Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Type 26 and credibility - update

Type 26, cost, delays, shipbuilding

There was a nasty stink in the air, with the River Batch 2 contract being ridiculously expensive and inclusive of a not better specified "suspension" of the TOBA agreements; with ministerial statements in the last while going in the wrong directions, and finally with the First Sea Lord being more than evasive on the subject. I had warned it was on the way, and as inexorable as taxes and death, here it comes: the Type 26 programme is struggling with costs and the Main Gate approval won't be within the planned timeline, but months late. Possibly, late enough that, in the meanwhile, the elections on May 7 and the 2015 SDSR could step in with full force and mess up the programme even worse, and slow it down further. 

It is frankly depressing to see that there isn't the confidence of being able to deliver these ships on acceptable cost figures, because, it is worth remembering, the Type 26 is a triumph of "design to cost" approach. In the sense that innovation in the design will be very, very limited, and there is planned to be a recycling strategy of second-hand equipment like i've never before seen in a warship programme.
Type 26 is going to be built as little more than a hull with engines, to inherit straight from retiring Type 23s:

- The CAMM / Sea Ceptor missile system whole;
- The Artisan 3D
- The navigation radars, if the 2016 installation for the fleet-wide replacement is confirmed.
- The light gun turrets
- The torpedo system
- Countermeasures, since it seems that to contain cost they are still going for the old school fixed tubes (a huge disappointment, as pretty much everyone is moving on to adjustable, trainable decoy launchers, more flexible and capable)
- The sonars. Surely the towed one, and according to some sources even the bow one.
- Possibly more other internal systems, from waste treatment to WEDCIS.

- Possibly the Communications Electronic Support Measures due to be added on the Type 23

I don't remember a single warship in the world being built as a new hull for such a high quantity of re-used stuff. The combat equipment's only new parts will be the main gun and, if they are indeed fitted, something which isn't even certain yet, the Strike VLS. There's also a huge, huge question mark over whether there will be an anti-ship missile on board, and what it might be. The Phalanx i'm not even counting since it smells of Fitted For But Not With from a ligh year of distance.

To contain costs further, the project settled for a CODELOG propulsion solution (nothing wrong on this per se, but a little more ambition could have brought to a CODELAG solution giving the ship more sprint when necessary); a medium-class radar (as good as it might be, that's what Artisan is) and a simplified, lower-than-Aster 15 performance SAM (very smart; i love how CAMM works, but again, it is a cheaper and less ambitious system with somewhat reduced performances), and still BAE can't stick to a reasonable cost...? 

Arguably all that could possibly be done to contain the cost in terms of role fit and high end equipment has been done, by pre-adopting everything via the Type 23 Capability Sustainment Programme, derisking the various pieces and literally acquiring them before the ship itself, to move them across later. 

In a further internal effort, the Royal Navy is building up a common computer infrastructure for the combat system of all its vessels, under the SC4S (Surface Combatant Common Core Combat System); it is due to standardize navigation radars on a new, common type (apparently the Kelvin Hughes Sharpeye) fleet-wide and is proceeding with the Future Maritime Radar Electronic Surveillance (FMRES) with the adoption of the the digital radar ESM (RESM) on all surface warships. 
Most, if not all of these systems will not only have been developed and de-risked and adopted by the time the first Type 26 is ready for fitting out, but will have actually already been in service for a while on the Type 23s and will be physically transfered from old to new hull. Since the passage from Type 23 to Type 26 is going to last for more than a decade (2022 to 2036, according to the plans seen so far), the equipment will be upgraded, no doubt, to some degree along the way, but in a quite common way over the two different hulls. No big revolution is expected, other than what could be afforded by the strike VLS and the new main gun. 

Even so, BAE was given a generous 127 million pounds for 4-years of design and development work in the contract signed 25 March 2010. The amount of money and time is fully compatible with the task: indeed, it is about the amount of money it cost to design three FREMM variants (the french one and the two italian versions!), so it is arguably even too generous. 

The reported unexpected weight growth had apparently prompted BAE to revise the Global Combat Ship webpage to signal a speed reduced by at least two knots, from 28+ to 26+. 
And the MOD, in front of the uncertainties on the costs, has awarded a 19 million (!!!) contract with McKinsey to provide an external audit about Type 26 between October 2014 and March 2015 (thanks to Tim Fisher, Shephard News, for the heads up). 
Taking a pause to evaluate things is probably the right thing to do as the Navy does not need cost escalations later on, but i'm increasinly frustrated by the horrendous amount of money that the MOD spends in external audits, assessments, counter-assessments, and assorted power point slides. I wish someone looked into these expenses very very closely, because i don't think there's another ministry spending so much for these things, in the whole wide world. 
The March 2015 date for the results of the external audit, anyway, looks like a tombstone on any hope to achieve a contract award before the elections. 
End edit

Sincerely, there isn't much left to be attempted to contain the cost of building these warships, other than changing the design and making them smaller and less capable by straight out deleting some parts. Something which is not desirable at all, since the ship really hasn't any evident gold plating that can be done without.  Quite the opposite: as it is now, the design really could do with some touch ups here and there, such as resurrecting the sunk elements of MIDAS (Maritime Integrated Defensive Aids Suite, the project for the modernisation of the Navy's decoys and countermeasures fit) to finally achieve parity with contemporary warship designs not just in terms of decoy rounds (thankfully, the Royal Navy is not lagging on these ones, and is working with France on new payloads such as ACCOLADE), but in terms of their deployment, via a modernized launcher.  
Besides, it must be noted that big changes to what is an almost frozen design at this point are likely to cost quite a lot of money and time.

In front of the unexpected cost issues in a programme which uniquely separates the ship from most of its expensive combat system and high end equipment, it becomes unsurprising to see potential partners basically vanishing away. Australia, which for a short while looked like the most realistic possible partner on the Global Combat Ship, has already packed up and
awarded a study contract for its next generation frigates to Navantia. 

Again, i must ask the painful question of whether, and for how much longer, this destructive game can be continued. If BAE shipyards can't deliver to acceptable, at least somewhat competitive prices when compared to other european yards, something must be done. Is BAE the problem? Bring someone else in at the head of the yards. Deliver a shock to the system. Introduce actual competition. Do something radical. Building hulls abroad might be unpopular and hit shipyard's workforce and even have a political bomb in it due to the awkwardness of the Scotland situation, but not doing it if things don't change is just a way to delay the end by another short while, at the cost of the Navy. 
Something has to change, period. If things continue to go south this way, both the navy and the shipyards will be destroyed, as the navy will get less and less warships year on year due to the high costs, and the yards will become even more unsustainable due to buidling less vessels, in a self-destructive circle in which things only get worse. 
The Type 26 programme has been conceived and structured as a "rebirth" project, in which as much of the risk as possible is removed, in which the rate of innovation is "20% new to 80% old, compared to Type 45 which was the exact opposite", in which there is, at least in the words, a complete focus on affordability and even on exportability. If even this fails, it is likely to be game over, or close to it. The navy has no more hulls to lose, and the shipyard consolidation is going to leave a single building line in a few years time. One. After that, only the zero remains. 

In the coming months, and ideally before the election, the Navy and BAE will have to make it work, in a way or another, because other big-ticket projects are being rushed to contract signature (Project Marshal signed reportedly 12 months early; FRES SV signed with the demonstration phase far from completed, and more expected to follow) and not having a signed piece of paper when the budget axe will be swinging is likely to be a very big issue. 


