Friday, October 31, 2014

Experimenting to shape the future?

Interesting news from the Royal Navy today: for the first time ever, a River OPV of the Fishery Protection Squadron is about to sail across the Atlantic to take up the Caribbean standing task role from the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll.
HMS Severn is preparing to sail from Portsmouth later this autumn to make the long transit to the North Atlantic station, Navy News reports. It came as a total surprise when i read of it, and while it smells of overstretch from far, far away, it also comes with a seed of opportunity for the future in itself, because the optimistic way to read this news is that the Navy might very much be starting to warm up seriously to the idea of making wider use of OPVs in constabulary tasks. With three new OPVs being built, and a decision to be made next year on whether it is worth (and possible) to keep them in addition to the current Rivers or not, this deployment takes on a whole new level of meaning.
As my regular readers know, i'm a big fan of the idea of keeping the River batch 2s in addition to the current ones, to help plug the gaps. Indeed, i'm quite a believer in the two-tier fleet, to a degree, as i think it is the only realistic option to keep filling standing tasks while having a true capability to respond to a crisis popping up, which is what the Navy is there for.
My earlier discussion on the River Batch 2 and its possible uses is here. I'll warn you, it is long. But i think it is genuinely worth reading, if you have an interest in this matter. 

Navy News photo of HMS Severn and HMS Tyne training together

Before anyone says it in the comments, yes, i am very much aware that, in the worst case, the Royal Navy will have to replace the current Rivers and eventually try to cover both Fishery Protection in home waters and some standing tasks abroad with the same 3 batch 2 hulls. It is a possibility, and in a way the most disappointing one, as, like a too short blanked, it can be pulled to cover the feet or the face, but not both at once, and would effectively be a cut to Home Waters coverage, pure and simple. 

It is worth noticing, about this very considerations, that barely months ago the government published its National Strategy for Maritime Security document which repeatedly quotes a joint RUSI/DSTL study (Future Coastal and Offshore Maritime Enforcement, Surveillance and Interdiction Study, RUSI & DSTL, 26 July 2013) which evidenced that the law enforcement in UK waters is already being done with fewer assets than elsewhere, and that no further reduction should take place. Release dated May 2014.
Now the same assets are being asked to cross the Atlantic as well, and it is clear that, when one of three ships is on the other side of the ocean, capability in home waters is reduced.
The Strategy also notes that the relevance of shipping is growing steadily, and implies that, as the demand for security increases, capability will have to be reviewed in light of the greater task. No, of course they won't say it has to catch up, that would be a too clear call for action.  But the meaning is, in the end, the same.

It is government policy.

So it basically has little actual value, yes, since they will of course do the opposite of what they say, as always.
But still, one has to try and hope that the SDSR 2015 will have some room for common sense.

In the meanwhile, fair winds and following seas to ship and crew for this unusually long deployment!


  1. I fear this news is setting the ground for a cut in T26 numbers.

    Ideally we should be getting our 19 escorts, already cut to the bone, and extra OPV's to take on these other tasks saving our gold plated assets for their main roles.

    At the same time, ironic we are using sparse ASW Merlin's to tackle Ebola because blasted HMG has dismantled most of the CHF and then robbing Peter to pay Paul by stealing the RAF Merlin's to plug the gap!!

    1. I think it is likely that the RN will lose a T23 or two in SDSR 2015 so the T26 build is likely to be 10 ships, i.e. 8 ASW plus 2 general purpose. There will almost certainly not be 13 and expecting more than 10 is pretty optimistic in the current climate.

  2. I echo the fear that deploying HMS Severn in this manner could be an attempt to prove the utility of OPV's in these kinds of constabulary roles not to retain these new batch 2 Rivers in addition to other assets but as a replacement for either the earlier batch 1 Rivers or worse some of the prospective T26 order.

    I really can't see 3 extra vessels brought into service in addition to the current OPV's AND 13 T26 frigates. Something will have to give.

    1. Unless they are forced to cut some Type 23s in the next SDSR, there is no direct way for the OPVs to affect the final number of Type 26s, which wouldn't be reached before 2036 at the earliest. Is there a risk that the number of escorts will drop further? Yes, very much so. But not because of the OPVs, i don't think.

