Future Force 2020 - Royal Navy

In this page i'll follow the major developments of the Royal Navy's ships and force structure. 

Type 26 news 

Navigating the Archive of the blog you will find further articles on the Type 26, but they pre-date the release of the data about the current design, so i'm not reporting them here because they contain information by now outdated. 

October 2012 - Type 26 design further refined

August 2012 - The new design is officialised and shown by the MOD  

May 2012 - Analysis on propulsion and mission bay design 

January 2012 - The new design of Type 26 comes to the light  

Future Anti-Ship missiles for the Type 26 

Overview of the CAMM Sea Ceptor missile system 2 

Overview of the CAMM Sea Ceptor missile system

A comparison between modern european frigate designs - Overall still valid, but pre-dates the re-design of Type 26 and as such contains now outdated data about the Mission Bay, then expected to be located in the stern. 

Type 45 news 

December 2012 - Reportedly, "selected" Type 45 destroyers will be fitted with Harpoon anti-ship missile batteries in 2013. It is believed that this means that four ships will get the weapons, as the Harpoon are likely to come from the retired Type 22 Batch 3 frigates. This news had already leaked in April.

May 2012 - The adoption of the US Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) system on Type 45 has been left out of the planning round 2012 and is apparently no longer planned to be fit at build on the Type 26 either. However, it appears that this is not a complete cancellation of the program: CEC could be brought back into a future budget planning cycle when there will be money for it. 

April 2012 -  A live test conducted by France proves that the PAAMS missile system can indeed shoot down supersonic missiles.

April 2012 -  Type 45s likely to get Harpoon in 2013; discussion about the possible solutions for the replacement of Harpoon in the 2020s

February 2012 - BAE tests an Anti-Ballistic missile mode for the SAMPSON radar with MOD funding;   

July 2011 - The Type 45 destroyers are to be fitted with sophisticate equipment for COMINT and SIGINT, replacing the capability once provided by the Type 22 Batch 3 frigates  

July 2011 - HMS Dauntless deploys on trials with two Lynx MK8 ship flights to write the manuals for two-helicopters operations on the Type 45 destroyers. HMS Daring meanwhile receives her Phalanx 1B CIWS fit.  

MARS Fleet Tanker news 
November 2012 - The tankers are named the Tide class: 


October 2012 - A contract for 5 new Phalanx 1B mounts is announced. They are destined to RFA vessels, but it's not yet clear which ones. My guess is the Bay-class LSDs first of all. 
RFA Fort Victoria has two Phalanx 1B systems, and other RFA vessels are fitted with the guns before deploying to the gulf.
RFA ships fitted for but normally not with Phalanx are the two Wave-class tankers and the Bay-class LSDs. The new MARS tankers will be fitted for two Phalanx mounts. 

September 2012 - subcontract for Integrated Bridge System and Radars  

February 2012 - Contract for the new tankers announced
first ship expected to be delivered in late 2015, followed by the other 3 at six months intervals  

Below you can find the original article, written soon after the SDSR 2010 and kept for historical interest.

I will begin this Royal Navy review from taking a look, class after class, at the bigger vessels that will make up the future Senior Service, before taking a closer look at particular projects such as the Type 26 frigate/Global Combat Ship and the future replacement for patrol, hydrographic and mine countermeasures vessels, the old 'C3' requirement, now MHPC.

Carrier Vessel Future: it is treated on this blog in a dedicate section due to its obvious, capital relevance. 

LPD Albion Class: HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark remain fundamental for the capability of the UK to stage any realistic operation abroad involving the deployment of troops from the sea. The CVF will be able to provide plenty of helicopters to an assault force, but the LPDs will be fundamental in providing Heavy Lift capability, carrying the vehicles and supplies of the Commandos group and bringing them ashore with their landing crafts.
The PACSCAT Fast Landing Craft will be fundamental in improving the capabilities already available, providing the same lift capacity of the LCU MK10 but moving at speeds higher than 20 knots, allowing the LPDs to stay at safer distance from the coast while significantly speeding up the landing operations, ensuring better combined effect with the arrival of soldiers by helicopter.
The PACSCAT remain a procurement programme and requirement even after the SDSR and its cuts. 11 to 12 should be provided, making it possible to equip both LPDs and the three LSD(A)s as well.
In the 2020s, ideally both ships will have to be reactivated and run together to ensure the power projection remains a UK capability, but even alternating them in and out of service might suffice, if the budget will still be so tight.  

LSD(A) Bay Class: it is a major disappointment to see one Bay class ship axed. Their flexibility and usefulness was more than evident to everyone, I believe, and even the reduction in the planned Amphibious Assault capability truly does not justify losing such a fine capability.
There’s now a very serious possibility the Largs Bay ends up in Australia, but I firmly believe that a “smart” trick should have been used to save the situation. The Italian Armed Forces benefit largely from extra-MOD funds: programs such as the aircraft carrier Cavour, the F35, even the Freccia 8 x 8 vehicle, are funded largely from Industrial and Technology Stimulus funds. The Amphibious shipping is jointly funded by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry for International Aid and even by the Civil Protection service, in recognition of the role of these ships in bringing aid to disaster-struck areas. It is not a case the Cavour set sail for Haiti.
In the UK, it was of course a Bay class which reached Haiti loaded with Aid. Yet no one has dared proposing that the Aid Ministry, the only one which saw its budget not just ringfenced but increased, could “adopt” Largs Bay, keeping it active and in the UK, available for use. It was so simple, yet no one dared suggesting to use 20 millions of the 8 billions spent for Aid in saving a british asset so useful for humanitarian missions.
Even with just 3 hulls, however, the LSD(A) remain fundamental for the Royal Navy. It would be great to fit them with the Goalkeeper CIWSs coming off from the demised Type 22 frigates. This system is not as easy to move as Phalanx (Phalanx is “bolt-in”, Goalkeeper is hull-penetrating, and goes down as much as two decks!) but to waste four perfectly working CIWSs so effective at a time when the RN has many major ships undefended and a far-too-small pool of Phalanx would be a real crime.
Otherwise, the Goalkeepers could be stored away for use on the MARS platforms.
Largs Bay is set to transfer into the Australian Navy. She will be bought for 65 million pounds (money that, standing to the latest reports, will not go to the treasury but remain into the MOD, which will use it to cover holes in the budget), but the option of a leasing had been touted as well. This was the option the RN had hoped for, since it would have kept alive the (admittedly weak) hope that, after Australia gets the Camberra LHDs in service and the budget crisis in the UK is “solved”, say in 2016 or later on, the ship might have returned to the UK and even made it back into service, through re-commissioning.
Now this will not happen, and the Bay class is effectively being cut once more (worth remembering that the Bays should have been 5, in fact).

Type 45: the Daring class should definitely inherit the Harpoon missiles and maybe even the Stingray torpedo systems coming off from the four Type 22. This would make, at a cost of virtually 0 pounds, at least four of the 6 vessels true multipurpose warships. Later, they will also get the Phalanx CIWSs from the retiring Type 42 destroyers.

The next step i envisage as necessary (and the Navy is with me on this assumption) will be fitting Cooperative Engagement Capability CEC from Lockheed Martin at the first refit, dramatically improving their value and performances. The 2014 was a date touted for this important improvement, after the previous target date of 2012 lost credibility. The CEC would definitely improve the Type 45 performance against supersonic missiles, and enable ships to cooperate and engage more targets simultaneously, with obvious massive increase in the survival chances of a task group even against a wide-scale attack.

In my plan, after 2020, with the 155 mm TMF gun coming into service with the Type 26 and replacing the 114 MK8 gun, the Type 45 will be similarly upgunned. Note that the MK8 Mod 1 and the italian 127/64 "Light Weight" cannon from Oto Melara are the other competitors for the Global Combat Ship, and to this point there's no indication of who will be the winner. I'm just pinning my personal hopes (and shaping my suggestions) on the 155 mm naval gun solution because i think it is the most advantageous. 
It is expected that Type 45 destroyers will have a 30% of additional crewmen allocated, to make it possible, once the fleet is in service, to have 5 (!) ships simultaneously at sea out of six, with each ship spending in average 255 days a year at sea on operations. This is most evidently a very ambitious target: if the Type 45 destroyers can live up to this objective, they truly will be amazing accomplishment of technology, because it is self evident how taxing this rhythm of operation is for a 6-hulls fleet.

Astute: their only defect is the cost (and the bad, bad PR effect of seeing the lead ship grounded, but we will skip on that…). But, looking a bit more in depth, there’s a few more little defects: the lack of a sub-launched Anti-Ship missile after the Sub-Harpoon was retired in 2003, and the fact that only 60/65 Tomahawk missiles are available for use with the whole fleet. The optimal load of an Astute is 24 Spearfish torpedoes and 14 TLAM missiles, but no more than 9 missiles for ship will be normally available in the best conditions. An increase in the holding of TLAM is needed, with the creation of a Reserve pool of missiles, plus a Submarine stock and a Surface stock, allowing for a “conventional” deterrent composed by 8 “C1” Type 26 frigates (see in next article) and 7 Astutes armed with cruise missiles. The submarines offer the advantage of their stealthiness, that makes them perfect to hit high-value targets deep in enemy territory in the very first hours of a crisis. However, submarines are invisible, and this is both their major good point and, at times, their defect: the Type 26 armed with Tomahawks will be a cheaper and more readily available strike platform, and will also have an higher deterrent value, by being very well visible and threatening with its presence off someone's coastline. France has understood this, and it is acquiring a large stock of SCALP Navale missiles for its FREMM frigates. The Royal Navy has also understood this, but all the attempts to have TLAM on Type 45 so far failed. It is hoped that the Type 26 will have more luck, being the new Global Combat Ship tasked, from the beginning, with not just ASW work but "Land Attack" role. 

This will also help avoiding the situation, already experimented more than once by the Royal Navy, of having its precious and very few SSNs effectively locked inside the so-called “Launch Boxes”, a sector of ocean where the submarine is required to lurk continuously, ready on call to fire its TLAMs in support of land ops. With only 7 SSNs in the fleet, committing submarines to this style of operation means having few-to-none submarines available for other tasks, from shipping-interdiction to fleet protection to Special Forces insertion.

While the lack of a sub-launched anti-ship missile is most evidently no big flaw and no big requirement at present, in the future there might certainly be an interest in recovering this capability. Sub-Harpoon Block II being the most realistic possibility. 
It is worth of notice the fact that the Submarine Flottilla's officers continue to plan for the future, and some of their considerations are of great interest. For example, they have agreed that Spearfish packs a major punch in the ASuW role, but it is optimised against large targets and is an expensive (2 millions!) weapon to expend against the small surface threats likely to be encountered in the littoral during most missions. Similar consideration is valid for the Sub Harpoon as well.
Given the costly "heavy weight" and frequently overkill limitations of Spearfish and Sub-Harpoon, there is growing interest from both FOSM staff and Director Equipment Capability (Under Water Battlespace) - DEC(UWB) - within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in a shorter-range fibre optic-guided regional conflict weapon, such as the IDAS submarine-launched weapon developed in Germany by Diehl BGT Defence, HDW and Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace. In June 2008, the IDAS missile, designed to protect against anti-submarine helicopters, was successfully launched from the torpedo tubes of the submerged german U33 submarine

This missile system uses a fiber-optic guidance in which a cable connects the missile to the submarine to allow control for the whole attack phase (radio-links would not work with the submarine being submerged). IDAS (Interactive Defence and Attack System for Submarines) has a range of roughly 20 kilometers and is primarily intended as an air defence weapon, particularly deadly against ASW helicopters and patrol planes. However, IDAS is capable to deal with small or medium-sized surface vessels or coastal land targets, and can be guided against "sensitive" (for example the bridge or weapons or radar mast) areas of a larger warship in order to disable it partially. The weapon would be very useful in a variety of situations. The IDAS system is also the world's first missile which gives submarines the capability to engage air threats whilst submerged, and the first tube-launched missile that does not emerge in a capsule, but is fired directly from the torpedo tubes. Derived largely from the Air to Air missile IRIS-T (used by Germany and Italy on their Typhoon fighters in place of the UK ASRAAM), the IDAS is stored in number of 4 into a "magazine" that fits in a normal torpedo tube and has a bulk comparable to that of a normal heavyweight torpedo. 
The IDAS missile retains striking external resemblance to the IRIS-T missile from which it is derived.