The First Sea Lord in recent months has talked a few times, and he always delivered some quite interesting speeches, even though i feel he did maintain a very vague line when asked about the obvious vulnerabilities and issues on the horizon. I understand he has serious limits to what he can say, but hiding the problems under the carpet is not going to solve them, and one day there will have to be a far more open and honest discussion about what the United Kingdom intends to do going ahead. 

For now, i'm going to focus on the concept of credibility, and its direct application to the Navy's escorts situation. 
In his interview with Vago Muradian at DefenseNews.com, the First Sea Lord reinstated his vision of the navy's credibility, to which he has stuck with admirable coherence ever since he got in charge: 

Q. What are the priorities you want to come out of the upcoming strategic defense and security review for the Navy?
A. The Navy has to be both credible and [have] balance. If you lose either of those qualities, you’re not in the first division and a very large-potted investment doesn’t make sense. The credibility is not judged by some pundit in a newspaper or magazine on warships. It’s judged by those who operate on those ships, and it’s judged by our potential enemies. So the quality of build, the quality of war-fighting equipment, the quality of the output effect from those platforms — subsurface, surface and air — has to be critical and the balanced force to keep part of that. If you have got the enabling elements of the construct as a whole, then you’re going to have a machine that works and gets respected. So my job is very simple: Stay credible and stay balanced, and that’s a very expensive bill for the nation to pay. But for a nation that has that ambition, and if you have ambition, you have to pay for it.

The general concept is hardly questionable. You can only agree with it. But, even being a pundit, and not even a newspaper one, but a blog one, i must ask how the concept translates into reality. The following question goes into Type 26 range, and the answer is the one which caused the FREMM speculation, since admiral Zambellas does not restrict the solution to one delivered by british yards. 

Q. Tell us how you’re maintaining affordability for the Type 26 frigate program?
A. It has to be a credible platform. We’ve set that condition, as the people who operate them, by setting a requirement we think is appropriate for these platforms. When you have a limited number of frigates to deploy worldwide, you have to be certain that you get huge utility out of them. You’ve got to be able to get the range. You have a flexibility. So if, for example, a brand new Type 26 is off the Somali coast doing counterpiracy, a relatively modest policing capability. The next thing is required to move to a hotter, more dangerous environment, you’re not in the position to say, “Oh, hang on; I’ll just change the crew. I’ll reconfigure this or that.”
You’ve got to be there. You’ve got to be able to do the job properly. So our starting point in this requirement is about credible platforms. We then place that requirement into the machine, and the acquisition process looks for a solution with the proper support to be able to give us what we need. The affordability question that comes from that depends on the best that industry can deliver. You’ll notice, I haven’t necessarily said that that’s the British industry, because the decision has not been made as to exactly what that solution to the requirement will be, and we wait to see what comes of it. But the Navy knows what it wants. It wants a credible platform with global reach and the sort of quality, particularly in ASW [anti-submarine warfare], to keep us right up there for the bigger and more important platforms.

I absolutely agree on the fact that Type 26 has got to be credible. And the design that we have seen so far has much good about it, and on paper is more than credible. The evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach is appreciable as well, as it contains risks and, supposedly, costs.
However, closer examination brings questions still searching for answers. On the equipment front, one big question is the Type 26's capability against enemy surface combatants, and its usefulness in influencing events ashore, even many miles inland. In equipment terms: is the strike VLS system going in, this time around, or will it be descoped, as it already happened with the Type 45? And what, if anything, will replace the old Harpoon, which itself hangs in the balance of things between a capability sustainment investment to stretch its life, or a speedy demise in 2018, potentially leaving the Royal Navy completely without a heavy anti-ship missile? 

These are two huge questions which directly affect the credibility of the Type 26. What will the ship actually be able to do to be credible and, moreover, to be useful in a "hotter, more dangerous area"? She can't do air area defence due to the limits of CAMM. Can she confidently engage enemy ships without depending solely by the light Sea Venom (FASGW(H)) missile carried by its embarked helicopter, or is it without an ASM weapon? Can it deliver usefulness against targets inshore by delivering some sort of deep strike? 
The ship is expected to have a 127 mm main gun which will deliver greater effect in Naval Gunfire Support, but we don't know if and when it will have modern guided, long range ammunition to deliver precision effect beyond the very coastal area. Will it have missiles on board to provide effects ashore? Again, no one knows. 

Much of the capability available to the ship will also depend on what helicopter it has on board when it gets the call to action. Merlin HM2 delivers excellent ASW capability, but only four helicopters at a time have an EO/IR turret and a DAS fit enabling them to venture in dangerous skies and survey surface targets. 
To this day, none of the Merlins has the ability to employ Sea Skua, nor is planned to receive the Sea Venom and / or LMM capability. So, a Type 26 embarking a Merlin HM2, without future improvements to the helicopter, would be severely limited in ASuW and in any use of the helicopter ashore, unless the embarked helicopter was, luckily, one of the four fitted with the DAS and EO/IR turret. 
If it had Wildcat, it could be well placed for ASuW (even though i don't think Sea Venom is a replacement for an heavy, hard-hitting ship-mounted ASM missile which is available for launch without depending from the helicopter being available and ready for take off), but the Wildcat is not going to have sonar and sonobuoys, so if the need of the moment was ASW, the ship would not really achieve credibility without doing some changes to what is on board. 

Notably, the Type 26, like the Type 23, is planned to be an ASW hunter first and foremost. That is what is driving the design: the need for an acoustically quiet, long-endurance ASW vessel. 
Even so, only 8 of a planned 13 ships are due to have the 2087 towed sonar which is the most important detection tool. So, if the mission was ASW but the closest frigate was one of the "tail-less" ones, credibility would once more be seriously reduced.
Maximum ASW credibility could only be achieved by a frigate with the 2087 and a Merlin HM2 on board.

Considering all these factors, what is credibility about, at the end of the day? And how can it ever be realistically expected that a ship deployed on a standing task will have all it needs, in equipment and training, to be able to respond to a "hot" crisis popping up, without having to properly prepare? 

Again, i might be a pundit, but to me, here is the problem. I don't consider this a realistic approach, at least not for the Royal Navy that is taking shape, because too many of the capabilities are held by one specific platform alone. There is no Arleigh Burke here.
The complete dualism between Wildcat HMA2 and Merlin HM2 is, to me, foolish, and is an image of the problems in the force structure.
I can see why Wildcat would not have a dipping sonar and sonobuoys, which are expensive, complex, would take up all the space in the cabin and cost a lot in money and human resources to fill a role which, while all-important, is relatively less likely to be exercised out of the blue. A major crisis against an enemy with a credible submarine force, in other words, should only happen with a reasonable warning time, one would expect, and it would anyway require an answer much better thought out than the movement of a lone frigate from a standing task to the frontline. 
Much less acceptable is the fact that even after the HM2 upgrade, Merlin is so limited in anything other than chasing subs, save for the UOR-fitted 4 Merlins used in the Gulf. 

Credibility is achieved by the fleet as a whole construct, more than by a single ship. Being classed a frigate and weighting several thousand tons does not equate to credibility if the actual pieces of the puzzle are missing. 
Especially if the few frigates available are scattered far and wide, forever taken up by standing tasks which often could be covered just as well by lower end ships. 
I don't believe in the credibility of the ship just because it is classed a "frigate" just like i do not believe in the credibility of defence diplomacy only if done by brigadiers, admirals and air marshals (one justification often heard when the huge number of top brass is questioned). I don't think the countries the UK engages with are actually so dumb and primitive to be enchanted by the mere rank on the uniform without looking beyond it to take a look at the actual capability output that the officer represents. 