      The extreme pressure on manpower in crisis is the most likely immediate explanation. Between RFA vessels reportedly unable to set out to sea for lack of enough technical rates and the Type 23s with enough of a gap in manpower to have to draft in reinforcements from the US Coast Guard, i guess sending out an OPV might be a way to put some of the pressure on someone else.

      Anyway, not pretty, no.

  3. This decision obviously came as a result of there being no DDG/FF available for the tasking. Makes good sense then that the Navy would take the opportunity to deploy a River, as it gives valuable insight on how the new OPVs will perform in that role.

    Therefore, I do not see how this is "setting the ground for a cut in T26 numbers", because this decision was made due to a lack of high end escorts, not a surplus!

    I have said this before and will say it again, BAE needs all 13 orders to maintain its new 'frigate factory' and keep complex warship building alive in the UK. Even with the planned 13 there will be a gap, any less than 13 and there will be a serious risk of the industry being lost forever.

    With CAMM and ARTISAN being fitted to the T23s first and then later pulled out and bolted onto the T26s, the cost of the T26 programme will be minimal and very affordable.

    1. The decision to order the OPVs was a direct result of the TOBA (Terms of Business Agreement) drawn up by the previous government. It was not intended to address a shortage of escorts. See Gabriele's previous OPV article where this is explained in detail.

      You are optimistic if you believe that 13 T26s will be built. Whether BAE needs all 13 or not, political and economic reality will dictate a smaller build. Manpower is a critical issue and losing a couple of frigates will help to ease the situation a little. The T26 build will no doubt be stretched out as far as possible and work associated with other projects such as new support ships could also be used to bridge any gap.

      Expect the number of T23 frigates to be cut in SDSR 2015 and a firm commitment to build just 8 T26s. 2 or 3 more will probably be ordered at a later date but, unfortunately, expecting any more is unrealistic.

    2. We simply cannot maintain a viable complex warship industry in the UK with only 8 Type 26. BAE Systems is planning on the assumption that 13 will be ordered. Even then, construction will be somewhat stretched - in order to lessen the gap when construction ends.

      An order of 8, even stretched out would cause a gap so large that that the industry would no longer be viable. BAE would go elsewhere.

      RFAs are not complex warships and are not a substitute to building frigates to keep the industry alive.

    3. I'm sure similar arguments about shipbuilding with words like 'baseline' or 'viable' or 'minimal' have been made multiple times as the RN surface fleet has bit by bit contracted from 35 escorts in the late 90's to 19 just over a decade later.

      Even a paltry order of 8 T26 will give BAE over a decades work (first steel cut hopefully by late 2015/2016 with the 8th vessel not commissioned until the late 2020's) and give them plenty of time to sort out decent MHPC and MARS SSS designs.

      I want to see more than 8 T26 ordered and those batch 2 Rivers retained but i think it's optimistic.

      Sending HMS Severn to the Caribbean may be primarily down to a shortage of other vessels but we have to ask the question why now? Why not multiple other times when their hasn't been a frigate or destroyer available and the task has been left to an RFA or gapped?

      I'm sorry to say it but i really think that anyone who doesn't see the political motives behind different onlookers wanting to either see this deployment succeed or fail is being rather naive.

    4. "An order of 8, even stretched out would cause a gap so large that that the industry would no longer be viable. BAE would go elsewhere."

      I think I said an initial commitment to 8 and another 2 or 3 later, making 10/11 in total. Expecting more is unrealistic. Whoever is in office, SDSR 2015 will inevitably result in more cuts. The RN's manpower, operating budget and equipment budget will be even more stretched than they are at present. Unfortunately, the reality is that the RN cannot afford to run 13 frigates which is why the T26 build will be cut.

  4. Are MCM vessels back in fishery protection duties?

    1. Have they ever been fully withdrawn from them...?

  5. Dear Gabriele

    Very interesting trial. Although it does not guarantee the future usage of River OPVs (either Batch1 or 2) for Carribean task, it is worth trying, i.e. we need to know what can be done and what cannot be.

    If, only if, these OPVs turned out to be useable also for the Carribean tasks, then there is a possibility that 1 or 2 of the batch 1 Rivers will be retained, I suppose. Then, the 2nd and 3rd Batch 2 vessels may have a Wildcat hanger.

    In any case, the ships shall be kept as simple as possible to make it as cheap to operate as possible. We in Japan have ~50 of these OPVs in our coast guard. By keeping the vessels as simple as posible, our CG operates 447 vessels/boats with 13k manpower and 1 billion GBP/yr budget.

