Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Royal Navy and the SDSR

SDSR 2015 – Issues, analysis and recommendations going towards the review



Royal Air Force 
Royal Navy 

Note: this article has been mostly ready for days. I'been waiting to post it because i wanted to add the latest information about the At Sea Demonstration 2015 in the Hebrides, and its implications on Type 45 Ballistic Missile Defence potential. Unfortunately, news are scarce. The article will be updated as necessary when information finally arrives.

The following is an analysis of the main issues that the Royal Navy brings to the SDSR table.


Manpower is the first issue the Royal Navy will bring to the table at the SDSR. There is a recognized shortage in this area, which extends just as severely to the RFA. Despite half-denials and adjusted truth answers to repeated questions in Parliament, it appears pretty evident that the 400 posts the RFA lost in the SDSR 2010 have exacerbated a situation which was already far from optimal, leading to ships which quite literally have no crew. The RFA has got to the point in which there were worries, not long ago, about not being able to crew Tidespring in her travel home from South Korea; Mounts Bay has been tied up in port for a looong time and so forth.

The regular Royal Navy is also short of men, and this will be only be felt even more as the F-35B enters service and the carriers need crewing. The Royal Navy will partially cover the manpower requirement for HMS Prince of Wales by losing HMS Ocean without a dedicate replacement, but Ocean’s crew is quite literally just a third of what it takes for a QE carrier, even though these are exceptionally lean manned for their size.

There have been press reports that the Royal Navy is due to receive a boost equating to 2500 posts. More recent press reports have suggested a need for up to 4000, which would mean almost a return to pre-SDSR 10 levels. 4000 looks somewhat excessive (several ships have gone), although not unrealistic. However, it is very hard to imagine that such a boost could be funded, and it might take a real long time to boost recruitment figures anyway. The addition of 2500 men, however, would be vital, and a few hundred of those posts should be allocated to the RFA to hopefully solve its own issues, which appear even worse than those of the navy proper.  

Unfortunately, the Times reports that the Navy will grow by just 300 men, and that, while better than a cut, would not solve the problems.
At this stage, nothing is certain anyway.

Carrier Enabled Power Projection

Right after manpower, the priority is obviously getting the carriers right. For starters, we now have an official promise that both carriers will enter service, but we have no real idea of how to read this. The devil is in the detail: how will they be employed, and crewed, and resourced? HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark are both “in service” too, but only one sails, and the other is in mothball. Will this be the case for the carriers as well? Will the second be on extended readiness, but not quite in mothball? Will both sail at once, and if so, will one work as “Commando carrier” and one as “Fleet / Strike carrier”?
I probably don’t need to be saying this again, but forget about having two fixed wing airwings to use both simultaneously as carriers, obviously: there are no resources for that.
Obviously, this is a massively important point to clear up.

The other main worry is connected with the loss without replacement of HMS Ocean. CEPP is about filling that hole using the carrier. Normally, the ship can be expected to embark a mixed force including at least one reinforced company of Royal Marines with their helicopters and a squadron of F-35Bs. This can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the components, going up to a full “strike” air wing centered on F-35s and Merlin helicopters for AEW and ASW, or down to a force of sole helicopters and Royal Marines.
In order for CEPP to work and avoid a dramatic, further downsizing in the UK’s amphibious assault capability, a number of things have to happen:
-          The design of the carrier’s deck has to be adjusted to respond to the needs of a mixed air wing. An increased number of spots for air operations, some 10, was being considered. There are actually 12 areas on deck which are serviced to support air operations, but 10 spots were seen as a realistic number for those which could actually be used simultaneously. The study, however, needs to progress into a plan, and be applied when the time to coat and paint the flight deck of Queen Elizabeth comes.
-          Queen Elizabeth will be able to embark a 250-strong Royal Marines element at entry in service. However, in order to properly replace HMS Ocean it is necessary to do a lot more: there is the need for a workable plan for transporting and deploying the Royal Marines’ equipment and ammunition, and more spaces are necessary to increase the force that the ship can project. The figures which have circulated so far are definitely conservative, considering that this is a vast, 65.000+ tons ship. There is no real reason why the currently immense projected gap between the force an America LHA can project and what will be embarked on QE. There is a “plan”, who knows how substantial at this stage, to use some of the currently abundant non-allocated spaces to increase the Embarked Military Force capacity. For QE, this will not happen before the first major refit and docking, though. For Prince of Wales, it is highly desirable to incorporate all the changes possible while the ship is in assembly. Currently, PoW is 4 months ahead of schedule. Quick decision-making could lead to a more capable vessel at entry in service.

For a detailed analysis of the “Ocean problem” and the role of the QE carriers in solving it, see this earlier article.

MARS Fleet Solid Support

Among the programmes waiting in the shadow, MARS FSS is, in my opinion, the most important. With the renewal of the Fuel support element now on the way with the four Tide class tankers (with Tidespring named on 7 October and expected to sail to the UK by year end), it is important to progress with the Solid Stores part.
Currently, the capability in this area is provided by the old RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Austin, plus RFA Fort Victoria, which is an AOR, combining solid stores capacity with a relevant fuel capacity. The fuel bit, however, will become more and more problematic to keep in use as the ship is single-hulled, and thus no longer complies with the law.

The new Solid Support vessels are expected to introduce the Heavy RAS capability, which doubles the weight that can be transferred at sea between supply ship and warship, also dramatically expanding the size of each shipment. Its near-container sized, 5+ tons capability enable a much faster transfer rate of stores, including aviation ammunition and spare parts. Crucially, the Heavy RAS rig will enable the transfer of the bulky, heavy F-135 engine in its shipping container.
The Solid Support ship will also be able to transfer weaponry for the air wing by sending across pallets which, once arrived in the carrier’s hangar, will just need to be moved to the nearer elevator of the Highly Mechanized Weapon Handling System to be struck down into the deep magazines.

Another key capability the MARS FSS ship could and should deliver is amphibious support. Earlier in the story of MARS, there were going to be two different types of ships for the two roles, one delivering Fleet Solid Support to the fleet and the Joint Sea Based Logistics providing support for the amphibious element and for ground forces ashore. Of course, MARS as originally planned collapsed long ago, and now the JSBL is no longer planned, with the two classes tentatively merged into one, hopefully counting 3 ships. The early designs the MOD and the industries of the Naval Design Partnership have put together for MARS FSS include the carrying of a couple of LCVPs and a RoRo deck with steel beach or even a well deck, giving some very real capability to carry and deploy ashore stores and even vehicles. 

The design put forwards by the Naval Design Partnership, a consortium of UK MOD and industry, led by the MOD Directorate of Ships

Confirming this kind of capability into the design and finally progressing with the procurement to put the new vessels in service by around the middle of the next decade would help in making up for the loss of HMS Ocean. I’ve written in detail about MARS FSS here.

Building three would perhaps enable maintaining one in the Gulf while having two rotating into readiness to accompany the Response Force Task Group. The one in the gulf, with the RoRo deck, well deck and RoRo space plus vast aviation capabilities, could in itself benefit the amphibious force, by releasing the Bay class LSD which has to be used as mothership for the MCM force.

Type 26

The Type 26 remains a cause of concern, because it is an absolutely key priority, for obvious reasons, and unfortunately has not been rich of good news as of late. For one, every hope to agree a purchase of 13 ships seem to be gone. Even the original plan of ordering all 8 the ASW ones in a first, large batch has been trashed, and currently the assumption is that the 13 vessels will be ordered in three batches of 3, 5 and 5.
I don’t need to write what everyone’s fear is, especially with the Type 45 no 7 and no 8 still quite fresh in the memory.

After the publishing of the SDSR, the final negotiations for the order for the first 3 ships will hopefully progress quickly. Much of their value is already under contract as part of an 859 million “Demonstration Phase” which includes tens of long lead items purchases covering gas turbines, diesels, gearboxes, steering gear, stabilizers, communications, integrated bridge and many more. Included in the contract are shorte-based test facilities including:

-                     The Electrical Integration Test Facility, which will be established at GE Power Conversion's Whetstone site, will contain an integrated half ship-set of the Type 26’s electrical power generation and propulsion system, allowing extensive testing.
-                      Another test facility will be set up at David Brown Gear Systems' facility in Huddersfield, and will be used to demonstrate the new cross-connect gearbox.

Bad news, albeit still poor in details and thus hard to fully evaluate, is the estimate programme cost figure given by Rear Adm Alex Burton, the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff, which indicated in “around 12 billion pounds” the expected amount. When asked about this extraordinary amount, the MOD apparently did not deny, but said that it is more likely in the 11.5 billion range. It remains an extraordinary and worrying figure. However, we do not know what this figure actually includes beyond development and procurement of the 13 ships, plus a “safety margin”, no doubt amounting to hundreds of millions, which is now routinely included in MOD programme cost allocations.
The MOD is being asked to increasingly plan for “whole life costs”, so it is likely that the 11.5 billion include some degree of post-delivery costs for N years.

