Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas... and dig in, because a tough year is coming.

Just a quick line to wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year. My best wishes to all of you.

Now, because i'm a bastard at heart, i will share some of my depression with those who want to read further.

It will be an important and tough year for defence, this one is for sure. There are two events on the horizon that will be of absolute relevance and that will have the potential to slam the death blow on defence, already agonizing after the cuts of 2010 and 2011. These two events are the referendum for the Independence of Scotland and, obviously, the SDSR 2015.
An independent Scotland, make no mistake, would be a gigantic pain in the ass for defence, which would be faced with new, enormous and very expensive challenges, right at a time when the budget is tighter than ever. The SNP's fantasy plans for defence in an independent Scotland are as credible as unicorns gallopping over rainbows. What would be very real in case of a separation would be the cuts, the losses, the dismemberment of the Army and the further emasculation of the other two services.

The road to the next SDSR promises to be painful, as well. The MOD has been underspending since the SDSR, but much of the underspend, instead of being moved into later years to support the needs of defence, has been clawed back by the Treasury with cuts in the Autumn Statements of 2012 and 2013, and in the 2013 budget. The suspect, for a cynic like me, is that the MOD is underspending as a mean to cut even further without having to admit it plainly.

A part of the underspend has been spent on things such as additional Litening III pods (how many?) and the tiny successive orders of Foxhound vehicles that we have seen in the last while. Hammond said that some money will be used to start CROWSNEST next year instead of in 2017, and we shall see if the promise is kept. I very much hope so, because this would at least cut short the AEW gap.
But still, the last two Autumn Statements both raided away hundreds of millions of pounds each. The Autumn Statement 2012 clawed away £245 million in 2013-14 and £490 million in 2014-15.
The Autumn Statement 2013 added another 277 million cut for 2014-15 and announced a 272 million cut for 2015-16.


Multiple voices agree that even the Future Force 2020 structure, already depressingly incapable in several areas, is not going to be affordable unless there's an increase in the defence budget, over and above the promised 1% uplift in the sole Equipment Budget. These voices include RUSI in its overview of the coming year and the Chief of Defence Staff himself, who launched his warning in the traditional, annual lecture.

Depression rules supreme within the force, along with cynism. Scratching beneath the surface, it emerges that things are even worse than they look from the outside. Even relatively inexpensive projects are often unfunded and some did not even make it into the White Board of the "unfunded but with a hope come 2015" projects. Apparently, among these projects, there's the Force Protection Craft for the Royal Marines. This follows the killing, already in 2011, of the Fast Landing Craft project (it'll be 2020 at least before the Marines can try again at replacing the LCU MK10), and earlier still (2008) the killing of the replacement for the venerable BV-206 vehicles.

From the outside, the picture for the Royal Marines is unpleasant to say the least: all their main projects appear to have been killed; one Bay LSD has been sold off; one LPD is in mothball and HMS Ocean is to be withdrawn from service in 2019 without a replacement. 
848 NAS will disband at the end of the year, having concluded the last training course for Sea King HC4 crews on December 19. 846 NAS has been disbanded already in March, leaving the sole 845 with just 11 Sea Kings. 846 NAS will reform on Merlin HC3/3A in September 2014, with 845 NAS following in August 2015.
It is not expected to reform 848 NAS: 845 will instead include an Operational Conversion Flight. The whole force will include 37 crews and 25 helicopters, unless there are further reductions.This is a reduction from 43 crews and a force which once lined over 30 helicopters.
Actually adapting the Merlin for shipboard operations will be a slow affair. The first navalised Merlin is not expected before 2017, and the last won't be around before 2022. For several years, the amphibious force will be extraordinarily poor in dedicate helicopter support.

The fate of 24 Commando Engineer Regiment is somewhat uncertain. The Royal Marines and Navy HQ are locked in a fight against the Army for its survival, trying to reverse the plan for its disbandment. Stood up in 2008 to respond to a chronic shortage of engineer capability in the amphibious brigade, 24 Cdo Eng hasn't even had the time to stand up the planned second field squadron (56 Sqn) before being sacrificed by the Army to the reductions required by Army 2020.
The assignment of 131 Cdo Eng (Reserve) Squadron to a command within the Army, other than to the Cdo Enr Regiment itself is also source of many questions and doubts. 
The Army also wanted to axe 148 (Meiktila) Bty Royal Artillery, but this was thankfully avoided. 29 Cdo Royal Artillery, however has suffered its own reductions, and is down to just 12 Light Guns. Hopefully, it'll at least maintain its batteries.

Lastly, P Squadron, 43 Cdo, a force protection squadron made up by RN personnel, stood up in 2010 to provide "Blue" teams for the force protection of navy and RFA ships at sea, is also disbanding, and this role will fall on the shoulders of the line commando battalions. 40, 42 and 45 Commando are, as a consequence, being asked to generate, more or less constantly, 1.7 units at readiness out of 3, Jane's estimates. A new record.

Next year the Royal Marines will be 350 years old. They have much to be proud off, and much to celebrate. But behind the curtain, the picture is unpleasant. Since 2010, years of effort to build up the most complete and credible amphibious capability in Europe have been squandered and crumbled by reductions in shipping, in supports, in vehicles and landing craft projects. Having recently re-read "3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands No PicNic", by Major General Julian Thompson RM, it is very much alarming to see how the last three years have brought back the Marines on the same dangerous edge of destruction they faced in the early 80s.
The brigade today would have much the same problems it had in 1982, which means, to my cynic mind, that 31 years have been largely wasted and no lesson has actually been learned firmly enough to avoid falling back into the same old pits. The brigade was desperately short of helicopters back then, and would have even less today: 847 NAS is going to have just four Wildcat helicopters, and the Sea King HC4s (which was new in 1982, and is very old today) are far less than back then.
Save for the introduction of Viking and some other kit, the brigade has less of everything: less light guns, less helicopters. The loss of HMS Ocean and the incoherent, messy plans for embarked fixed wing aviation would put the brigade back in the same position as in 1982: no air superiority, no adequate air reconnaissance, little in the ways of air support, and no appropriate helicopter support ship for amphibious operations.

