about the CND protestors camped out around Faslane, he says:

“In the base we regarded ourselves as the true peace camp; theirs was a protest camp… As a member of the Armed Forces I was not allowed to engage in political activities, but boy did I want to remind the protestors that we had been at peace since 1945 thanks to our Nuclear Deterrent”.

This is a compelling story of a man’s life with high, lows and plenty of humour. Another recommended read for anyone interested in submarines, life in the navy or the Cold War period.

£15.18 (Hardback)  £11.70 (Kindle)

from Save the Royal Navy