Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Type 26 and credibility - update

Type 26, cost, delays, shipbuilding

There was a nasty stink in the air, with the River Batch 2 contract being ridiculously expensive and inclusive of a not better specified "suspension" of the TOBA agreements; with ministerial statements in the last while going in the wrong directions, and finally with the First Sea Lord being more than evasive on the subject. I had warned it was on the way, and as inexorable as taxes and death, here it comes: the Type 26 programme is struggling with costs and the Main Gate approval won't be within the planned timeline, but months late. Possibly, late enough that, in the meanwhile, the elections on May 7 and the 2015 SDSR could step in with full force and mess up the programme even worse, and slow it down further. 

It is frankly depressing to see that there isn't the confidence of being able to deliver these ships on acceptable cost figures, because, it is worth remembering, the Type 26 is a triumph of "design to cost" approach. In the sense that innovation in the design will be very, very limited, and there is planned to be a recycling strategy of second-hand equipment like i've never before seen in a warship programme.
Type 26 is going to be built as little more than a hull with engines, to inherit straight from retiring Type 23s:

- The CAMM / Sea Ceptor missile system whole;
- The Artisan 3D
- The navigation radars, if the 2016 installation for the fleet-wide replacement is confirmed.
- The light gun turrets
- The torpedo system
- Countermeasures, since it seems that to contain cost they are still going for the old school fixed tubes (a huge disappointment, as pretty much everyone is moving on to adjustable, trainable decoy launchers, more flexible and capable)
- The sonars. Surely the towed one, and according to some sources even the bow one.
- Possibly more other internal systems, from waste treatment to WEDCIS.

- Possibly the Communications Electronic Support Measures due to be added on the Type 23

I don't remember a single warship in the world being built as a new hull for such a high quantity of re-used stuff. The combat equipment's only new parts will be the main gun and, if they are indeed fitted, something which isn't even certain yet, the Strike VLS. There's also a huge, huge question mark over whether there will be an anti-ship missile on board, and what it might be. The Phalanx i'm not even counting since it smells of Fitted For But Not With from a ligh year of distance.

To contain costs further, the project settled for a CODELOG propulsion solution (nothing wrong on this per se, but a little more ambition could have brought to a CODELAG solution giving the ship more sprint when necessary); a medium-class radar (as good as it might be, that's what Artisan is) and a simplified, lower-than-Aster 15 performance SAM (very smart; i love how CAMM works, but again, it is a cheaper and less ambitious system with somewhat reduced performances), and still BAE can't stick to a reasonable cost...? 

Arguably all that could possibly be done to contain the cost in terms of role fit and high end equipment has been done, by pre-adopting everything via the Type 23 Capability Sustainment Programme, derisking the various pieces and literally acquiring them before the ship itself, to move them across later. 

In a further internal effort, the Royal Navy is building up a common computer infrastructure for the combat system of all its vessels, under the SC4S (Surface Combatant Common Core Combat System); it is due to standardize navigation radars on a new, common type (apparently the Kelvin Hughes Sharpeye) fleet-wide and is proceeding with the Future Maritime Radar Electronic Surveillance (FMRES) with the adoption of the the digital radar ESM (RESM) on all surface warships. 
Most, if not all of these systems will not only have been developed and de-risked and adopted by the time the first Type 26 is ready for fitting out, but will have actually already been in service for a while on the Type 23s and will be physically transfered from old to new hull. Since the passage from Type 23 to Type 26 is going to last for more than a decade (2022 to 2036, according to the plans seen so far), the equipment will be upgraded, no doubt, to some degree along the way, but in a quite common way over the two different hulls. No big revolution is expected, other than what could be afforded by the strike VLS and the new main gun. 

Even so, BAE was given a generous 127 million pounds for 4-years of design and development work in the contract signed 25 March 2010. The amount of money and time is fully compatible with the task: indeed, it is about the amount of money it cost to design three FREMM variants (the french one and the two italian versions!), so it is arguably even too generous. 

The reported unexpected weight growth had apparently prompted BAE to revise the Global Combat Ship webpage to signal a speed reduced by at least two knots, from 28+ to 26+. 
And the MOD, in front of the uncertainties on the costs, has awarded a 19 million (!!!) contract with McKinsey to provide an external audit about Type 26 between October 2014 and March 2015 (thanks to Tim Fisher, Shephard News, for the heads up). 
Taking a pause to evaluate things is probably the right thing to do as the Navy does not need cost escalations later on, but i'm increasinly frustrated by the horrendous amount of money that the MOD spends in external audits, assessments, counter-assessments, and assorted power point slides. I wish someone looked into these expenses very very closely, because i don't think there's another ministry spending so much for these things, in the whole wide world. 
The March 2015 date for the results of the external audit, anyway, looks like a tombstone on any hope to achieve a contract award before the elections. 
End edit

Sincerely, there isn't much left to be attempted to contain the cost of building these warships, other than changing the design and making them smaller and less capable by straight out deleting some parts. Something which is not desirable at all, since the ship really hasn't any evident gold plating that can be done without.  Quite the opposite: as it is now, the design really could do with some touch ups here and there, such as resurrecting the sunk elements of MIDAS (Maritime Integrated Defensive Aids Suite, the project for the modernisation of the Navy's decoys and countermeasures fit) to finally achieve parity with contemporary warship designs not just in terms of decoy rounds (thankfully, the Royal Navy is not lagging on these ones, and is working with France on new payloads such as ACCOLADE), but in terms of their deployment, via a modernized launcher.  
Besides, it must be noted that big changes to what is an almost frozen design at this point are likely to cost quite a lot of money and time.

In front of the unexpected cost issues in a programme which uniquely separates the ship from most of its expensive combat system and high end equipment, it becomes unsurprising to see potential partners basically vanishing away. Australia, which for a short while looked like the most realistic possible partner on the Global Combat Ship, has already packed up and
awarded a study contract for its next generation frigates to Navantia. 

Again, i must ask the painful question of whether, and for how much longer, this destructive game can be continued. If BAE shipyards can't deliver to acceptable, at least somewhat competitive prices when compared to other european yards, something must be done. Is BAE the problem? Bring someone else in at the head of the yards. Deliver a shock to the system. Introduce actual competition. Do something radical. Building hulls abroad might be unpopular and hit shipyard's workforce and even have a political bomb in it due to the awkwardness of the Scotland situation, but not doing it if things don't change is just a way to delay the end by another short while, at the cost of the Navy. 
Something has to change, period. If things continue to go south this way, both the navy and the shipyards will be destroyed, as the navy will get less and less warships year on year due to the high costs, and the yards will become even more unsustainable due to buidling less vessels, in a self-destructive circle in which things only get worse. 
The Type 26 programme has been conceived and structured as a "rebirth" project, in which as much of the risk as possible is removed, in which the rate of innovation is "20% new to 80% old, compared to Type 45 which was the exact opposite", in which there is, at least in the words, a complete focus on affordability and even on exportability. If even this fails, it is likely to be game over, or close to it. The navy has no more hulls to lose, and the shipyard consolidation is going to leave a single building line in a few years time. One. After that, only the zero remains. 

In the coming months, and ideally before the election, the Navy and BAE will have to make it work, in a way or another, because other big-ticket projects are being rushed to contract signature (Project Marshal signed reportedly 12 months early; FRES SV signed with the demonstration phase far from completed, and more expected to follow) and not having a signed piece of paper when the budget axe will be swinging is likely to be a very big issue. 


The First Sea Lord in recent months has talked a few times, and he always delivered some quite interesting speeches, even though i feel he did maintain a very vague line when asked about the obvious vulnerabilities and issues on the horizon. I understand he has serious limits to what he can say, but hiding the problems under the carpet is not going to solve them, and one day there will have to be a far more open and honest discussion about what the United Kingdom intends to do going ahead. 

For now, i'm going to focus on the concept of credibility, and its direct application to the Navy's escorts situation. 
In his interview with Vago Muradian at DefenseNews.com, the First Sea Lord reinstated his vision of the navy's credibility, to which he has stuck with admirable coherence ever since he got in charge: 

Q. What are the priorities you want to come out of the upcoming strategic defense and security review for the Navy?
A. The Navy has to be both credible and [have] balance. If you lose either of those qualities, you’re not in the first division and a very large-potted investment doesn’t make sense. The credibility is not judged by some pundit in a newspaper or magazine on warships. It’s judged by those who operate on those ships, and it’s judged by our potential enemies. So the quality of build, the quality of war-fighting equipment, the quality of the output effect from those platforms — subsurface, surface and air — has to be critical and the balanced force to keep part of that. If you have got the enabling elements of the construct as a whole, then you’re going to have a machine that works and gets respected. So my job is very simple: Stay credible and stay balanced, and that’s a very expensive bill for the nation to pay. But for a nation that has that ambition, and if you have ambition, you have to pay for it.

The general concept is hardly questionable. You can only agree with it. But, even being a pundit, and not even a newspaper one, but a blog one, i must ask how the concept translates into reality. The following question goes into Type 26 range, and the answer is the one which caused the FREMM speculation, since admiral Zambellas does not restrict the solution to one delivered by british yards. 

