Monday, September 24, 2012

SDSR: the words it didn't say

Time and obsessive attention on my part continue to bring forth more and more unpleasant and obscure elements of the SDSR and of the successive "restructuring" in programs and timelines. today confirms a fear that i've reported more than once on this blog, that the Royal Navy will have a gap of at least four years in Airborne Early Warning capability when the Sea King ASaC MK7 is retired in 2016.
Crowsnest, which is confirmed as part of the Core Budget at least, is not expected to deliver before 2020. Indeed, some documents suggest that it could be 2021 or even 2022 before it can enter service.

The recent damning report of the Defence Committee on Marittime Surveillance after Nimrod contains the hint, where it notes that:

There is the potential for other capability gaps to occur, such as when the Sea King airborne surveillance and control helicopter is withdrawn in 2016 to be replaced by the Project Crowsnest operating from the Merlin Mk2.

This is another blow to the operational effectiveness of the Royal Navy, that is close to being zeroed. It is also spitting in the face of hard-gained direct and bloody experience: the Falklands evidently have not seen enough ships sunk to learn the goddamn lesson.

There is also apparently no hope left to see the AEW package going on the (at this point wasted) remaining Merlin HM1 airframes, as the MOD's description of Crowsnest is:

Project CROWSNEST will satisfy the requirement for an assured Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) capability to provide long range surveillance and battlespace management to Carrier Strike and Littoral Manoeuvre task groups. Project CROWSNEST is to replace SKASaC. The mission system solution will be hosted on the existing Merlin Mk2 aircraft, affording that platform a true multi-role capability across the air, maritime, land, surface and sub-surface environments. This will exploit the flexibility inherent in having a bolt-on sensor package that could allow either Anti-Submarine Warfare or ASaC role to be discharged dependent on the Commander's requirements (although to note the two roles may be mutually exclusive for concurrent or simultaneous operations). 

Another sizeable reduction in the strenght of the Fleet Air Arm is ahead, with the loss of the current AEW squadrons, and the passage of yet another mission on the shoulders of a shrinking Merlin community, with the predictable result that there will be no longer enough ASW, nor enough AEW. A disaster on the whole line.
It's worth remembering that the Merlin is also supposed to "close the gap" left by the loss of Nimrod.
Someone in the MOD really believes that Merlin is a wizard, and not an helicopter present in a fleet that will only number 30 and supposed to deliver 6 to 8 Small Ship Flights, carrier-wing flight (up to 6 helicopters) and presence in Bahrain for maritime security, and presence on RFA vessels.
Asking for miracles.  

Also, the SDSR said that the Hunt and Sandown classess of minesweepers would continue service (in number of 14, so one is due to retire soon...?) and start the transition to a "new capability" from 2018.
This was widely read as implying the start of their replacement with the MCM, Hydrographic and Patrol Capability ship (MHPC), but it now appears that this was very wide off the mark.
A DSTL call for papers on technological innovation in marittime applications contains a little bit of detail on the shape of MHPC, described as a "phased approach".
Ultimately, it is revealed that in 2018, at most, there will be a capability insertion into the current vessels, but new ships are not due until a decade later, in 2028 at the earliest. 

In 2018, if the plan survives the next planning rounds, the Hunt class of minesweepers (or, more likely, a selected number of ships in the class) will finally get the first new Unmanned Underwater Vehicles and Unmanned Surface Vehicles designed to provide a flexible stand-off MCM capability.
In particular, Thales and ASV Ltd have recently teamed up to develop a novel USV which will conduct payload trials in 2013 and is targeted at the Royal Navy needs, specifically for adoption on the Hunt. This new unmanned vehicle will have full payload flexibility, with the capability to tow sonars and sweep equipment and/or the capability to remotely deploy other drones, such as underwater mine-clearing devices such as the in-service SeaFox.