On the other hand, the Type 26 is a deliberately conservative design, and it introduces very few things which are new, and even less things which are developmental:

The Sea Ceptor missile system is largely not part of the Type 26 programme, as CAMM development costs come under the Complex Weapons budget, and the missiles, canisters and data links and electronics will have been purchased for the Type 23 CSP, being then transferred onto the Type 26 later.

Same goes for the Artisan 3D / Type 997 radar; the sonar 2087; decoys including the Sea Sentor anti-torpedo system, light guns, probably navigation radars, and the EO/IR Situational Awareness system, which is now due to be developed for use initially on the Type 23.

The major innovations brought by the Type 26 are the 127mm gun, which is new to the Royal Navy but non developmental in nature, and indeed will come in the form of refurbished, used MK45 Mod 2 guns from the US Navy stocks, uplifted to the latest Mod 4 standard and accompanied by a new, developmental Fully Automated Ammunition Handling system holding 196 rounds. The purchase of the guns, the magazines and the ammunition will be part of the Type 26 price. About the guns, there is also a question to be asked about the really low number of shells reported. One hypothesis is that only half the magazine is automated, with perhaps as many rounds stored in a manually-operated depot, from which the shells could be transferred to the automated system during a long fire support mission. At the moment, there are no certainties other than 196 rounds are extraordinarily few compared to any other warship, which carry normally well more than 300 per gun. The 196 figure was given by a BAE spokesman at DSEI during an interview with Navy Recognition (from minute 7:39).

Similarly, the Type 26 will be fitted with the “new” (to the Royal Navy) MK41 VLS, with 3 modules installed on each ship. And here comes the big question: will the Type 26 programme include the purchase of something to put into the MK41? Because today the RN has nothing in its arsenal which is MK41-launched. It only uses the torpedo-tube, encapsulated variant of the Tomahawk, and does not use any other MK41 weapon.

However, the Type 26 will need a good land attack capability; a novel anti-ship capability and a novel ASW capability. The latter is especially relevant since ASW remains the key design driver of the Type 26, and yet the ship seems set to have no torpedo tubes. It has to be said, in any case, that 324mm torpedoes are little more than a snap-defence weapon: if the frigate has to launch her own torpedoes, given their reach, it is pretty likely that the enemy submarine will have already fired its own torpedoes.
The requirement for a longer range, ship-based weapon is pretty clear. Moreover, the Type 26 is meant to carry a single Merlin helicopter (a second can only ride inside the mission bay for “short periods”) or up to two Wildcat. Two Wildcat ensure better around-the-clock coverage, but unfortunately the Wildcat will not have a dipping sonar nor sonobuoys. It will be able to drop torpedoes, but only if guided by the frigate itself, or by a Merlin, an MPA or an allied ASW platform with the appropriate sensors.
Without an helicopter in the air and without torpedo tubes, the Type 26 can’t do anything about a submarine. An ASROC-like solution would greatly help. It would also introduce the precious ability of reacting really quickly to a fleeting sonar contact.

Similarly, the Royal Navy’s old Harpoon missiles, still of the ancient Block 1C type, will need replacement as early as 2018. There is a good probability that the OSD will be pushed to the right for lack of a realistic alternative (other than losing the anti-ship missile altogether). Purchasing another tube-launched missile would be pretty easy, but expensive and without a clear future: there is no apparent space reservation in the Type 26 for mounting an above-deck, tube-launch ASM. Conversely, the Type 23 cannot adopt a Vertical Launch solution, and the Type 45 only has the potential to if the reserved space is employed to install two MK41 modules. Possible, but highly unlikely.
The “fitted for, but not with” nature of Type 45, supposedly the chief escort in Royal Navy service, suggests that a whole lot of nothing is sadly a very likely outcome, no matter how absurd and embarrassing the mere thought of it is.

That leads us back to the questions “will the RN purchase anything to put in the MK41?” and “how the hell can the Type 26 programme cost so much?”. The optimist in me would like to think that missiles will be procured to solve at least a couple of the three problems. The pessimist (or realistic?) part of me fears that the MK41 will, at least initially, come empty, and so missiles are not part of the explanation for the shock 11.5 billion figure.

Moving on, some differences can be observed in the latest CGIs and the 3d visualization video shown by BAE. The design has been refined and modified slightly from the recent past. The funnel mast appears higher, the main mast is also more robust and taller, the ESM installation on it is different. The SeaSentor anti-torpedo decoy launchers have appeared, installed on the roof of the hangar. The Sea Gnat chaff and flare decoy launchers are still located ahead of the Phalanx, where they used to be already from 2013. Earlier still, Sea Sentor was shown there, then it seems to have vanished for a while, as it wasn’t visible in the 2013 model. Now it has reappeared, thankfully. 

The Sea Sentor system includes a towed array and two 8-round launchers for Expendable Acoustic Decoys (in the photo)

By the way, it is worth mentioning once more how exceptionally (and disappointingly) conservative the design is: the decoy launchers are still fixed banks of tubes, less flexible and responsive than trainable launchers which are already commonly seen in use on warships built elsewhere. 

The Centurion trainable, stealthy decoy launcher complex. It can also fire missiles such as Griffin and Javelin to protect the ship from fast attack crafts
Type 26 models and images still show fixed banks of tubes. Yesterday's solution, well into the future...?

And it is not like UK industry wouldn’t be able to supply a more capable system, having developed and demonstrated the Centurion system, a particularly advanced trainable launcher which has been proven even with lightweight missiles, not just with decoys. 

This recent 3D visualization shows the new disposition of the CAMM cells and decoys. The "Flexible Strike Silo" seems sized for 3 MK41 modules, equating to the expected 24 cells. The 3 separate shapes of the modules can be guessed in the image.

This latest CGI released by BAE shows a number of design adjustements and changes. Decoy placement near the VLS is not consistant with the 3D visualization, and reflects the earlier arrangement, dating back to 2013 or earlier

The Type 26 model shown at DSEI 2013. The different disposition of the CAMM cells is evident.

The CAMM launchers have been re-arranged in a different way, at least in the bow silo. The number of cells is unchanged, but they are disposed in a different way. 
The Outfit DLF decoy tubes have a new disposition in the 3D visualization. 

The Irving GQ DLF-3 passive radar decoy. The photo above shows the launch tube. The bottom image shows the decoy inflated and in operation. It is meant to passively seduce missiles away from the real ship.

I’ve already made clear more than once that the choice of a CODLOG arrangement for the propulsion is a long term concern in my book, as it will make very difficult, to produce more power for future ship systems and for obtaining higher speeds. In terms of speed, the figures given for the Type 26 go from a 26+ knots to a 28+ knots. Obviously, even assuming an undeclared extra performance margin (both Type 23 and Type 45 have demonstrated significantly higher than declared speeds), a sprint in the region of the 26 knots would be disappointing.

The Type 26 design is excellent under many points of view, but very evidently the result of an infinite series of compromises made on cost grounds, exemplified by the sheer amount of systems which will pretty much merely change hull, moving from the Type 23 to the 26. By the Royal Navy’s own admission, the Type 26 is a “20% new, 80% legacy” design, the polar opposite of the Type 45.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, when the systems planned to move across are good. But the result of the compromise should be a low price, making the ship affordable and exportable. Depending on what the 11.5 billion programme cost includes, affordability and exportability might have been utterly missed. And if this is the case, it is a signal, perhaps the ultimate one, that british shipbuilding is unsustainable, because there is nothing in the design seen so far which can justify such a high cost. Unless a big chunk of it relates to missiles and post-delivery support, the figure is completely out of reality, and ignoring this fact by continuing with the current british shipbuilding arrangement will lead first to the vanishing of the Royal Navy and then to the closure of the shipyards. The yards will still close, it’ll just take more time and more pain. Because let me say it again: that price is absurd unless it includes a lot of non-strictly ship procurement voices.

Connected with the Type 26 is the 100 million plan for refurbishment of the shipyard facilities in Govan and Scotstoun, after the more expensive plan for a single-site, more modern shipyard was shelved.
There is every reason to suspect that the decision to keep the building of the Type 26 spread on two sites was taken for political reasons, as closing Govan is currently an off limits proposition that would damage the Union’s image in Scotland.
BAE and the MOD are now working to determine exactly what kind of refurbishment each site will receive, and how the building of Type 26 will be spread over the two yards.

River Batch 2

I continue to make the case for their entry in service in addition to the Batch 1s, not as their early replacement. The Batch 2 is costing a formidable amount of money for the ships it will deliver: make at least sure that they count and bring actual effect.

In short, my suggestion remains the same: forward base one in the West Indies to take care of the standing task there, removing it from the list of concerns for the frigates and, as much as possible, for the RFA vessels as well. An OPV won’t obviously be able to deliver the kind of disaster-relief effect that Lyme Bay has recently offered, but is more than adequate for all other roles normally associated with the Atlantic Patrol (North) task.

