Sunday, November 10, 2013

The evolving equipment budget situation: of aircraft carriers and OPVs

1: Of aircraft carriers and OPVs 
2: Land forces
3: Helicopters

Replacing the Rivers?

The biggest news of the last while is the announcement that military shipbuilding in Portsmouth is closing down and 1775 jobs in the shipbuilding sector are to go, with 940 coming from Portsmouth itself and the balance from Filton, Rosyth and the Clyde's yards. The announcement did not come as a surprise, as it had been in the air for a long while. The surprise came from the fact that, althout the battle to obtain funding for the construction of two new OPVs to be produced in Portsmouth, to both reinforce the navy and keep the shipyard alive, has failed, the MOD intends to actually buy three OPVs.
This could be excellent news, wasn't for the fact that it won't actually do anything to save Portsmouth and for the fact that, at the moment at least, these three new, larger and more capable OPVs, are not presented as reinforcements but as a replacement for the current three River-class OPVs of the fishery protection squadron.

The three new OPVs are going to be larger, coming with a flight deck sized for medium helicopters up to Merlin size, and with "additional operational flexibility through extra storage capacity and accommodation". This seems to suggest that the new OPVs will have more to share with the Amazonas taken up by Brazil than with the current Royal Navy's Rivers. Depending on what exactly is meant with extra storage capacity, the new ships could also act as "prototype of sorts" for the future MHPC ships, but from the little we know the project should essentially be based on the 90m OPV design by BAE. According to BAE, the 90m OPV can embark 6 standard TEU containers 20' without occupying the flight deck.

The expected marginal cost of these three ships is expected to be in the range of 100 million pounds in addition to unavoidable TOBA fees which the MOD would have had to pay to BAE systems anyway in absence of work for the shipyards.

Under the terms of the TOBA, without a shipbuilding order to fill that gap, the MOD would be required to pay BAE Systems for shipyards and workers to stand idle, producing nothing while their skill levels faded. Such a course would add significant risk to the effective delivery of the T26 programme, which assumes a skilled work force and a working shipyard to deliver it.

Ordering ships, therefore, does make plenty of sense and it is exactly what myself and others have been shouting for a long while, asking for just two such vessels as a way to keep Portsmouth going, knowing that in a few years time the shipyards are supposed to experience another phase of major activity, enough to assume that it would be possible to keep all three major yards busy. In particular, observing the MOD plans (even bearing in mind that changes and cuts are a constant...) we have:

- Main Gate for Type 26 frigate at the end of next year with building of the first vessel expected to start in 2016. 13 vessels to be built, with the first entering service in 2021 and the last not before 2036;

- MARS Solid Support Ship: while the MARS Fleet Tanker requirement has been met ordering hulls in South Korea on the ground that tanker hulls are simple and are best built by yards which build commercial tankers all the time, the assumption is (was?) that MARS Solid Support Ship, being more complex and technologically sensitive, would be built in british yards. The Fort class supply vessels are due out of service in 2023 (Fort Austin) and 2024 (Fort Rosalie) and undoubtedly Fort Victoria is also planned to bow out roughly in the same timeframe (2025, possibly?), so the replacement vessels have to enter service in the early 2020s. If they are to be built in Britain, and now doubting of it is licit, they will overlap with the work for the Type 26 frigates.

- MHPC: in late 2012 a DSTL document said that the MCM, Hydrographic and Patrol Capability programme should deliver the first new vessel in 2028. MHPC will replace the Hunt and Sandown minesweepers and, possibly, the hydrographic ships HMS Enterprise and HMS Echo. HMS Scott and her oversized equipment are unlikely to be replaceable by the relatively small multipurpose vessel (some 3000 tons, according to most sources) envisaged for MHPC. Delivery of the first vessel in 2028 implies an overlap with the activities on the late Type 26 ships, which will continue to be built into the 2030s.

These three programs, in theory, could have kept all three the major shipyards going, if only the short gap in workload between the aircraft carriers and the Type 26 was bridged. But the decision taken indicates that either the remaining yards can do it all; or someone is anticipating being far less busy than planned; or work on MARS SSS hulls is, like that on MARS FT, heading for foreign shipyards.

The boat building activity in will survive the closure of the major surface warship activity. Of interest in this field we have the Royal Marines requirements for a Fast Landing Craft, which has however been put on hold and won't resurface before 2020, when the slow LCU Mk10 is supposed to finally retire; and the requirement for a Force Protection Craft. The fate of this second Royal Marines requirement is not clear at the moment. During DSEI this year, CTrunk, while unveiling its THOR catamaran solution for riverine, force protection and inshore mission, said that they are in contact with the MOD, which hopes to reveal its final requirements for the boat during next year.
The Force Protection Craft programme, at least until 2011 or early 2012, hoped to deliver 12 crafts, which would partially replace the current fleet of 21 LCVP MK5, from 2016.
Hopefully, the programme is still going ahead.