It is not so much the the lone ship, it is the task force that the Royal Navy could deploy and sustain far from home that gives the Navy its rank and its credibility.

Before Type 26 became the programme it now is, the Royal Navy had been following a different path which had, in my opinion, a lot of merit. While unaffordable in the numbers it had been conceived with, i believe the concept recognized some base truths. 
That concept was one of a two-tiered fleet, supported by a third tier, of patrol-capable MCM and hydrographic vessels. It was about building 10 "C1" high end combat ships, with ASW focus; supported by 8 "C2" ships, capable but oriented to more "general purpose" tasking, and then C3, the multi-mission replacement for current MCM, survey and patrol ships, which kind of survives still under the MHPC name. 

Type 26 is born out of the fusion of C1 and C2 into a single class of 13 hulls, 8 of which fully kitted, and 5 of which missing, basically, the towed sonar. A repeat of the current Type 23 fleet, in other words. 
This approach has a few advantages: it avoids the costs of two separate designs and programmes, and builds on the fact that, the late ships in a series build are always less expensive than the first, giving a bit of a downward slope in costs. Crucially, having a single programme removes the challenges of having a second one approved and funded, and removes the risk of the two programmes entering in direct conflict in the budgetary battle. 
The problem with this approach is that there will only be 8 Type 26 fully equipped, too few to meet the requirement, while the five others (if they ever get built, which is far from a certainty...) will have all the cost and complexity of an ASW high end frigate but an handicapped equipment. They will still require a "large" (Type 26 is actually expected to be very lean manned, but a less ambitious ship could do with less personnel and, critically, with less highly technical rates) crew with the expense that this entail, and their credibility will always be only partial. 
Modern wars, in fact, tend to be "come as you are" situations, and it is quite complex to envisage a scenario which requires the additional ASW hulls but gives you the time to procure, fit and commission the mission sonars and pieces. 

We have to ask ourselves if this is actually helpful. 

The First Sea Lord has substantially said he opposes the idea of building a second tier flottilla. In August this year, while speaking in the US, he said: 

“You aim for high end and you accept the risk your footprint’s reduced globally… I absolutely reject the idea of an ostensibly [larger] number of smaller platforms that might have a wider footprint.”
Yes, the Sea Lord said, the UK could invest in what’s called a high-low mix, buying many cheap ships suited to “constabulary” operations off Somalia and a few expensive ships in case of major war. “The danger with that is when you are needed to perform a high end — and therefore a strategically valuable — task alongside a partner, you find that your low-end capability doesn’t get through the gate,” Zambellas said. “You lose out on the flexibility and authority associated with credible platforms.”

Quote from BreakingDefense.com  article on the conference

It is, again, a concept with merit. But, when looking at the details, many questions pop up. Several questions we have already covered. Another key question is how credible it is to have a navy which has its precious, high end warships spread all over the world on standing tasks which are fundamental to the country but techinically not suited for the high end combat vessels. My opinion is that the credibility of the platform might be good, but the credibility of the navy is badly hurt, because it has to respond to Libya by using ships about to be decommissioned, and because in years it hasn't been able to exercise a proper complete task group for lack of escorts, all busy elsewhere. 
When you can't attach a frigate, an air defence destroyer and the proper logistic ships to your primary war tool, the Response Force Task Group, your credibility sinks. Cougar 14 has been the lowest point in history, in this sense.

I agree that attempting to start a specific programme for a "lower end" frigate is not going to work, in the UK. In France and Italy, where the fleet is already two-tiered, it is relatively straightforward to make separate cases for supporting the modernisation of both tiers. In the UK, where only the High Tier remains, reintroducing a secondary fleet would go entirely to the detriment of the first class ships. A resurrection of C2, in other words, is highly likely to be impossible.

It must also be remembered that a second tier ship would be, of course, limited in the range of tasks it can cover when things get hot. However, a balanced fleet can’t be made of sole high-end warships. If we take a look at the Royal Navy’s daily tasks, there are several which do not require the presence of a Type 45 or a frigate. The Atlantic Patrol Tasking North, in the Caribbean, would be best served with a cheaper OPV, ideally forward based in Bermuda. This would at one stroke remove quite a bit of stress from the rest of the fleet. Operation ATALANTA is another task that does not really require a full sized frigate. Gibraltar could be the base of another OPV / second tier vessel which would deliver much wished for political reassurance, while being available to restore a more visible british presence in the Mediterranean and along the western coast of Africa, an area which has been growing in importance and an area which could get progressively hotter if the piracy in the gulf of Nigeria escalates further.

A number of other presence and defence engagement tasks could be covered by less ambitious warships, if they were available. Relieving the high end warships of some of these tasks would help frigates and destroyers being available for commitments of greater importance. The high end warships should still have a lot to cover, so any pressure removed from their duties is a big gain:

-          Operation Kipion in the Gulf; here, the risk is always high, and arguably the Royal Navy should maintain one Type 45 and one ASW frigate in the area enduringly. To achieve this aim, the Royal Navy is now extending to 9 months the duration of deployment in the area, with a mid-deployment crew rest and ship maintenance “break” in Bahrain.
-          South Atlantic Patrol Tasking; an ASW frigate, with its all-around capability is excellent reassurance. The Royal Navy is extending South Atlantic deployments to 9 months as well, on the same model used in the Gulf.
-          Towed Array Patrol Ship; an ASW frigate with 2087 “tail” kept at readiness in home waters to support the deterrent and the effort against sneaky Russian subs probing the waters around the UK. A task rarely mentioned, but one that should have gotten a lot more important with the (inexcusable) loss of the maritime patrol aircraft
-          Fleet Ready Escort; one warship at high readiness for deployment worldwide
-          Standing NATO RF Maritime Groups; which in the new cold climate with Russia are returning to the fore. The Royal Navy has been unable to do much for the groups since 2012, but now they are again in the top slots in the list.

Finally, the ever important task of being actually available for what is the Navy’s true answer to a crisis, the Response Force Task Group. The Credibility of the Navy is best served by being able to deploy and train a coherent task force including at least one destroyer for air area defence and at least one ASW frigate for anti-surface, anti-submarine defence and for naval gunfire support and other supporting roles. The sight of the capital ships Bulwark and Ocean going around without escort is not my idea of credibility. Not at all. And when the carrier capability is finally restored, the lack of escorts will be even more unacceptable.