This is, however, only the latest reincarnation of a requirement that has been agonizing since 2005, when the Hunt minesweepers lost forever their on-board towed influence sweeping equipment.
This was due to be swiftly replaced with unmanned systems which would be fitted to 4 of the Hunt vessels under a 150 million contract. The unmanned vehicle, developed by ATLAS under the acronym FAST (Flexible Agile Sweeping Technology) didn't actually enter service, however: instead, it is to this day being used to research and demonstrate the use of unmanned vehicles in off-board MCM operations.
In 2011, FAST deployed at sea, controlled via radio, and launched a SeaFox mine-disposal drone, acting as a communications relay platform keeping the Mission Command center (installed in a container on the shore) in contact with the SeaFox in action underwater, in a world's first.

The Thales USV (which is actually apparently required to be Optionally Manned) is expected to deliver a more complete, all-round capability, which will finally enter service. Hopefully.
The numbers have reduced, and from 4 Hunt vessels fitted now the ambition is to fit only one. 
The MOD expects to buy two complete USV systems, one of which will be integrated on a Hunt vessel, while the other will be "deployable" and configured so to be operated from the shore or from a vessel of opportunity.
The USV will have to operate remotely at 12 miles from the mothership and will have to offer a wide variety of capabilities: electric, magnetic and acoustic influence sweep systems, but it will also demonstrate deployment of other, smaller Unmanned Vehicles and deployment and employment of sonars and sensors meant to detect the mines.
This will be a demonstrator to the future MHPC full capability, while delivering (with many years of delay) a replacement for the influence sweep capability once offered by the Hunt.

The USV project is part of an Unmanned Vehicle demonstrator program that was kick-started this year, to define a full equipment set comprising Medium and Small Underwater vehicles, Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), Delayed Disposal Charges (as opposed to the current One-Shot SeaFox disposal vehicle, that is sacrificial, the DDC is placed on the mine and detonated when the unmanned vehicle has gotten back to safety - one off the shelf option being the COBRA system intended for use on SeaFox itself) and a surface craft capable to deploy the unmanned vehicles at stand-off range.
The package, once fully defined, will be globally deployable and able to operate from shore and from ships.

At least, the MCM package is taking the right shape, and much of the necessary systems and capabilities already exist and are, to a degree, proven.
The 2011 demonstration with FAST, SeaFox and deployable command post ashore was particularly precious and illuminating. With the USV hopefully demonstrated next year, the system will get considerably more mature.
The bad news is, of course, that MHPC vessels are far, far away in time.

In the early 2020s we should see the entry in service of the 3 vessels of the MARS Solid Support Ship type. There is still little in the way of detail about these vessels, meant to replace Fort Victoria, Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin. Fort Rosalie had a "first" last year when it became the first RFA vessel taking aboard an Apache helicopter, which it delivered to HMS Ocean for operations.
Fort Austin, which had been in reserve from 2009, has been re-activated and is about to re-enter service following an extensive refit.
Unless their lives are further extended, however, the Forts will retire in the first years of the new decade (Rosalie in 2022, Austin in 2021), and for this reason "additional work on MARS" is part of the funded Core Budget for the next 10 years. Their replacements will be needed not far into the future (in defence planning terms).

The MARS SSS requirement was once only for 2 vessels, because the support to amphibious and army forces ashore from the sea would be provided by 3 "Joint Sea Based Logistic" vessels. Unsurprisingly, the JSBL was soon enough killed in budget cuts, and currently the assumption is to have their intended role "added" to the SSS, with a boost from 2 to 3 ships.

The SSS will employ the new "Heavy-RAS" kit from Rolls Royce, which can move 5-ton pallets instead of the current 2, a dramatic improvement. The H-RAS kit is already being installed in a shore training facility at HMS Raleigh.
The ships are also expected to have, much like the current Forts, a great Aviation-Support capability, with large hangars for multiple helicopters. 

Other than this, though, we do not know much about the ship's design yet. However, an interesting concept drawing has appeared, which shows a two-spot flight deck, a triple hangar for Merlin-sized helicopters and, most interestingly, a RoRo ramp for vehicles and a LPD-style well deck. This feature, which has appeared on several designs of "Joint" Solid Support vessels around the world, might be inherited, along with the role of support to troops ashore, from the defunct JSBL. It is too early to say if this project will be the definitive one, but it seems safe to assume that some real consideration is going into giving the SSS a vehicle deck and the possibility to operate with large LCU crafts for the delivery of supplies, vehicles and logistic services to troops ashore. This is important, since the JSBL ship might well have been cancelled, but the requirements that brought to her in the first place are still very much there.