    Donald of Tokyo

  6. An opv with a lynx flight could comfortably cover the carribean patrol. I do agree that the deployment of hms severn is to perhaps set a precedent for rivers to have fulfilled the role. I struggle to see how it will fail anymore then having an rfa cover it? The dutch deploy very similar ships to their territories. Realistically, we can not afford to be deploying valuable assets such as ff/dd or rfa's to a very simple but important tasking.

    The royal navy, i believe, are posturing to place poltical pressure ahead of next years defence review to argue that rivers are up to the task. 1 of the 3 should be assigned to the north atlantic patrol, another to gibraltar to give a presence in the med, north west africa and as a deterrent to the spanish. Moreover, the third could strengthen fishery patrols around the uk meaning there are x4 rivers on tasking or perhaps i'd prefer either strengthen our presence in the gulf, or patrol as part of 150 patrolmoff somalia (perhaps forward based in diego garcia or bahrain?)

    I think we need all 13 type 26s, not only to support the industry given the investment on the clyde. But also as both carrier will be on the books so to speak we simply need 13 to support a potential carrier group, whilst also maintaining, where possible, standing deployments. Atlantic south, fres, towed array for casd, gulf and east of suez. Circa 14 could not cover those tasks and provide hulls for say a cougar deployment.


  7. I would have like to have seen the Royal Navy piggy back onto the Khareef Corvette production run and thus obtain a vessel that is very capable for the policing tasks they are asked to fulfil. Not only that they could be armed for medium level combat as well (Super Rapid 76/62 gun, a couple of Remote Weapon stations, perhaps Harpoon when they become available from Type 23 and perhaps a last ditch SHORAD) and having the enclosed hanger a Lynx Wildcat would be well protected from the elements when not in use. 3 ships came for 400million GBP which is pretty reasonable. I would however emphasise that such a ship should be in addition to the Type 26 (of which 16 is the minimum) not instead of. My 2 cents.

    1. Not sure you can make do with anything less than a Type 26 when the Big One kicks off. Its probably a case of All or (almost) Nothing.

  8. I am in favour of using OPV's in the guardship role that sending HMS Severn to the North Atlantic station reintroduces.
    If you look back historically, the RN often used Corvette's on distant stations while keeping the First Rate fleet on hand to oppose the main threat.
    The main threat looks likely to only increase substantially between now and 2030 in any case and shouldn't be diluted.
    It is almost inconceivable that with two carriers in commission the RN can make do with less than 19 fleet escorts and 6 SSN's.
    The small ship fleet have been cut way,way too far in the RN because they give a far better place for junior commanders experience independent command as they progress through the system.
    Small ships become less of a target in themselves and less constrained in access to inshore waters.
    Any more questions?

  9. There is speculation that the MN's last three FREMMs (ship 9,10 & 11) could be redesigned, the new ships would be "an intermediate size, between a 6,000 t FREMM and a 2,500 t corvette.......they would be similar to the La Fayette class frigates, being lighter and less heavily armed than a FREMM". Article on Defence News.

    So the MN would have:

    2 AAW Horizons
    6 ASW FREMMs
    2 AAW FREMMs (ships 7 & 8 to replace the old AAW Cassards)

    Plus 3 light FREMMs in addition to, or to replace three of the five La Fayette light frigates, as the 2013 French Defence White Paper did say 15 major surface combatants including the upgraded La Fayettes.

    The RN's six T45s & a dozen T26s would compare quite well with the above, especially if the three Batch 2 Rivers are used for constabulary tasks and the Batch 1s are retained.


    1. The french also have the Patrol Frigates of the Florèal class, and a fleet of nine patrol vessels of the A69 class, and four P400, and a number of other patrol ships based overseas. A true second tier fleet which ensures that the fewer high end warships can do their actual job. The Royal Navy does indeed compare favorably in the High End area, but has virtually nothing in the second tier layer: that's the big, big weakness of the modern Royal Navy. Standing Tasks alone eat up all the might of the high end platforms, and there is nothing left to deploy whenever a crisis pops up.