The extension of deployments to Kipion and South Atlantic help in covering more ground with limited resources by reducing the number of ship rotations, and cutting down on transfer times as the same vessel stays in the area for longer.
However, even with a break in the middle, it is still a 9 months stint for the same crew. It is probably the time for testing again the practice of sea-swapping the crew of major warships, because if it could be made to work, the same ship could stay deployed at least one year, while the crew would rotate to keep the pressure on personnel more bearable.
The germans are notoriously building presence warships, the F-125 frigates, which are designed specifically to deploy abroad for a whole 2 years, while the crews are rotated every four to six months.
The Royal Navy’s warships haven’t been designed for such use, but it might be possible to achieve a 12 month time on station, with the right approach. Going ahead, it might become unavoidable to try again: the RN made a first try back in 2007, swapping the crews of two Type 42 destroyers: HMS Exeter’s crew was flown from Britain to the Falklands to relived in place the crew of HMS Edinburgh which was to spend 10 months in South Atlantic. In the same period, the US Navy made its own trials, but at the time it was assessed that difficulties with maintenance and the impact on morale of detaching crews from their very own ship were too serious to go ahead with the concept.
However, the US Navy has signaled last year that Sea Swap might make a return, and the 9 months deployment for the Royal Navy might be a step in the same direction. Newer ships, new infrastructure in Bahrain and a ever growing use of training in land-based “warship simulators” might make times mature for a new attempt, successful this time.
After all, Sea Swap is not new per se: the MCM crews rotate onto deployed ships regularly. The OPV crews, including of course HMS Clyde’s, do the same. The RFA vessels spend years deployed abroad, rotating crews, and so do the survey vessels. Clearly, a complex high end warship is a different story, but I highly doubt it can’t be made to work.

The other way to ease the problem, is the second tier fleet. The first chance the RN gets to adopt a small second-tier flotilla is connected to the incoming River Batch 2 class of OPVs, of which i've already talked at length. Here, the optimist in me is hoping that the incoming deployment of HMS Severn to the Caribbean is not just a desperation move of a navy terribly stretched in manpower and hulls, but a way to plan for a future in which the new OPVs are put in service to cover some of the constabulary tasks that are the navy's everyday job. These ships are being built regardless of any other consideration, and I firmly believe that a serious effort must be expended to get the best operational value out of them and of the still young Batch 1s already in service. 

The incoming River Batch 2

The second opportunity, in the longer term, is the C3 / MHPC. 
The first MHPC vessel is planned to be procured in 2028, and this is interesting because, with the plan for 13 Type 26 stretching well into the 2030s, it would imply simultaneous work on two quite large programmes. Possibly the explanation is that MHPC as currently envisaged, while having a patrol capability, will have such a limited “combat” element to it that it won’t rate between the “complex warships” which require the single “frigate factory” plant planned on the Clyde. In fact, it would be nice to know more about how the future of shipbuilding is seen at the MOD: while plans never survive the impact with the enemy (budget), it is interesting to think that, in theory, the building of MARS FSS should start quite soon (since the Forts are supposed to leave service by the middle of the 2020s). Simultaneously, Type 26 should be ongoing. At some point in the 2020s, Argus and Diligence will need replacement, and in 2028 the replacement of the MCM ships should begin with the MHPC.
How all these tassels fit into the british shipbuilding situation isn’t clear, as of today, and the feeling is that, for the logistic vessels at least, building the hulls abroad will be the choice of the day, as has happened with MARS FT.
In theory, in the early 2030s the LPDs Albion and Bulwark will also be in need of a replacement, while the complex combat ship of the late 2030s, after the ending of the Type 26 build, would probably be a replacement for the Type 45.

My proposal for credibility and affordability is to cap Type 26 at 10 hulls, like the once planned C1. All ten of these hulls will have to be properly equipped as ASW frigates, inclusive of 2087. This is because where the Navy needs credible combat ships, an handicapped frigate won’t really do. These frigates are built to be ASW and ASuW vessels: let them be what they must be.
After that, put a greater focus on MHPC. A separate C2 programme is not realistic, but the mistake in my opinion was to mix C1 and C2 into the same class by merely handicapping some of the vessels in it. There is another programme which is going to happen for sure, because of the specialized roles it goes to cover: C2 should have been merged with C3. MHPC is expected to be a decently sized ship (at least 3000 tons) which will have large cargo and work space in the stern for carrying modular MCM and Survey payloads. It will have a flight deck and, differently from the Rivers, a good hangar. The ship is planned to have good sea legs and be globally deployable, but so far it has been described as having very light armament, probably just a 30 mm gun in OPV fashion.
This self-inflicted limiting factor, however, is relatively easily corrected: one only has to look to ships like the Khareef, built in Britain, to see that it is possible, at low cost, to uplift the potential of a modest hull and give it firepower adequate to be credible in a far larger range of circumstances. The UK, besides, has the advantage of CAMM, a very, very clever missile system which can be installed with minimum effort pretty much on any ship. A MHPC with a 76mm gun and a small battery of CAMM won’t make a frigate, but it will become credible for a much wider range of tasks. And it will have greater usefulness in keeping the yards busy and in preserving skills between the end of Type 26 and the beginning of the next major surface combatant project which, history suggests, will be late as the Type 45s will have their life stretched again and again for lack of cash.

The conclusion to my reasoning is that when having more high end warships is not a viable option because there’s no budget and no manpower for them,  the only way to cover more ground with less frigates is to make sure that the few hulls available are truly capable and only employed in the tasks they are meant for.
The credibility of the Navy is the task group, with its full range of capabilities, not the frigate hurriedly stolen from a standing task to be sent at speed towards a crisis.
The high end warships must be there for the task group, for the “hotter” standing tasks, for training for their actual, very demaning roles, and for showing the flag in NATO groups, so that they can actually respond to a developing crisis.
There are other ways to cover less demanding standing tasks.  

When people thinks back to the “want of frigates” of admiral Lord Nelson, they should realize that, back in his days, the Ships of the Line were today’s Type 45 and 23/26, and the frigates were the second tier flottilla. 
He did not ask for more Ships of the Line.
He asked for more workhorses to act as forward presence, as eyes and ears for the fleet, so that he could survey many places, and lead the Ships of the Line timely into decisive actions only where they could achieve the actual victory.

It is still a valid concept today, as it was back then. 

And i'm hoping that the First Sea Lord, in his experience, realizes this. I like to believe that he is showing us his best poker face, talking in a way that protects the Type 26, but with his mind planning ahead to give it some helping hands.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Experimenting to shape the future?

Interesting news from the Royal Navy today: for the first time ever, a River OPV of the Fishery Protection Squadron is about to sail across the Atlantic to take up the Caribbean standing task role from the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll.
HMS Severn is preparing to sail from Portsmouth later this autumn to make the long transit to the North Atlantic station, Navy News reports. It came as a total surprise when i read of it, and while it smells of overstretch from far, far away, it also comes with a seed of opportunity for the future in itself, because the optimistic way to read this news is that the Navy might very much be starting to warm up seriously to the idea of making wider use of OPVs in constabulary tasks. With three new OPVs being built, and a decision to be made next year on whether it is worth (and possible) to keep them in addition to the current Rivers or not, this deployment takes on a whole new level of meaning.
As my regular readers know, i'm a big fan of the idea of keeping the River batch 2s in addition to the current ones, to help plug the gaps. Indeed, i'm quite a believer in the two-tier fleet, to a degree, as i think it is the only realistic option to keep filling standing tasks while having a true capability to respond to a crisis popping up, which is what the Navy is there for.
My earlier discussion on the River Batch 2 and its possible uses is here. I'll warn you, it is long. But i think it is genuinely worth reading, if you have an interest in this matter. 

Navy News photo of HMS Severn and HMS Tyne training together

Before anyone says it in the comments, yes, i am very much aware that, in the worst case, the Royal Navy will have to replace the current Rivers and eventually try to cover both Fishery Protection in home waters and some standing tasks abroad with the same 3 batch 2 hulls. It is a possibility, and in a way the most disappointing one, as, like a too short blanked, it can be pulled to cover the feet or the face, but not both at once, and would effectively be a cut to Home Waters coverage, pure and simple. 

