Up to 8 Infantry Battalions at risk - Transformational Army Structure (TAS) is the programme working on the various options at hand for restructuring the Army and, mainly, deliver the mandated Multi-Role Brigades and implement the manning cuts.
Post SDSR, the Army had set for a reduction in numbers realized through deletion of 19 Light Brigade, with the closure of a brigade headquarters and signal squadron (206 Signal Squadron, 19 Light Brigade's own formation) , 4 infantry battalions, an engineer regiment (38 Royal Engineers, the attached RE formation of 19 Brigade), an artillery regiment (40 Royal Artillery, the only regular L118 Light Gun Regiment, which has already been frozen and will have its formal disbandment parade in 2012) and a logistic regiment. An additional 2 engineer regiments were "to be removed from other areas of the Force".
I've expressed my opinion, more than once, that due to the additional cuts in Army numbers recently announced, the actual number of battalions to be cut was to be 6. There's also an option for cutting as many as 8 battalions, however: hopefully, it is the "Worst Case" proposal, one of those "case studies" that the MOD presents half-seriously, to fully show ministers the impact that their cuts might have (for example, the deletion of 3 Commando Brigade in SDSR-time and other shocking proposals). 8 Battalions would still be a manageable reduction, but it really would leave the Army overtaxed and stretched (and reduced to its "minimum critical mass", so i'm hoping such a number is not reached.
At least one Scottish Battalion (one between 4th and 5th Battalions The Royal Regiment of Scotland - "The Highlanders" and "the Argyl and Sutherland Highlanders") is to go, and now the Telegraph suggests that even 3rd Battalion "The Black Watch" might be at risk.
So the Green Howards, whose history reaches back to the Glorious Revolution, are officially designated “the 2nd Bn, The Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards).
Reports have also suggested that a Guards regiment could be disbanded, namely the Coldstream Guards. However, the Prime Minister is said to have insisted that the Guards and other units directly associated with the Royal family must be kept intact.
Chinook order confirmed - The RAF is to get 14 new Chinooks, built by Boeing, as planned. The contract has now been signed and officially announced by the MOD. The helicopters will come fitted with the same engines and glass cockpit that's being put on the upgraded "HC4" Chinooks, but they are going to be named "HC6" due to being new build and the most recent in the fleet.
With this order, the RAF's Chinook fleet, already the largest in Europe (and one of the largest in the world after the US Army's own) will number 60 helicopters of the kind. The UK's current Chinook inventory includes 38 HC2/2As and eight extended-range HC3 aircraft, all of which are to be upgraded to an enhanced HC4 configuration (actually, HC2 will be named HC4, HC2A will become HC4A, and HC3 will become HC5, but they will be finally brought to a common standard and given common engines and avionics and other improvements, included a FLIR turret).
Of the 14 helicopters (originally planned to be 22), 12 are new airframes, while 2 are technically replacements for the two Chinooks lost in Afghanistan ops in the last few years.
The RAF will receive the first aircraft for initial trials and testing in 2013 and it will enter service in May 2014, making an immediate contribution to the flexibility of the UK Chinook capability.
Delivery will be complete by the end of 2015. Three helicopters will be ready for operational deployment in early 2015, and all fourteen will be fully operational by early 2017.
Contract value is 1 billion pounds (1.64 billion dollars) The package also includes the first five years of support service.
The F35 test fleet is back in the air - after being temporarily grounded after an electric system failure on a F35A (luckily not followed by any damage or injury), the F35 test fleet has been cheeked and now is cleared to resume flying activity.
Surprise as Libya's war seems to close to its conclusion - The rebels are rapidly gaining control of Tripoli, with much greater ease than expected, and at least two weeks earlier than NATO expected. The decisive push came from the West, as the rebels of the mountain areas around Tripoli drove forwards and made it into the capital: these rebels are far better trained and army-like than the more-known rebels from Benghazi, and have also been armed with advanced AT weaponry by France via parachute drops of supplies. Rumors are that Italy might also have supplied weaponry, and it is overall more than acceptable to assume that NATO "observers" such as SAS personnel might have been training and directing the rebel army efforts. Progress is now very rapid, and hopefully the situation will be solved within the end of the current NATO plan (which was extended 2 months ago and reaches the end of September).
The real challenge will be to shape the post-revolution Libya, but at least the war might be over soon. However, the situation for now remains hot: the last few Britons left in Tripoli, along with other foreigners, would like to leave the town now torn by the fighting, but yesterday the Maltese cargo ship Triva I, which tried to enter the port to evacuate them, came under fire and was towed to open waters by HMS Liverpool after sustaining heavy damage.
Tomorrow another ship is expected to dock to continue evacuation ops.
News of CVF - As i've long been expecting and announcing and explaining to everyone who wanted to listen (many of whom of course did not believe me), HMS Queen Elizabeth will not be kitted out to fly the navy’s latest jets when it comes into service.
Those building the carrier say it was ‘too late’ to alter the design to accommodate the type of plane the government wants for the new warships.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will enter service in 2016 as a LPH, replacing HMS Ocean, and do all the deck trials and platform trials and make sure the design is fine so that when HMS Prince of Wales is built "we can go straight in with flying trials" in the words of First Sea Lord.
A MoD spokesman confirmed: ‘Our current planning assumption is to convert HMS Prince of Wales in build but no firm decisions will be taken until late 2012.’
After Liam Fox himself said in an answer in Parliament that "the plan" is to eventually kit both CVF hulls with catapults and arresting wires, defence minister Gerald Howarth has now hinted at a U-turn in the next defence review in 2015, in which he hopes and expects to see the "mothballing" option for QE cancelled, and the carrier fitted with catapults at her first refit.