      I plan to write a new article on the matter sometime, hopefully soon, but the point is that the RN needs a second tier group of vessels. It can't do all with the high end platforms. And a fleet of 8 Type 26 ASW and 5 Type 26 without towed sonar isn't a two tier fleet: it's an handicapped frigate fleet which has several ships bare of their very reason d'etre. I've seen it other times, i'll be saying it again: i prefer to see 10 Type 26, but all kitted, than 8 + 5. Instead, make a bit more "fighty" the multi-role vessels due to replace survey and MCM platforms to form a second-tier fleet, and until then, use the new OPVs to take some of the strain off the frigates and destroyers.

    2. Any potential 2nd tier assets are going to require forward-basing to maximize the impact. Otherwise they would be stuck in the same 1:3 ratio of deployment the rest of the surface fleet operates under.

      I agree though that if the batch 2 River's can be shown to be of use based on HMS Severn's upcoming deployment then it makes sense to try to retain them.

      I don't want to see the T26 suffer as a result, but it looks like the price-tag and manpower requirements are going to hit the T26 program irregardless. Based on that i agree brokering a deal to get 10 properly equipped frigates and 3 extra Rivers sounds attractive under the circumstances.

      Same amount of ships but a lot of money saved, smaller amount of personnel needed to crew them and 3 forward deployed patrol ships with 10 T26 focused on genuine high-end ops doesn't sound too bad to me.

      Just wish the new batch 2 Rivers came with telescopic hangars.

    3. I thought the 3 new OPVs were bonus ships as it were. The RN needs all the escorts it can get; not less. Creative accounting of the foreign aid budget might be looked at for forming a 2nd tier fleet.

    4. Unfortunately I am increasingly getting the feeling that the "extra 5" Type-26s are the Navy's equivalent of pointless infantry batallions - both the top brass and politicians would rather they stick to the 13 figure and reduce their capabilities than to cut to 8-10 and get fully equiped vessels.
      It would be really useful to try and scope out what a tier 2 vessel would actually look like and in what numbers.

  10. Does anyone know how the overseas territories contribute to defence? They may already do so, and i apologise if i am ignorant to it.

    The last thing i would want to do is ostracise the territories. As i value their loyalty, ties and strategic value.

    I just wonder, as 2 of the opv ships (given hms clyde is already based in the falklands) would be assigned to the carribean and gibraltar. If it were possible to build them at a cost to the uk. But have a contribution to their running cost given the lesser manning etc from the territories themselves. Particularly, those who would benefit such as gib, bermuda, the falklands, montserrat, caymans, anguilla etc. not so much the pitcain, ascension who would see little benefit. And if even contributions to manning could be made from these communities who are interested particularly gib, bermuda (given larger populous) and the falklands (given their history). The annual running costs of x3 opv, divided by said territories would not be too bad (i must admit i guess). The ships would form part of the greater naval fleet. But would reduce standing tasks, without burdening the mod with the complete running costs, with even, if modest, a contribution to manning.

    Almost, but far far smaller, version of the fleets australia operated at the turn of the 20th century.

    I again apologise if this is fantasy, just musings before bed!


    1. Bermuda has its own regiment, commanded by a british army officer, but their wider contribution to defence is pretty limited. Gibraltar does better thanks to the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, and i believe in the past there was an arrangement which saw Gibraltar help cover the cost / man the Gibraltar guardship. I think Gibraltar would probably be willing to contribute again. The Caribbean might be convinced to help cover the costs, i would guess. The Falklands have a stated policy of progressively helping to cover the cost of the garrison, especially if the oil finds become important and a source of income powerful enough to support such a committment. I believe there is some room for agreements and collaboration, albeit with limitations.

    2. Cayman struggles to organise a cadet force, never mind a proper regiment and would be unlikely to agree to contribute in any way. It's total "armed forces" are a Police Firearms unit, two Marine Police launches and a helicopter. Just saw HMS Severn in Hog Sty Bay though - a nice little ship, but I was wondering what it was going to catch smugglers with, no helicopter, and that little RIB didn't seem up to the task of chasing down a power boat (I suppose they could blow it apart with the main gun - oh - that's right - it doesn't really have one). I hope they have a decent rugby team on board and a nice big flag to fly, because that's about the only things of any use on them.

  11. I agree, this is positive news as by using OPVs in low threat environments it means that the RN can better sweat its assets. I can imagine the choice was either this or gapping the FRE, which with the Russians on the prowl would have been a potential embarrassment.