A second ship should be forward based to Gibraltar, both to provide it with much needed assurance and confidence boost in the face of constant Spanish provocation and increasing frustration at the complete failure of FCO’s “concern” and calls to Madrid’s ambassador. From Gibraltar, the OPV could help the Royal Navy express a more constant presence in the Mediterranean and down the west coast of Africa, without having to necessarily tie down a frigate all the time.

The third ship could be held in UK waters and still find plenty of use. Forward basing in the gulf is also an option to consider, as it might well be worth the cost.

The lack of hangar remains a concern.

For a more detailed analysis, see here.

MHC; MCM and Hydrographic Capability

2016 should see some progress for the novel, unmanned mine countermeasure system. The UK is currently sustaining not one but two sub-programmes: one is the joint prototyping effort with France, while the other is the latest evolution of work which has been ongoing since at least 2007, targeted at delivering a novel combined sweep solution to replace the long lost capability of the Hunt ships in this area. Because of this, the UK is funding the production of two different Unmanned Surface Vehicles with similar shape, role and general characteristics, one designed by ASV within the joint project with France, and one by Atlas Elektronik with the sweep programme.

The Combined Sweep programme is the latest chapter of a story which has been with us since 2007 or earlier. Originally we had FAST, the Flexible Agile Sweeping Technology, a technology demonstrator produced by Atlas Elektronik, aimed at replacing the combined influence sweep equipment that, until the end of 2005, had been employed by the Hunt minesweepers.
The idea was to refit a number of Hunt vessels, possibly four, modifying their stern to enable the carriage of a couple of unmanned surface vehicles towing a new combined influence sweep equipment. The Hunt would no longer go directly into the minefield, with all the risks that this entails, but would act as mothership, directing the operations of the USV from a safe distance.

FAST, however, never progressed to that stage. It has instead been used for experimentation and for demonstrating a whole series of technologies and approaches, including the carriage, launch and recovery of Seafox search and disposal UUVs on board of an unmanned, remotely operated boat.
Extremely useful, and no doubt it has delivered much invaluable information to the Royal Navy… but in the meanwhile, the sweep gap, from the about 4 years once envisaged, has extended to a good decade, and a workable system is still far from being in service.

Atlas Elektronik has received a new contract on 6 march this year, with 12.6 million pounds of funding for the first of three phases of what is envisaged being a 3-year programme.
This Block 1 contract covers the designing and building of a prototype sweep system, with USV and towed payload.
Block 2, not funded as of today, would entail the modification of a first Hunt minesweepers to enable the integration of the sweep system and its full demonstration.
Block 3, finally, would see 3 more Hunt ships modified with the launch and recovery system for the USV, plus the Reconnaissance Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Hangar (RUUVH) meant to house the underwater elements of the system.
In general terms, it is FAST all over again. The final objectives are the same.

Atlas Elektronik’s USV is expected to be an improved version of its ARCIMS boat, which the Royal Navy already knows and already uses, albeit in manned form, as motorboat “Hazard” for the experimentation of UUVs and related technology as part of MHC studies.

ASV, teamed with Ultra and Thales UK, placed a bid for the Sweep programme, but was rejected.

The sweep system will be remotely operated from ships and, potentially, from the shore as well.

However, ASV was subsequently selected to provide the Unmanned Surface Vehicle for the twin prototype MHC systems (one for France and one for the UK) that will be produced under the Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) contract awarded on 27 march 2015 to Thales, in collaboration with BAE Systems, ECA, Wood & Douglas and SAAB. Atlas Elektronik in this case was the losing bidder.

The MMCM programme is another incremental programme. The 2015 contract covers only the Stage 1, which means the Design phase.
Stage 2, if funded, would be a 24 months manufacture and demonstration phase.
Stage 3, if funded, would be a 24 months test campaign.  

The MMCM system comprises:

-          One unmanned surface vehicle, the ASV Halcyon MK2, a development of the Halcyon which ASV demonstrated to the UK MOD in 2014 and which was rejected for the sweep programme. The USV will have an autonomous navigation system and an obstacle detection and avoidance sonar. The USV should deploy the ROV for the neutralization of the mines, while the unmanned underwater vehicles for the “search” phase could be deployed directly from the mothership. A towed sonar will be available for use with the USV during the search phase. 

-          A threat identification and neutralization capability based on Remotely Operated Vehicles. SAAB has been chosen to deliver its multi-shot mine neutralization ROV, which will provide a reusable system to replace the Royal Navy’s one-shot Seafox, while enabling the destruction of multiple mines in the same underwater sortie.

-          Autonomous Underwater Vehicles are planned for the “search” phase, to scout the depths and locate the mines. The French company ECA should deliver the AUVs, which Thales will equip with its SAMDIS synthetic aperture sonar. There will probably be two AUvs, one thought for the greater depths and a smaller one for Very Shallow Waters.

-          A towed synthetic aperture sonar for the USV

Wood & Douglas will provide the communications element of the system; Thales will deliver the integrated Portable Operations Centre (POC) solution, which will incorporate command & control by Thales and BAE Systems.
BAE Systems’s role is to provide the Mission Management System. 

A graphic showing the indicative structure of the MHC system. The UK weep module, coming from outside the bi-national programme, is evidenced.

The Royal Navy plans to use the USV for towing the Combined Influence Sweep equipment too, at some point in the longer term future. Which leads me to wondering if prototyping two different USVs is beneficial or wasteful. Can the equipment developed in the two different programmes be easily “migrated” to the USV produced by the other project?
We must hope the answer is yet, and that having two prototypes will allow a better choice, instead of complicating later phases.
It does remain pretty curious that the two programmes are separated. Especially since the Hunt class can be expected to be the mothership for the MMCM system as well as the sweep system, since modifying the Sandown’s stern is a much more complex, if practicable at all, exercise.
The USV are likely to have similar size (around 11 to 12 meters in length) and it is to be hoped that the Royal Navy will seek modifications for the Hunt which are compatible with the elements of both systems. That’s where the programme separation becomes again a concern: it would be pretty ridiculous to end up having to modify the Hunt class twice because the A frame and hangar developed the first time are not adequate for the actual, final system.
From the outside, it looks as if there is some confusion in planning here. The hope is that the Royal Navy is working the issue out in an holistic manner.

In the meanwhile, France has, right in the last few days, confirmed its the intention of progressing to MMCM stage 2 by ordering its prototype system in 2016. The UK, hopefully, will do the same.

A Royal Navy graphic showing the baseline concept and reinforcing the absolute importance of getting the USV right. It is also evidenced that the MHC equipment must be able to be transported by air, by land, and deployed and operate directly from the shore, not just from a mothership. Initially, the Hunt minesweepers will be the MHC motherships: in the future, new vessels are envisaged.

When the SDSR 2010 was published, the plan was to have the first elements of the MHC capability on selected Hunt minesweepers beginning in 2018. Given the timeframes currently expected, the only system with a chance to make it, is that Combined Influence Sweep system which the Royal Navy has been pursuing at least since 2007, and which ideally should have entered service swiftly after the 2005 demise of the sweep capability of the Hunt class.

The “P” of “Patrol”, which used to be in the acronym, giving MHPC, has been dropped (at least for the moment) after the 3 River Batch 2 were ordered.
It is to be hoped, however, that this will not hamper the attempt of the Royal Navy to squeeze wider utility from the future platforms, beyond the MCM and Hydrographic role. With an ever insufficient number of major escorts (and auxiliaries) any new hull which enters the water must deliver the widest possible range of usefulness. The new MHC mothership should come with greater endurance and seakeeping than the MCM vessels of today, as well as with aviation facilities, enabling them to be usefully employed for constabulary tasks.

The work on new motherships, vessels intended to replace the current Hunt and Sandown classes, has very much slowed down, anyway, to a full stop or close to it. The first replacement ship is not expected before 2028 at the earliest, so that the Hunt class will be working as motherships for quite a while, if the direction of travel stays the same.
Both Hunt and Sandown can thus be expected to be the face of the Royal Navy’s MCM force out to 2030 and beyond. This adds a whole new level of importance to the ongoing work to sustain and improve their capability: the Hunt class is being refitted with new engines and machinery, with new Caterpillar C32 diesel engines replacing the old Napier Deltics. The Sandowns are undergoing refits of their own, introducing significant changes and life-extension treatment which include the the Sandown Volvo Generator Programme (SVGP) which replaces the ageing Perkins CV8 diesel generators with more environment-friendly and efficient Volvo Penta D13 Marine diesel generators. All Hunt and Sandown should receive the modifications by the end of 2016.

The Sandowns will have their Type 2093 multifrequency variable depth sonars improved by introduction of wideband capability under the 2093 CSP programme, from 2018 and over some 60 months.
Wideband pulse compression technology allows for long-range detection and classification of low target echo strength mines by optimising performance against reverberation and noise simultaneously, and has already been embodied in the sonar 2193 used by the Hunt class.
The two sonars are key to the different, complimentary specializations of Hunt and Sandown vessels: the Hunt class, with the T2193 sonar, are extremely good at detecting mines in shallow waters, down to 80 meters. The Sandown, with the variable depth T2093, can hunt mines down to 200 meters depth.