The MARS SSS concept art, quite detailed, shows very well the important aviation capabilities, but, crucially, shows a RoRo ramp for vehicles and a well deck.

Alive, but in coma, are two more "projects", the replacement of RFA Argus and of RFA Diligence. Diligence entered a new Major Service Life Extension refit, being given the hundredth breath of life, to enable her to deliver her invaluable services well into the 2020s, but will eventually need replacement. Its OSD has been pushed to the right again and again, and she was already life extended in 2007, out to 2017. If the new life-extension is as ambitious, it'll be a further 10 years. At some point, though, it will be impossible to delay the decision any further.

Argus will also not live forever. Replacing her with two much enhanced 200-bed hospital ships was one of the big promises already of the SDR 1998, and here she is, still going strong and with no real alternative yet in sight. And no second vessel in the role either.
The attempts to proceed with a replacement have been numerous, and came up with several impossible acronyms, from Primary Casualty Receiving Ship (PCRS) to Joint Casualty Treatment Ship (JCTS), the current denomination of Argus herself, which is also an invaluable Auxiliary Aviation Ship used for training, but also for maritime security and disaster relief operations, deploying in the Gulf or in the Caribbean.
Currently, the name of her intended replacement is "MR3MC", keeping up the tradition of impossible acronyms. This stands for Maritime Role 3 Medical Capability.

Is it really so monstrous to suggest that the International Aid budget, only budget seeing a net increase (and what an increase, at + 35%!), helps funding an hospital ship that could well be a big investment in the kind of "soft power" that the government loves, being in first line to help in case of disaster or to routinely provide support to countries in need, while also meeting RN needs?
I don't think it would be unfair.

The Diligence replacement, indicated with the acronym OMAR (Operational Maintenance and Repair Ship) was first studied in 2006, but naturally did not go far.
I found mention in a DSTL document of a mysterious "FRC", which i suspect means Forward (or Future) Repair Capability. It was accompanied by a tiny concept drawing of a ship that would appear fitted with large cranes, space for various containers, hangars and workshops.

Interestingly, the MR3MC, the FRS and the MARS SSS seem to share the same hull design, obviously stretched and adapted to each role.

Much less detailed concept art of the new Diligence replacement (?) and of the new hospital ship. Far too early to say that they will happen and actually be as drawn, but at least there seems to be thinking going on still. The hospital ship shows a large flight deck that would enable the vessel to continue to serve as aviation training ship. The base hull design seems to be the same. 

The MARS SSS is a fundamental capability for the armed forces, as it is indispensable to sustain military effort abroad.

At times, the "want of frigates" blinds us all to the less glamorous but even more important needs of the armed forces. But Logistic Ships and other vital enablers should always be in spotlight in a coherent strategy. Without them, lots of frigates will be largely useless.

The Royal Navy is certainly short on escorts, but much as in the Army capbadges always get all the attention, in the Navy destroyers and frigates take the attention away from the kind of specialized shipping that makes the RN important.
Aircraft carriers, amphibs, SSNs and logistic ships are what really make the Royal Navy relevant and capable. Mine Countermeasures follow, also due to the fact that the americans (quite weak in this sector) value the british MCM competency immensely.

Everyone who has the armed forces's efficiency at heart should always keep in mind that, at times, the back-end is more important than the front-end.


  1. Gaby

    A very fine post.

    “Is it really so monstrous to suggest that the International Aid budget, only budget seeing a net increase (and what an increase, at + 35%!), helps funding an hospital ship that could well be a big investment in the kind of "soft power" that the government loves, being in first line to help in case of disaster or to routinely provide support to countries in need, while also meeting RN needs?”

    No, it is not monstrous at all. Very fair and sensible , I would say.

    Isn’t it about time anyway that the government spent less on foreign aid and more on our own poverty-stricken depleted defences. I don’t know whether you saw the article in the “Sunday Telegraph” yesterday but the paper really is going to town in its campaign against what it calls “Foreign aid: the gravy train farce”.