Q. Tell us how you’re maintaining affordability for the Type 26 frigate program?
A. It has to be a credible platform. We’ve set that condition, as the people who operate them, by setting a requirement we think is appropriate for these platforms. When you have a limited number of frigates to deploy worldwide, you have to be certain that you get huge utility out of them. You’ve got to be able to get the range. You have a flexibility. So if, for example, a brand new Type 26 is off the Somali coast doing counterpiracy, a relatively modest policing capability. The next thing is required to move to a hotter, more dangerous environment, you’re not in the position to say, “Oh, hang on; I’ll just change the crew. I’ll reconfigure this or that.”
You’ve got to be there. You’ve got to be able to do the job properly. So our starting point in this requirement is about credible platforms. We then place that requirement into the machine, and the acquisition process looks for a solution with the proper support to be able to give us what we need. The affordability question that comes from that depends on the best that industry can deliver. You’ll notice, I haven’t necessarily said that that’s the British industry, because the decision has not been made as to exactly what that solution to the requirement will be, and we wait to see what comes of it. But the Navy knows what it wants. It wants a credible platform with global reach and the sort of quality, particularly in ASW [anti-submarine warfare], to keep us right up there for the bigger and more important platforms.

I absolutely agree on the fact that Type 26 has got to be credible. And the design that we have seen so far has much good about it, and on paper is more than credible. The evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach is appreciable as well, as it contains risks and, supposedly, costs.
However, closer examination brings questions still searching for answers. On the equipment front, one big question is the Type 26's capability against enemy surface combatants, and its usefulness in influencing events ashore, even many miles inland. In equipment terms: is the strike VLS system going in, this time around, or will it be descoped, as it already happened with the Type 45? And what, if anything, will replace the old Harpoon, which itself hangs in the balance of things between a capability sustainment investment to stretch its life, or a speedy demise in 2018, potentially leaving the Royal Navy completely without a heavy anti-ship missile? 

These are two huge questions which directly affect the credibility of the Type 26. What will the ship actually be able to do to be credible and, moreover, to be useful in a "hotter, more dangerous area"? She can't do air area defence due to the limits of CAMM. Can she confidently engage enemy ships without depending solely by the light Sea Venom (FASGW(H)) missile carried by its embarked helicopter, or is it without an ASM weapon? Can it deliver usefulness against targets inshore by delivering some sort of deep strike? 
The ship is expected to have a 127 mm main gun which will deliver greater effect in Naval Gunfire Support, but we don't know if and when it will have modern guided, long range ammunition to deliver precision effect beyond the very coastal area. Will it have missiles on board to provide effects ashore? Again, no one knows. 

Much of the capability available to the ship will also depend on what helicopter it has on board when it gets the call to action. Merlin HM2 delivers excellent ASW capability, but only four helicopters at a time have an EO/IR turret and a DAS fit enabling them to venture in dangerous skies and survey surface targets. 
To this day, none of the Merlins has the ability to employ Sea Skua, nor is planned to receive the Sea Venom and / or LMM capability. So, a Type 26 embarking a Merlin HM2, without future improvements to the helicopter, would be severely limited in ASuW and in any use of the helicopter ashore, unless the embarked helicopter was, luckily, one of the four fitted with the DAS and EO/IR turret. 
If it had Wildcat, it could be well placed for ASuW (even though i don't think Sea Venom is a replacement for an heavy, hard-hitting ship-mounted ASM missile which is available for launch without depending from the helicopter being available and ready for take off), but the Wildcat is not going to have sonar and sonobuoys, so if the need of the moment was ASW, the ship would not really achieve credibility without doing some changes to what is on board. 

Notably, the Type 26, like the Type 23, is planned to be an ASW hunter first and foremost. That is what is driving the design: the need for an acoustically quiet, long-endurance ASW vessel. 
Even so, only 8 of a planned 13 ships are due to have the 2087 towed sonar which is the most important detection tool. So, if the mission was ASW but the closest frigate was one of the "tail-less" ones, credibility would once more be seriously reduced.
Maximum ASW credibility could only be achieved by a frigate with the 2087 and a Merlin HM2 on board.

Considering all these factors, what is credibility about, at the end of the day? And how can it ever be realistically expected that a ship deployed on a standing task will have all it needs, in equipment and training, to be able to respond to a "hot" crisis popping up, without having to properly prepare? 

Again, i might be a pundit, but to me, here is the problem. I don't consider this a realistic approach, at least not for the Royal Navy that is taking shape, because too many of the capabilities are held by one specific platform alone. There is no Arleigh Burke here.
The complete dualism between Wildcat HMA2 and Merlin HM2 is, to me, foolish, and is an image of the problems in the force structure.
I can see why Wildcat would not have a dipping sonar and sonobuoys, which are expensive, complex, would take up all the space in the cabin and cost a lot in money and human resources to fill a role which, while all-important, is relatively less likely to be exercised out of the blue. A major crisis against an enemy with a credible submarine force, in other words, should only happen with a reasonable warning time, one would expect, and it would anyway require an answer much better thought out than the movement of a lone frigate from a standing task to the frontline. 
Much less acceptable is the fact that even after the HM2 upgrade, Merlin is so limited in anything other than chasing subs, save for the UOR-fitted 4 Merlins used in the Gulf. 

Credibility is achieved by the fleet as a whole construct, more than by a single ship. Being classed a frigate and weighting several thousand tons does not equate to credibility if the actual pieces of the puzzle are missing. 
Especially if the few frigates available are scattered far and wide, forever taken up by standing tasks which often could be covered just as well by lower end ships. 
I don't believe in the credibility of the ship just because it is classed a "frigate" just like i do not believe in the credibility of defence diplomacy only if done by brigadiers, admirals and air marshals (one justification often heard when the huge number of top brass is questioned). I don't think the countries the UK engages with are actually so dumb and primitive to be enchanted by the mere rank on the uniform without looking beyond it to take a look at the actual capability output that the officer represents. 

It is not so much the the lone ship, it is the task force that the Royal Navy could deploy and sustain far from home that gives the Navy its rank and its credibility.

Before Type 26 became the programme it now is, the Royal Navy had been following a different path which had, in my opinion, a lot of merit. While unaffordable in the numbers it had been conceived with, i believe the concept recognized some base truths. 
That concept was one of a two-tiered fleet, supported by a third tier, of patrol-capable MCM and hydrographic vessels. It was about building 10 "C1" high end combat ships, with ASW focus; supported by 8 "C2" ships, capable but oriented to more "general purpose" tasking, and then C3, the multi-mission replacement for current MCM, survey and patrol ships, which kind of survives still under the MHPC name. 

Type 26 is born out of the fusion of C1 and C2 into a single class of 13 hulls, 8 of which fully kitted, and 5 of which missing, basically, the towed sonar. A repeat of the current Type 23 fleet, in other words. 
This approach has a few advantages: it avoids the costs of two separate designs and programmes, and builds on the fact that, the late ships in a series build are always less expensive than the first, giving a bit of a downward slope in costs. Crucially, having a single programme removes the challenges of having a second one approved and funded, and removes the risk of the two programmes entering in direct conflict in the budgetary battle. 
The problem with this approach is that there will only be 8 Type 26 fully equipped, too few to meet the requirement, while the five others (if they ever get built, which is far from a certainty...) will have all the cost and complexity of an ASW high end frigate but an handicapped equipment. They will still require a "large" (Type 26 is actually expected to be very lean manned, but a less ambitious ship could do with less personnel and, critically, with less highly technical rates) crew with the expense that this entail, and their credibility will always be only partial. 
Modern wars, in fact, tend to be "come as you are" situations, and it is quite complex to envisage a scenario which requires the additional ASW hulls but gives you the time to procure, fit and commission the mission sonars and pieces. 

We have to ask ourselves if this is actually helpful. 

The First Sea Lord has substantially said he opposes the idea of building a second tier flottilla. In August this year, while speaking in the US, he said: 

“You aim for high end and you accept the risk your footprint’s reduced globally… I absolutely reject the idea of an ostensibly [larger] number of smaller platforms that might have a wider footprint.”
Yes, the Sea Lord said, the UK could invest in what’s called a high-low mix, buying many cheap ships suited to “constabulary” operations off Somalia and a few expensive ships in case of major war. “The danger with that is when you are needed to perform a high end — and therefore a strategically valuable — task alongside a partner, you find that your low-end capability doesn’t get through the gate,” Zambellas said. “You lose out on the flexibility and authority associated with credible platforms.”

Quote from BreakingDefense.com  article on the conference

It is, again, a concept with merit. But, when looking at the details, many questions pop up. Several questions we have already covered. Another key question is how credible it is to have a navy which has its precious, high end warships spread all over the world on standing tasks which are fundamental to the country but techinically not suited for the high end combat vessels. My opinion is that the credibility of the platform might be good, but the credibility of the navy is badly hurt, because it has to respond to Libya by using ships about to be decommissioned, and because in years it hasn't been able to exercise a proper complete task group for lack of escorts, all busy elsewhere. 
When you can't attach a frigate, an air defence destroyer and the proper logistic ships to your primary war tool, the Response Force Task Group, your credibility sinks. Cougar 14 has been the lowest point in history, in this sense.

I agree that attempting to start a specific programme for a "lower end" frigate is not going to work, in the UK. In France and Italy, where the fleet is already two-tiered, it is relatively straightforward to make separate cases for supporting the modernisation of both tiers. In the UK, where only the High Tier remains, reintroducing a secondary fleet would go entirely to the detriment of the first class ships. A resurrection of C2, in other words, is highly likely to be impossible.

