Monday, April 16, 2012

Some precious snippets of info

The Royal Navy yearbook for 2011/12 contains more info than most ministerial statements, when one reads it. There's many very interesting snippets of first-class information laying here and there all over its articles, and i'm going to report them all here, because they are of clear interest.

Opening statement by minister Philip Hammond

I know this is a difficult time for the Armed Forces as we act to bring the Defence budget into balance and restructure for the future, but the adaptable posture set out by the Strategic Defence and Security Review is the right way to ensure that we sustain the capabilities and skills required to protect Britain now and for the long term. This, of course, includes the ability to project power at considerable distance – before, during, and after any military intervention – and this means Britain must remain a maritime power.
Maritime power not only protects vital trade routes and, therefore, prosperity, it also enables us to gain access to, and operate in, other domains in far-flung parts of the world in support of a wide range of national and international objectives. It provides choice and flexibility without necessarily committing to a footprint ashore.
Sea-basing can overcome the challenges associated with securing access, air-basing and overflight permissions for combat operations. So I am clear that the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, deploying the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter and a mixed helicopter force, will be an integral part of Britain’s future armoury – an armoury that will also consist of Astute-class submarines, new Type 45 destroyers, upgraded maritime helicopter fleets and, soon after 2020, Type 26 Global Combat Ships, all enabled by new Fleet Support Ships.
This will be an impressive and capable Fleet – one of the most powerful in the world – but it is the skill and commitment of the sailors and marines that will provide this hardware with purpose and direction. As this publication shows, the United Kingdom needs the Royal Navy, now and in the years ahead. I am determined that, as we move forward together, our national ambition is matched by our maritime ambition, to ensure that Britain remains strong and secure.

CVF - Carrier Enabled Power Projection

Initial work carried out by the ACA has shaped planning assumptions, as well as identifying a strategy outline. Given that block build work on QUEEN ELIZABETH is now well advanced, a decision to retrofit catapults and arrestor gear would inevitably cause major disruption to the programme.
Instead, HMS PRINCE OF WALES – the second-ofclass, for which manufacture activities began in May 2011 – will be configured for CV operations from the initial build stage.
Construction of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH will continue in the meantime. This will maintain momentum on the programme, allowing the first-of-class to prove the platform, power and propulsion, and mission system; provide crew training; and achieve rotary-wing clearances.
QUEEN ELIZABETH will then enter a state of extended readiness around 2019, when PRINCE OF WALES is accepted from build.
To support the conversion demonstration phase, the MoD and the US Navy have signed an agreement under which the US will provide the UK with engineering and technical assistance, in order to help define aircraft launch and recovery equipment requirements. The UK has decided to use the same EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) that will equip the US Navy’s next carrier, USS GERALD R. FORD (CVN-78).

The yearbook of course makes no mention of a u-turn reversing the u-turn and still talks of the F35C. The most interesting bit is that the studies for CEPP have come up with a LHA capability estimate. The CVF is described as embarking a Commando battlegroup (no less than 600 men) with a squadron of 12 F35C, at least 12 between Chinooks and Merlin helicopters and 8 Apache.

Type 26 frigate

The yearbook confirms that the Flex Mission Deck is present. Probably sized, according to BAE data, to take up to 11 standard containers or 4 12m boats.

The yearbook also tells us of the current preferred propulsion option, which is for a CODLOG solution on 4 diesels connected to two large electric motors, generating cruise speed as high as 18 knots, with a direct drive gas turbine for sprints of minimum 26 knots.
Other options have been/are considered, including an integrated all electric solution or a wholly diesel one.

In terms of weapons fit, the yearbook is quite clear about the RN's want to fit the Type 26 with a new medium calibre gun, capable of firing long range, precision guided ammunition. It is very much the identikit of the Oto Melara 127/64 with Vulcano ammunition, especially since the BAE 127/54 rival has been badly damaged by the US cancellation of the guided ammunition meant for it.
Fitting TLAM long range land attack missiles is "subject of further studies" (read: we are trying to get money for it, won't be easy), but regardless of the decision on TLAM it remains the RN's ambition to have the Type 26 fitted at build with a large VLS silo (24 cells) in which land attack missiles and the future anti-ship missile would be carried.  

The Type 26 frigate is to "reverse" the Type 45 situation (20% of technology carried through, 80% new kit) by de-risking most of its mission system thanks to the Type 23 mid-life upgrade program.
Type 26 will inherit from the Dukes the Type 997 radar (Artisan 3D), the Type 2087 towed sonar (8x) and its command system will be a derivation of the current DNA(2)/CMS-1.
The adoption of proven, in-service kit for almost 80% of the ship's systems is meant to keep costs and risks down, as there is no margin for error in this crucial program.