According to FOSM, such a regional conflict missile could offer universal application to influence the land battle ashore, provide precision ASuW against fast-attack crafts, with more, cheaper missiles capable to take on more targets, without economic and military overkill due to using a weapon such as Spearfish and IDAS would also offer a self-protection capability against maritime patrol aircraft and anti-submarine helicopters. It is hoped that one day this weapon will enter the arsenal of the Astute SSNs. 

This model is representative of the container-launcher, that once fitted into a normal torpedo tube gives the submarine four missiles ready to launch.
 It is also expected that, in future, a wire guided Uninhabited Underwater Vehicle (UUV) will be carried for use in visual and sonar intelligence roles, and for remote SATCOM. Approximately 15 nm of wire will give it range to operate away from the submarine. One of the many advantages this will bring is that the drone, and not the sub, could climb to periscope depth to connect to satellites for communications, reducing considerably the risk of enemy detection of the SSN. 

A major plus of the Astute is that each ship of the class can carry on its back the Dry Deck Shelter for the Swimmers Delivery System SDS, of which the Special Boat Service has 3 units, that are without a suitable carrier-submarine from when HMS Spartan was decommissioned. Finally, this Special Forces insertion capability will be restored. 

MARS: the Maritime Afloat Reach and Sustainability is a fundamental programme to ensure the Royal Navy remains global and effective. Without the RFA, the Royal Navy will immediately declass, and the whole Europe will actually suffer from it, being the RFA the 32% of the European capability in this sector.
The MARS as originally envisaged, however, is clearly too ambitious and expensive for the current budget situation, however. We are looking at a much smaller MARS programme, to pursue in major phases, the most urgent of which is the replacement of the aging, single-hulled tankers, which were to decommission by 2010, but that have still no replacement and still lost Bayleaf to the cuts, leaving the sole Orangeleaf plus the two small Black and Gold Rover fleet tankers to support the Wave class in the task of supporting warships at sea.
By 2015, the single-hull tankers will be illegal, uncompliant to MARPOL laws, and while being government-owned they could still carry on, they will be an imagine and political problem, on top of being old, worn ships. A replacement is necessary. Back in 2009 and again in early 2010, the MOD had hoped to purchase 6 Fleet Tankers for 800 millions, possibly by having the hulls built abroad (Daewoo from South Korea was one of the bidders, along with Italy’s Finmeccanica and others) and kitted in the Uk.
Six now sound excessive seen the reduced fleet they will have to support, but if the Royal Navy tries to replace the two (in april one, since Fort George is going) Fort-class Auxiliary Oilers as well (also single-hulled), four ships might still be needed, for a (estimated) cost of 540 millions.

These 3 or 4 Tankers should be ideally built from the Aegir 18 design, thus being very capable military tankers of 18.000 tons, with excellent aviation facilities for support of a Merlin or Lynx flight, making the ship quite capable in support of a task group, and even limitedly suitable to deployments in peacetime. The MOD Requirements for the new FTs are:
  • interoperable to NATO standards and with NATO assets
  • designed to maximise reliability, facilitate ease of maintenance, repair or replacement and minimise through life costs
  • designed with open architectures that facilitate support and readily enable future capability upgrades and incorporation of emerging technologies
  • capable of operations worldwide, seasonally unrestricted from Tropical to Arctic (1st Year Ice).
Indicative characteristics of the FTs are: 

MARS FT data. Image from navy-matters.beedall.com

  • Petroleum Class II and III clean product compliant, reconfigurable for two grades concurrently with capacity up to 18000 m3
  • Carriage of 8 fully laden 20ft ISO containers
  • Potable water cargo capacity of 1300m3
  • Sustained speed of 15knots in Sea State 5
  • Range of 7000nm
  • Replenishment at Sea rigs to include three abeam tensioned jackstay rigs, one astern fuelling reel, single buoy mooring point
  • Helicopter deck and facilities for maintenance and refuelling;
  • Accommodation for up to 100 persons of mixed gender to UK Flag merchant standards
  • Ship life of 25 years
  • OCIMF compliant
  • Classification to Lloyds Register Naval Ship Rules with Naval Ship Auxiliary notation
  • Medium speed diesel propulsion operating on MGO fuel
  • Capable of passage through Panama and Suez canals, i.e. maximum draught of 11m, maximum air draught of 39m, maximum length of 220m.
The ship shall be fitted with equipment and systems to load and offload Cargo (Liquid), Cargo (Solid), Stores (Solid) and Stores (Liquid) to and from:
  1. the shore when in a port
  2. other ships and boats when at anchor
  3. other ships while underway
  4. other ships while rafting
  5. VERTREP by helicopters hovering in flight (solid stores and cargo only)
  6. helicopters on the flight deck.
The Aegir has the following features:
  • Length 175m (overall)
  • Breadth, moulded 25m
  • Depth, moulded 12.5m
  • Draught 9.2m
  • Deadweight 18,000 tonnes
  • Cargo fuel capacity ~16,000m3
  • Four Abeam refuelling stations, one astearn refuelling ring
  • Max service speed 18 knots
  • Range 10.000 nm at 16 knots
  • Stores 400 m3
  • Fresh Water 650 m3
  • Complement 57, accomodations for 80
  • Hangar and deck for a Merlin helicopter
It is most likely that small changes to accommodations could be made, to better fit the MOD’s requirements, if they will still stand so high despite the cuts. They certainly should to ensure quality equipment is acquired, but you never know these days.
The Aegir is a family of ships, based on the exact same design, but varying in size from 10.000 to over 26.000 tons, and covering several roles. The Royal Navy could thus cover with an Aegir design the following requirement in order of urgency, a dedicate CVF Replenisher. The hulls of the MARS FT replacement tankers will be built abroad to civilian standards, and UK shipyards aren't even present between the bidders considered, that range from Italy's Fincantieri to South Korea's Daewoo. The ships should however be kitted for their specific role in the UK.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth is planned to have a RAS typically every 7 days. It carries fuel and stores for 5 days of high intensity warfare, including first day surge. The latest figures for JCA sortie generation from CVF were set at 108 launches in the first 24 hours, reducing to 72 per day for ten days and 36 for a further 20 days. A standard strike tailored air group was defined as including 30 JCAs (with up to 36 for short periods), with up to six anti-submarine Merlins and four maritime air surveillance and control (ASaC) aircraft.
A dedicate CVF Replenishment ship would carry fuel and stores to sustain 45 more days of high intensity operations. The Aegir brochure reports an Aegir 18R as AOR Fleet Replenisher vessel, offering both 16.000 cubic meters of fuels and oils and 1350 cubic meters of stores stowage. For the CVF Replenisher role, this might not be enough, but it is more than likely that a Aegir 26R could be offered. A major plus for the CVF Replenisher would be to offer a larger Flight Deck and aviation facilities for six Merlin sized helicopters, making the ship good as Auxiliary Aviation vessel as well, and allowing the carrier to “offload” part of the work to support the airwing to the accompanying RFA asset. For example, the wing of 6 Merlin HM2 helicopters could operate from the Replenisher, allowing the CVF to carry more F35.
This is compliant to 2007 information about the complexive MARS requirement, that the MOD set as:
  1. Five fleet tankers for delivery between 2011 and 2016.
  2. A single fleet tanker (CVF/carrier strike replenisher) for delivery in 2016
  3. Two fleet solid-support ships for delivery in 2017 and 2019.
  4. Three joint sea-based logistics vessels for delivery in 2018, 2020 and 2021
We can now assume that the Fleet Tankers will be 3 to 4 in the best case, I think, and the delivery dates are to be all considered wildly optimistic, since the programmes have not even started yet, and there’s no clear indication of when the Royal Navy will be allowed to roll out (once more) the request to tended for the MARS Fleet Tanker requirement.
The three Joint Sea-Based Logistics vessels were to be the most interesting ships of the whole programme, with an obvious role of supporting from the sea a deployment of troops ashore, and not necessarily Royal Marines after a beach assault either. The ships were to be able to provide a capable hospital, suitable helicopter facilities, provide fuel to the troops ashore and logistic services, while still retaining the capability to support the fleet itself. Now, however, it is most likely that the requirement is dead. It is hoped that the two Fleet Replenishers (destined to replace the two Fort-class Stores) will incorporate a good part of the capabilities of the JSBLs.

A revised MARS programme would thus resemble the following:
      - 3/4 Fleet Tankers for delivery around 2015/16 and following years, replacing Orangeleaf and the remaining Rovers plus the Fort-class Auxiliary Oilers. These new vessels will add to the still-new, double-hulled Wave class tankers.
2.   - A single Fleet Tanker/CVF Replenisher for delivery in late 2020
3.   - 2/3 fleet Stores solid-support ships for delivery in the early 2020s

The new class of two supply and replenishment ships, optimised to support the future aircraft carriers has requirements not yet set in stone, but good aviation and repair facilities are known to be included, and a capability to operate and support about 6 Merlin size helicopters and  possibly unmanned air vehicles is expected; also offering 'second line' aviation maintenance/repair services as well as providing for rapid vertical embarkation and transfer of people and stores. Timescales are very uncertain, and will be affected by other factors such as funding availability (mostly) and the viability of a service life extension for the existing Series II ships (Fort George  and Fort Victoria).  However, one schedule suggests an order for the lead ship being placed in 2012, with entry in to service in 2017.  It is considered almost certain that these ships will be built in UK shipyards - but the MOD is keeping its options open. My forecast, which has as always an high risk of proving optimistic, is that we won’t see the Fort Stores replacement starting before 2020 at the earlier.

The Supply and Replenishment ships will need to be able to carry the necessary stores to sustain a long term operation involving a CVF with a full airwing, carrying enough material to ensure 45 days of operations. It will also have to carry all the stores necessary to resupply ships at sea, either dispersed units or as part of a Task Group. Being an High Value vessel (and a very high value target in any combat situation) the vessel should have substantial self-defence capabilities, for example a couple of Goalkeepers as standard fit (2 on each ship, so 4, the exact number of CIWSs that will become available from the retirement of the Type 22s, so no need to buy new equipment) and space reservation for embarking a number of CAMM missiles. The vessel should also be able to support amphibious assaults and troops ashore, both by Vertical replenishment with its helicopters and (possibly) by moving supplies ashore with barges, landing crafts and mexeflotes. It would be a nice plus for the vessel to be able to operate Landing Crafts at least up to the LCVP MK5, making it a lot more flexible in supporting forces ashore and even, in theory, the direct Assault phase. It would be definitely interesting to provide a well deck for a larger (LCU MK10 or PACSCAT) landing craft in the back, as well, but this might be considered too costly. The Landing Crafts would prove precious to bring material ashore in a disaster-relief operation like the Haiti mission of RFA Largs Bay. The vessel should ideally have large and capable medical facilities, making it even more flexible and precious in both military and humanitarian role. It is interesting to think that, maybe, the Supply and Stores ships could be designed starting from the Bay class design and configuration, keeping the well deck and at least part of the vehicle decks would make the vessel extremely flexible. The accommodation space that in a Bay class is available for 300 Royal Marines should allow ample possibilities of creating a capable hospital, with 100 or even more beds, replacing the capability currently provided by Argus excellently. The rest of the space would be reconfigured for carrying stores. The vessel would have to grow in sizes, probably to around 28.000 to 30.000 tons, and differently from the Bay class it would have hangar space for a full Flight of 6 Merlin-sized helicopters, and a capable flight deck, plus obviously the necessary equipment for providing RAS. LCVP MK5 Landing crafts could be carried on davits. 