It must also be remembered that a second tier ship would be, of course, limited in the range of tasks it can cover when things get hot. However, a balanced fleet can’t be made of sole high-end warships. If we take a look at the Royal Navy’s daily tasks, there are several which do not require the presence of a Type 45 or a frigate. The Atlantic Patrol Tasking North, in the Caribbean, would be best served with a cheaper OPV, ideally forward based in Bermuda. This would at one stroke remove quite a bit of stress from the rest of the fleet. Operation ATALANTA is another task that does not really require a full sized frigate. Gibraltar could be the base of another OPV / second tier vessel which would deliver much wished for political reassurance, while being available to restore a more visible british presence in the Mediterranean and along the western coast of Africa, an area which has been growing in importance and an area which could get progressively hotter if the piracy in the gulf of Nigeria escalates further.

A number of other presence and defence engagement tasks could be covered by less ambitious warships, if they were available. Relieving the high end warships of some of these tasks would help frigates and destroyers being available for commitments of greater importance. The high end warships should still have a lot to cover, so any pressure removed from their duties is a big gain:

-          Operation Kipion in the Gulf; here, the risk is always high, and arguably the Royal Navy should maintain one Type 45 and one ASW frigate in the area enduringly. To achieve this aim, the Royal Navy is now extending to 9 months the duration of deployment in the area, with a mid-deployment crew rest and ship maintenance “break” in Bahrain.
-          South Atlantic Patrol Tasking; an ASW frigate, with its all-around capability is excellent reassurance. The Royal Navy is extending South Atlantic deployments to 9 months as well, on the same model used in the Gulf.
-          Towed Array Patrol Ship; an ASW frigate with 2087 “tail” kept at readiness in home waters to support the deterrent and the effort against sneaky Russian subs probing the waters around the UK. A task rarely mentioned, but one that should have gotten a lot more important with the (inexcusable) loss of the maritime patrol aircraft
-          Fleet Ready Escort; one warship at high readiness for deployment worldwide
-          Standing NATO RF Maritime Groups; which in the new cold climate with Russia are returning to the fore. The Royal Navy has been unable to do much for the groups since 2012, but now they are again in the top slots in the list.

Finally, the ever important task of being actually available for what is the Navy’s true answer to a crisis, the Response Force Task Group. The Credibility of the Navy is best served by being able to deploy and train a coherent task force including at least one destroyer for air area defence and at least one ASW frigate for anti-surface, anti-submarine defence and for naval gunfire support and other supporting roles. The sight of the capital ships Bulwark and Ocean going around without escort is not my idea of credibility. Not at all. And when the carrier capability is finally restored, the lack of escorts will be even more unacceptable.

The extension of deployments to Kipion and South Atlantic help in covering more ground with limited resources by reducing the number of ship rotations, and cutting down on transfer times as the same vessel stays in the area for longer.
However, even with a break in the middle, it is still a 9 months stint for the same crew. It is probably the time for testing again the practice of sea-swapping the crew of major warships, because if it could be made to work, the same ship could stay deployed at least one year, while the crew would rotate to keep the pressure on personnel more bearable.
The germans are notoriously building presence warships, the F-125 frigates, which are designed specifically to deploy abroad for a whole 2 years, while the crews are rotated every four to six months.
The Royal Navy’s warships haven’t been designed for such use, but it might be possible to achieve a 12 month time on station, with the right approach. Going ahead, it might become unavoidable to try again: the RN made a first try back in 2007, swapping the crews of two Type 42 destroyers: HMS Exeter’s crew was flown from Britain to the Falklands to relived in place the crew of HMS Edinburgh which was to spend 10 months in South Atlantic. In the same period, the US Navy made its own trials, but at the time it was assessed that difficulties with maintenance and the impact on morale of detaching crews from their very own ship were too serious to go ahead with the concept.
However, the US Navy has signaled last year that Sea Swap might make a return, and the 9 months deployment for the Royal Navy might be a step in the same direction. Newer ships, new infrastructure in Bahrain and a ever growing use of training in land-based “warship simulators” might make times mature for a new attempt, successful this time.
After all, Sea Swap is not new per se: the MCM crews rotate onto deployed ships regularly. The OPV crews, including of course HMS Clyde’s, do the same. The RFA vessels spend years deployed abroad, rotating crews, and so do the survey vessels. Clearly, a complex high end warship is a different story, but I highly doubt it can’t be made to work.

The other way to ease the problem, is the second tier fleet. The first chance the RN gets to adopt a small second-tier flotilla is connected to the incoming River Batch 2 class of OPVs, of which i've already talked at length. Here, the optimist in me is hoping that the incoming deployment of HMS Severn to the Caribbean is not just a desperation move of a navy terribly stretched in manpower and hulls, but a way to plan for a future in which the new OPVs are put in service to cover some of the constabulary tasks that are the navy's everyday job. These ships are being built regardless of any other consideration, and I firmly believe that a serious effort must be expended to get the best operational value out of them and of the still young Batch 1s already in service. 

The incoming River Batch 2

The second opportunity, in the longer term, is the C3 / MHPC. 
The first MHPC vessel is planned to be procured in 2028, and this is interesting because, with the plan for 13 Type 26 stretching well into the 2030s, it would imply simultaneous work on two quite large programmes. Possibly the explanation is that MHPC as currently envisaged, while having a patrol capability, will have such a limited “combat” element to it that it won’t rate between the “complex warships” which require the single “frigate factory” plant planned on the Clyde. In fact, it would be nice to know more about how the future of shipbuilding is seen at the MOD: while plans never survive the impact with the enemy (budget), it is interesting to think that, in theory, the building of MARS FSS should start quite soon (since the Forts are supposed to leave service by the middle of the 2020s). Simultaneously, Type 26 should be ongoing. At some point in the 2020s, Argus and Diligence will need replacement, and in 2028 the replacement of the MCM ships should begin with the MHPC.
How all these tassels fit into the british shipbuilding situation isn’t clear, as of today, and the feeling is that, for the logistic vessels at least, building the hulls abroad will be the choice of the day, as has happened with MARS FT.
In theory, in the early 2030s the LPDs Albion and Bulwark will also be in need of a replacement, while the complex combat ship of the late 2030s, after the ending of the Type 26 build, would probably be a replacement for the Type 45.

My proposal for credibility and affordability is to cap Type 26 at 10 hulls, like the once planned C1. All ten of these hulls will have to be properly equipped as ASW frigates, inclusive of 2087. This is because where the Navy needs credible combat ships, an handicapped frigate won’t really do. These frigates are built to be ASW and ASuW vessels: let them be what they must be.
After that, put a greater focus on MHPC. A separate C2 programme is not realistic, but the mistake in my opinion was to mix C1 and C2 into the same class by merely handicapping some of the vessels in it. There is another programme which is going to happen for sure, because of the specialized roles it goes to cover: C2 should have been merged with C3. MHPC is expected to be a decently sized ship (at least 3000 tons) which will have large cargo and work space in the stern for carrying modular MCM and Survey payloads. It will have a flight deck and, differently from the Rivers, a good hangar. The ship is planned to have good sea legs and be globally deployable, but so far it has been described as having very light armament, probably just a 30 mm gun in OPV fashion.
This self-inflicted limiting factor, however, is relatively easily corrected: one only has to look to ships like the Khareef, built in Britain, to see that it is possible, at low cost, to uplift the potential of a modest hull and give it firepower adequate to be credible in a far larger range of circumstances. The UK, besides, has the advantage of CAMM, a very, very clever missile system which can be installed with minimum effort pretty much on any ship. A MHPC with a 76mm gun and a small battery of CAMM won’t make a frigate, but it will become credible for a much wider range of tasks. And it will have greater usefulness in keeping the yards busy and in preserving skills between the end of Type 26 and the beginning of the next major surface combatant project which, history suggests, will be late as the Type 45s will have their life stretched again and again for lack of cash.

The conclusion to my reasoning is that when having more high end warships is not a viable option because there’s no budget and no manpower for them,  the only way to cover more ground with less frigates is to make sure that the few hulls available are truly capable and only employed in the tasks they are meant for.
The credibility of the Navy is the task group, with its full range of capabilities, not the frigate hurriedly stolen from a standing task to be sent at speed towards a crisis.
The high end warships must be there for the task group, for the “hotter” standing tasks, for training for their actual, very demaning roles, and for showing the flag in NATO groups, so that they can actually respond to a developing crisis.
There are other ways to cover less demanding standing tasks.  

When people thinks back to the “want of frigates” of admiral Lord Nelson, they should realize that, back in his days, the Ships of the Line were today’s Type 45 and 23/26, and the frigates were the second tier flottilla. 
He did not ask for more Ships of the Line.
He asked for more workhorses to act as forward presence, as eyes and ears for the fleet, so that he could survey many places, and lead the Ships of the Line timely into decisive actions only where they could achieve the actual victory.

It is still a valid concept today, as it was back then. 

And i'm hoping that the First Sea Lord, in his experience, realizes this. I like to believe that he is showing us his best poker face, talking in a way that protects the Type 26, but with his mind planning ahead to give it some helping hands.