Waiting for clarity on how the closure of Portsmouth affects the above shipbuilding plan and hoping that closing the yard doesn't turn out to be only the first one of a series of bad news, i want to focus on the building of the three OPVs.
Subject to approval in the coming months, these new vessels will begin being built already next year, with the first due for delivery in 2017. Their biggest merits are that they do good use of money that the MOD couldn't avoid spending (in absence of the order for these ships, BAE would be entitled to around, i believe, a couple hundred millions of payments under the TOBA agreement) and that they keep the workforce going and preserves the shipbuilding skills ahead of the critically important Type 26 project.

The unpleasant bit of news about them is that they are expected, at least for now, to replace the River OPVs. These cheap and effective vessels have only been purchased outright from BAE last year, for 39 million pounds. Initially, in fact, the three ships were not owned by the Royal Navy, but they had instead been built under an arrangement with the shipbuilder, Vosper Thornycroft (VT), under which the Royal Navy leased the vessels from the shipbuilder for a period of ten years. VT were responsible for all maintenance and support for the ships during the charter period. At the end of this, the Navy could then either return the ships, renew the lease or purchase them outright. The first lease period was renewed in 2007, out to 2013. In September 2012 the outright purchase was announced.

The oldest one was only launched in 2002, so in 2017, if replaced, would bow out after a mere 15 years of life and just 14 years of service, having been commissioned in 2003. In my opinion, this is shameful and can't be allowed to happen, especially not in a Royal Navy already struggling to cover its basic, daily committments.
There is no real operational reason why the Rivers need to be urgently replaced by larger OPVs with aviation landing facilities. While additional capability is always welcome, it should not come at the cost of the Rivers. The Rivers are not combat vessels: they patrol the economic zone of the UK and control that fishery respects the rules. They are very busy ships and they are very precious in forming the officers that will then transfer to the large warships. But they have little to no combat use, they are tied to home waters and they do not really need aviation facilities that would be seldom used at best. A flight deck could be handy to operate small rotary wing UAVs, perhaps, but a Camcopter does not take a Merlin flight deck, and i'm pretty sure that enough space could be arranged in the stern of the current Rivers, if that was the idea.

The new OPVs announcement, in other words, as it has been made, smells of back-door capability slashing. The Merlin-capable flight deck immediately made me imagine an horrible scenario in which know-nothing MPs with little understanding of the military are made to think that the ability to refuel a land-based Merlin helicopter away from the shore using the OPVs is a replacement for the missing Maritime Patrol Aircraft capability, for example. Most obviously, for a tons of very good reasons, this wouldn't even rank as mitigation of the gap, and never could it be "a replacement".

The Rivers are very busy in their intended role, besides, and the replacement vessels would be just as busy, meaning that they would actually have very little chance to even try and use their greater capabilities, which in home waters are useful, at best, but not essential.
And having a Merlin-flight deck is of little use when the availability of Merlin helicopters is going to be next to none, with just 30 of them being retained and all of them already overtasked, especially with the AEW role falling on them as well, under CROWSNEST. 

One thing for which the large flight decks could be useful is for landing the S-92 helicopters of the civilian SAR service coming up, to refuel them and enable them to expand their reach out at sea, but even this might be an illusion as it is unclear if the PFI-supplied crews will even have any deck-landing certification.

MP Bob Stewart has, admiradly, thought of the same thing, but still we have no precise answer on whether that would be possible. The helicopter could surely use the deck, but would the crews be qualified for it? That's the real question.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Most people suggest that our biggest defence capability is not in maritime patrol aircraft. I am no expert—although I can see that there are many naval experts in the Chamber—but could this new River class OPV, with its enhanced length and helicopter deck, also be used to cover the gap between 240 nautical miles, the distance a land-based helicopter can go out from our shores into the Atlantic, and the 1,200 nautical miles for which we are treaty responsible? Could it perhaps play some sort of MPA role in that area?

Mr Hammond: I have not looked at the specification in detail, but I do not envisage that the thing will be able to take off and fly. I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, however, and we are conscious of the gap in maritime patrol aircraft capability. It is one issue that will be addressed in SDSR 2015 and we will manage the gap in the meantime through close collaboration with our allies. We are considering all the options, including, potentially, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in a maritime patrol role in the future.

Also note how, as i feared, irrealistic mentions of MPA capability are made. Back-door capability cutting, camouflaged as new capability being delivered. Disasterous, and tipically suited to politicians. Better to keep one hunded eyes open on this matter. 