The Royal Navy is probably not without its faults. Thompson in his book remembers how the Navy already in 1970, pressed by cuts and budget problems, tried to halve the number of Commandos from the then 4 down to 2. Ironically, back then it was the Army's opposition that prevented that from happening.
In 1980, the Navy tried again, because faced by the cost of the submarine-borne nuclear deterrent (see the similarities? There's the Successor SSBN on the horizon...) and by a very limited and precise sets of roles assigned in the Cold War scenarios by a MOD 100% focused on Germany and convinced that out of area operations would never happen again. Instead of directly proposing the disbandment of Commando units, the Navy focused then on axing the amphibious shipping (again, see the similarities...). Thompson was told so in December 1981 by First Sea Lord Henry Leach. Not without sadness, of course, but that was the direction the Navy was inclined to follow to preserve other parts of its "body". Argentina's hurried, foolish move came a few months early: had they let the winter pass, and acted later, the carriers and amphibious ships would have all vanished, victims of cuts, and the islands today would be named Malvinas.

The Royal Marines of today are precious to the Navy. Their involvment in Afghanistan has made the whole navy proud and has kept the admirals at the table. For not the first time, the contribution of the commandos has been much greater than their numbers suggest.
Moreover, the flexibility of the RN Response Force Task Group has been proven multiple times since the SDSR came out, with the quick response to events in Libya and, to a lesser degree, to Sirya, and then this year to the Philippines natural disaster.
The Navy HQ is, this time, on their side, i believe. The involvment of Navy HQ in the fight to save 148 Meiktila and 24 Cdo Eng is telling, in this sense.
However, the Army, faced with its own painful cuts, is rowing against them. The parts have inverted, but the Royal Marines still sit in the middle, in an uncomfortable position. Let 2014 be a year of celebration, but never let down the guard! The Royal Navy, stretched far too thin in manpower and budget terms, is accepting tough reductions in amphibious shipping capability despite its support for the Marines, and the Army will be trying to redirect cuts away from itself as well. I fear this is a defining moment: may the 350th birthday not be the last of the Royal Marines as we know them.

The problem, basically, comes down to an alarming lack of strategic cohrence. The rushed and completely financial nature of the SDSR 2010 certainly has a good part of the fault, but the way the decisions made drift completely away from the slogans and strategic narrative is too evident and too disturbing to be excused only on those grounds.
The other half of the High Readiness reaction element, the Air Assault brigade, is in a messy situation of its own. Cut down to just two para battalions (plus reserve battalion) and with supports similarly scaled down, the brigade is no longer effective as a brigade and appears just as hard pressed as the Commandos in sustaining the generation of a battalion-strong task force every year. Binary brigades have been proven ineffective again and again and again. The US Army has just reversed its own try: the Brigade Combat Teams, save for those mounted on Strykers, have two manoeuvre battalions but are now to be enlarged to three, with corresponding uplift in artillery and engineer capability.

In practice, the strategic narrative and the reality of the brigade's capabilities are on diverging paths: having assigned to these two formations key and very demanding roles, with a very tight force generation cycle, the Army has then swiftly moved to weaken both brigades, making them at once busier than ever and weaker than ever, in CS and CSS elements in particular. The battalions in the two High Readiness brigades will constantly rotate in and out of very high readiness, putting the men, the kit and the organisation under severe strain. 
Rushed SDSR or not, i simply can't understand how this is even possible, frankly. It screams wrong in your face from whatever angle you look at it.

Army 2020 strategic narrative, shaped by the Agile Warrior trials and exercises and by doctrinal studies, says that the future will require more littoral manoeuvre capability and more riverine capability. Decisions made: scrap the RLC's landing crafts without replacement, move wide wet gap crossing entirely into the Reserve, reduce amphibious shipping, scrap the Force Protection Craft project which would have given the armed forces an excellent riverine capability, in conformity to the lessons learned in Iraq using LCPV MK5s up rivers.
Again, say one thing, do exactly the opposite.

The aircraft carriers, which should be the cornerstone of the defence strategy which is, in the words, shaped around "small but powerful expeditionary forces", remain bogged down in uncertainty and alarming trial-and-error. It all seems to slowly move ahead, entirely shaped by funding considerations, without a clear cut role and case made for them, when the impending loss of HMS Ocean without a dedicate replacement and the need for air power at sea make the case perfectly clear.

In the air force, the Sentinel R1 hasn't yet a certain future despite proving itself again and again. The Shadow R1 will stay, and it is widely anticipated that the Reaper will eventually be brought into core budget, although there's no certainty yet. The Rivet Joint force will slowly build up to achieve FOC in 2017, while the purchase of a 9th C-17 aircraft is a persistent rumour which for now fails to become a solid reality.
The fast jet combat fleet, in the meanwhile, falls down to alarmingly low numbers. The Tornado GR4 is on its path to retirement: 12(B) Squadron disbands on March 31, 2014, followed the day after by 617 Squadron.
31 March 2015 will see II(AC) Squadron disbanding as well, to reform the day after in Lossiemouth, on Typhoon. In the same month, XV(R) Squadron, the Tornado GR4 OCU, will move from Lossiemouth to Marham, along with the Tornado Engineering Flight. Lossiemouth will bid its final farewell to Tornado GR4, which will only survive for a few more years in Marham, with a mere 2 squadrons. The OCU itself, at some point, will disband and go down to a mere Operational Conversion Flight as the Tornado force approaches its end.
And this is before the SDSR 2015: the pessimist expect the OSD for Tornado to be moved even closer than the currently planned 2019.
Even if the 2019 OSD stands, the RAF will be down to as few as 6 frontline fast jet squadrons by then, hopefully growing back to seven when the second F-35B squadron stands up. That's a tiny airforce, which compares badly to others in the same theorical league: see France, or even Italy.