    Some of the information reported verges on the ludicrous. For instance, a sixth of the money spent by the Department for International Development (DfiD) goes straight to the European Union’s aid programme, yet the DffID has no real say on how the money is then spent! Furthermore, the EU spends half its aid budget on “middle and higher income” countries, even though Britain believes those countries are too wealthy to merit support.

    Among the projects supported by our foreign aid money are apparently a Turkish television channel, promoting tourism in Iceland’s national park and a hotel training waiters on the holiday island of Barbados! We are also spending money on India which is sending a probe to Mars! We must be stark, staring bonkers! Meanwhile we have to reduce our Army to 80,000. They’re barking mad!

    1. I think my opinions on Aid are roughly the sames you have.
      It doesn't make me popular with Guardian readers, but it's what i think. Money largely if not entirely wasted.

    2. Aid works, Aid targets may not.

      But let me say this: All departments want more of the pie. For example, people would argue that there should be less spending on defence and more on social services or health or infrastructure. So don't blame one other department.

  2. Gaby

    "...that the Royal Navy will have a gap of at least four years in Airborne Early Warning capability when the Sea King ASaC MK7 is retired in 2016.
    Crowsnest, which is confirmed as part of the Core Budget at least, is not expected to deliver before 2020."

    I have thought for a long time that it is highly likely that the ASAC MK7 Sea King will have to be reprieved and stay in sevice for another 2-5 years. Maybe other versions too. It is a sturdy, resilient aircrft, still very capable. We cannot possibly send carriers (and there will be some in that timescale, with or without aircraft)to sea without AEW.

    1. It would be sensible to keep the Sea King for longer, but there does not seem to be any will to consider that.

  3. I felt like weeping when I read you're information on the Sea King ASaC MK7. I had hoped up until now that the 8-12 spare Merlin's would be used as replacements and in time to prevent any gap. Either this or that at the very least the Sea Kings would soldier on for a few more years until everything could be sorted out.

    To think, we have gone from the lofty heights of Osprey's and Hawk-eye's right down to the bargain basement lunacy of bolting AEW equipment onto an already hard pressed fleet. As you have already said, how on earth do they think these 30 airframes are going to provide enough examples for this multitude of tasks! It's even more difficult to imagine when one factors in training, maintenance and attrition spares.

    It is bad enough to imagine an already overburdened fleet being utilised in this way whilst a clutch of spare airframes are left to rot, but the idea of a capability gap really does take the biscuit! It just goes to show how lessons have to be learned and relearned time and time again. If things pan out the way you have predicted then it will be a betrayal of the many men that perished in the South Atlantic during 1982 because of the identical absence of a core capability.

    Frankly the idea of CVF heading off on deployment without any AEW cover terrify's me a little.

  4. P.S

    The rest of the information in you're article, especially the lack of movement on replacements for Argus, Diligence and the 3 Fort's seems sadly predictable. The RN and RFA have been in the difficult position of scrapping ships at a faster rate than they can be replaced for many years now.

    At least the news on the mine fleet was a little more stable (I have long since given up on expecting/hoping for the optimistic). New technology introduced onto the current hulls with replacements appearing in the 2020's sounds acceptable. It's good to see that the minimum fleet of 14 ships has been preserved post SDSR as well! I wonder when the superfluous one will be dropped.

  5. Challenger

    "Frankly the idea of CVF heading off on deployment without any AEW cover terrify's me a little."

    "a little"? It frightens the living daylights out of me! Very much agree with all you say, though.

    One thing. You refer to "a clutch of spare airframes (being) left to rot". Are you referring to Merlins there? Where will the spare ones be? I have never understood this. Surely by 2016 all the RAF's Merlins will have transferred to the Navy and roles will be found for all the airframes, or is that not the case? Gabriele can join in on answering this too, if he likes.

    1. Guess the RAF wants to (again) control AEW. That means CVF will/can only operate within coverage of a RAF E-3.

    2. Ha-ha, I said a little to try and play it down and not sound hysterical! I totally agree with you on how serious a situation it could be.

      I am sure Gab know's and may well clarify the situation but this is how I think things stand with the Merlin fleet...