In other words, there is no real need to replace the Rivers with these new vessels. Losing the current River vessels would be a waste, and the greater capabilities of the replacements could also end up largely wasted.
In fact, these new vessels would be perfectly suited for interdiction of smuggling, for protection of oversea territories (And the Caribbean standing task springs to mind) and counter-piracy work as well, as noted by Hammond himself in answer to a question by Peter Luff: 
Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): I commend the Secretary of State, the Minister for defence equipment—the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne)—the Chief of Defence Matériel and all those involved for making the best of a very difficult situation. Will my right hon. Friend clarify the purpose and capabilities of the three new very welcome offshore patrol vessels?

Mr Hammond: They will be more capable than the existing River class, as they will be able to take a larger helicopter and will be 10 metres longer. They will be able to undertake a full range of duties, including not only fishery protection but the interdiction of smuggling, counter-piracy operations and the protection of our overseas territories.

To do all that, though, the new vessels would have to sail far away from home and, most likely for it to have any sense, they would have to be forward based, like HMS Clyde in the Falklands. While the OPV is suited for ocean navigation, it has a very short logistic endurance in terms of stores and, in part, in terms of fuel, so that sailing it back and forth from the UK would be unworkable.
The new OPV would be a perfect solution for the West Indies committment, if it was forward based there. If the ships end up home-based, and tied to the River's current role, they won't be able to do anything of what they could and should do. 

In my opinion, the Royal Navy can obtain an excellent boost in capability if it manages to retain the Rivers for fishery protection and home waters, using the new vessels in addition, forward-basing them overseas. I can think of three locations:

Caribbean, removing a committment that has been a source of problems and embarrassment for the Royal Navy which has long struggled to find a way to send a warship, having to resort extensively to RFA vessels which would also be very much needed elsewhere, for their actual role.

Gibraltar, because from the base the OPV would be able to engage with allies, with North and West African countries while also providing much needed reassurance to the Gibraltarians, which are loudly calling for a more tangible sign of UK support

Bahrain, because the OPV would be able to provide additional anti-FAC protection to the minesweeper squadron there and/or deploy to piracy-infested waters, restoring more enduring british presence in the wider area and relieving the warships from another role which has been hard to cover with a sheet which is, at the moment, just too short.

The challenge is, of course, in budget and manpower. The Royal Navy is exceptionally lean-manned, following the latest cuts. The insufficient manpower is possibly the biggest problem that must be overcome to bring the second aircraft carrier into service alongside the first, and trying to man three new patrol vessels as well, even with the crews being pretty small, is not going to be straightforward at all.
In terms of cost, the River class costs annually just about 20 millions per year. More correctly, it did in 2010: the current value is probably different. The outright purchase of the vessels has been made in the assumption (hopefully supported by facts) that removing the lease costs would reduce the annual expenditure, while further differences are likely because of inflation and other factors. Anyway, we are talking of a very small amount for three very useful vessels with plenty of life left in them. The new OPVs will also be hopefully quite cost-effective, so the Royal Navy should make every effort to secure all six in the longer term.

The door for such a decision, at least in the words, is left open:

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) for her doughty struggle to get a good city deal for her constituents and for the vision for the OPVs that to my knowledge she has been outlining for at least two years. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the OPVs will to some extent provide a force multiplier for our frigate fleet? Some of the roles carried out by frigates do not require full frigate capability, so the OPVs could be a way of partially expanding that capability.

Mr Hammond: At the risk of causing her to blush, I am happy once again to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North. I should say to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) that no decision has yet been taken about whether the old River class vessels will be retired after the new OPVs are brought into service. That decision will have to be made in SDSR 2015 based on the ongoing budget challenges of maintaining additional vessels at sea. That will be a decision for the Royal Navy.

This is somewhat reassuring, as well as the admission that there has not been a decision on where to base the new OPVs. If they were already certainly meant as a replacement for the Rivers, the basing answer would be pretty simple.
Of course, the door is not locked, but this does not make it easy to push it wide open and squeeze the new ships and the old ships through. I can only hope that the Royal Navy realizes how decisive the next SDSR is going to be for its future, and i hope people is hard at work, already now, to make sure to fight the incoming battle with the utmost determination.

Any possible solution should be actively considered. To overcome the manpower issues, it might be attractive to use RFA manpower, but we must not forget that the SDSR took away 400 men from it as well, leaving it far from being overmanned.

Another chance, which has the favor of government, is the use of reserve personnel. This is the only area that is seeing a manpower increase, and it is also low-cost manpower compared to regulars, so it might be very helpful to find ways to fill as many posts as possible on board of the OPVs with reservists, even though it is challenging: normally, a crew member on a River stays onboard for four weeks and then rotates ashore for two weeks, while the ship is at sea for most of the year. Finding a way to make good use of reserves in this cycle could be challenging. 