The hope to see the Typhoon tranche 1 retained and used for something in the long term is all but dead, making the Typhoon program a fearsome waste of money, with 160 expensive aircraft purchased to never employ, effectively, more than around 100 in just five squadrons. A waste of colossal proportions.
Only two squadrons are planned for the F-35B force, and the second (809 NAS) will probably only stand up in the early 2020s. In 2020 the RAF is likely to have only 6 frontline squadrons, five on Typhoon and one on F-35B.
And this is before anything new and nasty happens.

According to Lochkeed Martin, as of October 2013, the F-35B plan for the UK sees 617 Sqn moving to Marham in 2018 with 9 aircraft to work up to Land-based IOC and to begin carrier trials. Five more will be based in the US for training, in the US Marines base Beaufort. 3 more aircraft will be with XVII Sqn, the OEU, on the Edwards AFB.
Of these 18 airplanes, only 4 have been delivered/are on order so far, but the MOD is said to be approving the plan for the purchase of some 14 more. If they are to be delivered by 2018, however, the time is very tight, as roughly two years pass from order to delivery. With just one lone F-35B in LRIP 7 and 4 anticipated in the LRIP 8, we are a long way away from the target. Either the MOD revises these orders upwards, or there will not be 18 aircraft in 2018. Even if there are, the UK, only Level 1 partner in the JSF program, will actually have less airplanes than most other partecipants. Not entirely bad, since the later aircraft will of course be more technically mature and also hopefully less expensive, but this is due to a reduction to just 48 planned purchases, and this is no good.
In any case, this is nonetheless telling of what downsizing the british armed forces actually are going through.

9 aircraft in the UK, 3 in Edwards and 5 in Beaufort. That's all.

The SDSR 2015 is also supposed to fill the bleeding gap in Maritime Aircraft Patrol capability, starting a new programme, but keeping in mind how many other problems there are at hand, it is quite hard to be upbeat.
One little, tiny ray of hope comes from the CBRN real, where the demented decision to withdraw the Fuchs is apparently being reversed, with 8 such vehicles, modernized, being assigned to FALCON Squadron, Royal Tank Regiment, to form a Wide Area CBRN recce and surveillance asset which will be part of the division-level supports (probably will come under Force Troops HQ). FALCON Sqn will be based in Harman Lines in Warminster. FALCON squadron will be a sixth sub-unit, independent from the main role of the regiment as Type 56 tank formation. There isn't yet an official confirmation i can quote, but it seems to be a done deal. In 1982, the Royal Navy saw stupid decisions reversed by the strategic shock of the argentine invasion. In 2011, Libya exposed the stupidity of losing capabilities such as Nimrod (both the maritime patrol and ELINT/SIGINT variants) and the aircraft carriers. But the shock wasn't big enough, and the UK got away with it, sending a few Apaches on HMS Ocean (just five in the moment of greatest effort!) and adding a little bit of extra life on Type 22 frigates and Nimrod R1.
In 2013, the Army was given back its CBRN capability following another strategic shock, the use of gas in Syria.

Royal Tank Regiment post-merger will have: 

Armd Sqn (AJAX): SHQ (2 x CR2); 4 x Armd Tps (each of 4 x CR2).
Armd Sqn (BADGER).
Armd Sqn (CYCLOPS).
Comd & Recce Sqn (DREADNAUGHT). 2 x CR2; and 8 x CVR(T) SCIMITAR.



The question is: what happens when, finally, a big strategic shock comes too late, instead of just in time to cause a hasty reversion of the worst mistakes?
Soon or later, it is bound to happen.

In conclusion, the Armed Forces are far from being healthy. They are, in many ways, exhausted and squeezed to death by immense pressure coming from all sides. In the way ahead, the SDSR 2015 marks a no-return point. And the Scottish issue, coming before that, can represent another such crisis point. Don't believe what SNP says: it would be foolish to expect anything other than sweat and tears in the armed forces if Independence happens.

Merry Christmas, and good luck for the new year, proud warriors. It seems good luck will be very much needed. May some kind of wisdom spirit descend in the minds of those who will write the fate of the armed forces in the coming year.



  1. Hi Gabriele,

    May I wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2014.
    May I also thank you for all your great posts over the past year.

    I must agree with you on much of your post.
    SDSR 2015 will be a defining point in UK defence.
    I very much hope it will bring good news for UK defence, but like you I doubt it.

    It must be said that the country has faced a financial crises, which has of course had an effect on the MoD, the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan and the return of the Army from Germany have also had an effect on UK defence.

    Having said all that, I still think we could be in a better place than we are now. As always it’s the usual suspects that are at fault in my opinion. Poor political and military leadership, project cost overruns, and inter service fighting.

    I hope that the Scotland stays within the UK, SDSR 2015 is a positive step forward, MoD funding increases and the service chiefs can work together.