Astute SSN  

The article confirms that Astute is compatible with the Chalfont special forces delivery equipment (the american-made Swimmers Delivery System used by the Navy SEALS; the UK has 3 of these mini-subs). This restores an insertion capability that the Special Boat Service had temporarily lost since 2009 when HMS Spartan, the only submarine left in the fleet capable to employ the system, was retired.

Helicopters galore  
There is no uncertainty or hesitation in the yearbook about the Merlin MK4 (HC4): the navalization of the RAF's HC3 remains planned, and entry in service with the Commando Helicopter Force after transfer is planned by 2016 when the Sea King bows out.
An unspecified number of Royal Marines personnel has already trained on the Merlin HC3 last year, and 2012 is to see a further 12 pilots and 35 maintainers training on the type.

The Merlin HM2 is to be in service by 2013, and as part of Crowsnest it will take on the AEW role as replacement for the Sea King ASaC 7 by around 2016.
It is not clear if all the Merlin HM2 fleet will be able to re-role for AEW when needed, or if only one of the two "carrier squadrons" (814 and 820) will have its helicopters "modded" to take on the role. The choice of the HM2 as all-doing platform is due to advantage the Lochkeed Martin proposal, which sees the fitting of two radar pods (Vigilance pods) in place of the torpedoes on a normal Merlin HM2. The system is run through the 2 already present consoles, with option for adding a further 2.
AgustaWestland and Thales have changed their offering (which was to deploy the current Searchwater "bag from the rear ramp of a Merlin HC3) by proposing the installation of two rails on the side of the fuselage allowing the radar bag to slid upwards for landing and deploy downwards for use in flight, with a 360° field of view. The Westland proposal might be disadvantaged by the need for a complex software integration of Cerberus into the existing HM2 consoles, something that Lockheed (which is carrying out the HM2 upgrade) has bipassed by developing Vigilance literally on the Merlin HM2 all along.
My biggest worry is that the 30 Merlin HM2 are going to be very, very busy covering all the tasks and getting all the calls.
Without a dedicate replacement for the Sea King MK7, the Fleet Air Arm will also end up losing two squadrons and quite a lot of personnel.

847 NAS, the squadron that flies recce and light assault/attack missions in support of 3rd Commando brigade, will be the first squadron to convert to the new Wildcat helicopter. It will fly 6 Wildcat AH1 helos in the Army configuration, and will convert on them in 2013.
The first Wildcat army squadron is planned to enter active service in 2014. 652 squadron, 1st Regiment AAC is thought the be the first squadron to convert to the new machine, but changes could still happen, especially since the 1st Regiment AAC, based in Germany and flying the old Lynx AH7, is in my view very much on the firing line of the incoming army cuts and restructuring. I expect it to be closed down. Note that this is my gut feeling though, so don't take it as Truth coming from the sky.  
Between 2013 and 2017 the Royal Navy will receive its 28 naval Wildcats, which will go into 815 NAS. In-service date for the Wildcat navy is 2015.

Successor SSBN

Delightful info dropped in about this delicate subject of which we otherwise hear very little, as well.
The yearbook confirms that the Common Missile Compartment being jointly developed with the US has 12 missile tubes, but that studies are ongoing for developing a variant of it with just 8 tubes, as mandated by the SDSR.
One has to wonder when the US will eventually grow tired of constant rethinks, between F35 and Trident. And i also wonder, knowing how much these design activities cost, if it is worth it to tamper with a design that has been ongoing for a few years by now, or if the cost of developing the smaller "child" module will negate any real saving from being obtained.
The yearbook does not expand on this factor, but i remember reading somewhere that the CMC modules for the british SSBNs could be built in the US and shipped through the Atlantic for assembly in Barrow. Does feel a bit off with me, but if it was to be confirmed i wouldn't be amazed.

Sizeable american content will be present due to the selection of the PWR-3 reactor for the propulsion. The reactor has more advanced safety features than the PWR-2 used on Vanguard and is more advanced than even the PWR-2 Evolved that powers the Astutes.

Surprisingly, the yearbook states that the replacement SSBN will be slightly larger than Vanguard, despite having just 8 or 12 tubes against 16 for the Vanguard.
It must be noted that the new launch tubes will be larger, though, to make room for future uses (multiple revolver launchers with TLAM missiles, unmanned vehicles, and the eventual Trident II D5 replacement, planned for 2040 at the earliest and known as Trident II E6): the Vanguard tubes are 2.21 meters in diameter, and the new ones will probably be over 3 meters wide.
The PWR-3 is also probably a bit larger, and, like with the Astute, the need for more comfortable accommodation for the crew is probably a factor in the growth.
Anyway, the growth is to be kept at a minimum, since the current Vanguard infrastructure must be viable for the Successor as well: the new submarines will be able to employ the same ship lifts, which are used to take the entire boat out of the waters of the River Clyde.