A note on the aircraft carriers as well: as part of the announcement, Hammond confirmed that the cost of the enterprise has grown further, to 6.2 billion, an increase of 800 million from the last announced figure. If we believe to the secretary, however, this has had no impact on projects other than the carriers themselves, as the increase has been absorbed using the programme's own built-in financial margins. This, we are told, has avoided the use of any of the 4 billion pounds contingency reserve built into the 10-year budget:

In 2012, I instructed my Department to begin negotiations to restructure the contract better to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to ensure the delivery of the carriers to a clear time schedule and at a realistic and deliverable cost. Following 18 months of complex negotiations with industry, I am pleased to inform the House that we have now reached heads of terms with the alliance that will address directly the concerns articulated by the PAC and others. Under the revised agreement, the total capital cost to Defence of procuring the carriers will be £6.2 billion, a figure arrived at after detailed analysis of costs already incurred and future costs and risks over the remaining seven years to the end of the project. Crucially, under the new agreement, any variation above or below that price will be shared on a 50:50 basis between Government and industry, until all the contractor’s profit is lost, meaning that interests are now properly aligned, driving the behaviour change needed to see this contract effectively delivered.The increase in the cost of this project does not come as a surprise. When I announced in May last year that I had balanced the defence budget, I did so having already made prudent provision in the equipment plan for a cost increase in the carrier programme above the £5.46 billion cost reported in the major projects review 2012 and I did that in recognition of the inevitability of cost-drift in a contract that was so lop-sided and poorly constructed.
I also made provision for the cost of nugatory design work on the “cats and traps” system for the carrier variant operation and for reinstating the ski-jump needed for short take-off and vertical landing operations. At the time of the reversion announcement, I said that these costs could be as much as £100 million; I am pleased to tell the House today that they currently stand at £62 million, with the expectation that the final figure will be lower still.
Given the commercially sensitive nature of the negotiations with the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, I was not able publicly to reveal these additional provisions in our budget, since to do so would have undermined our negotiating position with industry. However, the MOD did inform the National Audit Office of these provisions, and it is on that basis that it reviewed and reported on our 10-year equipment plan in January this year.

I am therefore able to confirm to the House that the revised cost of the carriers remains within the additional provision made in May 2012 in the equipment plan; that as a result of this prudent approach, the defence budget remains in balance, with the full cost of the carriers provided for; and that the centrally held contingency of more than £4 billion in the equipment plan that I announced remains unused and intact, 18 months after it was announced.
In addition to renegotiating the target price and the terms of the contract, we have agreed with the Aircraft Carrier Alliance to make changes to the governance of the project better to reflect the collaborative approach to project management that the new cost-sharing arrangements will induce and to improve the delivery of the programme. The project remains on schedule for sea trials of HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2017 and flying trials with the F35B commencing in 2018.

Hoping that this is true, because any penny matters, these days, and the two major army programmes, the FRES SV and Warrior CSP, are both dealing with some trouble and delays which might cause cost increases, and i'll talk of armour in the coming days in a new post.


  1. There is little rationale for a ship to the Carribean. That is handled well enough by frigate or FRA visits there. Such a placement has been in place for almost more than two decades. You need to consider international relations (a subject which I rankly think you are weak in while you criticise MPs for not knowing military issues) before sprouting out fantasy fleet ideas.

    1. Oh, i'm sure they would be horribly offended if there was a forward based patrol vessel providing maritime security and disaster relief. I think they will revolt.


      The whole point of the suggestion is that the "visits" of frigates, which are in theory supposed to cover the whole lenght of one year, are no longer quite possible because there is too few frigates. In 2005 the "visits" became necessary because the RN was no longer able to be present in the area for more than the most high-risk months, july to october.
      Funnily, MPs were promised that a 12-month presence would be restored from 2006. It actually got worse, and sending a frigate has become even harder, so that RFA ships have taken their place. But, you know, RFA vessels have other jobs too, and would be better employed in their intended roles.

      Earlier, around the clock presence was ensured by what was then known as West Indies Guard Ship.

      I'm afraid you are the one who does not get it. No one has asked the UK to gap the presence in the area, quite the opposite. And no, the "visits" are not really enough, apart from being a drain on the very limited resources of the current RN's escort fleet.

    2. The awkward moment when people can't work out that a forward deployed OPV frees up a tanker or frigate for more important work elsewhere :P

      Seems bonkers that forward basing OPV's would be considered "offensive" but they appear to be happy with fully armed frigates popping along, missiles and all . . .