  1. Great piece Gabriel.

    Unfortunately we all know the defence budget is there to subsidize BAE and all the politics that involves. Supporting the home defence industry equals products vastly expensive, years late, and too expensive for others to buy, as you explained. The RN is far down the list of government priorities compared to industry. But what government will take the political risk of doing otherwise.

    Meanwhile we have the new Tide tankers built in Korea. 4 being built, and I have every confidence they will be on time, on budget. Brilliant.

    The British armed forces are constantly hamstrung by this.

    I support the two tier fleet concept, sadly seems 1st Sea Lord does not.

    I'm wondering if we can get by with 10 T26, a cut of 3, and a saving for the real enemies of HM forces, the Treasury, with the 6 Type 45 and the 3 new Rivers giving us 19 ships as now. Less high end but a few more low end for the constabulary tasks.

  2. Dear Gabriele

    Thanks for good summary of the current T26 issue and your vision for its future.

    3 comments I have.

    1: Currently T26 is larger than T45? It surely must be expensive, not because it is large (steel is cheap), but because it means RN did not gave up any requirments (and possibly even added something). For me, the most important requirment for T26 WAS to "keep its number of 13". With current size, I don't think it is possible.

    I love your idea of "10 fully equipped T26" with the 3 "additional" OPVs helping the gap. In this case, there will even be a "gain" in total sea going days. However, I am a bit pessimistic that there will only be 8 of them, considering the large size of T26. Then, can RN compensate for loss of 5 frigates with 3 additional OPVs? No, RN may need "4"th additional OPV.

    If it is true ...

    (Although I agree this is a bit "dreamy" idea,) I think not only the "4th" but also the 3rd OPVs shall be of 99m OPV design. With hanger and deck, maybe with 3in (or old 4.5in) gun and a CIWS, but virtually nothing else, to keep it as cheap and also as long at sea days as possible. As I already commented, I can "foresee 2 slots for additional (90m version) OPVs". With a size of FL2700t, the 99m version may work in Indian ocean, opening a slot for 3rd and 4th.

    2: CAMMS, Artizan and so on, has NOT YET been equipped in all T23s. Actually no CAMMS yet. The cost to "modernise" T23 is also non-negligible, although it is not included in the T26 program. Thus, it is free for T26 but not free for RN, as you know.

    I love CAMMS concept, as well, but I don't think the system is cheap, because it is "based on Sea Viper's software". However, I do think the missiles will be cheaper, so that you can get many rounds onboard to fight against saturation attack. FREMM with only 16 ASTER15 can be sunk with only "17" harpoon/exocet SSMs. But for T26 with 48 CAMMS missile, you need at least "49" SSMs (of course 100% kill cannot happen, but the number difference is clear).

    3: I currently not convinced with your "making a light frigate out of C3" idea. With 3in gun and CAMMS, it is already a "Khareef class" corvette, i.e. a light frigate. With additional UUV MCM units and gears and systems to operate it, its cost can easily reach 400 million dollars per ship or even more. This is typically 3-4 times expensive than contemporary MCMVs, which means you may have only 4 or 5 C3s out of 8+7 =15 MCMVs RN currently has. I do not think this is desirable. Without "fighting" capability, I suppose the cost per ship may be reduced to 250-300 million dollars, which will enable 8-9 C3 vessels to come. I agree I may be wrong, but I am just afraid that the next generation MCMVs shall be quite expensive.


    Donald of Tokyo

    1. Artisan 3D is being installed quite quickly on the Type 23s, actually. Quicker than i thought, honestly. If i've kept track of it right, it has already been installed on Iron Duke, Argyll, Sutherland and Monmouth, and before the year is over both Montrose and Westminster will be undergoing a refit which includes the installation of the new radar.

      The contract for the Common Core combat system has been signed, things with the new navigation radar seem to be moving, CESM and new communications are on the way and power generator upgrades are also on the way. So, on this front, things are going pretty nicely. CAMM is expected to begin appearing on Type 23 from 2016 onwards.
      Of course all this has a cost, but it spread on many years and, effectively, two classes of warships. It should definitely help keep down the cost compared to, say, FREMM, where everything was new.

      As for C3 / MHPC, it has always been accepted that the number would never match the 15 MCM + 2 Echo-class survey + 3 patrol ships. 8 was the number being given around back then.
      Cost will of course be quite high, between the MCM modular payloads and the ship itself. However, again, the MCM modular payload is due to begin appearing 10 years before the first new ship: 2018 should see the first unmanned systems for MCM entering service, and for a decade they will be carried on modified Hunt minesweepers, before moving on to new ships.

      The hulls will be fewer by far, this is a given. However, the current minesweepers are very limited in terms of deployability and use in anything other than their core role, while the future asset will be globally deployable and much more flexible.
      The move to modular, portable, stand-off MCM equipment is also supposed to make it possible to launch MCM operations from ashore, and from motherships of opportunity, so that dedicate MCM hulls are less in demand.

      It is a tough game of balancing, but it is a game which has to be played anyway, as a better solution is unlikely to be in easy reach, with the budget so tight.

  3. Bravo Gabriele,

    I completely agree with your suggestions and only hope someone with influence has read this article.

    From my perspective, I don't mind at all that the MoD is taking its time with procurement. A sensible re-calibration of the concept of the OPV/MHPC projects with reference to the roles originally assigned to C2/C3, and the consequent re-examination of hull numbers and equipment of the high-end status C1 ships, would surely take some time. We would rather the right decisions be made rather than have a mess of expensive hulls doing cheap jobs because they don't have the equipment they were designed for, and I take great comfort that, in line with this delay, we are seeing the deployment of the OPV to the Caribbean. I think (hope) this shows a real willingness to look at getting the best value out of our naval assets, which surely cannot be lost on an MoD which has shown a zealous approach to costs via the Type 23 equipment swap described above.

    Looking forward, I'm not overly worried by BAE's pricing culture. They will charge whatever they can get for each hull and have done so in the passed because the buyer has allowed them to get away with it. However, if a resulting lack of orders leads to the permanent spiralling down of their ship-building business, then a competent manager will see that they'd be shooting themselves in the foot. Ultimately, they need to sell vessels to a government willing to pay the price, so it is up to the Government/MoD to hold its nerve (again, if this means longer negotiations then so be it). Obviously the government is slightly hamstrung with regard to the high-end ships - politics means they need to be British-built - but effective headbanging from the Govt to drive down price has another route, because it is still in a position to channel more work to BAE in the long-term by ordering more low-end hulls. It is therefore in a position to demand in turn that BAE offer a better deal on individual ships, including the high-end hulls. This kind of virtuous circle is always possible because it remains in everyone's interest. If the MoD has its eyes on cost, as it appears to like never before, then this would have occurred to someone.

    Further, if the government reduces, as you suggest, its order for high-end C1 ships (which for political reasons must be British-built), it can more effectively (and with greater political justification), hang the sword of Damocles over BAE's head that, unless they smarten their act up on pricing for the C1s, the MoD may order a wider tranche of low-end hulls from another country. These orders are far less politically sensitive than the 'ships of the line', so the threat would be (already is?) real. It would add teeth to Zambellas' suggestions of ordering foreign frigates, which makes sense in this context (but was surely toothless if he was talking about a whole replacement for T26).

    Thanks again for an excellent article.


    Rando Howard

  4. Excellent analysis as always. Totally agree about 10 properly equipped T26s and a greater emphasis on MHPC. I have said on several occasions that expecting any more than 10 T26s is unrealistic anyway in the current climate, and to have all 10 equipped with towed array sonar makes far more sense than bothering with the GP version. On the subject of FSS, I think that Fort Victoria is likely to go as part of SDSR 2015 so the FSS requirement will be cut to just 2 hulls.

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I'm glad the article is giving an opening to thinking and discussion. That's what it is all about.

    1. Excellent article Gabriele. Also nice to see that it has been posted on the 'NOSInt Daily' blog.

  6. Apologies for the double post.

    I meant to add that my chief worry for the Navy going forward is not the MoD, or the Treasury (per se), or BAE as sole-provider. These are realities that the Navy has to live with. My big worry is the top brass of the Navy itself.

    In the interview quoted, Zambellas is effectively saying "we need lots of high-end ships that can do everything". There is no attempt to analyse what the Navy is [i]actually[/i] required to do, as you have done Gabriele. Instead it strikes me as the same old bleating for the biggest most glamourous toys. The Treasury has no doubt heard all this before, as has the MoD. Indeed, long before Nelson there were arguments over wither a "fleet in being" was really the right approach when the Dutch were running rings around the Royal Navy during much of the 17th Century.

    Hopefully Zambellas is thinking more carefully about the Navy than just asking for more big ships out of habit. Perhaps he is hoping that securing more of the bigger hulls now will secure equipment for them later (under UORs etc). But either way the dismissive stance toward low-end hulls strikes me as a little myopic. Perhaps it is focussed on securing a bigger slice of budget in the future (to fill equipment and escort gaps), rather than on delivering a naval fighting force that is actually fit for purpose 'as built'. More hopefully, perhaps it is all just a negotiating tactic (no party to mediation ever starts off in the middle), but if not then I hope someone higher up than the admiral is taking a broader view than "bigger is better". If this is necessary, it would be a shame.

    Thanks again,


  7. Look let's call a spade a spade.
    The problem is there is no one to crack the shipbuilding whip. Go see how other foreign yards do things.
    Unfortunately the major UK builder has transformed itself into a transatlantic company. This means gold plating in warship construction is a given.
    Just look at the way the Queen Elizabeth's exceeded projected costs. Look at the inflated cost of fitting Cats and traps. Look at the price of the OPV's.
    If the Government isn't aware of what is going on, its time they were, time they called time and forced BAE to compete in the warship business.
    T'was ever thus, which is why HMS Queen Elizabeth 1913 was built in Devonport shipyard. Take back Portsmouth shipyard, set up a new company, and see what that does to the price.
    I don't rest my case.

  8. 10 fully fitted Type 26 would be more flexible only if MHPC delivers a credible platform. There comes a point where flexibility is lost due to a complete lack of hulls.

    Initially eight MHPC/C3 vessels were quoted as being the figure to replace the existing MCM fleet, with a few additional hulls to replace the Echo and River classes at a later date. So perhaps 12-14 MHPC?

    Use a modified River class hull at 3,000 - 3,500 tonnes, a hangar and flight deck to accommodate a Merlin/Lynx and a 76mm gun.

    I'd like to see space reserved for a potential CAMM fit if the need ever arose - but I certainly wouldn't have a CAMM fit from the get go. Instead, purchasing 4 or 5 extra Phalanx CIWS would be a good idea for MHPC vessels in the Gulf and South Atlantic.

    Such a ship would be more than capable of covering any constabulary tasking, while also being able to conduct MCM and survey independently without having to be nursed by a high-end warship.

    Basically, it would be the mule of the Navy - if Type 26 is the workhorse.

    Type 45 replacement needs to be delayed until the time scale becomes borderline viable that a single class can replace both it and the Type 26. But that's a long way away :)

  9. A very informative (if depressing) post!

    On the subject of complex shipbuilding it would i think be rather pointless to do more than touch on the very obvious facts that the portion of BAE in question is not a competitive business model and lives hand to mouth off of the British economy thus doing away with the need for any of the innovation or positive investment that most companies need to put some effort into to survive.

    That would be bad enough in itself, but the added fact that BAE can't even seem to produce relatively practiced and familiar kinds of complex warship (even when it doesn't have to fork out for any of the development costs and doesn't have to worry about most of the technical equipment being provided by other sources) anywhere near as affordable and reliably as it thinks it can leaves UK shipbuilding, defence procurement and wider military strategy in a very undesirable position.

    In a very simplistically put way i think the time has come for the UK government and MOD to stop burying their heads in the sand on this issue and inject a major amount of cash into one of the smaller facilities that still exist like Cammel Laird or Babcock Marine in Appledore so that it can expand into major shipbuilding and take on BAE in certain areas, introducing the vitally lacking element of competition.

    I don't think it would cost more than a couple of billion invested (not peanuts but not half the annual budget!) to get a second shipbuilder that can bid for MOD contracts. Even if BAE remained as the sole Type 26 builder on the Clyde it would be great to see another company giving them a run for their money with MHPC and future RFA's. Even if said yard couldn't produce quite as much as BAE currently can i believe any kind of investment in this area would sufficiently shake things up, and sure BAE would piss and moan but what are they going to do? Accept get their act together that is!

    If competition did lead to cheaper contracts and better end products and a person was feeling very optimistic they could even see the potential for more commercial/international work in the further future that would ease UK shipbuilding's dependence on the state which would also be no bad thing.

    1. On the subject of the RN itself and the upcoming SDSR i think we have to be realistic over the force size and mix they can possibly get under the current conditions.

      I broadly agree that T26 should be done properly (i never really liked the the ASW/GP split which was a messy amalgamation in the first place) and 10-12 for an overall surface fleet of 16-18 is the minimum needed to flesh out a convincing and credible RFTG and provide for the standing commitments that require high-end assets.

      The idea of a C1/C2/C3 split would have been a good one for a naval service with greater funds and scope for three distinctive levels of capability.

      In my view it's correct to say that under the current limitations a more straightforward high/low mix is the most the RN can hope to pursue. So in addition to 16-18 fully capable frigates/destroyers i think retaining the upcoming batch 2 Rivers in addition to the current OPV fleet and fitting them with telescopic hangars for permanent forward basing is a good idea and a first step in the right direction. As is getting as much out of longer deployments and crew rotations as possible.

      10 fully kitted out T26, 3 extra and improved Rivers and the promise of a more comprehensive low-end fleet to replace first the mine-hunters and survey vessels and then the current OPV's themselves starting in the 2020's wouldn't be a terrible deal for the RN under the circumstances.

      I think perhaps the most important thing to get right is the hammering home of the fact that OPV's can't do a T26's job and a T26 shouldn't be doing an OPV's one.

      As much as possible has to be done to ensure that high-end and low-end classes of vessel are not seen as similar or interchangeable and should not be placed into competition with each other for resources which if taken is a route that doesn't result in any winner.

  10. Sorry to have to enter one correction in a splendid series of comments. HMS Queen Elizabeth was built at Portsmouth Dockyard. Her sister ship, HMS Warspite, was built at Devonport

  11. Do we need a 100,000 man army? What ever happened to: “Whereas any European power has to support a vast army first of all, we in this fortunate, happy island, relieved by our insular position of a double burden, may turn our undivided efforts and attention to the Fleet. Why should we sacrifice a game in which we are sure to win to play a game in which we are bound to lose?" - Winston Churchill

    In the context of today's world, Britain with a larger and more robust navy would have more influence, I feel, than maintaining the current size of the army. There are significantly less 'big players' in the maritime and with the arrival of HMS QE and the F-35, we will resume our position as being second only to the US Navy is terms of power projection from the sea.

    Armies are comparatively easier and faster to build than navies - history has shown how fast and often the British Army has been able to fluctuate in size when the need demanded.

    1. I agree, a British Army large enough to provide a brigade sized force for either 'kick in the door' operations or an enduring international commitment and no more is what we should be aiming for. I think you can achieve these objectives with a force smaller than currently planned if you are a little clever with it's structure and ensure the 'active' formations are healthy staffed and fully supported first and foremost.

      A reaction/adaptable split like the one we are currently going for isn't unreasonable in itself, but the priority should be given to the reaction side of things with the adaptable elements being predominantly composed of Army Reserve formations and the odd regular battalion providing for public duties work or resting after a deployment to Cyprus etc.

      The RAF and RN should definitely be the focus. They are both as you say services that field complex systems and require specialist training so take longer to rebuild and are also the best way that the UK can maintain some degree of influence in the world.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Hi Gaby

    Is the ratio of 3 Warships to fulfil 1 task still hold true?

    I would think that the Royal Navy would be better equipped with a 2 tier force.

    6 x Type 45
    12 x Type 26
    12 x Type 27 (99m Corvette as per Khareef Corvette a BAE product)
    9 x Astute
    4 x SSBN (and its replacement)
    2 x QE Carriers

    Tasks would be:

    Carrier Group - Carrier/Type 45/2 Type 26/Astute
    Caribbean - Type 27
    Falklands - Type 27
    Gulf - Type 27/Type 26/Astute
    Gibraltar - Type 27
    UK Patrols - at least 4 to cover each compass point - perhaps 1 being a Type 45 upgraded to the TBMD mission
    Deterrence - Type 26 to conduct sweep
    NATO Atlantic Standing Force - 1 ship

    I think that the Batch 2 River which of course has no hanger is a poor compromise when the Khareef is already in service and far more capable.
    Hulls are required or as you say a death spiral could be on the cards.

    Cheers for your insight - I wonder if the MOD read them?

  13. Brilliant, if deeply depressing, article. A couple of points here stand out -
    1. Even when compared to European yards, those of BAE appear to have poor productivity. It is noticeable that most other yards still have commercial activities as well (with those of DCNS being the exception here)
    2. The combination of BAE and the MOD appears totally incapable of running projects and controlling costs successfully. There appear to be some parallels here with the UK's (now dead) armoured vehicle industry. While I am not suggesting T-26 is as bad as FRES, there are some similarities and it certainly seems that BAE has exactly the same commitment to the UK naval ship building business as it did with armoured vehicles - ie zero....

    I am afraid that we really need to bite the bullet here and accept if UK industry can't (indeed won't) build hulls to an acceptable price and quality then we will buy from overseas. I am quite sure that South Korea would love to enter into a long term naval industry partnership whereby we provide designs, critical equipment and weapons and they build and outfit the hulls.... and I mean for ALL our naval vessels, not just RFA.

    1. I think realistically there are two ways forward for this.

      BAE don't really do metal bashing, it's low margin, production line industry that they have no expertise in.

      As part of the MARS deal BAE are sending people over to DAewoo shipbuilding in Korea trying to learn some of their processes. This could be merely a "john blood visits Kawasaki" excercise, or I would suggest could blossom into a long term strategic partnership, with DAewoo doing some subcontracting and then taking a minority stake in the shipbuilding side of the business.

      Alternatively BAe sells out of shipbuilding altogether, probably to Babcock.

  14. As ever, great post, very interesting detail, concisely put.
    I understand you point about the 2 tier navy; it seems a popular idea right now. But I’m afraid I’m with the First Sea Lord on this one. We are strapped for cash and as peer threats grow ever more advanced and powerful tier 2 ships have very little use in Wartime. They can serve some purpose, and this would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that they WOULD reduce the number of top tier vessels. Should the worst happen 19 escorts really is a ridiculously low number to even execute a Falkland’s like operation whilst trying to continue to protect the realm, and I don’t consider that a true peer engagement.
    You really don’t get good value with many smaller ships, per tonne you need more men, more maintenance more everything. The primary goal of a military is, let’s face it, warfare. And since WW2 we have continued to focus on THAT kind of threat (probably our last true Peer engagement). That’s why the T26 will be built in the UK, because of the experience of nearly being starved out of existence. That’s why BAE and the ship yards have a “monopoly”, this IS a bit of a negotiation problem, but I really don’t feel we do all that bad, as we look across the pond!
    Our requirements and standards for warships are amazingly high, and this does have a cost. Other countries will accept warships will less backups and safety features. But these are why a RN ship can take a hit by an excorset and still keep on ticking with a very small loss of crew , considering.
    I don’t really think we can call the T26 totally a second hand affair. There will be considerable new equipment. The Highly Mechanised weapons handling system, developed from the QE Class, alone is a major step forward, even before we get into the in’s and out’s of stealth and mission bay handling equipment and integration systems. It’s not just a big space you lob containers in.
    I’m very much hoping for all 13. It can happen that we get the hulls specified, look at Astute (extended build not withstanding: S)
    I have to admit I was hoping they would come in at a reasonable price, and be allowed to pump the class out without interference, the major cause of contract price creep.
    But so far there has been no official statement of an issue. Just this hint. I suspect the delay and the statements of the 1SL are simply negotiating tactics in a game where you know you have very little to negotiate with.

    1. Of course there will be some innovation on Type 26. There would be little point in designing it and building it if it was completely like the previous class. But we should not fool ourselves into not seeing what Type 26 is shaping up to be.

      On the safety features, frankly, i don't believe there are so many differences as some would want us to believe. And i certainly do not believe that any british ship can shrug off an anti-ship missile hit. Survive, perhaps, yes. But that's pretty much it, and i think the other peer navies are no better and no worse.
      Damage control, besides, is highly dependent on how many men you have in the crew. And we all know how lean manned the RN is being forced to become.

      As for peer engagement considerations, i think they completely fall apart when you consider the lack of anti-ship missiles, the Type 45 incapable to do much apart from AAW, and the frigates without towed sonar.
      I fail to see how this is a coherent equipment strategy. Too many corners cut all over the place.

    2. MS Glamorgan (D19) took and ASM hit and repaired at sea, essentially remaining fully operational, other examples exist where ships hit by exorcet and remained providing some useful military value for days after.
      Part of the “Armour” of QEC is provided by the sear size. Compartments are intentionally designed to “get in the way”, shaped charge will only cut through 1 bulk head, and then explode inside, and if you can contain this blast without propagating it forward you are providing protection. I suspect T45 and T26 will also work this way. Damage control is focused on containing the breach by sealing compartments. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but there you go.
      Lean manning is the basis of my feeling we can’t go to 2 tier, you will need more men, not just on the ships but in the supply chain. That’s partly why we are moving to big ships, long endurance, it allows for a smaller ( less hulls ) RFA.
      I’m in total agreement with you on the fact that we have moved to a state where no 1 ship can go it alone. RN now MUST function in a group, no 1 ship is Peer effective anymore.
      As far as the ASM question for T26 goes, I suspect we are looking at LRASM, almost certainly, unless they massively pull their finger out on Perseus, but I can’t see that happening till 20XX, where X is a big number ?
      We are now getting dangerously close to a stage where the cuts mean a lack of coherence as you say. I think, just, we are, only just, the right side of the line.
      I hope so anyway. Mr Putin, I’m looking at you!

    3. Of course there have been cases of ships surviving to very nasty hits. But a fair share of the merit in those cases is down to luck, and much of the rest is down to the crew's efforts. The design itself helps, but i do not think the RN or anyone else have particularly decisive solutions to the problem... nor am i sure it would be a valid solution if it made the warship unaffordable and forced the navy to shrink constantly. If that was it, compromises would have been made already years ago.

  15. Gaby,

    Excellent article. Here's another question from an ignorant landlubber.

    Under the statement: "Type 26 is going to be built as little more than a hull with engines, to inherit straight from retiring Type 23s", you include a list, which mentions "The torpedo system".

    Now I think that the Type 23 frigates were fitted with 4 x tubes for Sting Ray (am I right?), as well as having the Sting Ray as an air-launched weapon. Were you perhaps referring to the ship-borne tubes in this case for the Type 26 or the air-launched from a helicopter?

    1. Well, both! The air launched Stingray will be embarked for use by the helicopters. Type 26 is to have a new Highly Mechanized Handling system by Babcock to handle the weapons destined to the embarked helicopter. Contract already placed; that is one bit of new stuff. But the ship tubes are likely to just move across from T23.

  16. OH P.S. Excalibur N5 is still very much on the cards for the extended range round for the Deck Gun.
    I know we are both very much disappointed it wasn’t the Italian option. Which I think offers many advantages and I have more faith will come in on time. Beno

    1. A better option available for MK45 is the Standard Guided Projectile. So a few options exist. Whether they will be procured is the question...

    2. US Navy is no longer interested in pursuing a guided 5 inch projectile. All the evidence points to a 300/500kw class laser weapon to replace Mk45 in near future. Without USN commitment, I'm afraid neither option will bring to fruition.

    3. How a laser weapon makes curved fire?

  17. Many thank for the reply, Gaby

  18. Interesting that Appledore has been mentioned by a couple of posts here They could be a competitor to BAE and reduce the costs. It appears BAE have a profit margin written in to the build process. Where as we look at the competitive market place that Babcock (Appledore) are competing in, with the successful build of Irish Patrol vessels and we see an answer to escalating costs of BAE, plus it appears they can build in quicker time. Therefore, time to push for the 30 meter extension to the building at Appledore and allow them to tender for the build process.

    But alas we will continue to have to subsidise others and deplete the RN ship numbers.

    1. I am wondering why Portsmouth isn't transferred over to Babcock.
      BAE do give the impression mere metal bashing is a bore.
      I think this is part of their heritage. Certainly when they owned Leyland, they let Honda do all the work produce all the ideas and got shot of it ASAP and as they say the rest is history along with Airbus Wings and all the other junked businesses. Hmm.

    2. Bae aren't really a metal basher, they're a systems integration house. There's a lack of accountability in the middle ranks and a big legacy pension fund to service. Ideally the bare hulls would be built by Babcock, who are a completely different animal.

      I agree something needs to be done, this simply cannot continue.

    3. Thanks. Yes we need desperately a metal basher extraordinary -UK.
      Some in high places think we have become sooo.......... sophisticated we are beyond all that though. That's the trouble with all this 50% of the workforce S/B graduates B/S.

  19. Beno,
    I am totally in disagreement with you on the UK warships capability to survive in comparison to other nations.
    Dutch and American vessels that I visited in my time where equally capable, with Build quality of German vessels being exemplary.
    Today we see "Lean Manning" which is not employed in the same way by US vessels. I would have to suggest that UK vessels will suffer as a result of this Lean Manning.
    Experience of Large Compartments and flooding in Type 42 does not lead me to believe that design is particularly better than anyone else's. Finally experience gained during the last war seems to indicate that speed is an essential. A carrier (May) need to alter course to launch airsystems, if it has a top speed of 25 Knots it may require other vessels to slow whilst it attempts to catch up, and the same is true of escort vessels attempting to prosecute a contact whilst escorting battle group or convoy. Speed really is a requirement of a surface vessel and is not a luxury. Sadly as we try to drive down costs it is another "Choice" dropped. I fear a very unwise decision.

    1. I think my statement about RN ship endurance may have been a bit misconstrued.
      An example;
      The internal comms of the Astute class had a hand cranked dynamo on every phone allowing the crew to communicate even when all the power in the boat is down.
      These kind of features are common place in HM forces equipment, they are small, and almost seem insignificant, but aren’t, they do add cost. Quite a lot of cost unfortunately, because you can’t buy a phone like that off the shelf.
      I am not claiming the hulls of RN ships are somehow endowed with a magical essence that repels harm. Although this would certainly be wonderful. Simply that the subtleties of design and the myriad of backup features as above increase cost, unfortunately. BUT have in the past made a difference in the ability of our equipment to remain at least partially operational after some extreme punishment.
      Producing our own gear has LOADS of advantages, who else managed to pull off Harrier or Chobham armour etc etc etc. Things the Chinese have yet to knock off thanks to our careful companies. But it costs ! It’s not cheap, no, but it IS British quality manufacturing at the very pinnacle. And the world respects it, lest feel our wrath.
      Anyway that’s what I think ;)
      Informed debate is of course the fun of Gabs pages.

  20. What do you think of the Nsm , they are working on vl and it can fit inside the jsf and if needed has land attack capability

    1. The one that fits inside the F-35, and then again only insided the F-35A and F-35C, is the Joint Strike Missile. A derivative product of the NSM, and definitely not the same thing. There's more differences, including in size and shape, than most people imagine.