At least six between Hunt and Sandown vessels have received a SATCOM communications fit, and the Royal Navy hopes to fit this upgrade to all vessels, eventually. The constant deployments to the Gulf for Operation Kipion have also meant the introduction a slew of other changes and upgrades, including the addition of miniguns for improved self defence, armor and improved gun ammunition.

The Royal Navy employs a number of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles for MCM work: the REMUS 600 is employed in deep waters, while the REMUS 100 searches Very Shallow Waters. 2 REMUS 600 systems, each comprising 2 drones, were originally purchased in 2007, and another two systems have possibly been added later.
10 REMUS 100 are available, and in 2012 they have been upgraded to improve their capability to detect mines.
The Seafox UUV is used for neutralizing the mines once they have been located. A training system, the Seafox T, was introduced during 2011, and the original Sexfox C, which was a sacrificial system which would explode together with the mine has now been improved with the COBRA system, a “mask” worn on the front of the UUV and which carries a detachable disposal charge which is connected to the mine. The Seafox vehicle itself then sails away and lives to do it again, with considerable savings.

The Royal Navy has also just purchased 4 sea glider drones, which have an extremely long endurance stretching up to 4 months. These are very useful for basic survey work which is key to both MCM and Hydrographic work.

3 Iver 3 UUVs have been ordered as part of a contract let to SeeByte for an autonomy demonstration. 

Merlin HM2

One lasting concern is the size of the Merlin HM2 fleet, in light of the wide range of tasks that the type will have to cover, particularly in a few years time, when the AEW role will be added to the list.
With just 30 machines, some 8 of which are expected to be eventually fitted for the AEW mission at all times, there really is not much of a margin.

Unfortunately, despite remarkable optimism at the end of 2014, silence has settled over the idea of extending the upgrade programme to some more of the old Merlin HM1s. There are at least 8 machines which could, with reasonable expense, be uplifted to the latest standard, while 4 more have been in storage and cannibalization for so long that they probably are not as attractive for reactivation.
In late 2014, rumor was that the addition of “2 to 8” more Merlin was almost a done thing, but the silence is rarely, if ever, a good sign in these cases. Like the 9th C-17, these additional Merlins might have died in the dark and in the silence.

However, the Royal Navy should still try and bring the 8 Merlin HM1 to the table of the SDSR, asking for their upgrade to HM2. The upgrade should not include the ASW part, so to save money: the 8 machines could be directly and permanently assigned to the AEW role. This would reduce or eliminate the need for mods to the remaining 30 helicopters to enable the role-fitting of the CROWSNEST AEW suite.
Obviously, the Royal Navy should try and have these additional Merlin funded through the CROWSNEST programme itself, as it is the best and maybe only chance to obtain success.

The Merlin HM2 fleet continues to be handicapped by lack of an integrated EO/IR turret on all helicopters. A small number of MX-15 turrets is available, and these can be installed on any of the HM2, but a permanent fit would of course be desirable.
The HM2 fleet is also not fitted with a DAS for self-protection. There are only about 16 DAS sets which are assigned to the helicopters deployed in areas assessed as dangerous. Initially, 4 sets were procured as UOR to be employed on Merlin helicopters assigned to Maritime Security duties in the Gulf, but 12 more DAS kits have been added later.
It is highly probable that the Merlin serving in AEW role with the CROWSNEST fit would also be fitted with DAS, as their role brings them up-threat, both on the sea and on land, while those employed for pure ASW are not assessed as being as much exposed.

The lack of anti-surface missiles on the Merlin is puzzling, but admittedly not as urgent to solve. However, since the Royal Navy ships only ever carry Merlin OR Lynx / Wildcat, each ship ends up missing a capability or the other: Wildcat brings anti-surface attack capability but no sonar and sonobuoys; Merlin is the exact opposite. Clearly, it is not an ideal situation.


The Wildcat fleet goes to the SDSR for trying to secure funding for the installation of the tactical data link. This is a major urgency, since it is frankly absurd and a major operational handicap to lack a data link on the helicopter which will be the primary ISTAR and surface-attack platform for the Fleet Air Arm’s future.

Indeed, the Royal Navy as a whole has been working for a while to progress with the adoption of the Data Link 22, and this is likely to be a priority with a pretty high place on the list.

There is also the problem of the incoming gap in attack capability: Sea Venom (FASGW-H) and Martlet (FASGW-L, also known as Thales LMM) are not expected to be operational before 2020, while the Lynx HM8 and the Sea Skua missile will be gone by 2017 / 18.
There does not seem much of a path around the obstacle: we are staring at another capability gap in the making. There is not enough money to waste it on an interim solution with no long-term value. If, on the other hand, a Brimstone integration could be brought forwards together with the Army Air Corps, that would be a whole different story.

Commando Helicopter Force 

The Royal Navy has begun to receive from AgustaWestland a total of 7 "Interim" HC3 Merlins equipped with minimum naval features (folding rotor, lashing points, fast rope, modified undercarriage) that will have to bridge a helicopter gap that will keep the Royal Marines short of rotary wing support for a long while.
The last few remaining Sea King HC4 will be gone by 1 April 2016, and that date will see the 7 "Interims" as the only real "naval" helicopters the RM will have for ship to shore operations.

The 7 Interim helicopters make up the Phase 1 of the wider project, which will eventually re-deliver 25 Merlin, fully navalized (with with folding tail) and upgraded with a new cockpit and avionics package building on the Navy's HM2, so that training will be eased by the commonality.

Phase 2 of the project sees a first batch of 9 Merlin going back to AgustaWestland for transformation into HC4 and 4A machines.
This of course means that in the meanwhile the Royal Marines will have access to a total of 16 helicopters, of which 9 will mostly be good only for training over land, since lack of folding rotor and lashing points greatly hampers any attempt to work from a ship's deck. The Commando Helicopter Force will have to be somewhat creative to make the best possible use of the HC3 and of the Interims, to squeeze maximum effect out of the two mini-fleets.

The first HC4 should be re-delivered in September 2017, and IOC with up to 7 HC4s could be obtained sometime in 2018. FOC with all 9 is expected by February 2020.

Phase 3 will follow, with the remaining 16 helicopters (including the 7 Interim machines) going back to factory for the full navalization and upgrade.
Deliveries will only be completed in March 2022, meaning that the complex transition from Sea King to the ex-RAF Merlin will last quite a few years, putting the Commando Helicopter Force in a tough position.

Further complications come from the limited scope of the Interim navalization: without folding tail, the Merlin HC3 is not going to fit HMS Ocean's lifts, which means having to park the Merlins on the deck.
It is one of the Merlin's issues: it is a very big helicopter, with a footprint that rivals the Chinook's, bringing the same kind of carrying capability to the party.
Unfortunately, the navalization also adds weight, well over an additional ton for the HC4 over the original HC3's weight.
In other words: the Merlin will bring a capability boost compared to the Sea King in some areas, but not without challenges and shortcomings.

Trials on RFA Lyme Bay back in March

The final objective is a force of 25 amphibious support helicopters and 37 trained crews in two squadrons (846 and 845 NAS).

The first Interim has just been delivered

From 2017, new training simulators will be installed in Yeovilton to allow on-site and HC4-specific training to take place.

The new HC4 training simulators will be installed within existing buildings. Until then, training will probably continue in RAF Benson with the HC3 simulator

There will be two Flight Training Devices, a Flight Navigation Procedures Trainer and a Rear Crew Trainer. It is also expected that the simulators will be linked to the Wildcat training facility, also in Yeovilton, to enable cooperative synthetic training. 

847 NAS, which uses the same Wildcat AH1 employed by the Army, is almost ready after a long build-up phase. It is meant to have 6 helicopters and 8 crews, supporting 4 Force Elements at Readiness.
The small AH1 fleet of 34 machines, however, will be effectively centrally pooled, and both 847 NAS and the Army squadrons of 1st Army Air Corps Regiment will draw machines from the same pool.
847 NAS will closely cooperate with 1st AAC Regiment when at the base, but it maintains its own core of naval specialists for shipborne operations.
847 NAS personnel brings special abilities to 3rd Commando Brigade, including Forward Air Controllers (Airborne) and direction of Naval Gunfire Support.

To this day, the Wildcat AH1's only planned armament is a GPMG or HM3 heavy machine gun at the door. Adding at least the LMM, which is due to be integrated anyway on the naval variant, would bring a significant firepower boost, and open up whole new possibilities.


Under first sea lord admiral Zambellas, the Royal Navy is publicly announcing its increasing interest in unmanned vehicles for a wide variety of tasks. We’ve seen what is already in use and what is coming on and beneath the waves for MCM and hydrographic work, but where the Royal Navy still lags is in the air. The acquisition of a Scan Eagle capability, contractor-provided and contractor-operated albeit with RN personnel involved, is a first step (which the navy unsuccessfully tried to move already years ago, between 2005 and 2007, trialing the system but not being able to afford it after the successful demonstrations at sea) but still quite a modest one. The Royal Navy initially tasked Boeing UK with delivering 300 hours of Scan Eagle coverage per month, on the Bay class LSD used as MCM mothership in the Gulf (currently RFA Cardigan Bay) and on a frigate, also in the Gulf area. For now, the contract for the provision of Scan Eagle support to the Royal Navy has been extended out to 30 June 2017.  