    3. No one in the area has anything to say against the Dutch's presence either, which is rather sizeable and includes, surprise surprise, a guard ship on six month turns!

  2. Firstly a bad day for Portsmouth a sad end to complex warship construction in England. These Ocean going patrol vessels are good news for the RN (we hope not at the expense of future numbers) the fact that the person who drew up the ToBA for the MOD- BAE systems in the MOD should be sacked the fact were getting 3 new ships for nearly the cost of he yards being dormant is shocking its a pity the MOD didn't think the same for Barrow when they stretched out the Asutue class subs build time instead of building an 8th sub but there again there is no referendum in Lancashire and Cumbria.
    The equipment fit on these ships will also be important if they are to chase down drug traffickers and counter terrorist ops and anti piracy they need a hanger for a helicopter also will a 30mm be enough ? these are questions that need answering

  3. I have to comment and say that whilst I appreciate all the articles written in the blogershpere on this subject, maybe this weeks unfortunate events in the Phillipines highlights the stupidity of this decision. It is a short term money saving idea which is going to cost us in the long term. Navy shipbuilding doesn't happen in 5yr SDR review cycles, capacity and locations take years to desin. Anybody who has any knowledge in this field knows the T26 build programme is not the only ships needing replacement. Not only do we have the "Forts" to replace, HMS Ocean, plus all the other boats listed in your article. Further with the Phillipines would it not have been incredibly helpful to have an HMS Ocean close by ready with helicopters, all terrain vehicles, desalination plant, medical bay etc etc. Combine this with mexi floats and landing craft plus a medium sized old container ship to act as a stores ship and you have an asset to effect real life saving effort. Dual role it so it has complex radars etc it can act as the control centre for the whole relief. a detachment of Royal Marines to cover security looting etc. Rather than send £10m that is wasted a ship on standbye in the Indian Ocean/Pacific Rim ready to help with rescue equipemnt on board. Paid for out of the bloated £10bn aid budget. The plus points ;
    1. The Glasgow yards can build all this big stuff over the next 20yrs.
    2. Keeps Portsmouth open building OPV's and then T26's.
    3. Keeps a strategic capability in the UK whilst providing real help to people in these disaster hit areas.
    4. Nothing like projecting soft power with a big ship with a huge union jack on it's side or Leyland 8x8 trucks turning up in your devastated Town with food and water.
    5. The best people in a war zone which the Phillipines now looks like are Soldiers, clearing the airport, roads getting things fixed. Maybe a good way of training UK forces. The effort of the Fort ? in Haiti springs to mind.

    We know that this decision to close Portmaouth was based on
    1. A dodgy blackmail plo of the Scottish people on independance.
    2. BAe shipbuilding being run by Scotman who were determined from day one to close Portsmouth (why you spend xxxMillions of pounds to throw something away).
    3. Stupid politicians who can't think out of the box.
    4. The wish of the Torry Party to spend billions on aid whilst our armed forces crumble to nothing.

    So what does everybody think ?

    1. I don't think they are planning to replace the HMS ocean, They are going to use the two new carriers in the LSD role instead.

  4. Without having any idea of comparative costings .... what do you think the possibility of getting three Khareef class is?? At 99 metres it seems to me that the size is right as is the equipment/armament fit. I did see the term "Ocean" Patrol vessel used which is, in my mind, something that indicates something a little larger and better equipped than an "Offshore" Patrol vessel.

    1. The size of the vessels would be comparable, but i think that the MOD will never want to fit the weaponry and sensors of the Khareef, more for the cost of maintaining them and training crews for their use in the long term than for their initial acquisition cost. I think it'll only be about 30mm gun mounts...

  5. Why cannot the Type 26 build not be brought forward, is it funding which I find hard to belive as the cost of the three OPV's plus payments due to BAe under TOBA will likely be £200M plus.
    The design of the Type 26 is taking an inordinate length of time and cost, what is the mindset of the MoD that allows things to drag out and costs spiral upwards, the commercial shipyards of South Korea will design and build more sophisticated vessels both naval and commercial than the Type 26 in the time that it has been under contract to BAe and no wonder at a substantially cheaper prices.

  6. Good post Gab, nice to see you back!

    You have basically said what I have been thinking for the last few days. By going down the OPV route it means a lot of other stuff is going to continue to be deferred. To avoid any more reductions or capability gaps we are going to have to find the money and capacity to build at the very least T26, MARS SSS and MHPC (in whatever shape or form it takes) all at once.

    I agree as well that 3 more capable OPV's isn't a bad idea in itself, but to replace 15 year old Rivers with them would be madness! It wouldn't really constitute any net gain in the long run because as you say they would be pretty much constantly tied up with fisheries and other offshore work, plus you don't need larger, more capable vessels to fulfill what is essentially a peacetime, domestic role.

