Friday, October 21, 2011

News and readings

Libya ops might really about to finish 

Colonel Gaddafi has been found, captured, and eventually killed. Despite confusion remaining over the events, it appears that the dictator was trying to escape from Sirte, his hometown and last bulwark, in a very large (80 vehicles according to some sources) convoy. A U.S. defense official said Oct. 20 a U.S. Predator drone along with a French fighter jet attacked said convoy, with Paris signaling that it might carry Gaddafi.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet had earlier revealed that a French Mirage-2000 fired a warning shot at a column of several dozen vehicles fleeing Sirte.
Longuet told reporters in Paris that the convoy "was stopped from progressing as it sought to flee Sirte but was not destroyed by the French intervention."

Libyan rebels then intervened, destroying the vehicles, and capturing Colonel Kadhafi. With the fall of Sirte and of the dictator, the war should be over, but arguably, the complex part of the deal is only about to begin, with thousands of armed rebels spread all over the country, and over 100 tribes to bring together to a table to ensure that a peaceful process of nation-building can begin.
Sentinel R1

An instructive, even if perhaps a bit too-optimist (it comes from the makers and sellers of the system, after all!) description of the Sentinel R1 and its many operational merits: Raytheon UK written evidence on Sentinel R1

My readers will know that i'm a great supporter of retaining this vital piece of kit as a fundamental component of the wider ISTAR element of the present and future force. This document only strengthens my belief that Sentinel will remain, for many more years, essentially unmatched in its performances.

MARS Fleet Tanker 

In the written answers released to public by 20 October, one particularly interesting one is this: 

Angus Robertson (Moray, Scottish National Party)
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence

(1) when he expects the final downselection in the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability tanker contract to occur;
(2) what the total cost to the public purse is of the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability tanker contract;
(3) on what date he expects the (a) first and (b) last Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability tankers to be delivered to the Royal Navy.


Peter Luff (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Defence Equipment, Support and Technology), Defence; Mid Worcestershire, Conservative)

Final bids have been requested from the bidders in the ongoing international competition for the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) Tanker contract. We anticipate announcing the winning bidder early next year.
I am withholding information on the cost of the contract and the planned delivery schedule as their disclosure would prejudice commercial interests.

It seems that, finally, the time of MARS FT might have come. MARS rivals the FRES programme for the infamous title of most-delayed procurement item in history, despite it being fundamental for the Navy, and despite appearing even in the MOD Document about lessons learned from the Iraq war, as indispensable to ensure continued independent logistical support of british units at sea and ashore in absence of host nations support.
MARS is part of the "Carrier Enabled Power Projection" main programme, and in the years it has been broken down into segments, mainly FT (Fleet Tanker) and Solid Support, the replacement for the Fort class replenisher ships. Not entirely clear is the destiny of the Joint Sea Based Logistic vessels, meant specifically to support forces ashore for prolonged periods of times by providing fuel, supplies, ammunition, medical facilities and other utilities including workshops and helicopter facilities.

FT is the most urgent of the group, as the last ancient and single-hulled tankers of the RFA urgently need replacing, having previously been planned to retire by 2010.

In 2007, year in which MARS was split, from a single, 12-ships programme into separate segments, the MOD issued, on 10 December, an “Invitation to Participate in Dialogue” to industry to for up to six fleet tankers at an expected cost of £800 million. The intention, to keep costs down, is specifically to procure the hulls abroad, with only the fitting of specific military kit due to be done in the UK.

On 21 May 2008 the MOD announced the results of the invitation, indicating that four companies had been shortlisted: Fincantieri (Italy); Hyundai (Republic of Korea); Navantia (Spain) and BAE Systems with BMT DSL and DSME (Republic of Korea).

The programme was unable to progress, however, despite the Navy trying to secure its prosecution in every Planning Round. In October 2009 a revised international competition was launched, and the bidders selected for final consideration grew to 6, and from these, the winner is to be finally selected.
I've been unable to find out the identity of the 2 new bidders, but it is very likely that one of the two is France's DCNS. 

Let's hope that this time, things effectively do progress. The latest ISD i saw indicated was 2016, and the number of vessels has been brought down to 4, to be acquired with a contract in the "2 + 1 + 1" fashion.
The vessels would work alongside the two Wave class Fast Fleet Tankers, and replace the remaining Rovers (Black Rover and Gold Rover) and the 40.000 tons Orangeleaf.