The Royal Navy initially put the Scan Eagles within 831 Flight, but eventually this evolved into the current 700X Naval Air Squadron, which has 3 Scan Eagle flights. Each flight includes 4 Boeing UK personnel who fly the system, plus a RN Flight Commander and a Senior Maintenance Rating, of petty officer rank.

700X is still a very small squadron. Its responsibility expands beyond Scan Eagle, however, as it is the unit responsible for trialing and evaluating other UAVs the Royal Navy might be interested in.
For example, the Royal Navy aspires to acquire, going towards 2020, a large Rotary Wing unmanned air system, and as part of early concept work for this, the navy ran a test campaign using the SW-4 Solo optionally-manned helicopter provided by AgustaWestland. It had been hoped that the tests would include live trials on a Type 23 at sea, but this had to be replaced with flight-deck simulation done with a platform mounted on a truck’s trailer.

The Capability Concept Demonstration with the SW-4 has produced 27 hours of flight and 22 automated simulated deck landings at Llanbedr Airfield in Wales.
The trials involved Atlas Elektronik and tried to show the usefulness of an unmanned helicopter for the  mine countermeasure (MCM) operations. BAE Systems was involved to help with demonstrating integration with ship management systems and with the Type 23’s DNA2 command system. Concepts of operation regarding hydrographic surveying were also explored, although little to no detail has been released. Further trials should follow sometime in the future.

The advantage of an optionally piloted helicopter like the SOLO is that it can still be piloted by humans to cross civilian airspace and it retains the cabin for transport of passengers. This adds flexibility to the system, especially on a small ship which would not be able to embark a UAV this large and a manned helicopter too.
The RN rotary wing UAS is mainly targeted at a future made up by Type 45 (which have an hangar for 2 Lynx / Wildcat helicopters and could thus embark one Wildcat and one RWUAS in the future) and the Type 26m with its ample hangar and with the adjacent mission bay offering plenty of space.
Manned – Unmanned teaming at this scale is likely not practicable on the Type 23 for lack of hangar and flight deck space. And this is unfortunate, since the Type 23 is planned to be in service well into the 2030s.
Also, the incoming River Batch 2 OPVs have no hangar and could never embark two helicopters at once, so if the RWUAS was an optionally manned product, it would help in achieving the maximum flexibility from a single embarked machine.

After the successful demonstration of a 3D printed small UAV launched at sea by HMS Mersey, the Royal Navy has provided further funding for experimentation and development of a cheap, simple drone which could be printed directly aboard the ship.  

Next year, during Joint Warrior 16-2, a special event, called “Unmanned Warrior”, will see the experimental operations of a variety of unmanned vehicles. This should help the Navy in deciding on how to use the limited budget available.  
In the (relatively) short term, the Royal Navy would like to take full control of its Scan Eagle systems from the contractor. There is also interest in adding a UAV control capability on board of helicopters, such as Merlin HM2, so that an helicopter in flight can take command of the UAV and allow it to flight a much greater distance away from the ship.
This is normally not possible because the UAV would otherwise lose the signal and get out of control.

Going ahead, a capable RWUAS could be a real force-multiplier in a wide variety of roles. The UK is investing in opening up ASW capabilities for unmanned air vehicles, funding development of a lightweight generation of sonobuoys. Industry is also increasingly interested: Bear Systems Research (BBSR) has shown at DSEI 2015 an automated system for the deployment of the buoys; while Thales is already working on a small, lightweight variant of the FLASH dipping sonar that would be suitable for installation on a RWUAS.

The US Navy leads the way with the MQ-8B and C Fire Scout helicopters, onto which it is integrating increasingly more capable radars; laser-guided rockets and even the AN/DVS-1 Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA), a pod-mounted sensor for detection and localization of minefields and obstacles in the surf zone and beach zone.

Repeated promises about the Queen Elizabeth class carriers embarking “unmanned aircraft” have been met with curiosity and frustration, as, as many have again and again pointed out, the lack of catapults and arrestor wires is likely to significantly limit future UAV and, even more so, UCAV options.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, will move in this particular area.

The Royal Marines, on their part, now regularly employ the Black Hornet nano UAV scouting, and they have worked to include a Desert Hawk III capability within the brigade. Specifically, since at least 2013 the Air Defence troop has a double role, as it also trains to operate the DHIII mini-UAV.
Perhaps with the awareness that this double-hatting can work only until the two capabilities are not required at the same time, a Reserve commando UAV troop has been formed within 104 Regiment RA, as 289 Commando Troop, again with the DHIII.

In the next future, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines should work closely to ensure maximum collaboration in the UAV sector. The Response Force Task Group should gain its own Scan Eagle flight, instead of keeping the UAVs tied to the lone Operation Kipion in the Gulf. The Royal Marines might want to consider Scan Eagle for use ashore, too, as an early-entry capability, far more deployable than the Army’s Watchkeeper and far more capable, in range and endurance, than Desert Hawk III.
The future Rotary Wing UAS, similarly, should not be a Royal Navy-only affair. It could be incredibly useful to the Royal Marines as well, particularly so if it also ended up having a non-insignificant under slung load carrying capability, which could help with logistics both ship to shore and ashore.

700X should grow, and should involve the Royal Marines as well. The Marines cannot be left to try and have the same men doing air defence and UAV operations.

Royal Marines

Speaking of Marines, another huge worry of mine, that I have exposed in detail again and again, has been addressed. 24 Commando Engineer Regiment now has 3 field squadrons, although one is made of reserves.
54 Sqn is no longer an HQ and Support Sqn, as these capabilities have instead been spread across both 54 and 59. These squadrons can now alternate in the high readiness role, with the support of 131 Commando Reserve Squadron, which formally became part of the regiment just days ago.
It is a step in the right direction, at least, although a third regular sqn would of course help.

The Royals approach the SDSR with a list of requirements which have been kicked to the right in earlier occasions. The list includes replacement of the LCU MK10 (in 2020) and the dreamed Force Protection Craft, which would also replace, at least partially, the LCVP MK5 fleet. After the PACSCAT trials for the first requirement, and the CB90 trials for the second, nothing happened. Lack of money forced the postponing of both programmes. And there do not seem to be too many hopes going into the new SDSR, either.

A third unsatisfied requirement is for the replacement of the fleet of BV206 all terrain, unprotected vehicles. Again, this is not a new requirement: the Marines attempted to launch procurement of a new vehicle already in 2008. It did not progress, obviously.
The requirement is for some 232 vehicles, with armour protection, coming in troop-carrying, mortar, ambulance, command, repair and logistic flatbed variants. The solution is seen in a new vehicle having exactly the same general concept and configuration as BV206 and Viking. The new BAE Beowulf is seen as a strong contender.
The new vehicle would take the place of the BV206 and would support the fleet of 99 refurbished Viking vehicles for front line combat use.

Personally, I think that replacing the LCU MK10 is very urgent. The MK10 is slow. Too slow. And being a traditional LCU, it greatly limits the number of beaches which have an acceptable gradient to allow a landing taking place. Taken together, these two limitations represent a huge handicap.
A new, more modern landing craft offering better performances in those two areas would open up a whole new world of possibilities. The LCU MK10, still relatively young, could go to the Royal Logistic Corps to replace the outgoing Ramped Crafts Logistics which otherwise will progressively vanish without any replacement. 

The PACSCAT made 19 knots when loaded with a Challenger 2. The LCU MK10 won't make 19 knots when unladen. At 40 knots unladen, the PACSCAT makes four times the LCU MK10's speed. PACSCAT was also trialed with the Hippo beach recovery vehicle and with a load of 5 Vikings.
I’m tempted to say that a new LCU is a more urgent requirement than a BV206 replacement.
Indeed, I personally question the enduring validity of having the entire commando brigade mounted on such lightly protected, although highly mobile vehicles.

In an ideal world, the Royal Marines capability should evolve with the frontline combat role taken up by a wheeled, amphibious 8x8 vehicle with greater protection and firepower and the Viking moving to be the supporting vehicle. Of course, money is the problem, as always, and this is highly unlikely to happen.
I would not be surprised to see the BV206 replacement itself being kicked further out to the right.  

The Royal Marines are receiving 99 regenerated (after heavy use and abuse in Afghanistan) and better protected Vikings, some of which will return with new roles. The upgrade will in fact deliver 9 Mortar Carriers and 19 Crew Served Weapon carriers. The exact configuration of the CSW as delivered to the Royal Marines is not yet known: BAE systems showcased a very heavily equipped prototype with a Remote Weapon Station with .50 HMG on the front car, a protected ring mount on top of the rear car, Boomerang III acoustical shooter detection system and retractable, mast-mounted EO/IR sensor payload, but there's no telling yet if the RM are getting all of it. 
The mortar carrier has the 81mm L16 mortar on a turntable in the back, and carries 140 rounds. 