The Dutch JSS fits this description almost perfectly, and it is an obvious possible starting point for the RN’s future programme.
The Dutch JSS design measures 205m/ 672’6” long with 30m/ 98’5” beam, and 28,000t total displacement. Power will come from 5 diesel generators offering up to 25 MW, and speeds of up to 18 knots will be achieved using 2 main electric motors of 9 MW each, driving 2 fixed-pitch propeller shaftlines, 2 bow thruster pods, and 1 stern thruster pod.
In order to fulfill its main supply role, the Dutch JSS will have 2 Replenishment-At-Sea masts, an elevator and crane for up to 40 tonnes, a large (“2000 lane-meters”) vehicle storage or evacuee holding area with roll on/roll off (Ro-Ro) capability, and a “steel beach” stern design for cargo transfer via landing craft. A large helicopter deck can handle up to 2 CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, and the hangar will be able to hold up to 6 NH90 or CH-47 Chinook helicopters with rotors folded, or 2 with rotors operational.

The Dutch Joint Support Ship. Its design quite gives away its connections to the Bay ship's design. This is informative of the kind of path that the RN could follow for its own future RFA assets.
The RFA ships would have no Command and Control facilities, but ample hospital and higher focus on the carriage of fleet stores, since THAT is what it truly will be badly needed for, since cheaper tankers (including the already available Waves) will cover the Fuel voice of the RN.
With the CVF providing unrivalled Helicopter capability, but no landing craft capacity, and with a Bay ship less, the amphibious forces of the UK will return to needing ways to carry and deploy heavy vehicles, stores and fuel from ships to beach: the Fleet Supply and Stores should be able to provide fuel to ships or forces ashore (possibly with an onboard deployable pipeline that could connect the ship to a shore refuelling setup), and resupply ships and troops with solid supplies, while at the same time providing medical facilities. Helicopters are thus needed both for VERTREP and for Casualty evacuation. Fuel and moreover stores capability, plus Fresh Water production, are a must. And embarked Landing crafts/powered barges with high payload are the next thing needed.
This way, 2 (ideally 3) Fleet Supplies and Store ships would help replacing the capability lost with the selling of Largs Bay, the Fort class ships and the reduced Landing Crafts capacity coming with the loss of HMS Ocean, and they might work to replace Argus as well. The excellent capabilities of helicopter operations of the new Fleet Stores ships suggest that the Auxiliary Aviation Support role will pass to them, along with the role of hospital ships, provided that a good enough on-board medical facility complex is provided. The elimination of a vessel and the requirement for its direct replacement will help offset the costs of building the two Supply ships to so high requirements. 

A dedicate replacement will instead be fundamental for Diligence, but it is to be expected that she will have to soldier on for many more years before a replacement programme is even started, not so much because of lack of requirement, but lack of budget. The requirement for replacing Diligence was known as OMAR (Operational Maintenance and Repair Ship), and should have been in service in 2006, then 2010… and then it got lost entirely, and now the future is apparently “Diligence until it floats!”, even if the 2006 Refit of Diligence was, officially, to give her “ten more years of service”, suggesting a 2016 date. While I’m betting that OSD will further slip forwards, it is evident that the moment will come for replacing this fundamental capability.

Early indications were that a mercantile conversion would be used as the basis for OMAR - like Diligence is, after all: she was acquired and converted for the Falklands war, after all. 
BMT Defence Services conducted a self funded study in to OMAR and in May 2006 revealed the results in an article in Warship Technology.  Several options and proposals had been investigated, including a modular facility that could be added to an existing ship; the conversion of an existing (probably commercial) vessel; a barge facility that could be moved by a heavy lift vessel; and a purpose designed ship. The modular facility was soon discounted, but the other options were investigated further. 
The baseline vessel used for a conversion was a cable laying ship - the CS Oceanic Pearl .
The preferred option was a barge facility -  the suggested barge would displace 3,5000 tonnes and have a length of 120 metres and a beam of 32 metres.  There would be a single story workshop of approximately 30 metres x 32 metres at one end and a 200-person two story accommodation block of similar dimensions at the other, separated by the open working area of about 60 metres  x 32 metres.  There would be a helicopter pad on the workshop, with the possibility of another on the accommodation block maintenance barge.  The maintenance barge could be  transported to where required on a Flo-Flo ship with a cargo deck area of 120m x 32m (matching the heavy-lift ships operated by Dockwise).

The OMAR FLO-FLO ship with the huge barge, as proposed for replacing Diligence.

This seems the best way to provide a replacement for Diligence. Acquiring a single FLO-FLO unit from the civilian market would be very cost-effective, and the capability provided would be potentially much greater than that available with the current Diligence.
The purpose designed ship was apparently not favoured, presumably on grounds of cost. What a surprise.

The Type 26 Global Combat Ship

The death of C1 and C2 – Funding 3 different classes of warships always felt irrealistic. To me, at least. Looking at the financial reality the RN budget faces, it was hopelessly optimistic, almost as much as the “cheap, air portable and everything-doing networked FRES” of the early hours. It is now evident that the future of the fleet burdens on the shoulders of the Type 26  programme, that to be successful must deliver nothing less than a One-for-One replacement for the 13 Type 23. It is vital to keep the fleet at an at least partially credible force figure. It must also become an export success, if the british Shipbuilding is to survive and, possibly, recover some strength on the market, that it shamefully lost during years and years of neclect and of weak commercial plans.
The C1/C2 concept is likely to “survive”, however, in the form of having effectively TWO kinds of Type 26 ships: one fully (or almost fully) kitted, and one kept at a more “basic” fit, mainly for what regards the weapon system, the main source of costs.

The cost
Initial figures were said to be in the order of the 400 to 500 millions. Figures unacceptably high, that I struggled to justify from the very beginning, for the reasons that I’ll explain later. Now BAe has been said to keep the cost between 350 and 250 millions apiece, a more manageable figure. We do not want, however, to end up with a second-rate ship. Not with the Type 26, since it is gonna be the real workhorse of the Navy for at least 30 years, and the only real Anti Submarine platform the navy will have, moreover now that the RAF has called itself out of the “over the sea” job by “offering the Nimrod for the chop”. Of course, it was a jet, but not a fast jet fighter, and the junior service thus deemed it unnecessary. When you think about it, both the cut of Harriers and Nimrod, namely “RAF” cuts, are cuts that actually hit the Navy. Both sentimentally, (the RAF never really loved the Harrier, the Navy did) and, more importantly, in terms of operations, the big damage falls on the Royal Navy.

The programme
This is obviously speculative, but I’ll try to be Pessi-Opti-Realist, combining an overall “realistic” planning with an hopeful part of ambition and hope and, at the same time, with some pessimism that ensures I do not play down the risks and difficulties.
First Ship launched in 2021, in service 2023.
Subsequent drumbeat with a ship being launched each year, replacing the Type 23 one for one as they bow out.
8 ASW (C1) High End combatants  
6 General Purpose (C2) frigates
A total of 14 ships, being built for a rough amount of 4,5 billions including the 124 millions for design phase. Mix in building phase to be evaluated, but the first frigate should be a C1 and the second a C2. Subsequently, the Navy might want to order an “expensive” hull and then a “cheap” one in sequence.

C1 and C2: spot the differences
The difference will essentially be all about Weapons and sensors fit.

A drawing concept i've done myself, of a revisited Type 26 design. Largely based upon BAE-relased data, it mostly changes from the official concept for the cancellation of the "dog kennel" arrangement for a second, full-size hangar arrangement, with the CIWS Phalanx moved on the middle, from where its range of fire is undoubtedly better. The ship shown in the drawing is my proposed C1 vessel.

The C1 is to be issued with Ex-Type 23 sonar Type 2087, ex-Type 23 Harpoons, ex-Type 23 DS30M light guns and miniguns, ex-Type 23 ARTISAN 3D radar, ex-Type 23 CAMM missiles and a newly-ordered block of 8 to 16 MK41 Strike Length cells. An associated order for a number of Tomahawk IV will have to follow, so to create a pool of missiles available for the surface ships without biting into the 60/65 Tomahawks available for the SSNs. The buy of the Harpoon missiles will be quite expensive, but it will also be pretty much the ONLY new weapon to acquire for the new ships.
With current plans calling for CAMM to go into service from 2016 on the Type 23 [justified by the fact the CAMM will be easier and cheaper to maintain and operate, not needing a dedicate radar and targeting system like the Sea Wolf does, allowing for removal of weight, complexity, maintenance and running costs], with the sonar 2087 already rolled into service, ARTISAN to be fitted on all the frigates, gun mounts already available and Stingray torpedo systems also already present, the weaponry of the new ships will actually be already available.
Stripped of all these voices, I struggled to see how the hell a Type 26 could have came close to 400 millions of cost. Until I hear rumours about “Flank-side sonar arrays” and other suggestive sci-fi equipment that, while it might have proven fantastic and world-beating, is the kind of stuff that sunks the hope of getting the hulls needed. It is hoped that now realism wins, and the cost is kept much, much lower.
The C2 will not get the Type 2087 sonar. It will have the capability to be fitted with it at any time at the first refit should the need arise, and it might (should) receive a cheaper towed sonar system, but it might even receive none for the first period. It will also not get the MK41 cells, while retaining the space to be fitted with them one day. This also because I want to avoid any real difference/redesign and associated cost between the two standards.

Main gun
I’m a bit supporter of the Braveheart going to sea. I believe in the concrete savings that would be delivered by joint, common ammunitions design/procurement/stowage between Army and Navy. I also believe that, despite the lesser rate of fire, the naval gunfire delivered by the modified MK8 would still be a great step forwards from current capability.
I also believe the 155 mm Land-Compatible gun has enormous potential on the international market, for refits and new builds both, if it hits service. It might revive another area of defence export where the UK totally lost terrain to, mainly, Italy’s Oto Melara.
That ironically is the only real alternative to the 155 mm Upgrade, with its excellent 127 mm gun, already offered by Oto Melara joining forces with Babcock.
However, the 155 mm Third generation Marittime Fire support, (TMF) prototype, coupling a 155/39 howitzer from an Army’s AS90 vehicle and the MK8 MOD1 gun mount has reportedly already fired several times in tests, much as the programme vanished from the radars. I had to contact BAE and ask them about the status of the programme. I was told that they are ready to move to final production standard and eventually start the conversion. They were “lobbying the government to agree the 10 million deal to enter into Production”. Things are moving slowly, but the proposal will certainly be a part of the BAE design of the Type 26, and if the RN approves, we could see it become reality.
It would make good use of barrels coming from the many soon-to-be-scrapped AS90 vehicles, and give new life to the MK8 MOD1 mounts already available, while allowing for the retirement of a whole ammunition stock, the 114 mm one.
Rate of fire is said to be 12 rounds for minute, ten less than current MK8. An higher range and rate of fire would be technically possible, but it would be necessary to design and adopt a more costly and complex loading arm capable to move faster, a barrel-cooling system employing sea water, and to achieve a longer range, a 52 caliber barrel should be adopted, and that would obviously rule out re-using AS90 barrels.
Range will, instead, be increased using Extended Range ammunition designs, such as the Impaqt lightweight shell, (joint UK-France development) made of composites, that at parity of payload weights less than a normal 155 mm artillery shell and has a range of up to 60 km from a 39 calibers barrel such as the AS90’s one. The Vulcano ammunition from Oto Melara is also an option. This ammunition offers high-accuracy thanks to active guidance, and range of over 100 km, and it would be useful for the RA and RN both. 
In general, it appears easier and less expensive to seek longer ranges through ammunition development, than by using a longer barrel.  