It is worth noticing, about this very considerations, that barely months ago the government published its National Strategy for Maritime Security document which repeatedly quotes a joint RUSI/DSTL study (Future Coastal and Offshore Maritime Enforcement, Surveillance and Interdiction Study, RUSI & DSTL, 26 July 2013) which evidenced that the law enforcement in UK waters is already being done with fewer assets than elsewhere, and that no further reduction should take place. Release dated May 2014.
Now the same assets are being asked to cross the Atlantic as well, and it is clear that, when one of three ships is on the other side of the ocean, capability in home waters is reduced.
The Strategy also notes that the relevance of shipping is growing steadily, and implies that, as the demand for security increases, capability will have to be reviewed in light of the greater task. No, of course they won't say it has to catch up, that would be a too clear call for action.  But the meaning is, in the end, the same.

It is government policy.

So it basically has little actual value, yes, since they will of course do the opposite of what they say, as always.
But still, one has to try and hope that the SDSR 2015 will have some room for common sense.

In the meanwhile, fair winds and following seas to ship and crew for this unusually long deployment!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Air Assault Task Force in ARMY 2020

16 Air Assault brigade has been losing several pieces over the past months, and some others will be formally lost by year's end, completing an impressive exodus of units from the brigade, which is restructuring on a smaller ORBAT laser focused on the high readiness intervention role. Some press reports have denounced the big reductions, but they did not make a real good job of detailing how the brigade is actually restructuring. To be fair, as always, the MOD and the Army aren't really helpful in keeping the public informed in a timely and complete way. Information, as often happens in these cases, has to be pieced together from separate mentions in different publications.

16 Air Assault brigade has been losing:

- 5 SCOTS battalion, disbanded with the exception of the sole Balaclava Company, on public duty in Edinburgh from July 2014
- 9 Regiment Army Air Corps, left the brigade in December 2013 to prepare for the merge with 1st Regiment AAC and the transfer to Yeovilton to become Aviation Reconnaissance Force with the new Wildcat helicopter.
- 1st and 2nd battalion Royal Irish, to formally leave the brigade by the end of the year to assume their role in the Adaptable Force
- Household Cavalry Regiment, and in particular D Sqn, have lost their affiliation to the brigade as the regiment focuses on the pure Armoured Cavalry role

The reduction in the number of infantry battalions is connected to the return to contingency: 16 Air Assault brigade is meant to be removed from the normal deployment cycle and to be instead used to constantly provide the Air Assault Task Force at high readiness for independent action and/or for Air Manoeuvre support to ground brigades withing larger operations.
As a consequence of the reduction in the number of infantry battalions, cuts have been imposed on the support elements within the brigade:

- 7 Royal Horse Artillery has lost V Bty (disbanded) and H (Ramsay's Troop) Bty (transferred to 1st Royal Horse Artillery and transformed into a Precision Fires Battery with M270B1 GMLRS). The artillery regiment has restructured on two gun batteries completed with air control teams and Fire Support Teams, plus HQ Battery:

i Parachute Bty (Bull’s Tp) HQ Bty
F(Sphinx) Bty
G (Mercer’s Troop) Bty

- 13 Air Assault Support Regiment Royal Logistic Corps has grown from around 500 to 650 men, but in large part due to taking under command 47 Air Despatch Squadron in Brize Norton.
The regiment lost one Air Assault Squadron (15 Sqn, disbanded) but took command of 65 Sqn. The final structure is:

24 HQ Sqn
63 Air Assault Sqn   [supported 2 PARA in high readiness up to May 2014]
82 Air Assault Sqn   [took up readiness role alongside 3 PARA in May 2014]
47 Air Despatch Sqn (Brize Norton)
65 Air Assault Support Sqn 

63 and 82 Air Assault squadrons rotate together with the two regular PARA battalions to form the High Readiness battlegroup. 

- 23 Air Assault Regiment Royal Engineers lost its HQ squadron (12 (Nova Scotia) Sqn), and concentrated command and command support elements directly into the two remaining deployable squadrons, which rotate into readiness for one year at a time. 

9 Parachute Squadron
51 Parachute Squadron
299 Parachute Squadron (Reserve) [initially thought to pass under command of 21 Regiment Royal Engineers while continuing to support the PARA, it should now stay under direct command of 23 Regt] 

Indicatively, a squadron of some 135 men, plus reserves and attachments, is rotated constantly into readiness as part of the Air Assault Task Force. 

- 156 Provost Company Royal Military Police is being restructured as part of the wider reorganization of the military police. As explained in an earlier article, the company will remain as part of 16 Air Assault brigade but will be taken into 4 Regiment RMP. Once organized on two platoons, with No 2 parachute trained, it is now formed into three platoons which alternate in training, policing and high readiness PARA role. The platoon is some 28 strong. 

- 16 Close Support Medical Regiment is formed by two Air Manoeuvre Medical Squadrons, each providing a ROLE 2 Medical Surgical Group. Each Squadron has around 60 men, and a Surgical Group indicatively provides a 4-table resuscitation facility, a 2-table field surgical team, a 2-bed intensive care ward and 2 high dependency beds plus supporting elements and personnel (X Ray and CT scanners etcetera). Air and truck mobile, these surgical groups are also employed in support to Special Forces. 

An Air Assault Medical Support Squadron with around 90 men provides

Quartermaster's dept, Motor Transport, REME Light Aid Detachment, communications troop, Chefs and catering, the AGC(SPS) RAO det (clerks), the Regimental Training Wing and the administration of Regimental Headquarters.

The regiment also has 144 Parachute Squadron (Reserve) in support. 

19 Air Manoeuvre Medical Squadron
23 Air Manoeuvre Medical Squadron
181 Air Assault Medical Support Squadron 
144 Parachute Medical Squadron (Reserve)  

19 and 23 Squadrons, with the support of 181 and 144, rotate into readiness to supply the Air Manoeuvre Medical Group within the Air Assault Task Force. 

- 216 (Parachute) Squadron Royal Signals with an Army 2020 establishment of 166 All Ranks, the squadron has reorganized on 3 Troops during 2013, reforming the previously cadreised Charlie Troop. 216 is the only Brigade Signal Squadron left after the Army 2020 restructuring which centralized all other signal squadrons into regiments. It is also the only signal squadron left in the army with a direct Life Support role for the brigade HQ.

Alpha and Bravo troops supply communications and set up the HQs and provide them life support. Charlie Troop provides Out Dets and Rebroadcasting Detachments, mobile thanks to parachutable quad-bikes and other light vehicles. The Squadron deploys Tactical Network Gateways which enable Bowman to SICF (France's own system) communications and deliver Share Point, Chat, Email and share situational awareness via Bowman's ComBAT application. 

Alpha and Bravo, with Charlie elements plus supports (Motor Transport, REME LAD detachment etcetera) alternate into high readiness within the Air Assault Task Force, some 75 men at a time. 

Alpha Troop
Bravo Troop
A and B Troops alternate in the Ops and Mission Specific Training (MST) roles.
Charlie Troop – Reformed in 2013
Delivers Out Dets and Rebroadcasting Dets
Support Troop
MT/LAD Troop 

- Joint Helicopter Force (Contingency) is the main aviation element in the Air Assault Task Force, and basically is one of the two Attack Helicopter Regiments. 
3rd AAC and 4th AAC regiments rotate into readiness one year at a time. The regimental HQ provides a field-deployable tactical aviation command, while one Apache squadron delivers the firepower.