The regenerated Vikings come with several MK2 features including a shallow V-hull for blast protection, on both the front and rear cars, plus a steel body offering full protection against 7.62 AP and 152 mm fragmentation (at 10 meters). 
Unfortunately, the budget did not cover the upgrade of the engine from MK1 to MK2: the difference is significant, from a 5.9 litre to a 6.7 litre which offers increased power output as well. The vehicles are wired to accept the bigger engine, and the RM hope to buy in at a later moment. 

The refurbished Vikings are fully amphibious in their base protection. An add-on armor kit is available to uplift protection to 2a / 2b NATO standard against mines and IEDs once ashore.

In Afghanistan, a number of Vikings were converted into Ambulances. The fate of these vehicles is unknown; they apparently aren't being refurbished. 

Crew Served Weapon variant as showcased by BAE

Mortar Carrier

An experiment saw Vikings launched directly from the LPD to test their ability to swim autonomously to the beach and back. Possible, but slowly and over short distances.

The Viking fleet comes in Troop Carrier, Command and Recovery variants. The addition of 9 mortar carriers and the CSW variant signal the intention to equip the Lead Commando Battlegroup with the more capable and protected Viking even in the supporting roles. The other two Commandos use the unprotected BV206 as mortar carrier. 

It has never been cleared what the fate of the at least 24 Viking MK2 that were procured for use in Afghanistan is. Do they add to the 99 refurbished? Are they counted in the 99 total? 
Sweden should also have re-delivered 12 front cars uplifted to MK2 standard as payment for the urgent loan of 12 up-armored rear cars for use in Afghanistan.

21 Vikings MK2 are used by the British Army as carriers for the Tac Parties for the Watchkeeper UAV batteries. 

Type 45 and ballistic missile defence

The Type 45 fleet has been plagued by serious issues affecting the propulsion system, and it is not clear how reliable the compartment is, even after years in service. HMS Diamond has only days ago gone back at sea after a “Capability Upgrade Period (CUP)” which has kept it out of action for 15 long months. The ship now is the second Type 45 armed with Harpoon (after HMS Duncan) and other work has included “upgrades to communications and IT equipment, a new gas turbine and stabilisers plus upgraded high-pressure salt water and air systems”. It would be nice to have more details and a greater understanding of what exactly this was all about: the rumor is that a lot of defects rectification had to be implemented to (hopefully) solve long-standing reliability issues. There is, understandably, reluctance in talking about the difficulties with the Type 45, but it is clear that if reliability concerns continue, the first priority about them will be having them undergo the same kind of defect rectification that HMS Diamond faced.

Right now, the picture is that of a busy fleet:

Diamond should deploy next year.
Defender has just left the UK for a new 9 months tour in the Gulf. It will replace HMS Duncan, currently in the area.
Dragon returned from deployment back in May. In September she made a first-ever visit to Dublin, and now is undergoing maintenance in Portsmouth.
Daring is out at sea and recently visited the Channel Islands. It is due to train ahead of a new deployment next year.
Dauntless was up north to take part in Joint Warrior and, at least so was planned, in the At Sea Demonstration 2015, the first live-fire Ballistic Missile Defence event ever held in Europe. It sadly now appears that, for unknown reasons, she did not actually managed to take part.

On October 20, in the Hebrides missile range, the USS Ross (DDG-71) has successfully intercepted a ballistic target with an SM-3 missile, fired for the very first time in European waters. USS Ross is one of four BMD-capable Arleigh Burke destroyers the US Navy bases in Rota, Spain, as part of the NATO Missile Defence programme. The USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) fired, again for the first time ever in the Hebrides, an SM-2 to take down an air-breathing missile.
The ASD15 event, sponsored by the Maritime Theater Missile Defense (MTMD), saw the firing of some 26 targets and missiles, as the scenario specifically sought to put the multinational task force in simultaneous danger from anti-ship and cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.
The Netherlands’ navy De Zeven Provincen ship used its SMART L radar to track the ballistic target and provided BMD track cues to the USS Ross via data link, in another first. The Spanish ship Almirante Juan de Borbón’ (F-102) also transmitted BMD cues via data link.

Ships and delegations from nine MTMD countries (UK, US, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, Norway, Spain) took part, and observers from Denmark and Japan also attended.

Type 45 participation in the At Sea Demonstration 2015 was intended to follow the 10 September 2013 involvement of HMS Daring in Flight Test Operational-01 (FTO-01), a US live-fire ballistic missile defence event in the Pacific ocean. Back then, Daring was fitted with a first software load which allowed the SAMPSON radar to lock onto the two ballistic missile targets. The 2013 software, however, required Daring to focus entirely on the ballistic threat, abdicating temporarily to the conventional air defence role.
The good results of the test prompted the funding of a more complex and ambitious software load allowing simultaneous air defence and ballistic defence.
HMS Dauntless was planned to station near the USS Ross and simultaneously track air and ballistic threats. She is however not visible in the photos of the task force, and it is not clear if she was effectively present in the end. As of now, it seems that she was not present, bringing us back to the questions about reliability of these ships and their temperamental propulsion system.

It remains quite unlikely that the Type 45 will be given anti-ballistic capability in the short term, because it would require a sizeable investment: the ship would have to be equipped with the 16 additional cells it has space reserved for; the cells would have to be MK41 Strike length and would then be used to host SM-3 missiles. In October 2014 the MOD funded a pre-feasibility contract to study the requirements connected to the physical integration of the MK41 modules and with the Raytheon SM-3 interceptor. Raytheon, on its own, has been working for a while on offering a dual band datalink allowing European X-band radars to communicate with the SM-3. Specifically, the radar that Raytheon has in mind is the LRR, Thales Netherlands SMART-L. This radar, known in the UK as S-1850M, is installed on the Type 45s, on the Horizon destroyers of France and Italy, on the german Sachsen class, on the De Zeven Provincien class, on Iver Huitfeldt class etcetera. This makes it the obvious pick for the European BMD capability. 

Eventually, four ships should be fitted with Harpoon. Wiring and systems for their employment should be fitted to all six, but only four sets of actual launchers are available, coming from the decommissioned Type 22 Batch 3 frigates. However, moving the launchers and tubes around would not be a big problem, if the back-end was fitted on all hulls. The post Harpoon future is a big question mark.

The MOD, however, has been working so far to use the SAMPSON S-band radar as main sensor in BMD. The SAMPSON is supposedly able to work both with the Aster missiles (as it is already doing), but also with the American Standard missile family. This, in theory, should actually ease an eventual SM-3 integration on the Type 45.

A much more modest anti-ballistic capability could come via the next evolution of the Aster 30 missile itself, which will offer increased anti-ballistic capability in addition to enhancements in its main role. France and Italy have been talking for a while about launching development of the Aster 30 Block 1 New Technology (NT). This would build on the Block 1 employed in the land-based SAMP-T missile batteries, which has demonstrated BMD capabilities with a first interception of a ballistic target at the DGA missile launch test centre (CELM) in Biscarosse back in October 2010. The capability is pretty limited, against ballistic missiles with a range of about 600 km, so with low trajectories. The UK’s participation in this next phase of the Aster programme is still uncertain.

An Aster 30 Block 2, sometimes also called the Aster “45”, has been mentioned more than once, but who knows if it will ever actually progress. 

It is worth pointing out that adding MK41 on the Type 45 would also open up a potential Tomahawk capability (although this would also require adding the TLAM combat system element) as well as giving options for the post-Harpoon future of anti-ship missiles in the Royal Navy. Having MK41, like the Type 26 has, would allow both ships to access Vertical Launch ASuW weapons.

I don’t think the money for MK41 and SM-3 will be available at this point in time. I’m not holding my breath for major developments in this area. But it will be extremely important to continue the operations of the Missile Defence Centre, which coordinates BMD activities and keeps in touch with US developments. If right now the ballistic defence capability is not an absolute urgency, it could become one relatively soon, especially if ballistic anti-ship missiles become more common. The SAMPSON BMD mode and the Type 45s tests so far have been a low-cost success story, and it will be important to continue building up in this fashion.

Increasing reliability of the ship’s critical systems remains key.


In the morning of October 21, the british base at Akrotiri was temporarily put under lockdown after two boats full of migrants landed on the beach near the base. Thankfully, nothing serious seems to have happened, but this arguably underscores a vulnerability which is pretty evident and that we must be thankful no terrorist commando has exploited yet. It is not clear if the base knew they were incoming, or if it was completely in the dark until the last moment. For sure, there are currently little means to react out at sea to a threat coming towards the base.
The british sovereign area in Cyprus, for several years after the 2003 operations in Iraq, was given enhanced protection in the form of a Royal Navy squadron with two armed P2000 patrol boats. Unfortunately, a very questionable decision was taken in 2010: to close down the squadron and bring its assets back to the UK.