    1. Merry Christmas to you, Phil, and thanks for following my blog.

      It is indeed what i think: the UK should not be in such bad conditions regarding defence. Regardless of the two wars and of the financial crisis. The second in particular has hit everyone, and has hit harder elsewhere than in the UK, even, but nonetheless didn't cause as much damage to defence.

      Things could and should have been arranged much better.

      Enjoy your holidays, i wish you a happy new year.

  2. "Because I'm a bastard at heart".
    How refreshingly honest. I wish some of my colleagues and associates were as truthful!
    Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year and thank you for all your interesting and informative posts in 2013.

    1. Well, it is a good bit horrible to write such a depressing post today, of all days. But we should not kid ourselves, never. Best wishes to you as well.

  3. See that thing looking on the horizon? it's called irrelevance

    the politicians have made fuzzy promises they have no intention of keeping, but keep spinning about savings not compromising capability, teaming with the French will lead to some sort of advantage that will soften the blows from the slashing of the budget, we're still a capable partner, blah blah blah.

    Not that the US is in any better shape. We just have more to cut and so our death will be prolonged, but it still is inevitable.

    1. Well, thankfully the US at least are far from irrelevant. But for the UK, the risk of becoming largely irrelevant is very real and immediate.

  4. Gabriele,

    Yet again you have produced a wonderfully insightful post. I also appreciate your realism, it is a welcome change from the denial and delusion seen on other sites when it comes to the UK Armed Forces.

    Given the firming up of the RAF Fast Jet Squadron plans (down to 7 as of March 31st 2014), are you planning an RAF update too?

    1. I might write about it in the near future. I have half-planned an article on the aircraft situation. I'll see.

      I'd also like to write a "Minimum Plan for Defence": in other words, my vision of what adjustements would be needed to make Force 2020 a more coherent and capable structure, without breaking the pig bank. This would be an example of modest, achievable targets, in opposition to the more common, wild exercise in Fantasy Fleets which help no one. Including in the Fantasy Fleets the absolutely non realistic defence described in the 2010 UKIP document about the armed forces.

    2. It would be fascinating to read your informed analysis.

      Especially as some of hidden/unconfirmed elements of SDSR10 are starting to become clear (total RAF fast-jet cuts, retirement of Ocean without replacement etc).

  5. Another good (if very depressing) post!

    It is indeed ludicrous to see the Royal Marines and our associated amphibious capability slowly but steadily eroded despite being as consistently and demonstrably useful as they are.

    I fully agree that cutting back (or more precisely quietly hollowing out) our Air Assault and Commando set-ups make absolutely no sense from any angle especially when, as you say, Force 2020 calls for smaller, more flexible but high quality 'expeditionary' ops which anyone can see inevitably places even more reliance on lighter rapid reaction elements.

    The RAF's fast-jet force dropping to just 7 squadrons (maybe 6 for a few years between Tornado going and F35 ramping up) is pretty depressing stuff, especially when this year saw a vague glimmer of hope that more Typhoon's may have stuck around enabling extra units to stand-up and preserve a 9 squadron fleet (no matter how good Typhoon may turn out it's taking far too long to achieve full operating capability and 20+ billion for 100 air-frames/5 squadrons that may bow out in the 2030's just isn't acceptable).

    I'm even more concerned though for the future of those 'enablers' like Sentinel, Reaper, Crowsnest and a possible MPA that prove themselves to be consistently invaluable to all of our operations and often like Sentinel and C17 in Mali are very welcomed by allied nations that lack such bespoke, what you might call framework capabilities.

    I'll try and remain a little more positive, but if I'm honest then I'm probably far closer to your view of what 2014 holds for the armed forces than I care to admit.

    Anyways, keep up the good work and Merry Christmas!

    1. Merry Christmas to you. Let's keep the hope alive... but with realism.

  6. Without a doubt this is the best UK defence blog online, i am always reading your articles and i have to say they are brilliant, i look forward to every update from you.

    You said that FALCON squadron of the RTR will be based in Warminster how did you find this out? also It is Harman Lines not "harlem lines" apart from that a very thorough and detailed article keep up the fantastic work.

    1. That's right, i will correct the mistake right away. I've been told so by a guy who is in the CBRN world. Anyway, the location is also mentioned here: http://2rtroldboys.forums-free.com/rtr-merger-information-nov-13-t1284.html

      Thanks for your kind comment, i'm glad you appreciate my work.

  7. Excellent article Gabriele, It is a shame the UK Public do not see this or many other pieces in the UK mainstream press.
    Only then might they realize what damage is being done by their own government

  8. Unfortunately, it's true: the quality of press reporting on matters of defence is very, very disappointing. Better information would be vital to help the public see what is really happening. For sure, the MOD isn't making much of an effort to let people know the real impact of cuts, though. Service chiefs only grow the pair to speak when they are Retired, and at that point their successors will be able to downplay any warning coming from them...

    1. Gabriele,
      We have been talking about this at DefenceSynergia, since our exchanges with Joel Shenton. Would you be prepared to write a guest article for DS and perhaps we could do the same for you? we can twitter both articles and try and get some extra exposure that way.
      In defence of serving officers, we do speak to them , but always off the record. Main building is locked down as far as getting decent information out.

    2. We can talk about it, of course. Do you have a topic in mind for the article?

    3. What ever subject you like, as long as it's current and topical.
      Please remember though, like you we a not for profit and apolitical.
      This would be an exercise in cooperation rather than for monetary gain. Feel free to email me. tim.dainton@defencesynergia.co.uk

  9. Gabriele

    Again an excellent post. Could I venture my own predictions:
    Both carriers operational, each with a (small) RN Air Group of F35B and Merlin ASW and AEW

    Ocean run on

    and my real long shot

    2015. RAF disbanded

  10. All polls show the vast majority of the Scottish people wish to remain part of the Union and im confident that will be reflected in the referendum. The only people who want Scotland to become independent are the Conservative party. The Labour party would lose a significant number of seats and would never be able to regain power ever. I know several members of the SNP and they are very gloomy knowing that they face certain defeat, so don't despair.