    I'm a fan of the RN actually structuring itself around three multirole carrier battle groups; one deployed, one training in UK waters and the other in refit / reserve (plus a FRE). Other patrol duties being performed by OPVs and future MHPCs.

    Apart from building an auxiliary carrier for the 3rd group, I'd sell the 2 Albion's and go for more extended T26s which would be able to transport more troops / kit (Absalon style). This I suggest could give:

    6 x T45s
    8 x ASW T26s
    6 x Extended T26s

  12. Dear Gabriele

    As already noted elsewhere, an OPV with as small as possible "fighting tools" is not only very cheap to purchase and operate, but also very "efficient". It is shown in the fact that the Rivers are "working at least 275 days a year at sea", while the escorts can only do much less. This is simply because the reduced needs for maitenance. Thus, if the mission "matches well" with OPVs (or change the aim of the mission itself to match an OPV), they can even do it "better" than escorts ( Of course OPVs cannot be diverted to "real fighting" because of the lack of fighting power). Therefore, as you all are already discussing, finding good slots for "additional" OPVs are important.

    With the trial voyage of HMS Severn to Carribean, (if successful) I can forsee "2" slots for additional OPVs, but the 3rd is unclear.

    1: Carribean guardship
    It could be forward based on Bermuda, with support contracts similar to those of HMS Clyde, as you say. Since it is relatively near, it could also be done by only deploying "4th" of the fishery protection-role OPVs.

    2: Maintenance backup
    With 3 (Fish) +1 (F.I.) +2 (or 3) = 6 (or 7) OPVs, having one of them in long maintenance might be desired. Since Batch1 Rivers are reaching their mid-life, upgrade program could also be issued.

    3: Candidates for the 3rd "additional" OPV
    3-1: A possibility in the Persian gulf?
    It would be nice if an OPV replaces a RFA "Bay" in the gulf in support of MCM vessels (the Bay can go to Indian ocean for anti-piracy op., such as Singapore's LPDs)

    3-2: Gibraltar?
    To my understanding, Gib. guardship (in the old good days) was standing there to "show the UK flag in the Mediterranean". And I think you already have an escort there, doing real job (Libya, Lebanon, ISIS...), which cannot be "replaced" by an OPV. To "guard" the Giraltar itself, I suppose the current 2 fast partol boats are perfect match, i.e. surveillance, anti-smuggler and so on. So IMO, there is no slot here.

    3-3: Replacing an ex-MCM training vessel (in HMS Raleigh or Naval College) ?
    If RN cannot find good slot for the 3rd (i.e. 7th) OPV, this will be an option. However, if RN is "keeping" them for future surge MCM operation, then this idea does not work.

    3-4: anything else?
    Indian ocean? May be too small. Fleet Ready Escort? No way. Replace a Sandown to use as a test ship for MCM UUVs? Possible, but no plan in detail.

    Donald of Tokyo

    1. I think the Gibraltar slot is very real, myself. Gibraltar is frustrated, severely, by the constant incursions of spain vessels, and the assignment of a guardship would be very welcome.
      I do not envisage such a ship staying that much in Gibraltar waters proper, to be honest, but it would be enough to base it there. The gesture would matter the most.

      From Gibraltar, it could easily reach into the Mediterranean, where the RN escorts transit, but rarely stay for long. Moreover, from Gibraltar the OPV could much more regularly visit the Atlantic coast of Africa, an area where the RN has been trying to extend its relationships. And, with piracy on the rise in the Nigerian gulf, a Gibraltar based OPV would be well placed to provide a low cost, high-visibility british contribution. Would be money very well spent, i believe.

  13. Hi Gabriele, off topic question. I saw the Navy News article on the RM's Air Defence Troop and the High Velocity Missile/Starstreak.

    I wondered are the HVM's three "darts" guided? I mean after they detach, or do they just fly along the missile's path.


    1. Yes, the darts are laser-beam riding guided. So long as the laser is projected on the target, they will hit it. Despite being so small, they actually also contain an explosive warhead. Even if only one hits, it should be enough to down an aircraft.

    2. Thanks for the info.


  14. There have been murmurings about problems with the T26 design for a while, looks like its finally gone public.

    The issue seems to be that they are trying to combine T23 high-end combat capability with a hull capable of all manner of softer missions which require a much larger hull.


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