Each of the two AAC regiments is reorganizing on two deployable Apache squadrons (down from 3), one of which will be at readiness in connection with the AATF, and the other with the Royal Navy's Response Force Task Group, to support the amphibious battlegroup of the Royal Marines Commando.  

654 Squadron AAC has disbanded in July, leaving 4th Regiment with the sole 656 and 664 Squadrons. 
3rd Regiment is covering the last Afghan deployment while beginning to restructure for Army 2020: next year it will be down to 2 deployable squadrons itself. However, the third squadron will not be disbanded, but instead re-roled to Operational Training Squadron, delivering Conversion To Role training and support to exercises. 

Apache FARP operations simulation

Waiting to see the exact impact in terms of manpower and, in the future, the impact in terms of Apache numbers, since there's a Capability Sustainment Programme incoming and normally this is funded reducing numbers (from 66 to 50 pretty much for sure, hopefully not further down), note that in terms of deployable squadrons this is a reduction of only one, since, effectively, one squadron has been tied down with CTR training already for years. 

Apache Conversion To Role training to achieve Limited Combat Ready status for the crews is a complex and lenghty business. Conversion To Type training lasts some 6 months in Middle Wallop, with simulators and flights with 673 Sqn, but CTR lasts 7,5 months and includes a series of demanding exercises which have always required the selection of a "framework" squadron supplying the machines and tools for the activities. 
In late 2009 a review of training methods decided to permanently attach the Air Manoeuvre Training and Advisory Team (AMTAT) to 656 Squadron and remove it from the deployable rotation to use it for training. 

The CTR phase includes patrol drills, a period of theatre specific tactics training, an Electronic Warfare phase called Lightning Force, flown at RAF Spadeadam, and the final 8-weeks test, in the US ranges, under the banner of exercise Crimson Eagle. 
Lightning Force comprises a minimum of 3 sorties on the electronic range of Spadeadam: on the first sortie, crews are faced by the MALINA IR missile simulator, which gives them a taste of war by "exciting" the Apache's IR defensive system and giving them smoke plumes simulating a SAM launch, so that evasion manoeuvres can be trialed. 
The second sortie exposes the crews to radar threats, and the third is a complex scenario including both. 
Crimson Eagle is the final big test, which sees the squadron basing in austere field conditions normally on Gila Bend Auxiliary Field, an USAF emergency landing strip for aircraft using the nearby massive Barry M. Goldwater range, Arizona. This hot area of desert sees the Apache put to the test for weeks of complex, all out training. 
It is obvious that the CTR phase requires very substantial resources to be available, so an Operational Training Squadron focusing on this part of the job makes sense. 
656 Sqn has been in the role since 2009, and it also took up the role of shipboard operations authority for the Apache, as well as the role for providing a handful of helicopters at readiness for contingency operations while the rest of the Apache community tackled the enduring committment to Afghanistan. This is why 656 deployed with 4 and later 5 Apache helicopters on HMS Ocean in 2011 for operations over Libya. 

653 Squadron, from 3rd Regiment AAC, will take up the role of Operational Training Squadron during 2015. 
Other changes in the Apache Force include the decentralization of REME and Aircraft resources. In recent times, again to sustain the strain of constant operations in Afghanistan, the Apache force, like the Chinook and Lynx forces, had ended up pooling the helicopters and giving up the squadron's own REME sections to form centralized pools of resources from which the various squadrons would draw to cover the needs of the day. 

Over 2015, however, the Apache squadrons will take back ownership of their own Apache helicopters, and will reform their own Close Support Sections REME as the force transitions to the new cycle of readiness of Army 2020. 
A Close Support Section will have over 30 REME technicians plus some RLC personnel from 132 Aviation Support Sqn RLC, and other supporting personnel, including from the RAF and/or from the Navy, typically from the Fleet Air Arm's 1710 Squadron (earlier known as Mobile Aircraft Support Unit, MASU) which is specialized in helicopter combat damage repair, modification and forensic support for all three services.
7 Battalion REME supplies a further 10 men, forming a Forward Repair Group with specialist in 2nd Line Equipment Support and Maintenance (more details later). 
The Close Support Section REME deploys with a number of trucks carrying a Deployable Spares Package for the squadron, plus one truck carrying tooling and another with an "office" module with secure, ruggedised computers containing all aircraft's manuals and technical documentations.  

3rd Regiment AAC
662 Sqn
663 Sqn

4th Regiment AAC
656 Sqn
664 Sqn 

673 Sqn (Middle Wallop) CTT training
653 Sqn (Wattisham) Operational Training Squadron (CTR) 

More details and information on the Apache regiments and on the whole of the Army Air Corps is available in this earlier article.

 - Other aviation support will come from the RAF's Support Helicopter Force, comprising Puma HC2 and Chinook squadrons. The Support Helicopter Force can also express its own field deployable tactical HQ when needed. The force comprises 33 and 230 Sqns with the Puma HC2 with a forward fleet of 22 helicopters, and the squadrons 7, 18 and 27 with the Chinook. 

The Chinook squadrons are organized on three flights each (A, B, C) wiht C Flight, 18 Sqn being the Operational Conversion Flight doing the crew training for the type. However, with the fleet expanding as the 14 new HC6 helicopters enter service, there is an ambition to stand up a fourth squadron in RAF Benson, and move the training there. Benson already has the simulators and classrooms, and with the Merlin HC3 to progressively leave for Yeovilton to serve in the Navy, Benson has free infrastructure that in Odiham simply isn't available to properly support the HC6 arrival. 
Unconfirmed reports suggest Chinooks will move into Benson in mid 2015 and over 2016. One of the two Merlin HC3 squadrons (78, already disbanded and 28 expected to disband next year), which are disbanding, might resurrect as a Chinook unit. 

Even at the peak of activity in Afghanistan (11 helicopters constantly in theatre), 1 Chinook was always maintained on very high readiness for emergency tasking within the UK, while 4 more are ready to deploy at 2 days notice to move. With the end of the Afghan marathon, the readiness cycle can expect to be restructured to better align with 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3rd Commando brigades' own cycles. 

When the HC6 are all active, the RAF will have around 60 operational Chinooks and 86 crews. Good thing, because the Chinook is always high in demand, and at least 20 Chinook loads equivalents are needed to move even a single airmobile battalion.

Maintenance, differently from what happens with the Apache, seems set to remain centralized in what is known as Expeditionary Chinook Engineering Squadron (ExCES). This formation, some 300 strong and formed into 3 Maintenance Flights of 70 men, has been obtained by merging together the maintenance sections of the frontline squadrons. 

The Army Air Corps Aviation Reconnaissance Force, made up by 1st and 5th Regiments, will provide Wildcat helicopters and Defender fixed-wing aircraft task lines. One Defender task-line is kept at readiness to deploy around the world where necessary, and these aircraft are also used extensively in support to training. 

The 1st Regiment, once the merge of 1st and 9th regts is completed (by October 2015, barring delays) and the Wildcat operational (IOC declared in August 2014 but work up still ongoing), is supposed to have four deployable squadrons, plus one training squadron. Closely connected to the regiment there will also be the Royal Marines's own Wildcat AH1 squadron, 847 NAS. 

1st Regiment is expected to maintain all of the squadrons of the current 1st and 9th regiments. If there aren't changes to the plan, the result would so be: 

652 Sqn - the first AAC unit to field Wildcat, will be the training squadron 

661 Sqn
659 Sqn
669 Sqn
672 Sqn  

The Wildcat might also be used by 671 Sqn in Middle Wallop depending on how training will be organized. 671 currently delivers Conversion To Type training for the Lynx, Bell 212 and Gazelle. The Wildcat replaces the Lynx AH7 next year (the Lynx AH9A will stay in service at least out to 2018), but it is not clear if 652 will deliver all the training in Yeovilton or if there will be an enduring separation, with 652 deliver Operational training (Conversion To Role) and 671 delivering Conversion To Type. This is not yet know, at least not outside the Army's circles. 

Reserve groundcrew of 6 Regiment AAC training with 652 Sqn's Wildcat

The squadrons, including 847 NAS, will draw their helicopters from a central pool comprising all of the 34 Army Wildcat AH1 machines. 
Maintenance Resources will also be centralized in the Regiments's Manoeuvre Support Squadron, comprising a Forward (deployable) line of maintenance and support teams, and an Echelon line for 2nd line equipment support. 
847 NAS will have its own team of technicians embedded into the Manoeuvre Support Squadron, but being navy qualified and trained specifically for shipboard operations, will remain connected to 847 for deployments. All other personnel will be more loosely assigned to deploying squadrons as necessary. 

This builds on the experience made with the Lynx AH9A in support of Afghanistan needs. In the last few years, the squadrons have been flying the legacy Lynx AH7 when outside of the Afghanistan deployment cycle. Only the AH9A, with its more powerful engines and upgrades, has been used by Afghan-deployed squadrons. 
Squadrons have been moving onto the AH9A for pre-deployment training and for deployment, and they have then passed the 9A to the following squadrons, going back to the AH7s. The helicopters have all been pooled together, and so have maintenance resources. 

In particular, the 22 AH9A have been shared in two separate pools, actually. 12 machines have been assigned to the "green" squadrons (including 847 NAS) (4-5 deployed in Afghanistan; 4 in the UK for pre-deployment training with the remaining three undergoing maintenance at any one time), while the remaining ten helicopters have been assigned to use by "another unit", which is widely expected to be the secretive 657 Sqn, Joint Special Forces Support Wing, RAF Odiham.  
One AH9A of 657 Sqn has been lost to a tragic crash in Afghanistan earlier this year, with the loss of five lives

The Lynx AH9A is expected to continue serving at least out to 2018 with 657 Sqn as the other units convert completely to the Wildcat, with the Lynx AH7 withdrawn from service already next year. 
In 2011, the Wildcat contract was about to be modified to include four additional and four re-purposed helicopters, to generate a small fleet of 8 "Light Assault Helicopters" believed to have been meant to re-equip 657 Sqn. The contract modification was announced by ministers and costed by the NAO, but it soon vanished from the radars and has never been mentioned again, with the 4 additional helicopters removed as quickly as they were added (the MOD, in all recent Wildcat articles, always talks of 62 machines, not of 66). 

Speculation abunds on why this happened, but solid information is next to non existant. Reportedly, the director Special Forces did not appreciate what the Wildcat LAH had to offer. However, as a consequence of the Wildcat rejection, the requirement for between 8 and 10 helicopters for 657 Sqn for special forces support, which has been mentioned already when the SDSR 2010 was in the works, remains without a clear long term solution. The Lynx AH9A, which employs the same engines of the Wildcat, could be further extended to 2022, it has been suggested, but some kind of solution for an actual replacement will have to be found, or 657 Sqn might just vanish and get nothing, with the well known budgetary climate the forces have to contend with.

- 7 Battalion REME delivers specialist second line equipment support to the Army's aviation, including UAVs. The battalion also controls the 132 Squadron Royal Logistic Corps, which delivers aviation logistics. Finally, the battalion includes the 8 Field Company, 16 Air Assault's very own REME unit. 

The battalion has three Aviation Companies in Wattisham, but one of them (73 Avn Coy) is due to transfer to Yeovilton to directly support 1st Regiment AAC and its Wildcats. The move was to be already ongoing, but it has been slowed down with a new target of autumn 2015. 
71 and 72 Avn companies will alternate yearly into readiness alongside the Apache regiments, being kept at R2 (5 days notice to move). Each company has two platoons, and each platoon will be responsible for 6 months of readiness, during which it will have to generate two Forward Repair Groups of 10 specialists each. This means one FRG for each of the Apache squadron's Close Support Sections REME in the at-readiness regiment. 

8 Field Company had an establishment of some 150 men in 2012. Based in Colchester with 16 Air Assault brigade, it will re-ORBAT to support the cycle of readiness, probably by mixing its Forward and Support Platoons together and splitting the Airborne Forward Repair Team (the first technicians to parachute into an area of operations to support Drop Zone activities and early brigade movements) to form a couple of identical, full-spectrum platoons to rotate into readiness alongsides the other pieces of the puzzle. 

132 Aviation Supply Squadron RLC will also probably reorganize to fit into the readiness cycle. 

- Other aviation supports the deployment of attack and battlefield support helicopters will be supported by Signallers from 244 Signal Squadron, part of 30 Regiment Royal Signal. 244 will provide tactical communications at the landing zones and resupply points. 
Before Army 2020, 244 Sqn was part of 21 Signal Regiment, which was tasked as a whole with aviation support. Army 2020 converted 21 Regiment to a Multi Role Signal Regiment for the manoeuvre brigades, and concentrated the aviation support role into the sole 244 Sqn, transferring it to 30 Signal Regiment. 

Battlefield helicopters are refueled in the field by the RAF Tactical Supply Wing based at RAF Stafford. The Wing has up to 58 teams each equipped with a 15.000 liters Oshkosh Tactical Aircraft Refueler and one 20.000 Close Support Tanker. 

Finally, the Joint Helicopter Support Squadron, based at RAF Odiham, provides specialists in under slung cargo transport and landing site management. The unit was obtained merging the RAF Mobile Air Operations Teams with the Joint Helicopter Support Unit RLC. The MAOTS used to be 13, and included a RAF officer, a master aircrew, an SNCO and 2 signallers from 21 Regiment Air Support.

Reserve support on the ground for helicopter operations arrives from 6 Regiment Army Air Corps and from 606 (Chiltern) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, based at RAF Benson. 6 Regiment AAC has been expanded considerably under Army 2020 and now includes the squadrons 675 (The Rifles) based around Yeovilton and twinned with the regular Wildcat squadrons; 677 (Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry) paired with 3 Regiment AAC; 678 (The Rifles) paired with 4 Regiment AAC and 679 (The duke of Connaught's) Sqn paired with the Army Aviation Centre at Middle Wallop.

- Surveillance and Target Acquisition. 16 Air Assault Brigade has lost the cavalry squadron it used to have, but has been given a STA battery from 5 Regiment Royal Artillery in exchange. 53 (Louisburg) Battery has taken up the Air Assault title and has been given the maroon beret of the PARAs with a ceremony on 20 June 2014. It would be of immense interest to learn about the battery's structure and equipment and methods, but unfortunately, so far at least, no information has been released. Almost certainly, the battery will be able to employ the man portable Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar (LCMR) and probably the HALO acousic artillery locating system as well, but there is probably more of a reconnaissance role to them to compensante for the loss of D Sqn, Household Cavalry. 
- UAVs. 21 (Gibraltar 1779 – 83) Air Assault Bty, 47 Regiment RA has been wearing the maroon beret for years, serving first as the brigade's own Air Defence unit, equipped with Starstreak, and then as a mini-UAV formation, employing mainly Desert Hawk III, but possibly including a Watchkeeper flight (exact battery structure unknown as of now). They remain part of the brigade in this second, more recent role. 