      NSM, with its land strike capability, could be a viable option for replacing Harpoon in the future, but i don't know if it will be considered at all. The status of anti-ship missile capability in the RN these days is... unclear, to say the least.

  21. i like the idea of squeezing as much capability out of the batch 2 rivers as possible, and even expanding their number to cover some standing tasks, but i cannot support losing any but the thirteenth of the T26's, and then ploughing that money back into the class to ensure the remaining twelve are full spec.

    with six AWD and twelve ASW you can still project and protect a credible task group, i don't see how that works with less.

    1. That would be better, of course but i simply do not expect the budget to be a friend.

      10 ASW frigates would at least be enough for a single, decent battlegroup, which is the RN's ambition these days anyway, as the ability to have separate battlegroups has gone in 2010, and realistically even before that, if the standing tasks assigned to the frigates were reduced to the minimum by only sending frigates where they are actually necessary.

    2. Dear Gabriele

      I agree to your point. Many, if not all, looking for OPVs to come is NOT doing so to reduce the number of T26s. Reduction in number of T26s shall be kept as small as possible. However, I (we?) suppose that total number of 13 will come only if RN lose BOTH of the CVFs, which I think lead to losing its identity. Thus, I believe reduction in number of frigate from 13 to 8-10 is inevitable, sorry to say.

      A T26 frigate is equivalent to 7 (90m) OPVs in its purchase cost (or 4 OPVs in manning). Thus, the three (or four) OPVs we are talking here is equivalent to "a half of a T26 frigate" by cost. Even if you reject ALL of the additional OPVs, there is no room to increase the number of frigates.

      An option: If you want to increase the number of T26s, the only way to do it is "abandon the land attack missile (LAM)", I think. As Gabriele has already mentioned, equipments new for T26s are only the LAM, the 5 in gun and possibly CAMMS (in a way that it is not YET existing Today). Taking the LAM "fitted for but not with" will decrease the T26's project cost by possibly 10-20%. In other words, you can build 11-12 T26s out of 10 (or 9 out of 8) by abandoning LAMs. Since you are going to have 1+1 CVFs (one in reserve) which is pretty much large and can host up to 36 F-35Bs in surge, you may already have enough land attack capability, including the TLAMs in your SSNs ?

      Another option: If RN are to sacrifice one T26 for OPV fleet, then I think there is a chance to build 2 "Batch-2 River-type" 90m OPVs (each ~50M GBP) and 2 "French Floreal-class-like" 99m OPVs (each ~100 M GBP). This is the original idea of my first comment in this thread. Looking at the current "standing" operations of RNs, I am afraid that at least some of these OPVs needs to have a capability to handle sanction operations and/or "show the flag" (or "show the Cannon") operations in, for example, the seaside of Africa.


      Donald of Tokyo

  22. Based on your comments about needing credibility, and the fact that the 8 ASW optimised Type-26 ships will operate Merlin, then surely the number 1 priority is to qualify an anti-surface capability on the Merlin in time for the ships to come into service?
    - Mike W.

    1. Maybe not the number one priority fleet wide, but i see that as a priority, yes.

      The story goes that, when the Merlin HM1 entered service, the crews commented: "Awesome. Now we need an EO turret and a missile, and we'll have the best machine we could ask for."

      15 years later, we are still very much stuck at that comment.

  23. Hi, I have to admit I tend to get a bit disappointed when I read blogs
    like these. While I understand that there is likely a fair bit of
    frustration with companies like BAE and some of the large sums their
    senior executives seem to make, I seriously doubt that is the sole
    issue with many of the problems that the Type 26 design is currently
    experiencing, and that there is likely plenty of blame to go around for all parties involved.

    Particularly in looking at some of the recently quoted numbers on displacement it would seem that since the Type 26 is being said to
    be a fair bit larger than the Type 23, it should be no surprise that its cost will also be relatively higher even after accounting for inflation. I realize that it is somewhat fashionable to claim that "steel is cheap and air is free' with regards to modern ship design, however I have doubts that is ever truly seems to be the case. All too often it seems to get overlooked that if a ship is made bigger, there will be alot of additional items that will have to be included on it, even if it is intended to try and keep the combat system unchanged.

    Specifically, a larger hull would imply a larger volume that must be heated, ventilated and air conditioned, as well as painted, and insulated etc. It also implies longer runs of ducting, electrical cabling, lighting and other such items as well. As such, it probably shouldn't be a surprise that the base cost of the hull and outfitting for a 6000 to 8000 ton Type 26 will likely be a fair bit more than that of a 4900 ton Type 23.

    And while there will hopefully be some good savings in trying to reuse
    much of the combat equipment from the Type 23 on the Type 26, its
    important to note that this equipment won't really be "free" in that
    there will still be costs associated with removing it from the Type 23s,
    refurbishing it, reinstalling it on the Type 26s and most importantly
    costs associated with "integrating" this equipment together with the
    combat systems and other systems on the Type 26 hull.

    In general, in looking at the size growth of the Type 26 over the Type 23
    you begin to kind of wonder what the main drivers have been and whether
    their impacts have been fully understood by the government prior to them
    being nominated for inclusion in the design.

    1. I am puzzled by the 8000 tons figure that has been thrown around recently, because it sincerely looks somewhat excessive. Type 26 might be exceptionally dense, but knowing the main equipment fit and the propulsion arrangement, two of the major sources of weight, plus the dimensions of the vessels, it is kind of hard to believe to that figure without some serious reservations.

      Second, the known requirements do not suggest anything particularly demanding which might justify struggling with cost. There will be, of course, things they won't say. But it would have to be a pretty extreme kind of classified requirement for it to be responsible of weight and / or ballooning cost.

      Third, the cost they were aiming for with the Type 26 was earlier indicated in 350 to 400 million pounds.
      Of course even re-used equipment from the Type 23 is not free. I'm kind of offended there's a need for it to be said. But seriously: 350 million pounds are quite a good sum for a ship with so much recycling.
      And 127 million are a lot of money for designing it, too, when i look at the costs of the FREMM programme, for example.

      Ultimately, there is no clear evidence of the MOD having a clear fault in this particular case. For what is known so far, i'm finding it very hard to put the blame on too ambitious requirements, because much of them aren't actually that ambitious at all. If different facts will emerge that will suggest otherwise, i'll be writing about that. Until then, with what is known, this is how i see it.

    2. Gabriele,

      I completely concur and I am not quite sure where the above post is actually coming from. The key points here, as you have said, are as follows -

      1. The requirements for the vessel themselves are not game changing by any stretch
      2. The manner in which they are to be met, through a combination of re-use and a handful of new systems (assuming we ever see them, eg land attack missiles), are further focused on the controlling of costs
      3. There is a directly comparable vessel currently under construction right now - ie the FREEM ASW variant, which probably is a little weaker on the ASW front, but a little stronger on the multirole front, than that envisaged for the T-26
      4. The FREEM however is a whole new design and one which is making very little use of existing systems

      As a result of all of the above, if the T-26 can't at least match the FREEM in total cost per vessel, then serious questions need to be asked around the management of the programme (MOD) and the costs of construction and integration (BAE).
      The MOD's shortcomings in this regard are very well know and all that is being pointed our here is that BAE appear to have developed a very similar ongoing reputation for failure. No one is suggesting this is related to envy over their senior management pay - they can be paid whatever they like so long as they deliver, but the fact remains that when compared to other defence organisations, both in the UK, but in particular abroad, they are patently not delivering a cost effective service.

    3. Hi. two things strike me about any comparison to the FREMM. First, I'm not sure that the FREMM is necessarily "a directly comparable vessel" in terms of alot of the stated requirements of the Type 26 with regards to modularity and spare accommodations etc. And second, I'm not sure that I have necessarily seen anywhere that the current costs for the Type 26 are "higher than" any supposed cost of a FREMM variant. In fact, right now I really haven't seen anything definitive on costs for the Type 26 other than they may not currently be reaching the hoped for cost goals (whatever those may be).

  24. Hi. With respect to modern warships, some of the "requirements" driven factors that may cause ship growth may well be things that don't immediately stand out on their own. Specifically in looking at many modern naval vessels it appears that while crew size has gone down, crew "accommodation standards" have gone up such that even with smaller crews it appears (in many cases) that more internal volume is ultimately required for that crew. Similarly, with the hull and superstructure "shaping" incorporated on many modern ships, such us extreme hull flare or sloped deckhouses it is highly likely that there may be more "wasted" or not fully usable space in these modern ships, in comparison to older ships since much of the equipment and fittings that must be carried inside (such as berths, cabinets, equipment racks and the such) tend to be tall and have "vertical" sides and as such can't make alot of use of space in way of flare and slopes, which ends up being non useful for arrangements but must still be painted, insulated and ventilated etc.

    Beyond this there too are many new regulations such as the Marine Pollution (MARPOL) requirements that now require ships to provide protection to fuel tanks, or in some other ways try and limit the potential for fuel outflow in the event of damage. Because regulations such as these, and other regulations that prohibit or limit the practice of adding ballast to fuel tanks as fuel is consumed, can lead to the need for double hull like structure in the way of fuel tanks that not only increase the need for internal volume but also may end up raising the height of such fuel tanks from low in the ship, which in term may lead to the need for a broader beam to provide adequate stability.