He told: ‘The SDSR concluded we needed one carrier but clearly that has its own limitations in availability and clearly the 2015 defence review gives us an opportunity to look again in the prevailing economic conditions and see where we go from there.
‘Clearly, all of us would like two aircraft carriers because that gives us the continuous at-sea capability.
‘We’ve had to take some pretty tough decisions but we’re hoping to be in a position to recover that one in 2015.’
Mr Howarth, who is the Minister for International Security Strategy, was speaking at Govan shipyard in Glasgow which – like Portsmouth – is one of six sites across the UK building the new carriers.
I'm not surprised to hear that it is PoW the one that gets cats and traps from the beginning: despite the babbling of "decision making" and announcements in 2012, it is AT LEAST since 2005 that there's been a plan for having PoW completed as CATOBAR, with QE initially completed as LPH/STOVL and converted later: the plan first emerged after the 2004 troubles with the F35B and in 2005 gained new strength as the RAF asked to buy F35C due to the Tornado replacement programme being cancelled, leaving a perceived hole in deep strike that the F35B was not judged able to close.
Of course, back at the time there was not going to be a gap: the idea was that QE would have operated Harriers until PoW and F35C came into service, and then she would have been converted as well during refit.
The need for completing both CVFs has been gaining new strenght, also politically, due to studies reporting and making it evident that, even if a political agreement for formal "carrier sharing" with France was signed, the French carrier Charles de Gaulle would not be able to operate with british F35Cs.
The CVF will be perfectly capable to operate Rafale, but a war-loaded F35C WILL NOT be able to operate (and in particular it won't land) on CdG. It was confirmed during Parliamentary Defence Committee hearings by MOD officers.
It is obviously a complication in the matter of cooperation. But it might be what saves the CVFs. The talk of fitting both hulls out is not casual. There are political reasons (how you do justify QE mothballed NEW and kept in reserve but unable to do anything even if an emergency dictated bringing her out in a hurry???), recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee, cooperations reasons, and military reasons: France will be able to take full benefit from CVF, but the UK will not get much from CdG. If the UK has a single CVF, and during an emergency the ship is not available, CdG CANNOT fill the hole, other than fighting with her Rafales a british war.
Can you see it happening...?
I can see it only in World War III, and in World War III we'd all want QE to be active, CdG availability or not.
In the words of the Parliamentary Defence Committee's Report on SDSR, recently published:
Point 24 (note how it is underlined in Bold in the report!): We believe that for an aircraft carrier to be held in a state of extended readiness it must be fitted with catapults and arrestor gear.
Point 27: We support the decision to proceed with both the Queen Elizabeth class carriers and to develop the JSF carrier strike capability. We share the concerns of allies regarding the lifetime costs of the JSF. We expect the MoD to take action to ensure that the costs are controlled and to update us on this work on a regular basis. We note that the MoD is currently developing a plan for the regeneration of this capability and expect to have a sight of it at an early stage. The scale of the challenge the Ministry of Defence faces in generating the complex network of skills involved in flying fast jets from carriers in a manner not undertaken by the UK for many years is so great that this plan needs to be subjected to robust scrutiny both in Parliament and elsewhere. The plan must provide clarity of the steps being taken, specific milestones and dates and what funding is required and whether it is in place. We also note concerns regarding the future use of the second carrier and call on the Government to keep us informed of its plans as they progress.
Two more very interesting SDSR-report conclusions are:
Point 26: We acknowledge the major contribution of the Harrier Force to the Armed Forces and to the security of the UK. We regret that it has been removed from service. We acknowledge the many pieces of evidence that called for the reintroduction of the Harrier Force. However we agree with our witnesses who stated that it is too late to do so due to the cost, industry losing the relevant personnel and the pilots being redeployed. We call on the Government to ensure that the best deal possible is achieved in the disposal of the Harrier fleet and expect the Government to provide us with full details as soon as any agreement is reached.
Point 28: We deeply regret the decision to dispense with the Nimrod MRA4 and have serious concerns regarding the capability gaps this has created in the ability to undertake the military tasks envisaged in the SDSR. This appears to be a clear example of the need to make large savings overriding the strategic security of the UK and the capability requirements of the Armed Forces. We are not convinced that UK Armed Forces can manage this capability gap within existing resources. We call on the Government to outline its plans to manage the gap left by the loss of this capability, including the possible use of unmanned vehicles and collaboration with allies. In addition, the Government should outline its plans for the regeneration of this capability, including the skills and knowledge required to provide it.
Meanwhile, LB03 reached Rosyth as planned, without troubles, and the cyclist challenging the barge and carrier block in a race to Rosyth won, and raised 250 pounds more than they had hoped, for charity for service personnel.
Embarked air to air refuelling - The U.K. has asked Lockheed Martin to assess the feasibility of using the F-35C in a buddy-buddy refueling mode. Under rules of the JSF program, countries must themselves fund studies into unique capabilities they want for an aircraft. Since the U.S. can rely on F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as carrier-based refuelers, the U.K. has to finance the engineering assessment on its own.
A U.S. military official says the engineering details and cost estimate of the upgrade should be ready “later this year.” But the U.K. may take longer to decide on its course of action. Peter Luff, the U.K.’s minister for defense equipment, support and technology, tells legislators that the assessment of how to provide “the most cost-effective means of providing an embarked air-to-air refueling capability in support of the department’s future Carrier Strike capability” should emerge around March 2012.
The british Cobham company is the world leader in buddy-store and Air to Air refuelling technology. The buddy store is a combination external fuel tank and hose reel mounted on tactical aircraft.
The 31-301 buddy pod is already used extensively by the U.S. Navy, converting the S-3 and F/A-18E/F into tactical tankers. The 31-301 is also the pod being considered for use on the Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft.