Friday, May 27, 2011

If anyone had doubts, now it is official

The UK will use Apache helicopters from HMS Ocean over Libya. Ministers "agreed in principle" yesterday (26 May) to make UK Apache Attack Helicopters available to NATO as part of Operation Unified Protector which aims to protect civilians in Libya under threat of attack.

HMS Ocean currently carries 4 Apache AH1 helicopters from 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, squadron 665, that made the news short time ago by completing a live-firing exercise off Gibraltar that completed the certification process of Apache for operations at sea. 

On Monday, France announced that their Tonnere ship (Mistral class) was sailing towards Libya with attack helicopters on board, and that the UK would join with HMS Ocean and the Apaches. Tuesday, in front of an angry parliament that found itself put in front of an apparently taken decision, and informed of it via a France minister, the Government denied having authorized the use of attack helicopters, but saying that, of course, it was an option. 

And now here we are. Projecting air power from the sea, something that should not have been necessary doing for the next 10 years. Weak assumptions that proves flawed barely months later. 

Tuesday 24, while the government assured that "no decision had been taken on HMS Ocean and Apaches", the ex-first Sea Lord Sir Jonathon Band was being heard by the Parliamentary Defence Committee, and, between all other interesting things he said, it is worth reporting: 

Sir Jonathon Band: I don’t know. I would prefer not to be the First Sea Lord at a time when he is having to live with the pressures that he has both operationally and financially. I thought it was quite bad when I was doing it, but it is tougher for him.
I come back to my earlier point-it is very difficult to say that you have got to the step-change moment. But that is what he’s got to watch. As far as I am aware-and I am still reasonably well plugged into people-I think our level of influence with the United States Navy is good. But the fact of life is that off Libya, there is a French aircraft carrier, there is a US Marine Corps Kearsarge carrier [LHD with AV8B Harrier, and Sir Bond forgets there's also Italy's Cavour involved] -so we are not in the carrier game. In fact, we may well be, because we are about to deliver, I understand, some attack helicopters on a ship - something the British Army said we would never have to do, funny old thing. But we are doing it.

Q434 Chair: We were told this afternoon in a statement that no decision had been made.
Sir Jonathon Band: Fine. Well, if it happens and they arrive on HMS Ocean, they will do a jolly good job, I am sure. 

Days later, i must underline that the admiral proved right, as many times has happened in British history. I will also agree with him that i'm sure that soon the Apaches, their crews, the REME and HMS Ocean's personnel making them fly, will all prove their worth and they will deliver tangible effects, showing once more all the professionalism of the british armed forces. 

But the message is another. First conflict after the SDSR, barely months in the 10 years gap, we are scrambling to deliver air power from the sea.  Once more the "it will never happen" pops up to make fun of the planning and weak assumptions.
Lions lead by donkeys, someone once said. It proves true for the hundredth time. 


  1. - something the British Army said we would never have to do, funny old thing. But we are doing it

    So why was 656 formed as the expeditionary squadron, has been working up to operate from ships since 2005 and the AH1 spec, that the Army defined, included folding blades and electrinics suitable for shipboard use, all at extra cost to the Army.

    I wouldn't set too much store by what ex 1SL Band has to say about the matter, all he wanted CVF was for was to suck up to the USN. If he sees naval aviation as some sort of pissing competition where we have to somehow measure up to the other big boys then its a good job he is no longer in post

  2. You make it a bit simple, TD. You clearly don't like admirals and do not believe in CVF that much. We also do not know how much pressure the Navy applied in order to obtain ship capable helicopters, and i do believe that the "will never do" argument came up not in 2005 but in "scrap HMS Ark Royal" phase of the SDSR. Gut feeling, at least.

    As to the CVF being a suck up to the USN, i couldn't disagree more. If you'll read the whole of the hearing at the link, you'll see a Band very, very honest and direct about CVF and carrier strike considerations.

    And again, the US Navy is keen on the UK having aircraft carriers. The US were unhappy when the UK scrapped the Sea Harrier and have not been pleased by the loss of independent UK carrier strike last year either. As we always talk about "coalition ops" in which coalition mostly only stays for "US Armed Forces", we should listen to their opinions a lot more. And the US notoriously want from the UK:

    Nuclear deterrence
    Special Forces
    Power projection. And naturally this means carrier strike and Royal Marines on top of the list.

    If we recognize that these are things the coalition wishes the UK to have, and listen a little bit more, maybe coalition ops will work better.
    And they will be willing to listen more as well in return.

  3. Of the three things you listed, the US have plenty of each of their own. The want political support at certain times, that's the real big thing. Sure the bits of kit are useful at times, but there now biggy either way.

  4. Explain it to the americans, then, because they think differently.

  5. What makes you think that?

  6. The way they eagerly twinned their new CVN21 class of carriers to CVF, the way they always treasure the support of the UK Special Forces (it seems two men from the Special Boat Service were involved even in the planning of the raid on Osama in Pakistan), they way they have full-out said to the UK government in time of SDSR that they were "worried" by cuts in the carrier strike and power projection, amphibious capability, and other factors.

    They do not make it much of a mystery that there are some capabilities that they are keen to see in the British armed forces's vault.

  7. I suppose it's all matter of perception on how 'worried' they are. I'd say not much, they have many multiples of nuclear weapons and power projection.
    Maybe at a lower level some are, but at the very top I can't see them being. Why? It makes no odds the US is set up to act on it's own. So it's useful but no deal breaker for them either way.

  8. Pardon me, but reasoning this way we can look at a black thing and say that in our perception it looks more like dark grey.
    For me, it simply does not make sense.

  9. I just mean words like useful, mean different things to different people and also depending on the situation.

    But back to my basic point, none of the three things you listened make much of a diffence. We plan to work in coalitions because we have to. The US don't because they don't need to. It's that simple.

  10. Those things do make the difference between being capable of (small-scale) independent action and being a valuable coalition partner, opposed to being just a supplier of men to send dying abroad, said in brutal but clear words.
    It is a whole world of difference.

  11. I agree on that, there are differences between the quality of US allies, and they matter to the UK at it's level.
    But the US is on another plain with it's capabilities, it doesn't really need any capabitilies from the UK.

  12. We could say perhaps that, with a greater effort, they could cover the needs without the brits helping. So MATERIALLY they perhaps do not need the capabilities to be there. But they do wish for them to be present, as they will allow the US to keep its efforts on a more acceptable scale, which is the whole point of coalition ops.
    We can't babble about coalition ops and then refuse to listen to what the partners in the coalition have to say.

    The SSNs, Trident, the Royal Marines, the CVF tomorrow, Sentinel R1 in Libya today, the Special Forces... these are all assets that no one else in NATO can provide, at least not to the numeric and qualitative standards the UK assures.
    This is what makes the UK a Tier 1 partner. Ignore the facts is not a sound way to plan. Plan coalition-work in the terms "we will do this, and the others will do that", without even asking "the others" what they think makes totally no sense.

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