      25 RAF Merlin's are being transferred to the RN Commando Helicopter Force, as you say from 2016 onwards. The RAF apparently has 28 airframes in it's inventory, so I can only assume that the other 3 have been written off, or will be cannibalised for spares, or the RAF wants to hang onto them for some other reason. Whatever is happening the RN isn't getting it's hands on them!

      That leaves the RN with 42 Merlin airframes (2 have been lost through battle damage). 30 are confirmed as being upgraded to ASW Mk2 standard. The remaining 12 Mk1 that won't be upgraded are thus superfluous to requirement and so presumably are in storage/reserve.

      This is the only bit that gets me confused. Until Gab's article most of the information pointed to at least some of the spare airframes being used for AEW. The talk was of 8-10 being fitted with Crowsnest in time to replace the Sea King's in 2016, which seemed rather sensible to me.

      Now we hear that the last element is being dropped altogether and that some of the ASW airframes will get an AEW capability bolted on in the distant future. So we could see fewer airframes doing more work with the same expectations on capability!

      That was what I meant when I said that the existing and active fleet will be hard pushed whilst potentially a load of extra airframes will be left in storage 'to rot'. I hope I have explained my thought process.

      All of this to save a bit of cash (probably not very much) in the short-term. Some things never change!

    3. The RAF has 6 ex-danes Merlin HC3A and 22 Merlin HC3. The indication is that the Navy will have a fleet of 25, but all 28 airframes could still be passed along if we consider that the Puma HC2 active fleet is to be 22 machines/22 crews, with a total of 24 airframes delivered.
      25 might indicate the "active" fleet. Or it could indicate that 3 of the helicopters (one or two sustained significant damage during training and operations) might not be considered fit for the future and could be cannibalised for spares.

      What i meant, however, regards the Naval Merlin: the total fleet once procured was 44 airframes. 2 were lost. 4 are in storage, presumably used as source for spare parts, and 38 are in the active fleet.
      The HM2 upgrade contract was for 30 helicopters with an option for the other 8, the idea being that the last 8 Merlin would eventually be updated later, so to continue working as the other airframes went to factory for the upgrade.

      These 8 to 12 airframes are the really wasted ones. Especially considering that there is a requirement for around 10 AEW platforms, one would assume that taking the 8 HM1s not yet updated, strip them of the ASW fit and equip them for AEW would be the most logic and in general the best solution.

      Unfortunately, it sounds like the Navy won't have any money for keeping more than the 30 HM2 already on order.

      There might still be some hope, assuming that the Navy manages to use the assessment phase to make it absolutely clear that 30 Merlins can't do all the work it is asked out of them.
      Assessment phase should begin before year's end: it will be the last chance for the Navy to try and obtain a better deal by using the 8 remaining HM1 airframes.

    4. Yes that's pretty much what I meant with the 28 RAF Merlin's. The 25 transferred are to be the active fleet whilst the remaining 3 may well be used in some other way, probably cannibalised for spares.

      I don't think we need more than 30 HM2 so I was fine with the extra 8-12 being left over as long as they were used in some other useful capacity.

      The idea of not utilising them for AEW is madness, as you say their is a requirement for around 10 airframes. Stripping and re-quipping the spare ones is the most logical choice and probably not something that would cost the earth.

      Lets just hope the money is found and the case is made, their is no way 30 Merlin's can do both roles, at least not effectively.

  6. @Jeneral28

    Hmm, yes that scenario would mean CVF could only operate in range of an RAF base, sort of defeats the point really!

    It would be a long way from 'four acres of sovereign territory deployable anywhere in the world'.

  7. Is it possible that the Sampson radar as fitted to the Type 45's has a much greater range than the present 996 and Artisan? It would seem to me if deploying into a war zone where enemy air superiority could be expected, an RN battle group would include a Type 45 or in a mixed Anglo-French/US or NATO command would use an equivalent ship as protection for the fleet, this probably being backed up in the RN with future mini UAV's or rotor craft versions etc. Let's not forget that Sampson and Artisan are both AESA or Phased Array/ AESA, so therefore could have their radars running 24/7 with little chance of detection unlike what happened in the Falklands. Mike R

    1. The coverage offered by Sampson is incomparably better, for a number of reasons. But it is always a surface-based radar, albeit placed on a high structure, and there are physical limitations you just can't overcome. Low-flying targets will still be detected only when they are already close.
      And geography can play havoc with the coverage offered by surface-based radars.