Very interestingly, the yearbook notes that the main design features are frozen: there's already a definitive guideline plan for the submarine. And it draws heavily from the Astute SSN. According to the report, the SSBN will have the same control systems (adjusted for the size difference, of course!), the same sonar fit (so the excellent 2076 with all its arrays) and the same tactical torpedo system, which suggests that the front of the subs, sizes aside, will be very similar, with the same systems and arrangements and even with 6 torpedo tubes.
Is it an indication that the call for a more dual-role submarine, capable to act as SSN/SSGN is being listened to? Possibly, yes.
The commonality with the Astute is so relevant that, according to the report: "A crew trained for an Astute class would slot fairly easily into the new missile boat."    

That's one very sensible approach. By 2016, main gate decisions will have to be finalized, so that more substantial long lead orders can be placed, to keep the program moving on schedule.
Moving on schedule and sticking to a firm, clear plan is simply VITAL for avoiding cost growth and other issues.

Regarding the other two Services, i've been sadly able to find less new and substantial info. The Army's plans are still very much walking in the air and looking nervously down with the fear of falling off the sky at any moment. And this won't improve until the new force structure is announced.

However, a couple of very small but good info are that there's a program, Project Outpost, likely to soon fall under management by the new Joint Forces Command, that aims to select some or all of the base-ISTAR technologies employed as 'Cortez' system in Afghanistan. This ranges from mast-mounted thermal cameras to the Boomerang shot detection system to ground-observation radars mounted on towers all the way up to 5 aerostats used in Afghanistan to provide an unblinking eye in the sky capable to stay in the air for a couple of weeks to constantly survey the area around a FOB.
Who's read my army pieces know that retaining Cortez for the future is, in my view, a must. I've even proposed putting it in a regular/TA royal artillery mixed regiment as part of a Joint Force Protection Brigade.
I don't know if my suggestion will ever be followed, even from a distance, but the RAF Regiment is working closely with the Army on Project Outpost, and this is what i envisaged all along with my FP brigade proposal.  

Another bit of kit that is to be retained at all costs is the G3-supplied, containerized Role 2 hospital of Camp Bastion. The 3500 square meters containerized structure features an operating theater that supports two operating tables; six high-dependency beds; two isolation beds; a CT scanner; and two general wards to provide care facilities for up to 32 people.
The complex also contains an X-ray room, pathology lab and primary health care facilities with six treatment rooms and two rooms for dental surgeries, along with office space, toilets and staff refreshment areas.
I've heard nothing about keeping this in the long term, but i hope that the right decision will eventually be taken in time.

Another program going on is about identifying the UOR vehicles to be brought into core budget. Apparently, Talisman is high in the list of what the Army wishes to retain, and again i applaud this, because it is a capability to retain and cherish. Jackal is another vehicle thought to have a long future ahead, and lots of attention is going into Mastiff and Ridgeback as well, obviously. There is very little info about the current planning, but an article i've read seems to suggest that the smaller, 4x4 Ridgeback is favorite.
Mastiff presents serious compatibility problems with the british roads, and this is a bigger issue than one can think at first, apparently.

Regarding the already mentioned RAF Regiment, it remains planned that, by 2015, 2 out of 8 Field Squadrons will disband. A "proportionate" cut in the 8 reserve Field Squadrons is being determined and planned out.
Meanwhile, the Joint CBRN Regiment, after losing the Army participation (two squadrons from 1st Royal Tank Regiment, driving the now retired Fuchs) has been restructured and renamed 20 Wing CBRN, RAF Regiment.   
Among the programs for the future is the acquisition of an NBC-proof Role 3 field hospital.


  1. Hi Gabriele,

    I like what I am hearing about the Successor SSBN. All makes sense.

    I have read the telegraph report on the carrier and F35. They seem to think its the F35B, and would should hear within the next week or two. I hope we get to hear both the army restructure and PR 12. Both are well overdue!


  2. So it seems... Now there's two things we absolutely need:

    - an end to the "we'll mothball one carrier" nonsense.

    - a lot of luck with the F35B, for it to eventually work.

    Any of the two factors above not becoming reality, and we are into the worst of nightmares.

    But yes, army announcements should arrive as well. We'll see.

  3. Gabriele

    Good news about the Talisman. I had more than an inkling that the Army wished to retain it from reading other articles, such as the one in "Sapper" magazine.

    Now we need such valuable kit as Warthog, Husky etc. to be retained.

    Incidentally, if I find the time, I wish to put another comment on an earlier thread of yours (Can't for the life of me remember the title of it now). The point concerns the new MRBs becoming rather like divisions and the TA therefore reflecting the structure of the regular units. No doubt you'll find it if I post it!

  4. I'll find it for sure.

    But yes, it is something i've thought of myself: with each MRB eventually getting two Reserve brigades assigned to it, you could almost call it a division.

    It is to be seen, though, how the TA brigades are re-organized. Australia chose the MRB and restructured the reserve brigades accordingly, but i don't know if the UK will do the same.

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