The fourth MARS FT vessel might be intended as replacement for RFA Fort Victoria, the last Auxiliary Oiler Replenisher left after the SDSR ordered the premature retirement of RFA Fort George.
The two "Fort I" oilers are also Single-Hulled, despite carrying huge amounts (some 12500 cubic meters) of fuels and oils. They also carry up to 3500 tons of solid stores in 6250 cubic meters of holds, part of which refrigerated, and have facilities for up to 4 Merlin helicopters.

The MARS FT tankers won't match these last two characteristics, despite provvision for a Merlin helo probably going to be required. The imbalance in Solid Stores and Helicopter capacities is to be met, in the short term, by bringing out of mothball RFA Fort Austin, one of the two "Fort II" vessels, which had been put in reserve in 2009.
RFA Fort Austin and RFA Fort Rosalie will serve for many more years, before being replaced by the second element of MARS, the Solid Support ships, fundamental to keep ships, in particular the Strike Carrier, armed and supplied.

Warrior CSP

Again, from the latest round of answers:

Angus Robertson (Moray, Scottish National Party)

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when the preferred bidder for the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme will be announced.


Peter Luff (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Defence Equipment, Support and Technology), Defence; Mid Worcestershire, Conservative)

An announcement concerning the main investment decision for the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme will be made shortly.

The announcement will probably come nearly simultaneously with the promised 10-years procurement plan, which had been expected for September, but which is proving far more challenging than hoped, with the Army reportedly struggling to secure both FRES SV and Warrior CSP, its two main urgencies.

One more brigade to go...?

I wouldn't place much confidence in the content of this article, but the news (unsurprisingly, a bad one) is too big not to signal it at least.

From the army’s point of view that was not the most worrying thing. Libya provided a timely reminder of the value of air and maritime assets for projecting force at short notice. But the political appetite for operations involving large numbers of boots on the ground may not recover for a generation. The SDSR made no attempt to say, other than in the vaguest terms, what the army might be for after Afghanistan. Given the prospect of a defence budget under strain for years to come, the army fears it will be the target for any piecemeal cuts that may have to be made. Manpower is both expensive and a softer target than big procurement programmes, such as Britain’s future aircraft-carriers, which are protected by tightly drawn contracts.
Seizing the opportunity provided by Dr Fox’s plans for decentralisation, General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the army, asked Major-General Nick Carter, a former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan and the director-general of land warfare, to carry out a review that would shape the army of the future. Insiders say General Carter is reaching radical conclusions.
His review starts from the premise that whatever the tactical successes of the British army in Iraq and Afghanistan, those campaigns have not worked out well overall. It also makes a number of other assumptions. The first is that the next few years will be dominated by “getting off the Afghan hamster wheel”—extracting men and equipment from Afghanistan in good order and deciding which bits of kit to keep and which to leave behind. The second is that by 2020, after troops have come home from Germany, the army will be almost entirely based in Britain for the first time in generations. The third is that the army must move to a “contingency” posture rather than a campaigning one, putting the onus on adaptability.
It looks as if one of the ideas in the SDSR—that there should be five essentially identical multi-role brigades—will be quietly junked in favour of “tailoring the force for the challenge” around two light and two heavy brigades which will draw on other resources as needed.

One brigade less then, and further reductions in all kinds of capabilities and kit. Also, issues with sustaining a long term deployment unless Guidelines are changed, because of the absence of the indispensable Fifth brigade.
Can the Army and Government afford to once more betray the SDSR indications that they did write so short a time ago?

I would hope no.


  1. Hi Gabriele,
    Unfortunately I think the 2015 SDR will end up cutting the army further. I fear the MoD will be under further pressure to find savings, as both the RN and RAF have suffered under the last SDR; due mainly to the Army being deployed in Afghanistan, come 2015, and the army will have to take the lion’s share of any cuts. Firstly, because there is a lack of political will to deploy boots on the ground, and secondly, manpower is a quick and easy cut to make.
    I would favour another SDR before 2015, as I think the last one was a simple axe job, not the long term strategic plan we need. FF2020 Army, is looking more unlikely in my view as each week passes!
    I am in favour of a small, but well equipped army. In my view, France, Germany and Poland should be the countries providing land force capability. Our priority should be a maritime one, as that’s what we do! Please can we have some realism regarding 3 Cdo and 16 AA Brigades!
    Phil (the depressed ex pongo)

  2. Are you the same Phil that i've talked to on Think Defence...? Because on TD Phil seemed pretty sure of the role of 16AA and roughly satisfied with its current structure...!