  11. 2019? There are reports Ocean will be gone by 2022. Plus you live in a realist world that there must be build build and build

    1. 2019 and no replacement: is what the evidence of facts and the documents given to parliament say.

    2. This one has been relatively easy to discern since 2010. With the paltry size of the planned F-35B force and one of the carriers threatened with mothballing or sale the obvious solution was always going to be to keep both new carriers and leave Ocean to waste. It is even more obvious when you look at how the flat-top fleet is now being managed- with only one active (sea-trials or operational) whilst the other refits. Ocean will come back on stream in 2014 just as Illustrious decommissions, her refit should allow Ocean to carry on until QE becomes available in 2018/19 at which point Ocean can go and the RN can cycle between QE and PoW- which will never be true carriers but rather more like the USS America LHA.

  12. I think the most depressing bit is the lack of a coherent strategy, and an honest statement of the UKs defence aspirations. Without this it is very difficult to understand what the target requirements are. Future Force 2020 was rushed and really no longer stands up to scrutiny. Also, the big elephant in the room is Successor, which everyone seems to be pretending will not come out of the core budget.

    Putting aside Successor (which should be canned in my view), the money assigned to defence probably matches the UK public's ambitions and is in line with other major economies (outside of the US). However, to remain relevant beyond the UK shores, we need a bold and honest assessment of relevant capabilities and align the equipment requirements from there.


  13. Happy New Year to everybody and I hope a prosperous one as well.
    If I could just make a comment on another well written piece and in general the concerning theme that seems to be developing over all the defence plans for 2020.
    The fact is we are gutting our defence capability to cut spending and politically for the Conservatives to protect the NHS and overseas aid. One only has to watch the number of adverts and the money being spent by the aid agencies on UK TV to support the £10bn of overseas aid spent by the UK Government to see why no party can be seen to cut that budget. It's amazing the amount of "wages" spent by supposed Charities.
    And similarly with the NHS which is seen as untouchable paragon of virtue cannot be touched. So unless you have a few Millions laying around and the political will to educate the public and run add campaigns what we got is all we are getting.
    So we are left with whatever we can get for Defence. Now the reality is that somebody needs to tell the emperor that he's standing there Bald Ar**se naked. Because we cannot have the Senior Management telling politicians "it's tough but we can do it" or "we have challenging times ahead" they need to come out and say we cannot do A. Large overseas deployment of any kind without US help by the shed load B. We are going to have Aircraft Carriers with empty hangers C. Don't ask the Para's or Marines to go anwhere tough because we have not got the support equipment we need to do it.
    1. We can do 1'000 or 500 size deployment in mildly hostile environment (eg Africa as France has done recently) but we are trying to pay for high end capability that we can't use because we don't have enough stuff
    2. We could defend UK Economic Area properly (ie we don't allow Russian ships to turn up unannounced of Edinburgh) with proper MPA/QRA force etc.
    3. We could do UK standalone Nuclear Deterrent.
    So to maintain credibility with the troops of the UK the Chief of the Defence Staff needs to say exactly what we can and cannot do truthfully and in public. Not "quite words behind closed doors" etc. After the event bravery as shown by a number of ex holders of that post is useless. Politicians and the Public need a very big wake up call. Blogs like this one are exposing the total stupidity of the present call of "We can do it all" when we can only get 4 jets over Libya and that depended on the USA to provide Radar Coverage, Tankers etc. One day the US is going to say "No not interested" and we are going to be in the smelly stuff and it's soldiers/airman/sailors paying with their lives.
    So the country needs to make some tough decisions
    1. We drop the Nuclear Deterrent and use the money to do 1 & 2 above better and bigger with a new Ocean, MPA, Tankers, Engineering Soldiers etc.
    2. We join a joint European force and pool all our resources. (ie Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium all buying separate F35's madness) The EU funds it as a 2% levy on all member states (as per the Nato agreement that most EU states are party to). I see this working with the UK running Marines/Navy, France Air force and Germany heavy Ground Troops. This allows France and the UK to act independently if the need (ie Falklands) occurs. With members of those services who are non UK being asked to volunteer for shor term UK forces membership in such a case. Thus we do not need to drop Nuclear Deterrent.
    3, We decide that 1&2 unworkable or unpalatable and we carry on now until we get found out, whilst Russia and China bullies individual EU member states over Energy and Air Identification Zones etc, by dividing and ruling.
    So we have a choice, because as we have seen with Gabriel's very good articles going on as we are is not going to work and only end up with humiliating defeats or running to the USA as in Helmand and begging for more equipment and numbers. Not something I would want to do again. Otherwise we are on the road to irrelevance. So what's your choice ?
    The Ginge

  14. Are you surprised at all these problems when you look at the caliber of our national politicians. They are generally abysmal.

  15. Tornado's are worn out, there is nothing to do about it. Except replacing them with F-35's sooner.

  16. Seems JSF's F-35 program has become a curse to UK & US, as the program has hit with technical hitches, delays and some cancelled orders. As the time prolonging unit per cost is increasing, this makes more investement into the program. The more they invest the cost of the F-35 will increase this will effect the new order bookings.