The rear mission bay    
To be absolutely retained, it should not be a major cost factor. It will be use to carry RHIBs, boats, drones, containers with modular kit, supplies of humanitarian loads, and provide a ramp for the easy launch of boats.
There would be space for fitting a containerized towed sonar to rapidly upgrade the “C2-standard” ships to “C1”, and the frigate would be able to carry containerized drone launch-and-recovery systems and even a “lite” variant of the MCM kit, to assist in major mine clearance ops or to have self-contained capability in area of operations. 

A quite well known graphic art from BAE systems of the likely Type 26 design: note the smaller "dog kennel" garage for UAVs beside the main helicopter hangar. My personal feeling is also that the Phalanx CIWS on top of the hangar is, to say the least, placed in an awkward position.
Helicopter and UAV facilities
The graphics showed so far always made evident a single Merlin-sized hangar and a “dog-kennel” shelter for UAVs. I believe this makes no sense. In my revised Type 26 design, the hangar is expanded to be able to take 1 Merlin chopper plus UAVs or 2 Merlin helicopters (or Wildcats, obviously).
Having a “dog kennel” is (possibly) less expensive than a full hangar (I’m willing to believe not much cheaper, however, if cheaper at all, honestly). The UAV is also going to use fuel and supplies, which also mean that the Aviation facilities of the Type 26 will be quite extensive in any case.
This considered, it makes even less sense to me not to provide a full, double hangar. In itself, the double hangar does not mean the ship has to get two Merlin Flights. One of the two hangars can perfectly be used for UAVs, Special Forces or other uses normally. However, while a “Dog Kennel” could only welcome UAVs, a second hangar could allow the ship deploying for a major operation to embark two Merlin flights, constituting a major advantage for the conduction of subsequent operations, in particular providing more extensive and continuative ASW and Surveillance support to the vessel, something essential for Convoy protection if there’s a submarine menace (don’t laugh, many nations today can put at least a quite modern diesel-electric sub at sea, and it would be in itself a threat not to ignore), and a great plus to have for almost any mission included anti-piracy patrol.
Better to spend a little less on other, less important factors and have a double hangar available.

ECM protection: Soft Kill
The ship will be fitted with the same Ship Torpedo Defence system of the Type 45, and it will receive a couple of Centurion trainable decoy-launcher system. Compatible with the existing NATO decoys such as SeaGnat, the Centurion is a mount capable to turn on itself very quickly, aim the correct barrel at the incoming threat and fire on the best possible trajectory a decoy, either active or passive, Chaff or luring device. Thanks to this capability, reaction times are reduced dramatically, the ship needs to accomplish far less maneuvers to obtain the best possible launching solution for the decoys, and there’s a saving due to being able to cover the whole ship fully with just two launchers instead of 4 Sea Gnat launcher blocks plus other systems. 

The Centurion Soft Kill countermeasures launcher is a british invention born from the suggestion of an officer with RN experience. The trainable mount can be fitted with a variety of NATO-standard decoys which are fired in the optimal direction to achieve better, timely effect while reducing the ships's need to maneuver in order to deploy the decoys. It also allows two single launch-turrets to cover the role currently given to several fixed launchers positioned in various areas of the vessel. The Centurion promises to deliver better effect, at better prices.
Hard Kill   
Hard kill is to be provided by CAMM and eventually by two Phalanx CIWS, mounted one on the bow, just under the bridge, and one aft on top of the hangars. It is more than likely that, at least initially, the Type 26 will be “Fitted for, but not with” Phalanx. I hate it, but it is more than probable, and it is better than having a ship incapable to readily receive a CIWS system.
The CAMM missile is ejected cold from its container-canister, with the rocket igniting 100 feet in the air, for improved safety. This also means the CAMM does NOT need a VLS system such as Sylver or MK41, that have good part of their reason d’etre in being necessary to contain and manage the exhausts and rocket blast of the missiles being launched. This is an obvious source of savings, and it also makes use of these missiles a lot easier, since they can be placed practically anywhere. The CAMM does not need a dedicate radar-targeting unit, but is cued directly by the ship’s search radar, the ARTISAN, another source of savings. It is a fire and forget weapon, more effective than Sea Wolf, capable to engage a greater number of targets simultaneously, to a greater range, of around 20 km. The missile might be capable to strike surface targets as well, when it enters service.
32 missiles would be carried, of which 16 would be placed in the missile silo on the bow (with room for more being available  eventually in place of the MK41/TLAM cells), with another 16 being located in launchers behind the hangars [see image], offering improved all-around times of reaction and also ensuring that the ship is not left without defences at the first damage inflicted to the missile silo on the bow by enemy action.

140 men, and possibly fewer, but with room for at least 30 more, for example for Marines of the Embarked Force. 

This is a very delicate aspect of any ship: the propulsion is one of the key areas that define a vessel, its capabilities, and its cost. While there is obviously scope and interest for having the exact same propulsion setup and machinery used on the Type 45, the Navy has to consider many factors, the main one being the requisite of quietness of the Type 26. A noisy submarine-hunter is a failure, vulnerable to detection from the enemy submarine and incapable to properly exploit its sonar for chasing contacts under the surface. Much as people seems to take this factor as not important, stating (with very weak argumentations) that the submarine-hunting will never again be a task the Royal Navy has to tackle, we have to admit that sophisticated diesel-electric submarines are proliferating, with more and more nations lining technologically advanced boats. Even the argument that there are less submarines than when the URSS was at its apex is more than weak: we are now likely to face much more modern and harder to detect submarines, and the Royal Navy has never before had so few escorts.
Like it or not, the Type 26 will be the main (and mostly ONLY) surface submarine-hunter that the UK will line in the future. Nimrod is no more, and while I advocate (and expect that events will one day dictate) a buy of a decent Marittime Patrol Aircraft asset, I recognize that the Type 26 will be the main asset, possibly the only one.
The only alternative the UK will have to clear the way for a CVF task group in an area with submarine threats will be to use the Astute SSN to chase enemy submarines. This is the right task for the Astute, and probably the area in which the Astute excels the most… But in a war scenario, with only 7 hulls available, there won’t be enough submarines to do all the work. Besides, the Astute will be tasked with many roles, from Land Strike with Tomahawk to forward, silent recce to attack to enemy shipping, and it will unable to provide these services if it has to constantly scan the depths to chase enemy subs. The Type 26 will be the new hunter of the RN, and it needs to be at least as silent as the world-beating Type 23 frigate. The propulsion system will have large merit in ensuring this result… or making it unattainable.
The hope is that the Type 45 electric propulsion can be silenced enough, also because it proved to be very fuel-efficient and capable to push the huge destroyer easily to a good 32 knots speed, which means that probably the lighter, smaller Type 26 would be a quite formidable racer with that kind of power available. However, this kind of machinery is quite expensive. It’ll be up to the navy making sure that it does fit the needed requirement for silent running and to make sure it is affordable.

The Type 26 has good potential for export, but this will change if the ship becomes an unarmed vessel “fitted for, but not with”. The impact of appearances is much harder than most people thinks, and if you look at what other countries are buying, you’ll see that no one is buying “cheap, simple ships” with no SSM and SAM missiles “because they aren’t realistically needed in today's scenarios”. Even Morocco buys fully armed FREMM frigates, and generally the ships that get bought at the international naval shows are loaded with guns and missiles all over the place. Brazil is going to buy the FREMMs for sure if the Type 26 ends up being a glorified, stealth, gigantic and expensive RHIB armed with two miniguns.
Export orders are to be actively pursued: good chances are there, not just with Brazil, but with Australia and New Zealand as well, and maybe even with Gulf nations later on. A missile silo capable to take MK41 VLS cells, “modular” approach making easy and certain the possibility to fit a different radar, a different main missile system and the ability to generally meet the buyer’s requirements will be an important factor to ensure the Type 26 comes out as a success. 
Recently, it appeared like Canada had pretty much selected the Type 26 for future replacement of the Halifax-class frigates, but worried cries from shipbuilders worried about loss of work if a british design was chosen has been an issue and has led to the voices being dismissed. At least for now. 

A solution could be basing the 6 “C2” vessels in Devonport, and the main fleet of C1 would be centered on Portsmouth. Alternatively, but it may make less sense economically, 7 ships chosen from both types could be assigned to each of the two major bases. 

MHPC – The old C3 ship

The Mine Counter Measure, Hydrograpic Patrol Capability (MHPC) is the new name of what most people still calls the “C3 Requirement” of the Royal Navy. Navy News of last December refers to it as a “1.4 Billions programme”. It came out after the SDSR was completed and published, so we can assume that, at the moment, the 1.4 billions is an official, still-standing figure, and it is the budget we must plan with. Numbers are not clear: concept seem to is “as many as we can afford with this budget”. Requirement, at the moment, appears being:
      Replacing Sandown and Hunt mine countermeasure vessels.
-     Replace HMS Echo and Enterprise in survey role.

HMS Scott carries such dedicate and massive survey sonar instrumentations and has such capabilities that it seems totally impossible to replace them with a MHPC vessel: it is possible that HMS Scott will be replaced, in time, by a civilian ship, with part of the Hydrographic role moving from the MOD to a Civvy department. Otherwise, another Survey-dedicate platform will have to be procured, or there will be a massive, unfilled gap in capability when Scott retires.
The old C3 requirement was said to be “8 ships” to replace the minesweepers fleet “with other hulls being possibly ordered at a later date if the C3 was to replace the Hydrographic survey vessels and the River class OPVs and HMS Clyde”. This might still be a likely figure, but with the death of the C2 class and the massive reduction in fleet numbers, we have to assume the RN will want to get as many hulls as possible.
For my analysis, I’m going to set a shipbuilding budget of around 1300 millions. I assume that around 100 millions will go for designing and other odds and ends related to program management and other activities. This is, arguably, a quite pessimistic value: considering an high end combatant vessel like the Type 26 is being designed for 124 millions, a 100 millions figure for this small ship should be more than enough. I believe it is correct, however, to always make plans with the “worst” case figures: excessive optimism on programmes ends up in years-long delays and serious cost overruns, as with the A400M, that the same EADS recognizes was “planned with a far too optimistic timescale”.
Unitary cost of each vessel is likely to go from a minimum of 90 to as much as 160 millions: obviously, the RN, the MOD, the treasury and the UK as a whole have an interest in staying as close as possible to the 90 millions figure, if not an even lower one!

To provide a new base-platform for Mine Counter Measure operations, capable to provide ocean-going patrol capability, to undertake survey and hydrographic operations, and to deploy abroad for long periods of time. Replace the capabilities provided by Sandown, Hunt and Echo classes of ships.
At a later date, these ships will replace the River class OPVs, included HMS Clyde.
Number of hulls: from 8 upwards. In an inelegant but functional way to put it, “as many as we can get”.

One small squadron, with MCM kit available, in Clyde naval base, in Faslane. NATO MCM 1 Group, and provision of support to the Nuclear submarines, both Trident and SSN.
Portsmouth. One larger squadron, with MCM and Survey kits available. Provvision of deployable ships for tasks abroad, Hydrographic services and, at later date, the new Fishery Protection capability when the River class OPVs retire.