    I take hope as well in Hammond saying it will be for the RN to decide. Forward basing these ships in the West Indies, Mediterranean and Persian Gulf like you suggest would (if done properly) massively alleviate the strain being currently put on the escort fleet.

    Would you be on board with the idea of sacrificing the 13th T26 to keep these OPV's? The ships would be annually cheap to run and the 180 or so crew a single frigate needs would surely provide the manpower required?

    18 high-end frigates and destroyers tasked with providing a Fleet Ready Escort at home, a single ship to the South Atlantic, 1-2 ships in the Gulf and furnishing the Response Force Task Group with sufficient assets sounds about right to me.

    1. I would very much try and avoid giving away a frigate at this stage, with so much challenges still to face to try and properly replace the Type 23 class without halving the strenght of the navy. But i don't think it would be too bad an idea.

      In fact, if the "general purpose" Type 26s were sacrificed in exchange for two more fully kitted T26 ASW and a decent number of patrol vessels (more substantially armed than the Rivers, of course), i think it would be a better deal than getting 8 kitted and 5 "bare-bones" T26s.

    2. So with the above in mind, that would leave us with 6 T-45 and 10 T-26. In terms of high end escorts I actually think that would acceptable. Assuming the "right" answer to the Global Patrol/Corvette question could be reached.

      On that front I would suggest that the Khareef design still holds merit, albeit with potential down-rated sensors and the MICA and Exocet deleted and the latest OTO-76/32 Strales included, along with a Wildcat (would such a design and equipment suddenly become "more" acceptable if they were to only receive 10 T-26?)
      A further question would be, could the same basic design also be used for the MHPC requirement - it would be great if all the "smaller ships" could be standardised on a single core hull type albeit with differing sensors and capabilities would it not?

    3. A 76 Strales and a dozen of CAMM missiles would be an excellent fit to start operational life with. And yes, i think the new patrol vessel should also ideally become the MHPC mothership, so the back of it should come with a stern slipway and a large cargo deck for MCM equipment etcetera. Too many classes in service at once would negate part of the advantages, after all.

    4. I agree in a sense that id like to see more 'full fat' T26 and any money saved on cutting the overall numbers spent on upgraded and up-gunned OPV's to do the kind of forward based patrol work you discussed. However, are just 16 high-end escorts enough to cover all of the RN's high-intensity 'warlike' ops?

      Out of interest as well if you were to put an OPV in the Caribbean where would you base it? Bermuda is the RN's traditional home in the area but it's surely too far away to make sense as home for a smallish patrol ship with limited endurance? Would the Cayman's or another territory be a better choice?

      Also whilst I like the idea of a patrol vessel being in the Caribbean all year round surely one of the big advantages of using a RFA is it's greater utility when it comes to disaster relief? A hangar, larger flight-deck and lots of internal space to carry humanitarian aid must be a plus when considering the RN's secondary role in the region of supporting British territories in hurricane season? Although I know of course that RFA's are as scarce as everything else and have other important things to be doing.

    5. 16 high end escorts are probably too few when you consider that there were at least 23 escorts involved in fighting at the Falklands, but then again, getting 19 escorts of which 14 are actually fully equipped for their role is not much better. The Type 26 GP is, after all, an ASW T26 without the ASW kit. Nothing more. But ASW is why such ships are built in the first place!

      As for basing, Bermuda might be the most straightforward choice, but i'm sure finding a welcoming port wouldn't be an issue if another solution was deemed necessary. The limited endurance in terms of stores (which anyway could be mitigated by design choices) would be balanced by the fact that the patrol ship would frequently visit ports during her patrols in the area.

      As for disaster relief, the RFA vessel might be a bit more suited, but perhaps not as much as could be thought. The ships the RN committs to the area normally embark a 20 man royal navy Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) team, supported normally by 30 RFA personnel from the crew. For Counter Narcotics and Terrorism (CNT) normally a 10-strong Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDET) from the US Coast Guard is taken aboard. And a few containers of food and stores for humanitarian purposes might be onboard.
      I think a good part of all this could still find place on the OPV (the 90m BAE standard design has accommodation for at least 70 and only needs a crew of 36, and can carry containers in addition to a helicopter) and the rest could, when necessary, be carried in the area by another ship during the hurricane season or in response to a disaster requiring it.

    6. To provide enough ships for day to day tasks and have enough left in the cupboard for an emergency id say the absolute minimum of high-end escorts the RN can get away with is 18. That's if we had some OPV's or other cheaper assets for the Caribbean and counter piracy ops so that the rest of the surface fleet could focus on real warlike tasks, providing a strong presence in the Gulf, having a ship in the S.Atlantic, putting together the RFTG and so on....That's just my personnel opinion though!