      As for the future UAS, these are likely to have 0 AEW use. They are likely to have only EO/IR sensors for surface surveillance, and (eventually) a tiny surface-search radar.
      They will not add to the air defence of the fleet.

    2. They are far from the capabilities of a proper AEW radar, but the Apache and WildCat's radars are both meant to have a air to air MTI mode. So they would provide some extended radar coverage to the surface ships.

      Also remember that if a emergency arose, then it shouldn't take long at all to get a AEW helicopter flying. It only took a couple of months or so in 1982 and that was basically from scratch. Even if the airframces are disposed of after 2016, its very likely that the radar and rest of the system would be kept in storage for a while, even if they weren't going to be used in Crowsnest. So either these could be moved to a merlin in a quick UOR or the Lockheed system could be accelerated to get some capability.

      So my opinion is that any gap would be far from good, but there are worse things that are currently being gapped, that there is no real quick solution to fixing if a emergency arose. Like the no fixed wing carriers and even the MPA gap. Although with the MPA, I think if a emergency arose then there are some things that could be done quickly to fill a least part of capability.

    3. Actually, the AEW Sea King in 1982 did not arrive in time at all.
      I respectfully disagree with your assessment. I'm an enemy of this kind of "gaps".

    4. I never said it arrived in time, I said it only took them a couple of months or so to get the first AEW sea king "ready". Yes by then the conflict was over, and yes in the future there could be some emergency were time is very limited. I don't like the gaps but I'm just saying there could be worse things that they could gap.

      Considering it is likely that we could be facing futher budget cuts in the future, I think its going to be a case of picking the things that we can regenerate quickly if needed.

  8. Challenger and Gaby

    Thanks to both of you for explaining extremely clearly the position regarding the Merlin airframes. I understand much better now.

  9. Very interesting information about future RFAs. As HMS Ocean will not be directly replaced, procuring an MR3MC will at least partially offset the loss of this vessel and provide our forces with a versatile platform with significant aviation capability.

  10. So the OMAR and MR3MC capabilities are being filled by two conventional vessels? I've just read an article you wrote a year ago regarding Argus and Diligence and you talk about the capabilties offered by super FLO-FLO barges currently used by the US Navy capable of carrying a Type 45, Type 23 or Type 26 aswell as up to 4 Minesweepers or even MHPC vessels! Not to mention recovering and bringing home critically damaged or grounded submarines! The article is fascinating and you stated the 41,000 tonne vessels come as cheap as 100 million a ship which is increadibly cheap when compareing it to its capabilities. All year round sailing, the ability to deploy OMAR stationary barges, Hospital barges and even an entire organised Assault force seems very attractive!

    Going back to that article and looking at this one, would the three proposed MARS SSS's which are intended to replace replenishment ships contradict the role of the FLO-FLO's or is the MARS SSS programme completely different? Are you saying that sticking with the MARS SSS is a good thing but to replace Argus and Diligance we sholud look at large FLO-FLO vessels instead of conventional RFA ships like the OMAR and MR3MC concepts in this article? Your articles fill my mind with ideas regarding the best deal for the navy and I would love to know where you still stand on this issue! In conclusion, are you saying the best thing the Navy should do is procure the 3 MARS SSS vessels that provide additional capability to the vessels they replace (Fort Class') by adding the additional aviation, (take over the role of Argus) load carrying, troop and vessel supporting and deploying capabilities of Albion for example? But as an alternative to Argus and Diligance, procure two civilian built FLO-FLO vessels capable of deploying a Hospital barge, an OMAR barge and when not deplying a barge carry additional troops, equipment or even carry a damaged vessel home? Please get back to me as I love this idea!

    1. MARS SSS's mission is to replenish ships at sea with food, spares and weapons and they must be able to embark, shelter and support several helicopters, which are also part of the replenisher role as they lift stores from the SSS to the ship being resupplied.