The vessel  
The BVT Venator design was not welcomed too well by most “sailors of the internet” interested in the C3 requirement. I’ve read, in many occasions, quite negative comments on its design, but I believe most of those came from the fact that most commenters wanted a super-armed Corvette, more than an “Utility Ship” destined to chase mines and do Hydrographic work most of the time. I’ve read the papers from BVT about the Venator design, and my opinion is totally different from the negative ones I’ve always met: I believe the Venator is the best possible starting point from the MHPC vessel.
Following studies on several different hull types, that included a SWATH type hull, BVT concluded that the best choice was a conventional, steel-built monohull design, with a waterlenght of 90 meters, a full-out length of 93,25 meters and a moulded breath of 15,12 meters. Draught is indicated in 3,96 meters with a Design Displacement of 2680 tons and a Scantling displacement of 3039 tons.
Its seaworthiness is scaled to ensure the ship remains operational in Sea State 4 and 5, with Transit capability at “Task Group” speed of 18 knots in Sea State 6. The Venator is designed to be able to sustain a cruise speed of 18 knots to work efficiently as part of a Task Group (example: following HMS Queen Elizabeth and its escort vessels in a deployment), and the vessel is capable of a maximum speed of 25 Knots for anti-piracy missions and for all the situations that require some sprint. The ship is obviously not a racer, but high speed is not a requirement for the Royal Navy, and definitely it is not for this kind of vessel. We also have to consider that high speeds require very high power installed, and over a certain speed, every additional knot of speed requires a disproportionate, extremely expensive increase of the machinery’s power. This means COST, what we supremely have to avoid.
The Venator offers 700 tons of Mission Payload capability, making it an extremely flexible and capable asset. It is designed to operate with a Core Crew of just 40 members (less than the Hunt minesweeper) and has accommodations for up to 80, making room available for a large complement of Survey or MCM specialists depending on the mission at hand, or for a large Embarked Force of Royal Marines for a Patrol mission in the gulf or anti-piracy off Somalia or drug-contrast ops. 

A concept art from BVT of their Venator design.

The Venator offers space reservation for a Medium Gun and for up to 16 CAMM missiles, allowing it to be a quite capable ship even in combat role without much expense. The helicopter deck is mainly tailored for a Lynx, but it could be used to take on a Merlin, and the design includes a Telescopic Hangar to provide limited, but decent, helicopter and UAV facilities when an helicopter is deemed necessary as part of the mission.
The Venator offers a rear ramp, a large cargo area and a covered, protected “garage” area for the stowage of mission equipment, from RHIBs to drones to containers, and it offers a further “Reconfigurable Mission Space” that I will analyze further ahead in the article. It would always be possible to “size-up” the design up to 110 meters length, eventually, but I do not deem it necessary, and while “size does not make the cost”, it certainly helps making it. If we can stay on the “small” scale, even cost will have greater chances of staying  low.

-          Operative in SS4 and SS5
-          Transit speed of 18 knots in SS6
-          Max speed 25 knots
-          Task Group speed 18 knots
-          Economic cruise 12 knots
-          Range of 7000 naval miles at 12 knots as dispersed unit
-          Range of 5000 naval miles at 18 knots 

BVT official graphic of the use of space inside the Venator concept vessel.

Mine Counter Measure: the kit, the procurement, the cost  
The Hunt and Sandown were built when still the minesweeping work required the MCM ships to physically enter the minefield and sweep it. That’s why they have costly and not so resistant Glass-fiber hulls, that are an obstacle to their ocean-worthiness and that were admittedly very expensive at the time of built. Technology, however, evolved considerably over time, and the Hunt’s sweep equipment was removed in 2005: now, the ship stays at a safe distance, operating drones to dispose the mines.
The Venator is to built reflecting this changed environment, receiving a cheaper, better sea-worthy steel hull, possibly built to commercial standards where possible to further help keeping cost down. It is also to be questioned the need for Dynamic Positioning thruster systems in the hull to keep the new vessel stationary and allow it to make tight, extremely accurate turns. It might not be necessary at all: with the ship staying well out of the minefield, an accurate positioning will not be a relevant feature. The Venator design, currently, does not envisage this auxiliary system, and while it could be added, accurate analysis should determine if truly it is a requirement.
The MCM kit of the Royal Navy is a world-beating kit, and it is constantly evolving. This evolution is being funded outside the budget allocated for the replacement ships, luckily, and this will hopefully help ensuring more hulls hit the water. While updates to the MCM kit are slow and very gradual, and not given much money, the RN is overall keeping its capabilities up to date, if not really leading the way, and this is a very good news. There’s been other articles on here detailing the MCM mission and kit, so I won’t go into much detail, but focus instead on outlining the new, modular kit that’s coming out as the MCM equipment for the navy, and try to have a look in the future to describe what the Venator would work with, and how.

SeaFox C: This expendable fibre-optic guided underwater vehicle is used for semi-autonomous disposal of naval mines and other ordnance found at sea. It is able to automatically relocate previously acquired positions of underwater objects within minutes with the integrated homing sonar. After relocation, these objects can be identified using the onboard CCTV camera and destroyed by the use of a built-in, large caliber shaped charge. The one-way concept significantly reduces the disposal time and extends the operational envelope. The system has been fully qualified for military purposes and has been introduced in large numbers into various navies. It is deployable from a wide range of carrier platforms, including dedicated MCM Vessels, surface combatants, craft of opportunity and helicopters. The Sea Fox comes with a Search drone, the SeaFox I, and the actual mine-disposal platform, the SeaFox C.
A consistent number of Disposal drones can be carried on board inside containers, and VERTREP will make it easy to move pallets of other equipment, including drones, on a Venator vessel whenever the need arises.


SeaFox C
 0.4 (hull)
Speed (kts)
0 (0.5 backw.)
Diving Depth (m)
Endurance (h)
Payload (kg)
Obstacle Avoidance
Navigation System

The SeaFox system is a mine disposal system based on the most advanced concept using the Expendable Mine Disposal Vehicle principle (EMDV). Small, unmanned underwater drones are used for direct disposal of existing and new mine types; identical, reusable vehicles (without charge) are used for inspection, identification and training purposes.
The system is effective against long and short tethered mines, proud ground mines and floating mines. The SeaFox system mainly comprises a console, a launcher and the SeaFox vehicles which are extremely easy in handling due to small design length of 1.3 m and a weight of 40 kg. The system can be delivered as a stand-alone or a fully integrated version.
In case of stand-alone the console contains all electronics, software, displays and operating elements to guide the vehicle automatically or manually towards the target and to relocate, identify and destroy it. In the fully integrated version, a Multi Function Console or any existing console can be used.
The two different vehicles ensure quick disposal of mines during operation with the combat vehicle (SeaFox C) as well as cost-saving identification with the reusable identification version (SeaFox I).
The communication between the console and the SeaFox vehicle's sensors, such as high frequency relocation sonar, echo sounder and CCTV camera, is implemented via a thin fibre optic cable. The four independent, reversible motors plus one hover thruster ensure high manoeuvrability and exact positioning for firing the shaped charge.
Hydroid UUVs – REMUS 100 and 600
The 3.9-metre long, torpedo-shaped ‘Recce’ UUV, which operates at depths from 30 metres to 200 metres, can be used for reconnaissance operations, hydrographic surveys and environmental monitoring. The fully autonomous device can scan the sea bed for mines for over 20 hours at a time using an advanced navigation system as well as acoustic and bathymetric sensors to detect and indicate the exact location of possible threats. This collected data, including high-resolution imagery, is transmitted to onboard operators for analysis, considerably reducing the risk to naval divers who – as the Ministry explains – traditionally carried out these operations.
Designed and developed by Hydroid with support from the US Office of Naval Research, Recce offers extended endurance and an increased payload compared to its predecessor, the REMUS 100. According to Warship Technology, Recce is equipped with an Edgetech 2200S (850kHz) sidescan sonar, an Imagenex Delta-T (1.7Mhz) multi-beam imaging sonar, an Edgetech 2200S (4-24kHz) sub-bottom profiler sonar, a Kearfott Inertial Navigation Unit, a Teledyne RDI Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler/Doppler Velocity Log, a Niel Brown conductivity and temperature sensor, a Wetlabs FLNTU water clarity sensor, and GPS, WiFi as well as RF communications.
The REMUS 100 UUV is significantly smaller, and the RN uses it to scout for mines in Very Swallow Waters, in ports and harbors and very close to the shore. It has an autonomy on chase of 7.5 hours at 4.5 knots, or up to 14 hours. It weights 86 lbs and it is 1.6 meters long.
The larger and more capable REMUS 600 is a recce asset suitable for chasing the minefields in deeper waters, up to the open ocean. The REMUS 600 is able to dive to 200m and seek out mines autonomously for more than 20 hours, bristling with an impressive array of sensors including sidescan, multibeam imaging and sub-bottom profiling sonar and reporting via GPS, RF and Wi-Fi. The REMUS 600 vehicles will provide a detailed maritime survey and mine detection and classification capability in the 30m to 200m depth range, although the vehicle can operate down to 600m. It is fitted with a range of sensors and runs on re-chargeable batteries giving it an endurance of over 70 hours.
FAST – Flexible Agile Sweeping Technology
Minesweepers are equipped with mechanical or influence sweeps to detonate mines. The modern minesweeper is designed to reduce the chances of it detonating mines itself; it is soundproofed to reduce its acoustic signature and often constructed using wood, glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) or non-ferrous metal, or is degaussed to reduce its magnetic signature.
Mechanical sweeps are devices designed to cut the anchoring cables of moored mines, and preferably attach a tag to help the subsequent localization and neutralization. They are towed behind the minesweeper, and use a towed body (e.g. oropesa, paravane) to maintain the sweep at the desired depth and position. Influence sweeps are equipment, often towed, that emulate a particular ship signature, thereby causing a mine to detonate. The most common such sweeps are magnetic and acoustic generators.
There are two modes of operating an influence sweep: MSM (mine setting mode) and TSM (target setting mode or target simulation mode). MSM sweeping is founded on intelligence on a given type of mine, and produces the output required for detonation of this mine. If such intelligence is unavailable, the TSM sweeping instead reproduces the influence of the friendly ship that is about to transit through the area. TSM sweeping thus clears mines directed at this ship without knowledge of the mines. However, mines directed at other ships might remain.
Both modes of sweep in the Royal Navy were carried out by the Hunt class minesweeper towing Combined Influence Sweep (CIS) devices until 2005. Now, the CIS role is expected to be moved onto an unmanned, remotely operated small 9-meters boat that will be deployed and guided from Hunt minesweepers at safe distance, under the Flexible Agile Sweeping Technology programme.
The FAST platform, which is currently under production, is a modified Logistic Support Boat (LSB-R).  Being fitted out at VT Shipbuilding, the vessel uses the same hull form as the Combat Support Boat (CSB) already in service with the UK Royal Navy.  The CSB is a powerful, versatile craft whose major role is to support both bridging and amphibious operations.  The FAST platform builds on the success of the CSB while incorporating significant performance improvements to meet the demanding requirements of this programme.
During the Critical Design Review, UK MoD unveiled current plans for the launch and recovery mechanism envisaged from the Hunt Class MCMV.  This concept is being developed with Babcock Design & Technology.

The programme took off in 2007, and trials started in 2008/09: it was hoped that, by this time, funding would have been available to start the refitting of the Hunt class ships to carry the FAST system, but the Royal Navy notoriously has no funding available, and for now there are only a number of FAST platforms used for trials and during training in Faslane. One such exercise is described in an article of Navy News of December 2010. Navy News article
The Navy had probably hoped to have the engine-refit of the Hunt class coincide with the fitting of the FAST kit, but this seems to have no chances to happen for now: however, in the coming years, this refit is to be expected, with the acquisition of possibly 8 kits, each with two FAST boats by the look of the concept arts supplied.

