HMS Ambush finally going for sea trials.
The second submarine of the Astute class is finally about to go out to sea for her trials. It'll leave Barrow in the coming days.
The Successor SSBN moves ahead steadily and without fuss. That's how it should be!
The US Navy signed on August 31 the document with the final key specifications of a vital element of the Common Missile Compartment (CMC) that will be employed both by the new US submarine replacing the current Ohio class and by the "Successor" vessel that will replace the Vanguard class in UK service.
The document freeze the specifications relative to the Missile Tubes and their associated equipment. The tubes, with all associated machinery, are to be built and delivered in quad packs that, assembled, will make up the missile compartment.
The US variant of the CMC is now expected to have 16 tubes, so 3 quad packs will be needed, while the UK's submarine, following the decisions of the SDSR 2010, is expected to have only 8 tubes (a 50% reduction from 16 on Vanguard, but it must be noted that already now several tubes on each submarine can be expected to be regularly empty).
The latest START treaty leaves the US the possibility to fit a max of 20 tubes to each SSBN (down from 24 on the Ohio), should it wish to, and there is some internal call for taking the maximum number, but the Navy is concerned with costs and deems 16 tubes sufficient. And, personally, i think they might even be too many already. Consideration to a 12-tubes design was given.
Jointly funded work on the CMC has been ongoing since 2008, with the UK's participation very significant, both at technical and at financial level. According to the US Government Accountability office (GAO), the UK has provided some 329 million dollars as of March 2011, the "vast majority" of upfront design costs. The UK has also "established a significant presence in Electric Boat’s Shaw’s Cove CMC design office in New London, CT."
It is not yet clear what the final decisions were about the specifications. One option on the cards was the adoption of wider tubes (diameter of 3.04 meters each, compared to 2.21 meters in the current SSBNs) offering greater certainties of compatibility with future requirements and with the future missile they will eventually carry (possibly to be called Trident II E6, but with the current Trident II D5 planned to live on until 2042, a lot of things can still happen). Built-in flexibility for use of the tubes for special forces insertion, unmanned vehicles and multiple all-up rounds canisters for conventionally-armed cruise missiles was also an option, likely to have been exercised.
It is known that the famous "review of options for Trident replacement" being conducted by the LibDems in the UK includes the option of "dual-role" SSBNs with significant conventional attack capability.
The current 2.21 meters tubes can readily be fitted with 7-cell canisters for Tomahawk missiles as done by the US on the Ohio subs converted to SSGN. One of them, the USS Florida, reportedly fired, alone, some 60 Tomahawk in the first strike against Libya last year.
Personally, i'm in favor of the Dual Role SSBN, especially considering the sharp, dramatic drop in numbers of the SSN fleet of the Royal Navy.
This of course presents some additional operational challenges and risk, however, because in order to maintain continuous at sea deterrence the UK's "Dual Role" submarines would have to carry Trident and Tomahawk at the same time.
Obviously, the SSBNs could venture in conventional attack roles only against determinate classes of enemies, such as Libya: countries that, putting it simply, have no chance of finding and damaging the SSBN.
This is a complex subject, on which i'll eventually write a specific article at some point.
By the way, the 2012 Handbook of the Royal Navy reports that under current thinking and planning, the Successor SSBN will combine the CMC to the new PWR3 reactor as propulsion system, but will also draw heavily from the legacy equipment of the Astute SSN: the sonar fit will be the same, with the excellent 2076 system fitted. The tactical torpedo system will also be the same, so that the SSBN will likely have the full fit of 6 tubes and extensive attack capability.
The similarities will be so important that crews will be able to move without trouble from an Astute to an SSBN and vice versa.
Due to the larger reactor, to the expectation of larger tubes and better internal accommodation, despite having half of the missile tubes the new SSBN is expected to be slightly larger than Vanguard. The difference however will be minimum, and the current port infrastructure will continue to be used for the new vessels.
HMS Tyne, HMS Severn and HMS Mersey are now property of the MOD
As announced as part of the 10-years Equipment Budget, the 3 River-class OPVs used by the fishery protection squadron have been bought outright from BAE. So far, they had been leased at a cost of 7 million pounds per year.
The lease was due to be renewed next year, reportedly at higher cost, so that the MOD deemed more effective to acquire the vessels.
They will be in service for another 10 years at least, and i would not be surprised to see them soldiering on even further into the future.
The Goalkeeper CIWS will be out of service in 2015
With the Type 22 Batch 3 frigates withdrawn, the Goalkeeper is currently in service only on HMS Illustrious, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark. In 2014, with the retirement of HMS Illustrious, there will only be four systems in the Navy, and only two of them will be active at any one time, if the policy of keeping one LPD in "low readiness" on rotation is not abandoned.
As a consequence, the RN has decided that it makes no economic sense to continue supporting the complex CIWS system after 2015.
Interestingly, in 2016 the two LPDs should change position, with HMS Albion returning into full service and readiness and with HMS Bulwark "going to sleep". Both ships will face works, as they enter and exit active service respectively, and my guess is that in these maintenance periods the ships will lose their Goalkeeper pairs, hopefully replaced by Phalanx 1B or by other, more modern CIWS systems.