      In addition, they are meant to support troops ashore, especially after the loss of any hope of getting a separate ship type for this job.
      So, yes, in my opinion MARS SSS should have a well dock and some cargo/vehicle deck space to better meet the needs to deliver support to troops ashore.

      As for Argus and Diligence's replacements, it is not clear what the current approach is, and for many more years they will continue to be in service as they are now.
      But if i could decide how to meet the Argus and Diligence requirements, it would be with a couple of large FLO-FLO hulls with a Joint Sea Base barge (with hospital, as shown in that article you remember so well) and another barge with ship-repair workshops.
      The barge could easily be strategically sized so to be readily embarkable on FLO-FLO ships available on the civilian market, so that the Navy could, in time of need, phone Dockwise and charter one of their own FLO-FLOs.

      The OMAR concept as Barge on FLO-FLO was well liked by the Navy a few years ago, but as i said lack of money meant life-extension for Diligence and delay to the rest.

      The Joint Sea Base barge is an idea of mine, developed on technology and concepts already well demonstrated by the US Marines.

      Very glad you read and appreciated that article, it is an important one, but never got much attention.

    2. No problem! I agree with you on the ideas put forward. Even BMT with their independant study into the future of multi-role support vessels with OMAR capability in mind discovered that a FLO-FLO type ship delivers the best capability to cost ratio. As you have stated in that article, lets create a hypathetical, realistic situation in the next few years. The Falklands war proved a number of defects in Royal Navy capability and as you stated a civilian FLO-FLO was urgently borrowed and sent to the south Atlantic. Imagine we had a FLO-FLO with the task group anyway, instead of Diligance, not only could it drop off its OMAR and Hospital barges to support repair and if need be send a damaged frigate or destroyer back to the UK immediatly to ensure it survives. Other options are once the barge is deployed, use the ships wide deck area to organise landing parties (something we would of thought favourable for the RN and RM with the "rapid reaction force" at the core of any realistic future conflicts involving the UK.). The Ships can also without the barge, carry huge amounts of Supplies, Helicopters for Anti Piracy and Narcotics and even a Destroyer! The MoD need to innovate here. If One of these FLO-FLOs has saved two US navy Ships, it is just pure evidence that the concept is no longer a concept and that the idea works. I was overwhelmed by how cheap the Vessel was aswell (minus the barge and Navy Weapons and Sensors) Still, If we aim at two of these, one for OMAR and one for MR3MC the benefits outweigh the costs, It would still be as cheap as 2 conventional vessels for the task!

      One thing is clear though, from what you have discovered, the MARS SSS is in the 10 year core budget set out this year, am I correct? So we don't loose any RFA hulls. It's a 3 for 4 deal on the MARS and a 3 for 3 on MARS SSS which in every sence is a good thing. One other indeniable thing and I'm sure you've said it is that the OMAR and MR3MC vessels are also in the core 10 year budget? Although I'm sure you said we won't see any real replacement until after 202 which is a shame. I'm also dissapointed to here about the MHPC programme not delivering new vessels (preferably the £90million Venator)until 2028!? How can the Navy expect the plastic hulled Sandown and Hunt's to surive another 20 years!? They are already 30 years old!

    3. On the subject of MHPC I have done some research of my own from a number of sources and thanks to your constant informative attitude through this blog I have been inspired to follow in your footsteps and start making some of my own proposals. One of these is this. I believe the MHPC programme is also nicknamed the "1.4 billions programme" and it is purely for the hulls and not the equipment which is seperate and as you have stated above is being updated anyway on current MCM vessels. looking solely at the BMT Venator as an example of the ideal ship, I propose a replacement of 15 MCM vessels with 12 Venators. 12 as opposed to 8 because of the need for hulls. Kits as i have said can be transfered from the 15 already in service. The 12 in question would equip Three squadrons already in place. 4 based at Clyde to support Submarines, in MCM, Diver Support and limited replenishment, also providing the exchanging of crews at sea. 4 based at Portmouth to support the future Carrier Strike group and the Amphibeous Warfare group based around HMS Albion or Bulwark. The last 4 would be forward deployed at Cyprus, replacing the 3 already deployed constantly in Bahrain. The benefit of having the VENATOR as opposed to just any old MCM vessel is evident as you have pointed out. If these 4 where equipped with CAMM, Marines and the 76mm Otobreda. Their Anti-Piracy and Detternent properties provide a truley multi-purpose warship.