Since then, the Mediterranean area has fallen into the chaotic situation that everyone knows. Akrotiri is the key base for the RAF involvement in the fight against ISIS, and it is absurd that the waterside is not adequately protected with the kind of flexible response capability that only naval presence can ensure.

I’d say it is very much time to have the Cyprus Sqn back, with a couple of P2000s refitted for the role and sent there, urgently. While nothing serious has happened yet.


The Royal Navy chapter cannot be concluded without a word on Successor, since the new SSBN will represent a massively challenging and expensive programme.
However, there is not much to say about it at this point. Assuming that the vote in Parliament next year is passed without any nasty surprise, the only thing we have to hope for is that the manufacture phase proceeds smoothly and according to schedule and cost estimates.

A 3.3 billion assessment phase is reaching its conclusion, and will be followed by the Main Gate sometime next year, assuming that the vote in Parliament goes well.

59 million went to General Dynamics Electric Boat at the end of 2014 for the production of the 12 Trident II tubes destined to equip the first Successor boat. The first tube is expected to be completed in November 2016, and the first 4-tube block should be built between August 2016 and April 2018. 3 such blocks will make up the Common Missile Compartment for the british SSBN. The new US SSBN will have four such blocks.

Apart from the new PWR3 reactor and associated machinery, and for the Common Missile Compartment, the Successor is expected to offer very high commonality with Astute. The same sonar suite, conventional armament and combat system, allowing crewmen to move from one to the other without issues. Dimensionally, it will not be much different from the current Vanguard, in order to reduce to the minimum the need for infrastructure adjustments.

Significant amounts of long lead items have been and are being procured: the PWR3 propulsion system; the weapons handling and launch system; gearbox components and associated equipment; material to support the manufacture of missile tubes; material to support the manufacture of integrated tube and hull fixtures; main lubrication oil pumps; main feed flexible couplings; main shaft bearing; hull fittings; pressure plate and stiffeners; turbo generators; main engines and condensers; electrical distribution components and fibre optic components.
In general, the long lead purchases cover 3 boats, as confirmation for the fourth was only expected at Main Gate. David Cameron has now said they will be four, ahead of the formal decision point that remains scheduled for next year.

£206M of the Assessment Phase have been invested in new facilities in the Central Yard at Barrow to improve outfitting, finishing and logistics as well as early implementation steel work in the New Assembly Shop. Groundwork has now begun on the site of the future Central Yard Complex. 
The proposed sizes of this new building are 170m x 90m x 45m high, at the roof apex. Maximum staff numbers are anticipated to be 570, and its facilities will include a large Assembly Hall, Workshop, Store & Offices. This is where Pressure Hull Units and Submarine Equipment Modules will be integrated, tested and commissioned. 

Map of the redevelopment project

The Devonshire Dock Hall is planned to be extended with two new buildings (number 2, the structures evidenced in Green) for manufacturing of submarine units. A new off-site 28.000 square meters logistic store has also been authorized (evidenced in red in the picture) and work on it has been kicked off back in august. In the picture, shaded in dark green, the new Dockside Test Facility is also shown. Light blue shading identifies the existing buildings which will be refurbished.
All work should be completed by 2021.

I will just add a suggestion for the names: an I class wouldn’t be bad, in my opinion. Indefatigable is a great name for an SSBN, and there are plenty of other great and historic names, such as Invincible, Illustrious, Implacable and others to choose from. 

Recommendations for the SDSR

Last time there was a breakdown of the famous “headroom” money in the 10 Years Equipment Programme, it was suggested that the Royal Navy would get around 1 billion to allocate to new projects. Unfortunately, with MARS FSS being on the whiteboard of non-funded priorities, it looks highly likely that much of the money will be needed for this very requirement, leaving little to nothing for the rest, unless further money can be secured.

It should also be noted that the Navy has another two big question marks floating in the non so distant future: the replacement of RFA Argus and RFA Diligence. Both these ships were once expected to have gone out of service well before 2020, but now Argus has a 2024 OSD date, while Diligence’s OSD is not known, but also likely planned for sometime in the 2020s. Both ships are old, but they are real gold: their usefulness has been proven again and again, and securing a replacement should sit quite high on the Navy’s priority list, if not now then in 2020.

For the current review, the list of urgencies I would put forward is composed of:

-          Manpower. The key issue a serious SDSR should tackle. If the Times has got its report right, and the boost will be of a mere 300 men, it is not going to cut it. Way too few to solve the problems. 300 will, at most, help deliver the promise of putting the second carrier in service (but not at sea at the same time as the other). Such a small growth is also likely to be a tombstone on the hope of using the River Batch 2 ships in addition, and not as replacement, for the current Rivers. It could also suffocate many of the other attempts to get increased capability across the Navy, and it could mean continuing to see RFA vessels tied up in port for pure lack of crews. Because let’s be honest: however much the government denies it, the number of RFA vessels languishing in port lately is very much suspect.
-          As we speak, the Royal Navy is facing exercise Trident Juncture with the smallest and saddest task group in all its history: HMS Bulwark, HMS Ocean, MV Hartland Point. Not a Bay, not a tanker, not a replenisher, not an escort. I thought Cougar 14 was rock bottom: I was wrong. Cougar 15 is officially worse.
-          Fully define the amphibious role of the new carriers, by adopting the deck design, methods and modifications required to achieve the maximum capability.
-          MARS FSS is the next big priority. Securing the progress of the programme is fundamental, and the amphibious support capability should be kept in the design. The loss of HMS Ocean will make it even more important. 3 ships for entry in service in 2023. 2024, 2025 is what the Navy would need, to replace Fort Rosalie, Fort Austin, Fort Victoria.
-          Continue with MHC. Are two USV a wise way to spend money? Make at least sure the two programmes are compatible and run them on coherently! If you modify the Hunt for one, make sure the modification is good for the other too.
-          UAVs are force multipliers. The Response Force Task Group should have its own Scan Eagle coverage, and synergies can certainly be found with the Royal Marines’ own needs.
-          Type 26: drive cost down in every possible way, and then stick with the plan. It is crucial not to have it ending like Type 45 ended.
-          Securing MK41 for the Type 26 is good, but what next? ASW, ASuW and Land Attack need sorting out, and the MK41 is only the launcher. What about the munitions?
-          Data Link for Wildcat. It is absurd that it isn’t in the programme yet.
-          Merlin HM2 numbers: if there is any money, boost the number with more airframes to use permanently in AEW&C role.
-          Royal Marines need a new, faster, more capable LCU. It can change and expand their capability in such a dramatic way that it deserves higher priority.
-          Those three River Batch 2s are costing a lot of money. They can be very useful in two or three specific roles and places. Do exploit them to max effect, and keep the River Batch 1 in Fishery Protection Duty. The River Batch 2 is the only financially feasible way to increase the Royal Navy’s reach and enable greater availability of high-end escorts by removing some tasks from their long list. I can’t stress this enough: OPVs are very limited, but there are a number of ways in which these three ships can deliver a lot of help. It would be very, very smart to make good use of the astonishing 348 millions these vessels are costing, plus the 39 million expended recently to purchase the River Batch 1s outright (they used to be on a lease).  
-          It is highly unlikely that money will allow procurement of MK41 and SM-3 for Type 45 at this stage. But the BMD studies and technology development should continue, because this capability is likely to become crucial sometime in the not far future.
Crucially, the long standing reliability issues of the Type 45 must be brought under control.
-          Restore a naval presence in Cyprus. It is astonishing that this hasn’t already been done, considering both the migrants crisis and ISIS-connected risks.


  1. I hate to say it, but the RN is in a sorry bloody state indeed. The fleet has collapsed in numbers almost across the board since 1990, the idea that there should be a "peace dividend" after the end of the Cold War never seems to have stopped. Whenever the government has been too cowardly to face the electorate with the costs of social spending they've raided the defence budget. The "absolute minimum" number of escorts in 1990 was considered to be "about 40" which became 36, then 23 and finally a measly 19. This has had serious implications for retention, talking to long serving people in the RN they all admit that it's not the attractive service it was even 10 years ago. All the "fun" deployments have been binned in favour of two: East of Suez (read: the gulf) and the Atlantic (read: falklands and south america). Don't even mention the damage 9 month deployments did to retention.
    Then, surprise surprise, the RN "suddenly" began to experience serious manpower shortages. This is what happens when the RN dips below it's critical mass, too big to be really cheap and niche but too small to be a truly attractive employer for many people or to benefit from economies of scale.
    It's getting tired when people constantly say that the last few generations worth of politicians have proven less than inadequate at managing the UK's armed forces. That doesn't stop it from being true though. Sooner or later we're going to have to either raise defence spending to better match our ambitions, or stop playing at being a great power.