    In this article http://www.army-technology.com/features/feature-lightning-strikes-is-the-f-35-great-britain/ it discusses whether F-35 program is profitable or not ... Some says it is going to be failed as it is the joint venture with US & the Lockheed Martin. UK is also calculating whether they get it money's worth from its investments or not ... the future will decide ....

  17. To my mind, the upcoming election will define a lot of what happens. If the Conservative party gets to rule alone, then Dfid will be cut. The huge increase in that departmental budget was due to coalition with the Lib-Dems. The question becomes what happens to the money cut from that budget? Does it go to reducing the deficit (a very good destination), to Defence (another very good destination), paying off debt (ditto) or some other pet project? Time will tell.

  18. My big concern is regarding the Queen Elizabeth class. It seems symptomatic that such a large vessel is being slowly reduced in certain key elements of capability.
    I imagine that there are several scenarios where they would be called upon to operate with or without NATO or significant allied support. In doing so they do seem vulnerable:
    1. Is their lack of more than rudimentary anti missile or aircraft defence.
    2. Is their inability to operate aircraft of any sort apart from helicopters and F35B's.

    The first may be remedied in due course by adding at a latter date some vertical launch missile system.

    The second is to my mind the more foolhardy omission. I understand the reasons why it has been supposedly impossible to fit catapults, but I do not understand why they cannot be fitted with arrester wires and the associated landing aids.

    If fitted with arrester wires why they could even recover navalised drones and a multitude of navalised aircraft from the US or other friendly navies which may be in trouble and looking for a deck on which to land. I can see the day when an expensive F35C from the USN goes into the drink a mile or two from the QE or POW and someone asks why it couldn't land on 4 acres of nearby NATO flightdeck. Sure there might be a problem getting them off the ship but at least they could be recovered and hangered pending arrival at dockside.

    Moreover wires would enable the recovery of certain fixed wing aircraft some of which might be able to takeoff again without the need for catapult assistance.

    Were the ships never structurally designed and capable of being fitted with arrester wires in mind?

    1. Fitting Sea Ceptor missiles has been considered and even costed. The result of the cost estimation hasn't been published, but the feeling is that, of course, the money for that study will be money wasted because there is not going to be any budget assigned to fit the missile system. The amount of money that the MOD burns on studies, studies of the study, graphics, project management, management of the project management and whatever is worth writing a couple of books about. It eats away hundred of millions and most of the time brings to little to no results.

      Anyway, i'm not too concerned with this. Phalanx will do, so long as the carrier is actually given escorts on deployment. Cougar 12 and 13 deployments are not encouraging: none of the two had a Type 45 assigned, and the frigates in the group were actually only taking the same route, on the way for standing tasks in the Gulf.
      I don't even know what to say anymore about this problem. It is as evident as it could be, but it doesn't matter. No one will do anything about it.

      Fitting only the arrestor wires at this stage would be foolish. It would cost far more than it would be worth. When, eventually, there will be an embarkable drone needing them, it'll be a different story.
      On the matter of why it proved so expensive to fit catapults and wires to a ship designed for being converted, i can't say much. The whole thing stinks quite a lot, but i have no way to find out who is, eventually, lying. Either the ship isn't as "convertible" as it was supposed to be, or someone grossly inflated the costs to keep them in STOVL configuration.

  19. Does anyone know if there are plans to speed up the fitting of the type 45s with harpoon's? especially in light of the incident off scotland over christmas, I was under the impression there were to be fitted towards the end of last year.

    1. That was what the MOD's wording suggested, but i guess it is going to be a longer affair. I have no idea how much more time it'll take, sincerely, but if i hear something, i'll write about it.

  20. This is probably the best UK defence blog, but lets not get too carried away with the post holidays doom and gloom, even if Ocean is retired in 2019, then replacing two 22,000 tonne LPHs with two 70,000 strike carriers/LHA ships is still a huge step up in capability. Also it looks like the RN will get all 13 T26s, and they will each have 16 - 24 strike length cells either Mk 41 or Sylver A70 so with the seven TLAM capable SSNs the RN will eventually have 20 Tomahawk/SCALP capable platforms, hopefully all TLAM. It's also worth putting the UK defence cuts in context forexample the RN's 19 T45s and T23s still compares quite well with Europe's other major fleet the Marine Nationale both now and in the future eg

    French "First Rank" frigates

    2 Modern Horizon class AAW
    2 old Cassards AAW
    1-2 FREMMs in service ASW
    6 George Leygues ASW

    "Second Rank" frigates

    5 La Fayette class light frigates
    6 Floreal class corvettes

    And in the future


    6 T45s & 13 T26s

    compared to the Marine Nationale's

    2 Horizon class AAW
    8 FREMMS
    5 La Fayettes (upgraded to "First Rank" frigates to keep the numbers up)

    6 Floreal class corvettes.

    The T23s are probably the best ASW platforms in any fleet, and they will be even more capable vessels when Sea wolf is replaced with Sea Ceptor/CAMM (M), the Hunts and Sandowns are also very capable MCMVs. The RFA is another huge asset to the RN, having a fleet of 19 Auxiliary vessels eg 5 tankers, 3 Replenishment, 3 LSDs, 1 Forward Repair, 1 Aviation/PCRV, plus 6 Sealift ships, is considerably more than most fleets have, especially Euro navies which usually only have 2-4 auxiliary/replenishment vessels. The 4 Tide class tankers will soon be in build, although they should have been built in the UK, and the 3 SSS look to be very capable vessels.
    The T45s are slowly being fitted with the weapons systems they were only "fitted for but not with" eg 30mm cannons & Phalanx CIWS have been fitted to most I think?, and the Harpoon launchers from the T22s will soon be installed on 4 ships. I also read that the T45s will eventually be fitted with Sea Ceptor/CAMM, so that would obviously make them much more capable vessels, there missile loadout would go from
    48 Aster 15 & Aster 30

    to perhaps 16 Aster 30, 20 Aster 15 & 48 Sea Ceptor ? To give a total of 84 missiles.