The removal of Goalkeeper will create some more free space aboard the LPDs, as the 30mm gun, differently from the Phalanx, has a significant below-deck penetration of 2.5 meters, evidenced by the presence of a one-floor structure under the Goalkeeper mounted on the bow of the LPDs.
The large and powerful Goalkeeper system was originally acquired in 15 units: one on each of the 4 Type 22 frigates, 3 on HMS Invincible and 3 on HMS Illustrious (HMS Ark Royal was given Phalanx) and a set of 2 on each of the two LPDs, Albion and Bulwark. The last gun is shore mounted system for training.
The Royal Air Force has taken delivery of the first upgraded Puma
Eurocopter handed the first Puma HC2 back to the RAF. The upgraded helicopter, is part of an order for 24 machines, upgraded to HC2 standard by fitting new Turbomeca Makila 1A1 engines, more powerful and less fuel thirsty; glass-cockpit avionics; a new secure communications suite, new defensive countermeasures and ballistic protection for crew and passangers. According to some reports, the new engines and fuel tanks will allow the Puma "to carry twice the payload on a distance three times greater".
The helicopters are upgraded under a 300-plus million pounds order signed in 2009 and will stay in service until 2025. As of 2011, the NAO expected the expenditure to be 326 million pounds, with a budget approval of 339.
The IOC is described as "6 helicopters at Theatre Entry Standard" ready to deploy.
By October 2014, all 24 Puma helicopters and an upgraded simulator are due to be delivered. The 24 machines will sustain a Forward Available Fleet of 22 helicopters, with 22 crews being trained.
The Puma HC2 is intended to "cover the gap" that will be created by the much awaited modernization and mid-life upgrade to the Merlin HC3 and HC3A, which should include navalization features and turn the Merlin into "HC4". The availability of the Puma will allow the Merlin airframes to go back to factory for the upgrade.
The Merlin HC4 is the intended replacement for the Sea King HC4 employed by the Commando Helicopter Force. Naval personnel is being trained on the Merlin and the first flight with a fully-navy crew happened this month.
The Business Plan of the MOD for the next years says that the Merlin MK4 (or HC4) will be in service in January 2017, with the Sea King HC4 out of service by April 2016. There will likely be a "mini-gap" in which the Commando Helicopter Force has very few Merlin helos available for use, if these are the dates.
The full extent of the navalization process is currently unknown. The Assessment Phase for the navalization process as been announced as part of the 10-years budget, and this will decide the full extent of the changes. Already in 2010, however, it was reported that, while a folding rotor is required, the Navy might do without a folding tail, since the Merlin won't need it to fit on the lifts of the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers from which it is expected to fly.
It remains the fact that the tail, unfolded, means a larger deck footprint, which in turn means less helicopters carried.
Then again, with only 25 Merlin HC3/3A planned to be upgraded and retained, full hangars are unlikely to be a pressing issue...
Surprising: according to British Forces News, the UK is in talks to acquire the V22 Osprey
Reportedly, Boeing confirms that british officers have flied on the V22 and, more significantly, that talks are underway for an order.
[NOTE: the above link no longer works. British Forces News removed the article and associated video from their website. This could possibly be an indirect confirmation that negotiations are effectively underway, but it could also be an epic case of about turn caused by a firm denial of Boeing or the MOD about the reported news.]
I still find it hard to believe, but... it's worth linking this article of mine, looking at the proposed uses of the Osprey aboard aircraft carriers.
There is also another possible destination for the V22 Osprey if it was ever acquired by the UK: special forces use. And, indeed, the Wildcat Light Assault Helicopter that was supposed to go to the Special Forces, into 657 Squadron Army Air Corps, has vanished from the radars... Can it be because of the Osprey?
I repeat, i remain skeptic. The "4 new, 4 converted" Wildcat solution was costed at little more than 30 million pounds of net additional cost by the NAO, while an Osprey solution would cost possibly up to 40 million per each airplane.
Do you think a switch from option A to option B is possible, in time of cuts? Or better, justified?
I've asked minister Peter Luff about this news, and his kind reply on Twitter says:
I can honestly say we had no plans whatsoever - but Boeing, being good salespeople, kept on offering!
A forecast, i'll dare making, though. If the V22 Osprey is acquired for the Special Forces, 657 Sqn Army Air Corps will die, and the Osprey will go to a RAF Squadron.
Remember my words!
BAE and EADS might merge; France and Germany to collaborate on the MALE
There is apparently no way to keep EADS out of the Telemos MALE project. BAE and EADS are in merger talks, with BAE that would control only 40% of the resulting colossus.
And France has just signed a deal with Germany to collaborate in the development of a Medium Altitude, Long Endurance unmanned aircraft, while "respecting the commitment to bilateral collaboration with the UK".
Say what you want, but it looks like it is a trinational effort now. And EADS is in, in any case.
I'm not sure if the MOD will be happy for this. Very possibly, it won't be.
For sure, Italy's Alenia won't be amused, and will seek a way in as well.