Thanks to the MOD’s sales service, we have just discovered that the Royal Navy has been robbed of yet another precious capability, with the untimely demise of RFA Diligence, the Forward Repair Ship. She is now on sale, ready for further use in the hands of a new owner.
She is in good conditions despite the many years of age, having received constant updates and adjustments over the years, which have included an improved ballast water treatment plant purchased in 2014. She completed her last refit in March 2015… and left service, according to the sales brochure, in May 2015.
Congratulations, MOD! It is not the first time that money is wasted to refit a ship which is then immediately after removed from service. In recent times, it has been the fate of RFA Orangeleaf as well. But this does not mean that the practice is any less demented and offensive.
The cut of RFA Diligence is probably the stealthiest in many years. Sthealtier still than the cut of 2 of the Point class RoRo transports, which took place merely months after the SDSR 2010 had specifically said that all 6 would stay in service. There have been no messages, no ceremonies, no news, no explanations. Only silence.
Nobody knew that RFA Diligence had gone out of service. It was known that she was in port since may 2015, but the assumption was that the RFA had put her “in pause” due to the well known shortage of manpower.
Even the MOD itself seems to have missed the cutting of RFA Diligence, since they replied to a FOI in December 2015 saying that her Out of Service Date was 2020.
The following is a very interesting article about RFA Diligence, her capabilities and her role, from Marine Maintenance Technology International, September 2015 issue.
Yet, she is gone. And a replacement is nowhere to be seen. Considering the capability she offered, it is a big loss.
In the meanwhile, another interesting FOI offers actual numbers to back up the coloured but un-detailed graphics of the 10 year Equipment Programme. This, together with the annual publication on the MOD Major Projects status, makes it possible to play a little bit of math. Open all three documents, and follow me in this puzzle-solving game.
The FOI’s table offers a more readable breakdown of the Equipment Budget, showing:
- Money reserved for the launch of new procurement (it does not break down the share destined to support of said new equipment); separating between committed and uncommitted funds. Uncommitted funds are not yet tied down by a contract.
- Money for In Service Equipment (so, basically, the cost of supporting what is already in service), again in Committed and Uncommitted form.
- Money for procurement, which is the expenditure on ongoing programmes
Taken alone, these numbers are interesting and impressive, but do not tell the story. What is this money paying for? What margin exists for procuring new kit? Is the situation so desperate that it requires losing a ship as cost-effective and capable as Diligence?
The MOD does not provide the information required. Compare the “10 Year Programme” and all other sparse documents published by the MOD or about the MOD (NAO reports, namely) to the defence budget documentation produced by France, USA and even Italy, and you’ll see that the MOD is as transparent as a thick plate of steel painted solid black.
We only have indications about costs and performance of a handful of selected programmes, and always one year after the budget is determined. The MOD publishes an Excel spreadsheet, annually, detailing the status of the major programmes in the previous Annual Budget Cycle.
The document published this July, in fact, is composed of data from September 2015.
The NAO report works in similar fashion.
Other programmes never get detailed: we are not told what is their in-year cost, nor we are told how much kit is ordered in a set year, and how much kit is taken in charge in the year.
France and US are particularly good at reporting these information. Italy is a bit less detailed, but each year it is possible to read a good document saying how much money is going to go on programme X during the year. The MOD gives no comparable information.
Joining the FOI data with the Excel spreadsheet, though, it is possible to compose a decent picture of the Royal Navy’s equipment budget situation for the year 2015 / 16.
In 2015/16, the Royal Navy has been given, for Surface Ships:
54 million for (eventually) starting new procurement processes for new kit (money uncommitted)
529 million, committed, for supporting equipment in service
302 million, uncommitted, for support to equipment in service
1009 million, committed, for ongoing procurement
310 million, uncommitted, for ongoing procurement
The Excel spreadsheet offers information on in-year expenditure for several programmes. Specifically:
Queen Elizabeth class procurement, 712,93 million
Carrier Enabled Power Projection studies, 1,44 million
Tide class tankers, 194,98 million
Type 26, 222,3 million
The budget allocated in year can be underspent or overspent, depending on how things go. The Excel document contains also the forecasted actual expenditure, most of the time slightly smaller than the allocation.
Adding up the budgets above, however, the total goes well above the Committed 1009 million. The Uncommitted money is not money available for procuring additional kit, but merely money that isn’t yet tied to a specific contract.
If we consider Committed and Uncommitted money together, we reach a 1319 million total. There is in theory a 187,35 million margin, but of course there are programmes we aren’t given details about. For example, the procurement of the River Batch 2. Its cost is 348 million spread over N years, where N is pretty certainly not less than 4. However, the spread of expenditure is not equal, so 348/4 is only a wild estimate.
Again, the Royal Navy also committed 12,6 million (over how many years?) to the ATLAS combined sweep demonstration programme; and a further 17 million (over how many years, again?) for the MMCM system being developed jointly with France.
All things considered, the margin, at the end of the day, is nonexistent. It would be very interesting, instead, to learn what happened to the 54 million for wholly new procurement. It is a small sum, but a non insignificant one. And this year the amount is 80 million, yet, the Royal Navy is reportedly going to lose Scan Eagle, because there is no money to buy the currently contractor-operated systems; nor to renew the current deal; nor to launch the new Flexible Deployable UAS the Royal Navy had hoped to start. This is puzzling, but we simply do not have the information needed to paint a better picture.
The Submarines budget is another interesting area. The FOI gives:
77 uncommitted millions for new procurement, and 15 committed
194 uncommitted and 1663 committed for support to existing equipment
684 uncommitted and 1628 committed for ongoing procurement.
Detectable expenditure in-year in the Submarines budget is given as:
638,65 million for Astute
170,5 for the Nuclear Core Production Capability
770,41 for Successor SSBN
37 million for the Spearfish torpedo upgrade (might actually fall in the Complex Weapons budget line, though)
1085,43 million in costs for AWE Aldermaston, its new infrastructure developments and the Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme which is replacing the non-nuclear components of the MK4 warheads to turn them into MK4A.
Again, the total go well above the committed procurement funding, and above the total obtained adding the uncommitted money, too. The most likely explanation is that a big share of the AWE costs actually fall into the Support to in service equipment voice, considering that it is expenditure connected to kit and infrastructure already in use.
It gets more complex with the other services, as the data is even more fragmented and incomplete. The Excel sheet does not provide info on in-year Typhoon expenditure, so Combat Air calculations could only be incomplete.
The simple fact that it takes this kind of research, guessing, reasoning and puzzle-solving to compose a picture of the situation is a sign of just how badly the MOD works, and how much is done to make cuts such as RFA Diligence’s unfortunate departure invisible, or almost so.
The detail about requirements and future purchases is inexistent, and even when the SDSR documents say something, you can expect something else entirely to happen (see the Point class event, or the fact that the “up to six OPVs” in the SDSR 2015 is already turning into “5”, with only of the River Batch 2s replacing HMS Clyde even though the ship is still very much young).
My first plea to the new government is to clear up this mess, and make MOD plans less stealthy. This constant scamming and book-cooking is unhelpful when it is not offensive. This absolute lack of transparency is a shame that needs to be ended.