    1. We don't know if and how we will actually see both carriers used. It might well be that even the very best case turns out having one tied up in mothball and one operational, swapping places every six years when major refit time comes. As happens with Albion and Bulwark post SDSR 2010, with Albion destored and disarmed and languishing in port tied up to controlled humidity devices, waiting for Bulwark to take her place in 2016...

      Besides, it is to be seen how well the carrier will be able to simultaneously employ fixed wing aircrafts, Marines and helicopters. How many marines will it be able to carry? How many of their stores? How many helicopters? It is far from certain that the carrier manages to properly replace Ocean in terms of embarked amphibious force, and if it can't, the 1800-strong battlegroup will have to be downsized again, and that will be very bad news for everyone, Marines first of all.

      As for the Type 23, only 8 are fully kitted for ASW, and while they are very good, they aren't the solution to everything, and are constantly ran around on standing tasks most of which could and should be covered by other kinds of vessels.

      The advantage of the Marine Nationale is that it has a carried and 3 LHDs. It isn't forced to mix up amphibious and air power on the same hull. In addition, they don't have the air force in control of the carrier's air wing, so they manage to put regularly at sea around 20 jets against 12 planned with more than one reservation about whether it will really happen.

      It is also not at all sure that the french FREMM will be 8. It is a possibility, but for now the plans remains for 11, 2 of which in FREDA anti-air configuration and the others in ASW/Strike configuration.

      On the escorts front, the real difference is made up by the Floreal, by the 3 B2M ships just ordered in these days, and the by the large fleet of OPVs. These, in France, cover the standing tasks and the enduring forward based presence in the overseas territories, allowing the escorts to focus on training, war, and escorting the capital ships.
      In the royal navy, the escorts can't escort anything because they are tied up to the standing tasks, and can't even cover all of these, forcing RFA support vessels to serve out of role as well. This is a key difference.

      Example: the Charles de Gaulle is out on deployment now, and has its own guard of one SSN, one Horizon, one ASW frigate, and support ship. Cougar 13 had the Royal Navy deploying all its capital ships, with the escort made up by 2 Type 23s which were just traveling the same route while in transfer to standing tasks in the gulf and elsewhere, so that they eventually left the capital ships without escort when they split up, each going to its own destination.
      Cougar 12 was much the same.

      As for the SSS ships for the RFA, while they are needed and planned, they are not funded. Their fate hangs in the balance in the SDSR 2015, along with that of way too many other things.

      Also, the sealift ships are no longer 6.
      2 of the six Point RoRo vessels have been quietly discarded from MOD service since the SDSR. Despite the SDSR document specifically mentioning them and promising all 6 would stay.

      The SDSR was total bullshit. It did not stay current for more than 9 months, since in 2011 further cuts were enforced. It didn't even hold true for a single year.

    2. Regarding TLAM and stike capable ships, it must be remembered that the RN wanted MK41 and TLAM already on the Type 45. But Deep Strike is a capability which has a RAF officer on top, and casually (sorry, i'm cynic) there's an arsenal of 900 Storm Shadow and then just 65 Tomahawk, all in the submarine launch variant.

      In 2005, funding for MK41 and TLAM on Type 45 was denied.
      It remains the aim of the RN to fit strike cells to the Type 26s, but the design isn't yet frozen, and there's plenty of time for troubles to come for them as well.
      Even if they are fitted with the cells, the UK will need to buy more missiles, and in the Vertical Launch variant. It would be very wise to do so (TLAM has been widely used and it really is ridiculous that the stocks haven't been expanded), but it will it actually happen, or it will end up with another "Type 45 in 2005" moment? I don't know.

      The french are buying a minimum of 200 SCALP, in the submarine launch variant for their SSNs, and in the Vertical Launch variant for their FREMM, all of which carry 16 SCALP missiles in addiiton to 16 Aster 15 for air defence.

      So, i'd be careful in this area as well.

    3. I think both carriers will enter service, but as with the current LPHs one will be the "on call" carrier while the other is in refit.
      However it is still a better situation than only having one carrier like the MN, CdeG will be in refit from 2016 - 2018/19
      and obviously there is no sister ship to fill the gap. Apparently there may also be a problem with refuelling her in the future as well.
      When she is eventually retired I doubt France will build another strike carrier and will probably opt for two large LHDs. The French Navy's best chance of a new carrier was to build a 3rd QE class ship.
      From the French Defence white paper I thought the number of FREMMs was now set in stone at 8, as 2-3 FREMMs are to be sold/leased possibly to the Greek Navy.
      There is speculation though that 2 of the 8 FREMMs that will enter service could be in the FREDA AAW configuration, as if they are not the French fleet will only have two AAW escorts, once the two old Cassards are scrapped.
      Hopefully the three planned River class Batch 3 OPVs will be forward deployed, and the three Batch 1s will be spared the chop.

    4. The reason the UK only has an arsenal of 65 TLAMs but 900 Storm Shadows, is because the UK piggybacks off a huge US stockpile of Tomahawks, but with SS the order had to be large enough to be worthwhile for MBDA and the UK had to make sure there were enough of the missiles in existence.

    5. That helps with replenishing the stocks without having to store too many, but does not really justify the quite small number of deployable weapons that come from such a low total.

      As for the FREMM, no, it is far from set in stone that they will be just 8.