- Air Defence. The role which was of 21 Bty has now been assumed by 12 (Minden) Air Assault Battery, 12 Regiment RA. The battery has two missile Troops with Starstreak, which presumably alternate into high readiness. The battery employs the Lightweight triple launcher and Pinzgauer 6x6 vehicles for mobility and transport of the launcher and of reloads. The Pinzgauer 4x4 can be para-dropped on the Medium Stressed Platform alongside a trailer; it is possible that the 6x6 is parachutable as well, and anyway the Army is hoping to procure a more capable replacement platform for use on the A400, which shall be able to support a Jackal, so with a capacity of 7.5 to 10 tons. 

In this photo by Plain Military, the ADAD sensor can be seen in foreground, and a LML triple launcher in the background

One Pinzgauer 718 6x6 can carry 4 men, one ADAD search sensor, one LML launcher and 10 reloads. 

Pinzgauer 4x4 and trailer on a Medium Stressed Platform for air dropping

- Electronic Warfare. 14 Signal Regiment (EW) supplies PARA-trained Light Electronic Warfare Teams (LEWTs). 

- EOD support. Under Army 2020, early entry EOD capability is ensured by 821 Squadron, 33 Regiment EOD. The squadron has two PARA trained composite teams of Royal Engineers, RLC and military working dog specialists. Another two teams have Commando training to support the amphibious task group.  

- PATHFINDER Platoon. The secretive elitè scouts of the brigade remain as an important part of the unit. Little detail is available about their exact number and organisation, and even their equipment is non standard, seen using Diemaco C8 rifles, PARACLETE armour and other kit. 
In June 2013 the unit reportedly had 3 officers and 48 ORs organised on an HQ, a Communications and Information Systems section and six recce teams of 6 men each.

Finally, of course, the Air Assault Task Force is formed around one battalion of paratroopers. Under Army 2020, the PARA battalions have an enhanced establishment of 660 men, all-ranks, all-trades. 
2 and 3 PARA battalions, supported by 4 PARA (Reserve), alternate yearly into high readiness, to serve as the Air Manoeuvre Battlegroup (AMBG), the fighting core of the AATF. 

The two PARA battalions have been particularly busy during 2013 to adopt the new Army 2020 structures and to reform companies which had been cadreized for lack of manpower and Afghan-related ORBATing since 2012. 
Both battalions re-developed their D Companies as organic ISTAR formations and reformed missing companies during 2013: 2 PARA had been without A Coy since 2012, while 3 PARA had cadreized its C Coy as well as the Guards platoon, which is formed by parachute trained soldiers coming from the Guards regiment. 
All of those missing pieces were re-instated during 2013. The (Guards) title and role has gone to 6 Platoon, B Company, 3 PARA battalion. 

An amazing photo of 3 PARA at the end of training in Kenya last year
The PARA battalions have not lost any platoon, differently from Light Role infantry battalions as seen in earlier articles. The PARAs are also expected to continue to employ the light 60 mm mortar at platoon level. 
Only one Company in the battalion is normally trained up for parachute entry, with the remaining companies meant for helicopter air manoeuvre and/or for air landing. Rapid Air Landing and Follow On Air Landing (RAL and FAL) are operations which see cargo aircraft landing tactically directly inside an airfield or on Minimum Operating Strips (MOS), stretches of clear ground assed by recce teams inserted earlier and validated for the purpose. A C-130 MOS for training purpose is 1400 meters long and 18 meters wide (plus there has to be nothing in the way of the aircraft's wingspan, of course!), but during operations greater risks will be taken in some circumstances, and less space will be used. 
The incoming A400 Atlas, which the PARAs are anxiously waiting for, is able to land on 830 meters strips of soft ground with a 27 tons payload. Tactical Air Landing loads could include a Scimitar plus WMIK with trailer and 60 PARAs, which would quickly disgorge out of the aircraft and form a perimeter while the cargo itself would turn around and take off as quickly as possible. 

Both battalions line three Rifle companies, one ISTAR company, a Support Company and an HQ Company: 

A Coy

B Coy

C Coy



-          Patrols Platoon

-          Sniper Platoon

-          Signals Platoon

Support Coy

-          Mortar Platoon – use Pinzgauers for mobility

-          AT Platoon – Javelin, HMG, GMG they are re-equiping with Jackal 1 for mobility replacing RWMIK

-          Machine Gun Platoon – GPMG, HMG, probably to use Jackal as well 

HQ Coy

-          MT Transport and REME LAD 

-          Regimental Aid Post RAP

-          Catering Dep

-          Quartermaster

-          RAO det

Remember that 2 PARA's C Company is (Bruneval) Coy; it is very important for the Regiment to remember that.

- Reserves support. The AATF is reinforced by one Platoon of reservists from 4 PARA battalion and one Section of reserve engineers from 299 Sqn. The reservists sign an agreement with their employers so they can be quickly released for an operation popping up while they are at High Readiness. 
A wider role for formed reserve sub-units is still being formulated. 

The resulting standard Air Assault Task Force numbers some 1698 men all ranks, all trades. It comprises an Air Manoeuvre Battle Group at its core, supported by a Joint Helicopter Force including at least one Apache squadron plus Chinook, Wildcat and Puma; an Air Manoeuvre Medical Group formed on a squadron from 16 Medical Regiment plus reserves from 144 Sqn, plus an artillery group formed around a battery from 7 RHA, an air defence Troop from 12 Regiment RA, an engineer squadron reinforced by a section of reservists and an EOD team, pathfinders, a STA Battery, a UAV battery, a LEWT and other elements as needed.    
It is a capable, full spectrum battlegroup, if not very large in numbers. It makes good use of the limited resources available, and represent a potent, highly mobile mix available at 5 days notice to move. 

The one most immediate "problem" that can be seen is the loss of an armoured cavalry squadron. The Scimitar of D Sqn HCR was an excellent tool, even with all its limits in sensors, weaponry and protection. It added an armoured punch with an incredible strategic and tactical mobility. 

A Scimitar and WIMIK roll out of an A400 during a Tactical Air Landing trial. In a moment, the 60 soldiers will run out as well.
If it was possible to find the money and manpower for it, resurrecting the glorious, if quite short-lived, 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance name for a squadron of CVR(T) vehicles for the AATF, would be a major improvement, adding interesting options for a range of special and semi-special operations which require something more than a Jackal but that aren't quite suited for something as big and heavy as a FRES Scout.

Not part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, but worth mentioning as a part of the Parachute Regiment, 1 PARA, UK Special Forces Support Group continues to serve as a ranger unit in support of Special Forces operations. 
Manned by PARA and Royal Marines, the battalion has four Strike Companies (A, B, C, F coy), one HQ Company (D Coy); a fire support company with sniper platoon and with four Heavy Weapons Fire Support Groups, one for each Strike Coy. 
Support Company comprises the Mortar Platoon, a Joint Fires Cell capable to direct artillery and air attacks, and a Signals Platoon.