The FAST is intended to replace the Combined Influence Sweep (CIS) capability provided by a Hunt class minesweeper physically sailing into a minefield with a remotely-operated, unmanned boat deployed from a Hunt or from another ship (in future from even the Type 26 frigate) standing at safe distance.

The FAST system’s main features are:

  • Flexible
    • Configurable 2/3-Electrode magnetic sweep and Integrated Coil
    • Cable design includes replaceable electrodes
    • Easily configurable for alternative noise source(s)
    • Design accommodates multiple towing configurations
    • LSB-R - New Engines/Jets, Hamilton blue ARROW Control
    • Clip-on sweep system
    • Integrated Sweep Payload control

  • Agile
    • Remote/Autonomous Control
    • Combined Planing/Displacement hull
    • Revolutionary Waterjet/Control system

  • Sweeping
    • Enhanced ITT Power Generation Unit
    • Waveform Generation
    • New Sweep Cable design

  • Technology
    • Fly-by-wire
    • Open Standards
    • Common Interfaces
    • Collision Avoidance

The FAST design continues to undergo tests and experimentation. It is envisaged as an optionally-manned vehicle, which could be operated by an on-board crew or entirely from a remote control station on board of the HQ ship, and have ample autonomy in operation.
Other UUVs, such as Bae’s Talisman, could one day become part of the mix: in particular, it has been said that the Royal Navy will look at a surface drone, probably RHIB-sized, that will be possibly optionally manned and that would be used in support of underwater drones, carrying and deploying the SeaFox units in the middle of the minefield, with the ship staying at a good distance away from the danger. This certainly would be very important to make the MCM kit usable from Venator and Type 26 platforms.
The MCM kit will already be largely available by the time the ships enter service, and most of the equipment will simply move from the decommissioned Hunt and Sandown to the new vessels, offering considerable saving, and ensuring the budget for the programme goes effectively into funding the ships themselves, to aim for an as-high-as-possible number of hulls.

The MCM, Hydrographic Patrol Ship
Typically, the roles of the new vessel will include:

-           Mine Counter Measures;
-           Mine Counter Measures Tasking and Support;
-          Hydrographic work
-          Survey and Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA);
-          Coastal and Offshore Patrol, inclusive of anti-piracy and drug smuggling contrast missions
-          Maritime Security Operations (MSO) including Counter Interdiction, persistent
-          surveillance and presence;
-          Training.
So let’s take a look into the ship, its standard fit and the possible configurations. We have already had a look into its seaworthiness and performances, but now we take a look at its main points:

As an affordable and therefore relatively small combatant type, the MHPC would rely on
modularity to offer design utility. Each MHPC would operate as a single role unit; the range
of roles would be achieved by tailored equipments fits. Advantages to the use of modular
systems versus batching are:

The ability to flex the mix of role vessels;
Simplification of technology up grading and potentially spiral development of
equipments fits;
The porting of equipment between platforms during non-operational periods to
reduce the required number of expensive systems.

There are already a number of modular systems available; however, it is important to
define what “type” of modularity is required. One possible description is four levels of

Construction modularity
Configuration modularity (e.g. MEKO®-class ships)
Mission modularity (e.g. StanFlex series of vessels)
Battle (network) modularity

A rapid re-role requirement is not envisioned for the MHPC (the Royal Navy is not dreaming to sail a ship as a minesweeper and re-role it to a completely different mission task DURING the deployment. Not in normal conditions, at least: war might spur “creativity”, but this is not likely), and hence modularity will primarily be concerned with bounding mission systems and interfaces, configuration control of both mission packages and platforms but as separate entities and in providing suitable routes for exchange but within a controlled environment, e.g. an up keep period in a home base or similar facility. Hence, it relates to “Configuration” modularity, perhaps with a touch of “Mission” modularity for some roles. A key factor for the MHPC is likely to be the deployment of off-board sensors, most probably using UAV’s / UUV’s / USV’s. Both the mine warfare and survey roles are likely to be performed using one or a combination of types of vehicle and the ability to deploy either modular vehicles or re-role by changing vehicles is an interesting prospect. To achieve this, the ASC needs to achieve flexibility in:

Deployment and recovery of off-board systems;
System control;
System maintenance;
Possible system reconfiguration if the vehicle is modular itself.

Mission Crews

The concept of a mission crew, individuals who embark with specific mission equipment in addition to a basic “float / move” complement, has been proposed for future modular concepts. However, there are significant drawbacks to such a concept:
Time for mission crew to work up on new vessel;
Familiarity with specific equipment on ship (can often be subtly different to that on which training is undertaken);
How to maintain skills in mission crews not required at sea (“mission skills fade”).
This is a key reason why MHPC vessels may preferably be configured to specific roles for long periods, rather than re-role on a regular basis. Hence, whilst there would be a common core complement that is the same for all variants, the role specific personnel can be integrated within the complement given that the vessel is not expected to re-role outside of normal crew rotations. However, it is noted that some roles will involve noncomplement staff (e.g. fleet protection troops, marines, MCM support etc.) and some
missions will require surge accommodation.
It should be possible, seen the very small nature of the Core Crew (around 40 men) of these ships, to use an “Echo-style” deployment in which the ship is away from its home port for very long time, even for two years in a row, during which the crew is rotated without the ship coming back in the UK. This would make particularly easier and more effective a deployment in roles such as Counter-Piracy and support/minesweeper presence in the Gulf, and it would make these ships extremely hard used. They would manage to cover many roles, for a very long time, enabling a smaller navy a reach otherwise impossible to dream of.

The definitive MHPC should definitely have aviation facilities: in the future, UAVs will be more and more common in use, and more and more fundamental. An helicopter is also an obsolute must in MSO operations, be it counter-piracy or contrast to drug smuggling. A Lynx helicopter would also be fundamental for deployment in dangerous areas such as the gulf: arguably, the best chance of a MHPC to survive an attack from a swarm of Fast Boats loaded with rocket launchers or worse weaponry is having a Lynx helicopter in the air with a M3M machine gun and 14 or more LMM missiles capable to take out a large number of boats in one swift go.
An helicopter would also be useful in MCM operations, even if the current minesweepers lack this capability and the UK is not as hot as Japan and US on the use of helos to clean minefields. The Flight deck should be Merlin capable, while long-term facilities such as a fixed, wide hangar might be too much for this ship type. A telescopic hangar, easily found off-the-shelf and relatively inexpensive would be a good solution to provide shelter for a Wildcat flight, or even for a Merlin helicopter.
When the need for an helicopter was not recognized as part of the task at hand, the flight deck would thus be available for other roles and for carrying additional kit.

Survivability and Threat Environment
Depending on the role and mission, the MHPC could be conducting operations within:

A benign environment, e.g. training, civil hydrographics;
A low threat environment against lightly armed opponents (small arms, small calibre weapons, small missiles or rockets), e.g. maritime security, surveillance and patrol operations;
A high threat environment, e.g. when conducting MCM or REA in theatre for a medium or large scale campaign.

The first two options are the most likely, at least for most of the life of the unit, so we should not be looking at massive (but moreover expensive) combat systems and weapon fits. However, the ship should definitely be able to defend itself and survive to a possible attack. No point in sending a military ship showing the flag if the ship is virtually indefensible and destined to be quickly sunk as soon as a potential enemy decides to open fire. It would be tremendously painful and humiliating to have a ship sunk by a cheap, old and ex-soviet anti-ship missile fired by a fast boat of the Iranian Pasdaran.

My own try at the MHPC vessel design

The Venator design as revised in my own style, following my own reasoning on the operational concepts envisaged for this class.

In my plan, the ship would have a standard fit of:

1 x Oto Melara Strales gun  - This 76 mm gun offers a rate of fire as high as 120 rounds for minute, a stealth mount and radar-guided ammunitions that make it a very potent CIWS as well as a good all-around medium gun suitable even for a limited degree of coastal attack and fire support. It is used as the main weapon/CIWS system on the French and Italian Horizon destroyers and FREMM frigates, and it is gaining rapidly a very large share of the market. Available off-the-shelf and relatively cheap, it has the disadvantage of introducing a whole new ammunition class in the inventory at the same time as we standardize it on 155 mm rounds. I believe, however, that in this particular case it is something worth making: it would give the ship a very good protection against missiles, airplanes and surface vessels both, and make it a more credible military unit with a better impact in Presence missions.

Space reservation for CAMM missiles (16) - As I’ve already said, the CAMM requires no VLS cell system, but is fired “cold” out of its own container tube. It does not need a dedicate radar targeting system and it is a fire and forget weapon that might even be capable to strike surface targets by the time it is rolled into service. Fitting 16 of these missiles would require a minimum amount of space being reserved, and it would be very cheap compared to any other missile system of its class. If not fitting the missiles from the start, we should definitely have space reserved for fitting ahead of deployments in the gulf or in other dangerous areas. For example, a ship bound for an anti-drug operation in the Caribbean might not need a SAM system installed, but you’d definitely prefer to have it if the destination was the Gulf, or even the Falklands.

2 x DS30M Remotely operated gun – Standard Royal Navy gun, and standard fit, one port and one starboard, for self defence. A couple of miniguns and a few GPMG would suffice to complete the weapons fit.

Reconfigurable Mission Space – This area amidship, in my proposal, would be organized around three StanFlex modules. The StanFlex (also known as STANFLEX or Standard Flex) is a modular mission payload system used by the Kongelige Danske Marine (Royal Danish Navy, KDM).
In this drawing i made, i show my own variant of the Venator base design. Changes are evident.

Originally conceived during the 1980s as a way of replacing several classes of minor war vessel with a single class of multi-role ships, the StanFlex system consists of weapons and equipment mounted in standardised containers, which can be loaded into slots on the ships. These containers can be swapped out in a short period of time, allowing the ship to switch between roles when needed. 

I’m not proposing to make the MHPC modular and StanFlex-built, like an US LCS ship: this is actually a costly solution in its own way, and one the Royal Navy does not really love. However, I think three slots for StanFlex modules would be very handy. Each module is housed in a stainless steel container measuring 3 metres (9.8 ft) in length, 3.5 metres (11 ft) in width, and 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) in height. Precision-machined flanges ensure that the module accurately mates up with connections for power, ventilation, communications, water, and data. The weapon or system is mounted on the roof of the module, while the machinery, electronics, and supporting equipment are housed within. Modules are usually installed and replaced by a 15-ton capacity mobile crane. A module can be swapped out and replaced within half an hour, and after system testing completed, the ship is ready to deploy within a few hours. However, refresher training for the ship's crew will take significantly longer.

As of 2001, the KDM inventory of StanFlex modules included: 

2 twin launchers for Boeing AGM-84 Harpoon missiles
6-cell Mk 48 Mod 3 launcher for RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles
1 Otobreda 76/62 Super Rapid gun
Launchers for MU90 Impact torpedoes
Thales Underwater Systems TSM 2640 Salmon variable-depth active/passive sonar
Command and control equipment to operate MSF and MRD class drone minehunters and Double Eagle ROVs
1 hydraulic crane for launch/recovery of a RHIB or deployment of sea mines





The idea is that the UK could purchase a number of StanFlex modules off the shelf for the MHPC, notably:
-          MCM Module: in UK service, this module would be fitted with the Remote Control Consoles of FAST, SeaFox and REMUS drones, and of the future systems chosen as part of the modular MCM kit. Having a StanFlex module housing the Drone Control Stations would make it even easier to create “ready-to-use” MCM packets to be assigned to a ship prior to deployment. An MCM Packet would consist of one or more MCM modules containing Mission Planning equipment and Drone controls, a FAST system with two boats, a surface UUV for standoff deployment of underwater drones, REMUS 100 and 600 in Containerized Launch and Recovery System and eventually a Containerized Towed Mine-detection Sonar.
-          Survey and Oceanography Modules: fitted with UK mandated instrumentations for the Hydrographic and Survey work.