    In addition other features such as more complex power plant arrangements may also lead to the need for a larger overall ship and hence higher costs.

    In the end, while many of these type features may be very important for a modern ship, I can't help bit wonder if the government was fully aware of their impacts prior to specifying them and as such to me it seems as if it may be a bit premature and naive to jump to the conclusion that if the current designs appear to be coming out relatively large and expensive that this must be solely the fault of the prime contractor BAE's inefficiencies and inability to do their work, as there are probably alot of other issues that also factor in.

    1. No one is saying that this must solely be the responsibility of BAE. I have no doubt that MOD programme management is fully involved in culpability for the apparent inability to control T-26 displacement and costs, however the point here is that time and again these programmes slip / enjoy cost overruns and there are two parties involved - MOD/UK Armed Forces and Suppliers. Very often that supplier is BAE. There is clearly a correlation here and while it might well be that all of the blame can always be laid at the door of the MOD/UK Armed Forces (and my experience of UK government institutions suggests that that is likely), it still appears somewhat "odd" that dispite all of the stated objectives and processes involved in the T-26 programme, it is STILL higher in cost than foreign equivalents. Furthermore is the fact that as soon as BAE get hold of a shipyard, export orders and independant design efforts immediately dry up. That suggests a corporate culture not focused on entrepreneurial efforts and customer delivery, but instead looking to play the game and to "work as they always have" with "assured" customers.
      A further point - the "investment" they are promising on the Clyde comes like a gun to the UK's head - "provide us the contract or we won't invest". Turn that on its head - shouldn't BAE be looking to invest comewhat may to secure a lower price for its products both for the UK and export customers...?
      Couple all of this with BAE's ability, albeit I agree, completely aided and abetted by the MOD/UK Armed forces, to ensure that from having several innovative and export successful land vehicle manufacturers the UK now has no independant design and build capability in the UK.
      All of the above suggests that there is something wrong with BAE corporate culture....

    2. ..........Yes there is. How right you are, and that is why so many of BAE's smaller independent shareholders (owners) have been critical of the board. Add in the failed BAE attempt to merge with the European industry and you have a corporate structure that hasn't found a good strategy apart from seeking assured customers and has taken on the look of a rudderless ship.
      Compared to our competitor nations the UK has failed to readily adopt good metal bashing practices and we are paying the price, time after time.
      BAE had a pile of cash after they sold out of airbus. I cant quote the figures but it looks as if virtually zero was invested in shipbuilding. Why should the UK tax payer trust BAE with another penny? All very sad.

    3. After building the Type 45, the Astute SSNs, and the carriers themselves, which all have much greater size than before and indeed in part due to the need for better accommodation, can we really say it is "a surprise" of some kind?

      Most certainly, no. I am told, actually, that on Type 26 they are looking to somewhat downsize the relative luxury of accommodation reached with Type 45 with the 6-man rooms for Junior Rates.
      On the QE, the 6-man rooms come with 2 folding beds for a surge in embarked manpower. And, i'm told, on Type 26 the smallest room will hold 9 people. They might improve recreational spaces, but, considering the investments already made in this sense, it is unlikely to be a particular design driver.

      Sizewise, the Type 26 is just 4 to 5 meters longer than an italian FREMM, and pretty much equal in beam.
      So, again, i can't see where the shock is...?

  25. To set the cost of Type 26 in context at current exchange rates,

    French 6,000 ton FREMM 1st ordered in 2007. €605M/£483M,
    German 7,200 ton F125 in commission 2016/2018 €650M + 3% p.a./£521M
    USCG Nat. Sec. Cutter 6th fy2012/2013 4,600ton. $735M/£464M


  26. Hi,
    I guess a one of the issues here for me is that while I understand that there is concerns about being able to meet cost goals right now, I can't say that I've seen specific cost numbers yet especially with a clear explanation of what is included. Overall costs always seem a little tricky to me in that its often difficult to determine if a quoted cost for one ship reflects the same items as that for another, and even a few years difference in estimates can often have an impact on comparisons, and 1st of class or early vessels in a class may have a higher relative cost than later units (especially if compared in the costs escalated to the same "base" year).

    With that said though, on the Defense Industry Daily site an early suggestion of possible costs were given as 400 Million GBP and that at one point the UK government was looking to try and reduce the costs down to 250 to 350 Million GBP. The same site also suggests that the 605 Million Euro/483 Million GBP cost listed for the FREMM was in 2013 currency and I believe I read somewhere that this value may not include developmental costs.

    As such, to me, before I would immediately start assuming that any difficulties in reaching a cost goal are solely (or even predominantly) the fault of BAE my 1st impression is to want to look more closely at what it is the government is asking for and if want they want seems like it would be reasonably to achieve within the cost limits that they are trying for.

    I know that from my perspective, every time I see a graphic showing a large "reconfigurable mission bay" or a large flight deck and hangar I can't help but wonder what impact they would have on the overall design, especially in terms of space required, impacts on auxiliary system, ship structures, and overall ship stability and the like, not to mention the extra costs for any hydraulically actuated doors, ramps, gantries, and the like.

    This on top of some of the other stuff mentioned in previous posts really leave me wondering whether the government had/has a full grip on what the likely costs and impacts of some of the desired features for the ship might be and how they might make the costs of the design vary from any estimates based mostly on the costs of previous designs that may not have had some/many of these features.

    1. What is the is the purpose of the Type 26.

      If it for ASW and with a secondary role of ASuW then why was the design changed to accommodate a larger and stronger flight deck sized and stressed for the Chinook.

      No doubt it gives marginal extra capabilities but it is form of gold plating and will cost money. This is mission creep and is insidious and you need a strong project manager to fight off these pressures if you are to have a chance to bring the project in on time and within budget.
      The additional capabilities are nice to have but the money is not there to pay for them.


  27. I wonder if it doesn't make sense to develop an Anglicised version of the FREMM? Integrating the RN/British systems into the design should not be unduly expensive or difficult .... the largest problem would be the replacement of the LM2500 gas turbines with the MT30s from Rolls Royce. With reduction in Italian/French numbers I imagine DCN/Fincantieri would not object to a licensed deal to build these ships in British yards. We may lose some export opportunities, but when was the T23 ever exported as a design like the MEKO for example?

    1. Hi, one thing that seems to be overlooked to me, when comparing the Type 26 to a FREMM and/or any suggestions about trying to use a FREMM in place of a Type 26 is that when you look at the notional requirements for the two designs they seem very far apart. For the Type 26 there seems to be a lot of talk about space for additional modular equipment and accommodations that won't likely be present in a FREMM variant (without a fair bit of modifications). As such, I'd suspect that any comparisons between the two types should probably also need to address what you might gain or loose by adopting one platform over the other and/or what the costs might be in trying to 'modify' a FREMM design to better match the Type 26 notional requirements, as I'd suspect that it might be a fair bit more than just swapping the gas turbines, etc.

  28. Stingray and Mk54 share identical diameter. Their overall size/weight/dimension are very similar. VLA rocket is just a booster strapped to the torpedo warhead, I can’t envision any significant technical challenges as far as exchanging US torpedo and replacing it with Stingray.
    Regard surfaced launched LRASM development, the final decision hasn’t been made yet. Raytheon is still pitching for its terminal guided Tomahawk variant. If US Navy settles on Raytheon’s proposal over Lockheed JASSM derived LRASM, it would be huge beneficial to the Royal Navy: a common missile frame for both land attack and anti-surface warfare.

    1. It probably wouldn't be that complex to adapt ASROC for carrying Stingray, but it would still take money that the RN is desperately short of. That's the real issue which makes me hesitant in believing to any suggestion of doing anything about that anytime soon.

      As for the USN new anti-surface weapon, no, it is not yet settled on a specific solution. LRASM for now is only to be purchased for B-1 and Super Hornets, while the final solution is technically yet to be chosen. Even a proposal based on the N/JSM from Norway is still a candidate.

  29. Interesting reference to use of Sea Venom in a land attack roll in the letter ?
    First I have heard of that.


    1. It has been known for a while that CAMM has a surface strike capability. MBDA documents say that Sea Ceptor can be used to destroy fast attack boats swarming towards the ship, for example.

      Using it against targets actually inland more difficult due to limited range and relatively small warhead.

    2. Yep Know about Sea Ceptor.

      This is a reference to Sea Venom ( new spangly name for Sea Skua )

      Sorry cant cut out.

      Its in the section of the letter about Wildcat HMA. Starting.
      "Sea Venom : At 100kg it is a subsonic, over the horizon missile" etc etc

      the end of that paragraph reads ;
      "as well as static targets on the land"

      This is new right ? I guess with the change in seeker ? I wouldn't normally imagine an imaging infra red seeker would be good at hitting land targets. Does it have an INS guidance system as well or will it use the data-link to do this via the AESA radar off the wildcat ? quite exciting though.


    3. I don't see anything too strange in Sea Venom having some capability against land targets, with how good modern infrared imaging seekers are. It is not a new thing either, there are Maverick variants with that kind of seeker head. It depends on what kind of shapes the IIR seeker will be programmed to recognize, i would guess.
      Don't know if it will be able to exploit laser designation as well. The use against static targets anyway suggests that it will be more about navigating its way to a building or anyway to a fixed target position instead of actively doing much seeking.


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