    As to further cuts to the Army, well. I'm severely conflicted. 5 "Line" brigades are genuinely the smallest it should get. Smaller than that, it kind of loses sense altogether, especially if guidelines do not change.
    If the rule must be "1 unit deployed on five", you must have 5 units at least, there's no escaping this!

    I've expressed on TD my vision that an Airmobile battalion in each brigade makes more sense than an "airmobile brigade" that actually deploys a battalion, and overall i still think it is a good idea, personally.
    But of course, i could easily be wrong.

    What i firmly believe, is that "the british army should be a projectile fired by the Royal Navy".
    Which means investing in different force structures than the current ones, and requires investing more into the Navy than it's currently done.

    I hope to find the time to try and write, sometime soon, a "SDSR 2015" piece, in which i'll show my idea for the future.

    But i try telling myself that SDSR15 has still hope for not being a slaughter.
    In four years, i hope the economy recovers some, after all (otherwise it'll be real ugly for everything, not just defence...!), and the end of the emergency would not justify another "tears and blood" review.

    But for sure, it's not like i'm happy at all myself. I understand the depression!

  3. Thank you for your reply Gabriele, No; I am not the Phil from TD.
    I don’t think the 5 plus 2 brigade format will survive SDR 2015.
    As I mentioned, the UK doesn’t have the political will or the financial purse to deploy a brigade on the ground for any length of time, therefore I think a sustainable brigade deployment will be rewritten as a sustainable battle group deployment in SDR 2015. I think that’s what the army wants, and I can’t see the politicians putting up a fight to that idea.
    I wouldn’t be against an airmobile battalion within each brigade, but by airmobile, I don’t mean parachute able! That would be just a fantasy in my opinion. As is the idea that the RN could land, protect and sustain an amphibious brigade, also in my opinion.
    I would rather have 5 well equipped and manned brigades than 7 that are not, which in my view is what we are heading for.
    Also, I don’t want the army to go through a period of disbandment’s and cuts to regiments, now, then for it to have to be repeated again in five years. I look forawrd to your SDR 2015.

  4. It would be quite monumental if the UK renounced even to brigade-sized ambitions. Such a cut would severely undermine the viability of all the defence strategy.
    As to the RN being able to land, protect and sustain a brigade, it could be done if the right investments were made, choosing it as the national strategy.

    National strategy that at the moment does not really exist at all.

    As to airmobile, of course, i mean Helicopter borne.
    I would retain a battalion-sized parachute capability, by moving the PARA regiment and its 3 battalions into the Special Forces, while having helicopters and airmobile infantry into each brigade, especially since parachute ops are rare (to say the least!) while heli-assaults, as Afghanistan teaches, are a norm.

  5. Thanks for your reply Gabriele.
    A Battle group force could be 4 combat teams, (Infantry company's plus support sections), a reconnaissance squadron, an armoured squadron and an artillery battery. A fair sized force, which could also be supported by Special Forces.
    This would mean a 4 battalion brigade could deploy 2 of the above battle groups with ease, 3 brigades could therefore cover a 3 year period, leaving 2 brigades that could be deployed for a 6 month high intensity period of operations. Therefore, a 5 brigade force could work in that way.
    I would prefer the RN to spend it’s budget on ‘fighting ships’ not ones that are going to be in extended readiness.
    I fully support the parachute regiment being taken out of the line to operate as an army commando units and support Special Forces.

  6. "I would prefer the RN to spend it’s budget on ‘fighting ships’ not ones that are going to be in extended readiness."

    They are only going in extended readiness so long as the government does not decide on what the hell they want to focus, and continue cutting everywhere by bits and slices, without a master plan other than "keep eveyone sad in (roughly) the same way".

    Which is idiotic.

  7. Gabriele,
    You are so right. We so need another SDR, and soon!
    I fear FF2020, is looking more like fantasy force 2020.
    I think the 4 four brigade option, mentioned above, was the minimum army option. Lets hope it does not come to that!


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