Other modules could be acquired or developed, was a need recognized. The ready availability of SSM and SAM missile systems that could be fitted in the modular area will also make the new vessel endlessly more attractive to potential foreign buyers of the ship design, and while fitting Harpoon would not be a requirement of the RN, the capability of doing it later on is a nice plus to have, which comes at practically no additional cost. 

StanFlex Harpoon modules fitted to the famous frigate Absalon, on her own Reconfigurable Mission Deck.

The roof of the Reconfigurable Mission Space could also sustain a couple of containers up to 40’ length and “High Cube” height, enabling easy carriage of additional material.

ISO Containers
Most modularity concepts discussed to date focus on the use of ISO containers. There are clear benefits to these containers:

Established in the wider transport infrastructure;
Already widely utilised by the military;
Durable containers offering excellent protection against weather and damage;
High volume;
They can be used as enclosed offices and workshops.

However, when considered in the context of the MHPC, there are also some disadvantages to containers:

Voluminous and can lead to poor packing densities;
Difficult to move without significant material handling equipment;
Unversatile-fixed, large sizes could mean even small containers such as quadcons are too large for this application;
Very difficult to manoeuvre in confined spaces;
Excessive height is needed to lift one container over the other.
The above disadvantages are particularly applicable to the MHPC because:
The garage is a confined space with a small footprint;
Significant height restrictions due to the flight deck and associated structure above the garage;
It would be beneficial to be able to move equipment when underway;
Versatility is a critical requirement in storage solution;

Sub-Intermodal Packing

When the wider range of commercial and military transport packaging is considered, beyond the 20ft, then “sub intermodal” packaging appears a very attractive solution. Here, units smaller than the standard container are considered but they retain compatibility to be stowed within 20ft containers for transport when required. The solution discussed here is typical and represents an in-service example.

Shelter System Storage and Transport Frames (left) can be fitted into standard TEU containers (right)

The Mobile Shelter Systems Storage and Transport Frames (STF) are essentially caged storage racks built to be compatible with all commonly used means of transport. They are built in several sizes and are designed to permit quick loading and unloading of cargo from standard ISO containers, quadcons, tricons and other pallets.
These racks provide all the advantages of the ISO container and dispel several of the disadvantages:

Equipment can still be transported using ISO containers;
Containers can be unloaded at dockside and the racks loaded onto the ship;
Racks are much smaller and lighter and therefore more versatile both in mobility (forklifts can lift and move racks) and in storage into a small space (such as a garage).

The size selected for the VENATOR concept is a 2 tonne unit, which offers the potential for integration within the military supply change (RAS, VERTREP) and it is stackable within the two deck high garage, offering an even greater stowage capacity on the vessel. This is also excellent because it could be easily moved under slung from a Merlin helicopter during RAS.

Garage: The adoption of a garage for stowage of mission equipment offers a more protected environment when the vessel is in transit although the required height to both stow and move items results in a garage of approximately 6 metres or 2 deck heights.
This is a wide area, roughly 22 meters long and extending for the whole beam of the ship, creating a wide working area that can be configured for the mission at hand, for example hosting 3 or even 4 RHIBs, drones and other kit in a protected environment. 

The arrangement of the spacious Mission Garage, the true core of the vessel.

An open quarterdeck area exists outside of the garage, to  act as a “landing area” allowing cranage to “land” equipment onto the working deck and to utilise a secondary lifting system to move the items in their prescribed location within the garage: for this work, an overhead gantry is installed, running on rails that stretch out of the garage to cover also the whole quarterdeck area.
The Gantry will also make easier to lift a RHIB stored in the garage and move it onto the rear ramp for deployment. 

BVT studies on the operational benefits of a garage area with open quarterdeck and overhead gantry are very convincing. 

Sensors fit: a basic but effective sensors fit including an IR imagery system, communications, navigation and air search would be provided. It remains to be decided what kind of sonar fit to new vessel: the Type 2193 Mine-Hunting sonar as default, or a more “multimission” obstacle-avoidance and submarine-hunting medium hull mounted sonar, for example? There are pro and cons to both, and much will depend on the RN stated requirement.

ECM: the main Soft Kill defensive system onboard would be, like on the Type 26, one or two Centurion Trainable Decoy launcher systems, allowing for excellent all around coverage, improved response, and allowing the use of a wide array of standard, Sea Gnat compatible 130 mm NATO decoys, either passive or active, from Chaff to ASW seductive decoys. 

Provision for fitting a Phalanx CIWS – This could be made on the roof of the superstructure of the telescopic hangar for the helicopter.

A look at the MHPC in service
Let’s say we have managed to keep the cost around 90 millions, and bought 14 vessels. A one for one replacement for the Hunts and Sandowns left. It would be a total bargain. 7 would be based in Portsmouth, and 7 in Faslane, with the same overall arrangement as now.
14 MCM kits would have been acquired, with a part being installed on active ships and other kits kept in storage for use on deployed Type 26 and MHPC ships when required, both in Faslane and Portsmouth. A couple of complete Survey kits would also have been acquired, to be kept in Portsmouth, or even mounted on a couple of ships “mostly” devoted to Hydrographic work.
However, the new MHPC vessels could cover so many other roles during deployments: there could be a number chasing pirates off Somalia, with a Lynx helicopter flight on board and 4 Offshore Raiding Craft in the garage, to be used by the embarked force of Royal Marines. There might even be a surveillance and search UAV on board. Crew would be rotated every six months, with the ships staying away from the UK for whole years.
A MHPC could be tasked with Anti-Pollution reconnaissance and intervention after a disaster such as an oil spill from a damaged ship. It is enough to carry the right equipment in the large space available and embark civilian specialists to expand the core crew.
And one day, these new versatile vessels could replace the River class OPVs and even HMS Clyde, with one ship being thus based in Port Stanley, hopefully with the whole armament of 16 CAMM missiles and one StanFlex module with 8 Harpoon SSMs, making for a much improved protection/presence and making a regular visit from a major frigate or destroyer less necessary.
The MHPC has the capability to be a true force multiplier, covering many roles (partially fulfilling what C2 should have been) and freeing the “silver bullet” warships of some of the less challenging but more common tasks, allowing the UK to have a more credible High End available force on short notice and allowing the ships to be a bit less hard worked, probably helping making their useful life longer and smoother.
The RN has to make sure to do this the right way. There’s potential for a true bargain: it might be the billion best employed of the last decades.  

Trident Replacement 

A very big-ticket procurement programme, the Trident replacement is a major voice in terms of expenditure in the coming two decades. It is going to be a terrible burden on an already largely insufficient budget for defence, and it is a politically white-hot subject for countless reasons. I’m very much of the idea that Great Britain needs, now more than ever before, to maintain a minimum, credible, effective and survivable nuclear deterrent. This also because, with the conventional forces having shrunk so obscenely in the last twenty years, the nuclear arsenal is the last “big stick” left that separates the UK from nearly-irrelevance, keeping it in the very first major global players. At the same time, I could accept a cancellation of Trident, paradoxically, if most, if not all, of the 20 billions on ten years + 1 billion a year running cost of Trident were to be made available to strengthen conventional forces in exchange.
Sadly, this is not the case. Many advocate for a “kill Trident, fund the rest of the forces” approach, but I’m convinced that this is, to say the least, illusory. First of all because it will take tens of billions to terminate the nuclear arsenal, dismantle the submarines, dispose of the warheads, close the associate infrastructure, close down the nuclear establishment etcetera. It will cost thousands and thousands of jobs and billions and billions in end-game activities, while simultaneously having a far worse effect on the international relevance of the UK. It would spell the definitive end of an era, and condemn the UK to irrelevance. The long term savings of ending the Trident and the nuclear arsenal, besides, are (to say the very least) unlikely to effectively be injected back on defence. The chances are far higher that other departments will quickly swallow up the money, and the last remains will go on international aid, most likely.
The navy would also be exposed to long-term consequences, such as a perceived reduced necessity for SSN submarines and frigates, and cuts could follow cuts. Overall, the most cost-effective solution is to continue down the Trident path, for many reasons, that I will briefly expose.

Termination of nuclear arsenal   
This scenario is proposed as an example of goodwill from the UK in terms of global disarmament and abolition of nukes worldwide. Very poetic. But it does feel kind of like the agreements of Munich 1938: an hopeless dream. Are we really willing to believe that Iran will want a nuclear arsenal any less just because the UK gives up its own? If anything, the desire to possess a nuclear deterrence will grow higher.
It is also been told that it would be fitting for the UK to give up its nukes in light of the USA-Russia commitment to the “revolutionary” START treaty recently signed. People seems to totally overlook that while Russia is giving up 7000 nukes, both USA and Russia will retain over 1500 warheads each, with 700 launch vehicles from Sub-Launched missiles to road-mobile ICBM such as Russia’s Topol M. Hardly a disarmament, but merely an act of realism. Russia is unable to store and maintain 7000 warheads, and has no need at all for such a firepower made up by ancient tactical nukes meant to tear NATO apart in Germany. Honestly, even 1500 warheads are still probably far, far more than are justified.
In other words: more than disarmament, the START was a fancy political agreement that synchronized USA and URSS’s cost-cutting measures on their nuclear arsenals, so that a proper status quo of near parity could be maintained. Hardly a reason for anyone to feel like they do not need their own nukes.
By 2015, I personally expect to see Iran announcing they do have their first nukes. I may prove wrong, but I’d be surprised. I don’t believe in fairy tales, and none of UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and others up to obviously Israel believe in them either. In the coming years, nations that could develop a nuclear arsenal range from Iran to South Korea, which is long studying its options to get nukes to balance the North arsenal with a proper capability of answer. Even Japan, while constricted by politics and limitations imposed by the US, has not been untouched by considerations about getting nukes.
Reality is that nuclear bombs have been invented, built and tested and demonstrated. Once invented, they cannot be un-invented. And another truth is that when your neighbor, one with which you haven’t good relations either, starts producing and storing nukes, you feel compelled to build your own nukes. A scenario that could soon become reality in the Middle East.
I’ve already hinted to the cost, in terms of political weight, of money and jobs of a decision to terminate the UK nuclear arsenal. My opinion is that this option is good only for deluded, hopeless optimists. I expect nuclear proliferation to be quite widespread in the coming decades, and arguably a deterrent is more needed now than in 1970.

Replacing Trident with something “cheaper”

The options, considered so many times already in the years, are:

  1) A small force of vulnerable land based ballistic missiles, either road-mobile or silo-based. 
  2) Ship based ballistic missiles - probably a modified Trident missile at least at the start 
  3) Build a new class of SSBN's, initially carrying extended life Trident missiles and then the replacement submarine ballistic missile system. 
  4) Develop a cruise missile with a nuclear warhead, air launched by a force of 20 RAF strike aircraft supported by 20 dedicated refuelling aircraft.

The Submarine Deterrent has been the final blow which killed the Bomber force of the air force, and the RAF never really accepted it, as most FOAS concepts demonstrated well still in 2005. This image shows a Concorde turned into a strategic bomber jet (TSR2 resurrected!) and carrying 3 Blue Steel missiles. It was the proposal - already back then sold as 'relatively inexpensive' - the RAF made years and years ago to combat the Sub-Launched ballistic missiles.

Aggiungi didascalia
How "relatively inexpensive" a fleet of 20 Concorde-bombers, 20 air tankers and cruise missiles and bases would have been is, i think, evident. Luckily, the submarine deterrent was recognized as most military and cost-effective solution. Yet, the RAF is still, today, advocating for a return of the strategic bomber force, with some success with the external public which fails to properly put things into scale.