      On top of the first 12 split into two batches, entering service two per year, built at two ship-yards would be a futher 4. These next Four would replace HMS Echo, Enterprise and Scott. The first two inheriting Echo and Enterprise's equipment and the second two procureing kit similar to Scott's. There would be one Hydrographic and one Survey Vessel at both Clyde and Portsmouth, able to act independantly or support the Submarine/Amphibeous fleet in navigational excersises.

      On top of the 16 Vessels already procured to fufill MCM, Hydrographic and Survey capability would be a fourth batch of 6 vessels intended to replace the River and Scimitar Class. Four of the Vessels will be based at Devenport and fufill the fisheries protection role, with the fourth vessel also fufilling the role of Home Frigate/Destroyer Patrol when Frigates/Destroyers are needed elsewhere. Over 500 ships fish in the UK's EEZ and with the valuable North Sea Oil, Fields an expansion in UK EEZ protection would come as a bonus considering the french have 9 small frigates to guard their EEZ. The other 2 would fufill the role of Falklands Patrol ship and the last would replace the Scimitar class as the Gibraltar squadrons sole ship. Gibraltar is an essential outpost if the UK intends to maintain its naval commitments. The forward deployed Venator could quickly respond to humanitarian, detterence, S&R, Civilian Evacutation or Anti Piracy missions without neeeding to send a ship from home (a lesson learned in Libya). The total procurement would be for 22 ships estimasted at a pessimistic cost of 2.5 billion pounds over 11-12 years, including training, engineering and development costs. This is more than managable, affordable and takes the strain off of the Navy as a whole. The Venator also has excellent export potential.

      This is the only way I can justify procureing just 13 Type 26's. A surface fleet of 19 is already commited to escort and high intensity operations far from home. So, this "minor combatent fleet" I am proposing ensures that all other commitments are fufilled, allowing the Major Surface Fleets to remain supported far from home for as long as possible. I don't need to lecture you on the benefits as I am merely your apprentice! However, some feed-back on my propsal as to how pheasable and realistic would be appreciated.

    4. Oh and one final thing! Heads over to BMT's webpage. They have been working on a concept called F5. It looks very impressive and promising, However, It's place in the RN is something of fantasy. Could it be a design assesment for a future Type 45 replacement. I'm certain it has had no MoD funding but It seems to be aimed at the MoD. In terms of Affordability, it doesn't look cheap though. Similar idea to the US Zumwalt Class by appearance and capability. Thanks for your time!

    5. At least part of the funding for MARS SSS is part of the 10-year budget, yes, and some investment is already being made. It is possible, however, that not the whole program is covered, since the ships are likely to entry in service in the first years of the next decade, and part of the costs might be part of the next 10-year budget.

      MR3MC and Argus replacement at the state are not part of the committed budget, since both Argus and Diligence have been life extended. After 2020, however, it'll difficult to delay decisions any further. Both ships were taken up in 1982 for the Falklands, they won't live forever...!

      On your suggestion for MHPC, i totally agree on the concept, but i do not have the optimism to hope for such high numbers.
      I would especially note that the MOD will never have the funding to replace such small boats such as Scimitar with a 3000-ton corvette like MHPC.
      A more realistic option would be to try and replace Sabre, Scimitar and such with a few more Force Protection Crafts, there being armed boats roughly as big as an LCVP MK5 landing craft, planned by the Royal Marines for entry in service by 2016 and (i hope) confirmed in the 10-year budget.
      They would be perfect as presence boats in Gibraltar, too.
      I also fear that MHPC will - if we are lucky - be fitted for but not with CAMM. And the chances of seeing the royal navy introduce the 76mm Strales gun are very low, i fear. Most likely it'll only get 30mm guns, like an OPV.

      As for the F5, it is actually an "old" proposal which has been around for some time: it was prepared as part of Future Surface Combatant studies, which have now become the Type 26 program.


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