    6. Regarding the MN's amphibious capability, yes they have 3 Mistrals, but they have abandoned plans for a fourth and the French fleet's only LPD will soon be sold (perhaps to Chile).
      I have always thought that at 20,000 tons the Mistrals were too small, at that size an LHD is jack of all trades and master of none. Better to have two large carriers/LHAs QE/America class and a decent number of LPDs and LSDs. I don't have the figures but I would assume the RN's 2 Albion class LPDs and 3 Bay class LSDs have a much greater sealift capacity than all three Mistrals combined. In a major operation both LPDs would be in service.
      Also it would be strange if a 70,000 tonnes QEC could not carry at least as many helos as a 20,000 ton LPH/LHD whether Ocean or Mistral.
      France's own defence white paper says they would not be able to sustain a large scale naval deployment without RN support, they do not have the replenishment or sealift capability, or enough AAW escorts.

      I don't have a problem with RFA vessels being used on the Caribbean patrol, as they are capable enough at drug interdiction and better suited to Hurricane relief than a combat or patrol vessel. After all the RFAs are not going to be attacked by torpedoes or missiles, they have greater logistic capacity for relief operations, and a helo or UAV can be embarked for drug interdiction. Having lots of small light frigates/OPVs may make a fleet look larger, but it is a paper tiger, as they lack endurance, wartime survivability, sea keeping and reduce the number of fighting ships.
      The French Defence White paper does say that the number of French "first rank" ships is being reduced to 15 eg 2 Horizon, 8 FREMMs and 5 upgraded La Fayettes.
      Link to wiki page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_French_White_Paper_on_Defence_and_National_Security

    7. It says 15 frigates of first line. It does not say that the FREMM will be 8. That's what you want to read in it. The french minister has explained that that is not the case as of now.

      I frankly have no idea where you saw that bit about them needing british support shipping. I don't recall anything quite like that in the french White Paper.

      It is not just about helicopters, but stores and, crucially, men. Ultimately, the carrier has to carry both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. It is not so straightforward at all.

      As for the "much greater" sealift capability, even using both LPDs and the 3 surviving LSDs, the difference is less impressive than you think.
      And there's the problem of one LPDs months of work away from being operational in any way, and a LSD always busy working as mothership in the Gulf, too.

    8. The points I raised about 8 FREMMs & France needing RN support to sustain task groups are in the wiki page on the French white paper, and there are links to other sources. The white paper says the 5 La Fayettes will remain in service, be upgraded to "first rank" frigates and that the 15 will include less powerful vessels, so that would obviously imply 8 FREMM, 2 Horizon & 5 La Fayettes.
      It would make no sense otherwise, if they were getting 11 FREMMs plus the 2 Horizons = 13, so they would what axe 3 La Fayettes and just keep a class of two light frigates in service?

    9. Wikipedia frankly is in no way a reliable source. The LaFayette frigates wouldn't be axed in any scenario. Actually, the ministry is starting a new program, the Frégates de Taille Intermédiaire (FTI) as a replacement for the LaFayette and possibly for the Floreal.

      The LaFayette have been considered part of the First Rank fleet since the White Paper 2008, the previous one. And they will get improvements in time. But this is, as of today, in no way indicative of a cut from 11 to 8 FREMM.
      It is part of the plan to sustain the size of the fleet as the FREMM arrives, and then as the FTI follows.

      As the FREMM and FTIs arrive, the LaFayette will leave service. There's a possibility that they will be the ones that get sold: they are still decent, and they will cost a lot less, making them easier to sell, while the navy gets the FREMM it wants.

      Saying that the FREMM will be 8, as of today, is about as fair as saying that the Type 26 will stop at 8 as well. It is possible. Even likely, judging from years of cuts. But as of now, it is not the plan.

    10. Well we will just have to wait and see.

      I have just read the sections on the MN in the French white paper, I think the point on the wiki page about the French needing RN support is referring to this.

      France should be able to deploy....

      "-the aircraft carrier, two combined force projection and command vessels (Mistrals I assume), a key core of national escort vessels comprised of frigates, a nuclear attack submarine and maritime patrol aircraft.
      The permanence of this joint air and sea capability could be assured by the Anglo-French Joint Expeditionary Force provided by the Lancaster House Treaty.............resources needed to guarantee the functions of command, intelligence & logistics, for the operation transport, health, fuel, munitions & spares".


    11. Yes, but Wikipedia gives it a meaning different from the actual one. It mostly refers to ensuring that the task force always has an aircraft carrier available at 5 days notice. The french on their own with one carrier can't do it. The UK on its own won't either, unless both carriers are crewed and put into service, something i think is quite unlikely.
      Working together, the Joint Expeditionary Force should be able to have the aircraft carrier slot covered all the time.

  21. What is your opinion on the self-defence capabilities of the Mistrals compared to the RN's amphibs?



    2 Simbad launchers
    4 12.7 mm M2-HB guns

    HMS Ocean

    3 Phalanx CIWS
    4 20mm guns
    4 GPMGs

    Albion class LPDs

    2 Goalkeeper CIWS
    2 30mm cannons
    4 GPMGs

    Bay class LSDs

    2 Phalanx CIWS
    2 30mm guns
    4 Mk 44 mini guns
    6 L7 GPMGs


  22. Against surface targets, the british ships are better equipped. Against air targets, having SAMs is a plus for the Mistrals. Against missiles... probably none is very well placed. Phalanx hasn't shined, when it came to shooting down incoming missiles in the past. Even the latest model fails a bit too often... an US Ticonderoga was recently hit during training by a drone target simulating an anti-ship missile which the Phalanx was supposed to shoot down. And it isn't the first time it happens...


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