  2. I like the recent suggestion that the batch 1 rivers could be joint operated with civilian organizations for the UK duties, freeing up resources so the batch 2 can be fully utilized. They are a bit of a problem though, a bunch of ships that we didn't want and don't really need. Hopefully though they can be brought into service and perhaps with some creative use of unmanned system could actually become a useful asset.

    The SDSR has to get the ball rolling on the solid support ship. I will be nice to get some clarification on how it will actually turn out and how ambitious they allow the design to be. A big supply ship like that has the potential to be a useful multipurpose asset, supporting operations at sea, on land and in the air.

    Lots of uncertainties that hopefully we can get some clarification on soon, hopefully we can see an upturn in capability. I would also advocate doing everything possible increase the tonnage of the fleet. Right now with 19 ships I believe the royal navy is teetering on the edge of credibility. Right now, in favourable conditions, we could deploy a strong force alone. However should those conditions be less favourable and we have one less ship available, then the navy starts to fall into the valley of uncertainty, and will struggle with its credibility.

    I think the current fleet has to be increased, however I cannot get on board with the 2 tier fleet concept that is often suggested as an option. I don’t see the point bulking up on something that lacks credibility. Small frigates are to small to be multi-purpose powerhouse demanded by a modern surface combatant so lack survivability. If your ships aren’t survivable they lack credibility and therefore is not worth spending the money on.

    We could crew 20 T26’s without a change in sailor numbers from out T23 frigates, so lets do that!

  3. It seems to me the problem is with the politicians and the electorate. I can understand the Navy top brass have an extremely difficult task in squaring the circle.
    The electorate of course have been neutered by the constant pc output from the TV MSM. They are rarely informed of the important strategic necessities facing the country.
    The politicians for the most part are often as ignorant as their electorate.
    The need is for defence and the navy to receive a greater share of the cake. Not since the end of the Cold war have there been more threats to peace.
    The Navy is the force that promises to most effectively keep those threats at arms length and away from the homeland.
    IMHO 2% is proving insufficient to maintain the combined strength of our armed services given that the shrinking economies of scale are working against them with a vengeance.
    I see I am not alone in failing to understand the extraordinary projected costs of UK Naval equipment. Thanks Gabby.

  4. WOW, very complete and nicely written. Worth waiting for.

    I think we can easily forget how large and complex these things are whilst playing fantasy fleets.

    I'm hoping SDSR will be a good one, I'm not sure anyone even remembers what those are like any more. I'm hoping your a little pessimistic on the T26's.
    But I have no particular evidence of that beyond political feel on the ground. I don't think any of us will be surprised if your predictions are true. Where this leaves the fleet though ?
    Lets sit back and see what happens. Thanks for the great article.


  5. Thank you for a most informative article, even though it makes for depressing reading. Manpower, T26 and FSS are clearly the priorities, but the rapidly escalating cost of the T26 programme is absurd and will probably result in no more than about 8 ships being ordered. I expect SDSR 2015 to make a woolly promise of low double figures (i.e. 10!) in the longer term but actually commit to no more than the first 3 ships. FSS should be exploited to the full as these ships have the potential to be hugely valuable assets. I seem to remember a variant intended primarily as an aviation/amphibious support platform based on the same hull (shown on Thin Pinstriped Line ~3 years ago?) and this would make a good joint Argus/Ocean replacement.

  6. Good post Gab. I'd say that an increase in manpower has to be the #1 for the navy. No point buying new kit if you have perfectly good kit already tied up.

    Given that I am a big fan of a maritime focus to the UK expeditionary power projection requirement - I'd obviously like to see more escorts as well as FSS. However, I think fundamentally I think the RN needs to have a third (assault) flat top so that smaller operations do not require an expensive QE being tied up - to that point, I'd like to see HMS Ocean retained, taking on the PCRS role also.

    1. From what I understand Ocean's pretty shagged out. She's given sterling service but she was built on the cheap (She cost the same as a Type 23!) and is coming to the end of her useful life. While I like the idea of a third flat-top as a dedicated LPH (I liked the idea of picking up one of the Mistrals France refused to sell to Russia but alas that ship has sailed) the RN doesn't have enough escorts to protect it's existing capital ships and hold down all the standing commitments at the same time. Honestly the priority needs to be getting more than 13 Type 26 by adding more to the end of the production run. The smaller crews of the 26s should allow for a modest increase of say 4 hulls without placing undue pressure on the rest of the surface fleet. Looking at the long-term maybe the eventual replacement for Argus could be more of a dual role LPH/FCRS with a flat top? Just a thought.

  7. Great post and good to see you writing again after a bit of a break.

  8. Excellent post, Gaby, packed with detail.

    It has been said that that the two new carriers were designed to serve for fifty years. Can you envisage the type of air wings for which the carriers were really planned ever entering service? I am talking about fighters of a more conventional kind (i.e. not jump jets), complete with "cats and traps" and fixed-wing AEW aircraft with greater range (i.e. of the Hawkeye type). Perhaps too a few V-22s.

    It seems somewhat of a waste for two huge American-type carriers to carry the aircraft which are scheduled to enter service with them over the next decade.

    1. I've often thought that the current way the QEs are set up will likely change about half way through their service life, when F35 is going out of service. It's probable that we could see a major refit of both ships for cat & traps and a shift to either the US Navy's manned replacement for F35C or an unmanned aircraft. IMHO STOVL will die out on Western carriers sooner or later because eventually nobody will build STOVL aircraft anymore. Of all the priorities the US armed forces will have in ~2040 It's not unreasonable to think F35B may not be replaced at all, with the USMC possibly using catapult launched lightweight drones for their strike requirement.

  9. Very enjoyable read, thanks gaby


  10. Thanks for another great article Gabriele.

    I agree with you on many of your points. It would be great to see the RN getting a bigger slice of the cake, which I think it would put to good use.
    If it’s true about the cost of the Type 26 project I can’t see the navy getting 13. My own view on the number of available escorts is that only half will ever be operational at any one time. Having 19 escorts at the moment means 9/10 are available for operations or deployment. Having 16, which I suspect we will end up having will mean having 8.
    Never enough to escort more than one carrier, or more than a small amphibious force.
    Therefore, I doubt that two carrier’s will be operational at any one time, or that the amphibious force that could be landed will ever be more than a single commando group.

    Off topic, I see the report of a British army battle group on NATO exercise in Poland. It gives the strength of the force as 800 men. Is this the new size of a battle group?

    Thanks again

  11. An excellent post. Just regarding Gibraltar - in a recent Television interview Admiral Lord West reported that the Gibraltar government had offered to fund 2 more capable patrol boats for the Gibraltar squadron. Request was (politely !) turned down. They have now funded a pair of large patrol boats for the Royal Gibraltar Police.
    The lack of naval patrol boats is perhaps well illustrated by the deployment of Border Agency Cutters HMC Protector and HMC Seeker to the Med over the summer. Both were photographed recently at Gibraltar on the way back to the UK. A bit of a pity they could not have remained in Gibraltar. It is worth noting that UK Border Agency are disposing of their 33m cutter HMC Sentinel - perhaps this vessel could have been sent to Gibraltar, flagged as a RN vessel, to beef up the UK presence in the area.

  12. It's very likely that Mk41 VLS installed on Type26 will have only one type of weapon load: Tomahawk TLAM for land attack. You can forget about adding ASuW and/or ASW weaponary. Unless USN selects Tomahawk for its next generation strike program, with added bonus of ASuW capability. The Royal Navy can simply take the free ride.

    1. From what I've seen LRASM is essentially a specialised cruise missile and could eventually replace both TLAM and Harpoon in RN service, especially if T45 ever see the Mk.41 strike length cells fitted. Considering that the T26s currently do not appear to be fitted with torpedoes for last ditch self defence I've always wondered if the RN is thinking seriously about putting ASROC on them, it's a tried and tested system that would basically be coming off the shelf. I can't see why it would be an unreasonable option, considering that one of it's main roles will continue to be ASW.

  13. re Dauntless At Sea Demonstration 2015: filmed or "filmed" :) 1'20"

    1. No, look closely: that's the italian Andrea Doria Horizon destroyer. It is not a Type 45. The mast looks similar, but there are lots of differences that make it impossible to mistake a Horizon for a T45: no medium gun turret; the missile silo is attached to the superstructure; there are the two 76mm Davide guns/CIWS, the funnels are entirely different, the LRR mast also is, the amidship area is completely different.

    2. oh, you're a pro :) sorry! but where on earth was Dauntless? (engine failure?)

  14. Another excellent post - thank you Gabriele. On the subject of the cost of implementing the Type 26 programme, the original cost was estimated at atound £350m per ship or around £4.5 bn for 13 ships. Do you and any others kind enough to read my thoughts on here, think that it may now be time to consider building RN warships in foreign, more competitive shipyards rather than at the extortionate prices in the UK in BAE-owned yards? The massive cost increase to £12 bn is particularly puzzling to me as many of the sensors and weapons on the new ships will be hand me downs from the Type 23s as they go out of service.

  15. An alternative would be for the RN (Admiralty) to have their ships built in house at their own yards as was once the policy.


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