      I agree their is dubious worth in having a GP T26 because for the sake of saving a bit of cash on building them it means taking away a large part of what makes them useful as high-end escorts the first place! That's why id be happy to see an 18 ship escort fleet if they were actually fully equipped and highly capable vessels.

      23 escorts were utilized during the Falklands, but one thing that often strikes me is that actually far fewer did the bulk of the fighting. A sizable amount of those 23 arrived as reinforcements to replace ships previously badly damaged or sunk or were in the 'Bristol group' that turned up late in the day to provide additional protection once the amphibious group had turned up in force and the RN had scraped together some extra hulls. I think id look to the fleet assembled for operation Telic in 2003 to try and gauge what sort of force mix and level of capability we would most likely need.

      I'm guessing that any OPV operating in the Caribbean wouldn't need anything special in terms of support and basing, just a friendly port where it could resupply and conduct a bit of general maintenance. I'm guessing you don't need military facilities as such to do that?

      I get what your saying about the relative merits of an RFA over a smaller patrol ship. The RFA may be a bit more capable for certain things, but not by a wide enough margin to use one when they are in such short supply if an OPV was available which could do most of the relevant work instead,

    7. Is 16 enough? As with everything it depends on the question "for what"? For example say a surge of 50% of ships for an "emergency" operation - that would give you 3 T-45 and 5 T-26, which by vitually all standards is a formidable escort force for your CVF(s) and LPDs (unless you are planning to independently go to war with Russia, China, India or one of our stated allies...). However a key to this would be to maintain that force as the key "war-fighting" group and to hence largely avoid dilluting its' availability by using these vessels for flag-flying and constabulary duties. That would be the role of the 15 - 20 MHPC/OPV/Guardships that would also be required to make the whole thing work.
      As an aside, you are quite correct that 23 escort vessels were used in the Falklands although it is noticeable that of that force 4 of the vessels (County and Rothesay Class) could only be described as obsolete liabilities and 7 of the vessels (the Type-21) were almost a direct equivalent of the well-armed OPV/Corvette we have been talking about above rather than open ocean escorts/sub-hunters.

  7. Thank you very much for another insightful post. I feared that after a gap of a month or more you had lost interest.

    1. Not yet, my friend, even if these are largely depressing times for defence.
      I've just been very busy, and unfortunately the blog had to wait.

  8. I'd prefer for the other 5 to be upgraded to either asw or an AAW variant to supplement the too few Type 45 this could be funded out of the contingency funds and maybe design a dedicated asw opv like the old flower class we need to be more creative with our designs

  9. Hi Gabriele,
    Good to see you back and another great article.
    Sad but always going to happen that a ship building asset has to go.
    I was very disappointed to see that there are only 3 new OPV's and that these are replacements not in addition to the fleet.
    I hope for better news in the SDSR 2015, it can't get any worse cant it?

  10. Excellent article again, you state things so well.
    What an indictment on the UK that it can't organise itself to arrange a consistent shipbuilding programme to keep it's skilled workforce going and the yard open.
    My minimum UK Navy would consist of 2 fully capable Carriers. I would have like to have seen at least 8 Type 45's procured, 2 to escort each carrier and 4 to rotate every 6 months. Sadly this won't happen so the next best thing I could see is that the UK cut some of the bloated Aid Budget and increase the Type 26 buy to 18-20 hulls. Perhaps a FREDA style version could be considered to make up for the reduced Type 45 acquisition. At least 10 Astute boats would be an excellent deterrent and 4 SSBN the ultimate. I would acquire at least 8 Corvette or OGPV's for the less demanding tasks. Let's face it, if Argentina somehow managed to knock down the Falklands Typhoon detachment and carry out another occupation then a force of F35 jets on a Carrier, Type 45s, Type 26s, Astute's, LPD's, LSL's, LHA (1) coming at them with 3 Commando and whole bunch of Apache attack helicopters would surely see an early surrender.

    1. Do you want to start a fantasy fleet? Lots of computer games companies around...

    2. Why is it a fantasy? 2 Aircraft carriers "are" being constructed. 7 Astute's are budgeted so to increase to 10 is not too far a stretch especially if money from the bloated aid budget is re-directed. The Type 26 programme allows for 13, once again 7 extra hulls could come from the downsized aid budget. 8 99m Khareef style corvette's come in around 1 billion so fairly cheap (these could be armed with a reasonable gun - strales 76/62, CAMM for point defence and 2-4 remote cannon plus wildcat) and these take up the West Indies deployment, Diego Garcia anti piracy etc. Just because the UK won't do it doesn't mean it's a fantasy! Both my father and grandfather served with the RN on D-Day and would be appalled at the run down.

  11. I find it strange that the UK needs to use the defence budget to protect overseas territories from more mundane problems; they should be able to pay for it themselves. In fact I seem to remember some were trying to do just that only BAE ballsed up the contract.

    Here's an idea: We buy the ships and then permanently station them at overseas territories on the condition that they pay for the salaries and servicing costs. Given that we have already paid for them to be built, this would allow us to keep them without compromising the existing budget or force.


  12. @Gab, good summary. I have to agree with the position of 10 top spec T26s vs the current pkanned mix. The reality is that with forward basing of minor warships the hard core can be more focused on high end operations. The future of the RN seems to be destined around being able to support one go anywhere RFTG plus one in reserve. I have no issue with deployments to the Gulf and Far East by high end platforms, but the bulk of the work should be done by forward based minor warships and SSNs.


  13. Does size cost much? ie the cleaver bits are where most of the cost is? Wouldn't T26s with OPV kit be cheaper overall instead of OPV's. Ie less spares etc. eg just diesel engines, less weapons, ready for helicopter if required etc. They could do what an OPV does but with more room and be upgraded if required.

  14. Spot on Gabriele re the OPV's.

    Base them abroad, rather than using RFA or expensive warships, and keep the Rivers for home waters.

    Sensible. Simple.

  15. Dear Gabriele

    I am a Japanese, following your blog for a few years. This is my 1st comment.

    First of all, thank you for your very nice post.

    I understand you feel replaceing the 3 young Rivers with 3 new OPVs is foolish. However, "adding" these new vessels will lead to losing at least 1 frigate, I'm afraid. The OPVs are coming as a compromise, so it is surely not optimized for RN. Here, I think there will be 3 or 4 choices to "make best use of it":

    1: replacing Rivers with "3" new 90m OPVs, and sell the Rivers to, say, Phillipine Navy. Newer, larger OPVs will be "better" than Rivers, possibly.

    2: replacing "2" MHC Sandowns with "3" Rivers, using it as "MCM sloops", e.g. a test bench for new remote control MCM systems, while using the "3" new 90m OPVs in place of the Rivers.

    3: sacrifice "1" T23 frigate (GP) in place of "3" 90m OPVs as armed as Clyde, but with a hanger for a Wildcat (not TOO bad, actually, I feel)

    3': or sacrifice "1" T23 frigate in place of "2" 99m OPVs (modified Khareef class) lightly armed as the French Floreal frigates with a hanger for a Wildcat.

    Although I personally prefer option 3', I believe RN wants to avoid options 3 and 3'.

    In case of options 1 or 2, I think RN must be very carefull to keep the new OPVs simple. Speed shall better be degraded from 25kt to 20kt, and armament must be minimum. It is a fishery protection vessel, so LOW OPERATION COST is the point to sell. I think simple is much "beautiful" than complex, in this case.

  16. Regarding potential additional OPV deployments, the Merlin-capable flight deck would provide some interesting additional capability if paired up with an RFA. In the Carribean this would allow for RFA hangared helos to fly from the OPVs on counter-smuggling operations as required and humanitarian missions during hurricane season. Off-season, she could go without any helo. Same pairing goes for anti-piracy off the Horn of Africa.

    Along with Gib and Bahrain, a perhaps crazy idea would be Singapore to re-establish a small but ongoing naval presence in support of the FPDA from our logistics depot already there. It would give us a chance to train regularly with regional powers rather than sporadic exercises such as during Daring's world tour.

    There is another serious consideration - HMS Clyde needs to come home soon (2018 - coinciding with the arrival of first new OPVs) for a period of deep maintenance and a replacement will need to be sent south. It'd be an embarrassment to have to keep a T23 on FI Patrol...

    These new ships are hopefully a way of developing the River-class to meet the MHPC requirement, which I recall was touted as a flexible design from the outset with many potential roles envisaged. The 3000 tonne suggestions for MHPC seem to be repeating the 'bigger but fewer ships' mantra that is so often complained about as being responsible for reducing the size of the fleet. The Rivers seem about the right size for littoral activities, are a proven design, relatively cheap and could easily take the kit to act as MCMVs. I'm frankly amazed we don't just get on with it and start replacing the MCMV fleet with a new batch of Rivers - and it'd save Portsmouth from the chop altogether to start roling out say a River class every two years to replace the Hunt and Sandowns one-for-one?

    As for hydrography? As far as I'm aware, the Echo-class is superbly designed for its role and there is no good reason why a specialist replacement can't be built on time and to budget - like the current Echo and Enterprise were.

  17. Please see;postID=5056744130069803118;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=0;src=postname My two penneth


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