Great Britain, during the Cold War, did also plan to have silo-based missiles. The plan of course quickly died. The UK is small and crowded, and find a suitable place to build nuke-silos in would be a non-starter. No one would want it, and it would be a never-ending messy saga of protesting, of studies, selection of preferred locations and subsequent dropping of them as they prove impossible to be used, either in a way or in another… And this without even considering the military aspect, with the evident vulnerability of fixed, well-known locations for a very limited number of missiles. No wonder that this option has always been dropped quickly.

Road-mobile missiles in the UK…? No way either. Russia has countless miles of nearly-desert lands where no one lives and where a Topol-M launcher can move and hide freely. How could the UK dream to keep a regiment of immense missile-launcher TELAR vehicles moving across the country from Scotland to Wales? It could never work.

Ship-based Trident. A bit less expensive than using submarines, perhaps, but it would still require the building of huge cruisers (which ideally would end up being nuclear powered) with extensive defensive suites to compensate their obvious vulnerability due to the "hey i'm here" nature of big surface vessels. The last nation which tried this was Italy, which built the cruisers Andrea Doria and Giuseppe Garibaldi during the Cold War with Polaris launch tubes. They were never given the missiles, however, since the US-supplied NATO-wide nuclear deterrent project soon died, leaving the ships with useless, huge empty tubes.

Then we get to the RAF’s favorite, the return of the V force. What airplane would be used…? A C17 launching huge missiles at altitude by having them parachute-extracted at altitude, or a stealth bomber or a hypersonic drone…? The RAF wants bombers, not cargo planes. And as much as the Concorde-bomber idea makes me drool, i'm totally convinced that it cannot work, and that it would be a total waste of money with the very real possibility of seeing it costing much more than the SSBNs.
Even cargo planes would likely be horrendously expensive. It would require designing new missiles, new launching methods, a fleet of “bombers” with an army of crews and a dedicate fleet of tankers for AAR. And it still would be inefficient and vulnerable to enemy attack, even more so because it would of course based on a single airport to save money. The only good part of this is that it might help the RAF getting more C17s that would (hopefully) be available for transport role most of the time.

Another option, overall the most realistic of the bunch of Trident alternatives, is to have a nuclear-tipped cruise missile capable to be launched from the Astute. The Tomahawk N however is gone, and it is very likely that the US would oppose a resurrection of it to be used by the UK: the Tomahawk is one of the most-heavily used weapons in the US and UK arsenals, and the political cost of having every single Tomahawk launch possibly mistaken for a nuclear attack is obviously inconceivable. Design a new missile would be a costly and challenging task, in particular if the most obvious limits of a cruise missile are to be tackled:

- Range
- Speed and survivability 

For a cruise-missile to be an effective deterrent capable to hit high-technology enemies (the only ones capable to start an attack requiring nuclear response, arguably) without being shot down should have the speed and stealthness to get past layered air defence systems. It should also have thousands of miles of range to enable the submarine to stay a safe distance away from the enemy.
A Stealth, Hypersonic Nuclear missile in the size constraints of a 533 mm standard NATO torpedo…? Pretty ambitious a development target. How many things could do wrong with it? How much work will the Astute need to be made capable to carry and employ safely nuclear weapons? How much operational constraints will come from having nukes on board? The risk is to have SSN submarines that instead of doing their job of aggression, attack, anti-submarine chase and TLAM launch, are forced to hide silently in the deep like SSBNs. In other words, a total failure.

But the most ridiculous option I heard suggested was “we can just keep the nukes, and scrap the missiles and submarines: the enemy will be prey of the doubts, not knowing if we can deliver the warheads or not”. I think this is ridiculous. Keeping Trident warheads would be plain absurd, and any military planner would know for sure that the UK could not deliver them anywhere. How could it, after all? From a Typhoon? The pilot throwing the warhead out of the cockpit with his hands, like in the First World War. Please. Let’s try and stay real. Even if the bomb WAS indeed made somehow portable by a plane… just like a Tomahawk-like cruise missile, we’d have the issue of range. The UK could retaliate against France, but against an enemy launching ballistic missiles with a range of 12.000 kilometers, what could be done? Nothing, unless there was a british submarine at any one time off the coasts of China, Russia, Iran and any other most-likely aggressor.

The last option, the “Doubt”, can be synthetized in: we can keep the mystery on the existence or not of our nuclear deterrent, like Israel does, and the enemy will be braked by the doubts.
Another ridiculous option. For Israel it might kind of work: we are talking about a probable 70 or so tactical nukes available for strikes from launching aircrafts. Good for Israel, that mainly has to scare off close neighbors. But the UK could really sustain this kind of deterrent? The first thing that comes to mind is: “British Press.” The secret about the existence of the nuclear deterrent would be lucky if it lasted a week, in the UK. And then comes logic: who would be fooled by such “mystery”? No one, I fear.  
All these options have a point in common: they fail miserably at the voice “credible”, while they (might) fill the “Minimum” and “Cheaper” requirements.

Nuclear policy: what the others do with their own nukes   

It is interesting to see what other nations do with their nuclear arsenals, and what’s their official policy about nuclear weapons use.

USA – With the START treaty, the nuclear arsenal of the US will go down to 1550 warheads and 700 strategic vectors of launch (ICBM, SLBM and bombers). In particular, the most valuable element of the arsenal will remain the 14 Ohio SSBN submarines, each with up to 24 Trident missiles. Up to 450 Minuteman III ICBMs will remain in service, fitted with single unitary warhead in place of the MIRV systems. The bombers B52 and B2 will not be in high readiness anymore for the nuclear role, that has grown largely secondary for them anyway. The new stealth bomber programme reportedly might lack the nuclear capability at first to keep costs down, while retaining the capability or being retrofitted for the role. The US Nuclear Posture Review of april 2010 states that the US will not use nukes against countries signatory of the Non Proliferation Treaty, even if these were to launch a chemical or bacteriological attack on the USA, to which is opposed a “devastating” conventional retaliation. The US, however, reserve themselves the right of a preventive nuclear strike against non-signatory countries like Iran and North Korea. The main role of the nuclear arsenal has been confirmed as deterrence to dissuade any enemy from launching a nuclear attack against the USA and its allies. The NPR document made clear that the effort of the US in the future, while contributing to putting a stop to proliferation, will be to ensure a nuclear umbrella of protection to their allies. It is thought that this is particularly valid for South Korea, that is seriously thinking about getting its own nuclear arsenal, something the US are keen to avoid by ensuring coverage. Taiwan is another example. 

Russia – modern Russia considers its extensive nuclear arsenal a “Gap-Filler” plugging closed the holes that still remain in its conventional military instrument. (holes that are however being all closed, with the budget for defence set to grow three times higher in the coming years and new acquisitions going on in every field, from stealth fighters to the 4 Mistrals to the recent buy from Italy of thousands of Lince, the base of the Panther CLV) Russia considers its nuclear arsenal the key to conserve parity with the US, despite having conventional armed forces that have been lagging heavily behind for many years in terms of equipment and readiness.
Russia’s white paper on the nuclear arsenals lists the nukes as key to protect the national integrity and safety, but it also announces that Russia reserves itself the right to use nukes to terminate/control any regional conflict growing complex enough to spur such an ultimate action.
In practice, the new Russia is using its nuclear arsenal as main key of its power, doing what NATO used to do in the Cold War: balance the greater (?) power of the possible enemies with the threat of use of nukes. In this sense, the (improbable to say the least) conventional menace represented by Europe is still listed by Russia as one of the main reasons for an eventual use of nuclear strikes, even preventive ones.
For this reason, Russia opposes so bitterly anything that is perceived as obstacle to the efficiency of its nuclear deterrence, such as the Anti-Ballistic defence plan of the US. And for this reason Russia continues the modernization of its arsenal, with the expansion of the road-mobile Topol-M regiments and the development of the advanced Bulava missile to deploy at sea.

France – Another very aggressive nuclear policy is France’s one. They officially reserve for themselves the right of utilizing of nuclear strikes to protect its interests, even against a terrorist attack and even through preventive attacks. France uniquely reserves itself the right to use nukes “demonstratively” to scare the enemy, for example by means of a nuclear explosion in the high atmosphere, with potential EMP effect.
The land-based ICBMs of France have been retired in 1996, but the air force still lines around 60 ASMP nuclear-tipped cruise missiles (carried often by carrier-based Rafales, and an obvious potential problem in future cross-decking of French squadrons on UK carriers) while the navy has around 60  M40 sub-launched ballistic missiles, progressively being replaced by the new M51 SLBM.

China – Nuclear power from 1964, China published the last version of its nuclear policy on 22 april 2010: the very recent document rules out any preventive use of nukes, listing the nuclear arsenal as a pure deterrent, almost comparable to the UK’s one both for sizes and for nature, being described as “Minimum Deterrent”.

India – Nuclear power from 1974, its official policy is of retaliation only, but the Indian nuclear arsenal is still capable of preventive strikes. Mainly the warheads are mounted on short and medium range ballistic missiles on road-mobile launchers. However, the nuclear arsenal is set to expand in the future, and plans for a fleet a SSBN already exist.

Pakistan – The nuclear arsenal was developed following the defeat against India in 1971, and to this day their nukes are specifically targeted at India. They are seen as a mean to balance India’s superior military capability, and Pakistan would officially consider using its nukes in support of operations of its conventional forces, specifically to destroy India’s forces.

North Korea – Effective consistence of the arsenal unknown. A nuclear test was first successful in 2006, and another one in 2009. From then onwards, North Korea has been menacing the use of nukes almost in every situation, and their policy appears to be a “we have them, and we will use them”.

Israel – Israel has never confirmed and never denied to have a nuclear arsenal. There’s uncertainty on its consistence, which is valued between 70 and 200 warheads, but there is general agreement on the fact that Israel does posses nukes. The nuclear arsenal is seen as the security of invulnerability against enemy attacks, but is reportedly considered as “last resource”: it has been suggested that the Israeli policy on nuclear weapons is a Samson policy that goes so far to envision the eventual self-destruction of Israel if it can mean destroying its enemies as well.
The nuclear arsenal grants Israel a wide autonomy of maneuver, making it largely independent from the US positions, and it has been observed that the consistent military aid given by the US to the country is apparently a mean to help Israel building such conventional military capabilities to ensure that there’s no need for a nuclear strike against the hostile neighbors.

Last, there are also a few countries who have been “examples” of disarmament, like someone would want the UK to act.

South Africa – In the 70s there has been an extensive nuclear programme, with a nuke tested in the Indian Ocean and at least 6 warheads having been reportedly manufactured. From 1989 South Africa dismantled its arsenal after signing the Non Proliferation act.

Ukraine, Kazakistan and others have been nuclear powers at the fall of the URSS, inheriting bombers, missiles and warheads that had been deployed on their soil. However, in 1993 they either dismantled or handed back to Russia their weaponry.

Their example has, unsurprisingly for anyone but the LibDems, had no effect at all on the worldwide nuclear proliferation trend.     

Syria and Iraq and even Libya  went close to appearing on this list, Iran might be the next doing it, and Saudi Arabia and other countries are reportedly already making it clear that they would feel compelled to develop their own nuclear deterrent in case Iran developed nukes. 

Japan, Taiwan and South Korea have also been seen, from time to time, as seriously contemplating the project of home grown nuclear deterrents to counter the menace of the nuclear powers nearby (North Korea and China). South Korea, Japan and Taiwan are, however, under the protection of the "extended" US nuclear umbrella offered by Washington to these allies specifically to avoid seeing them building their own nukes.

The UK Minimum Credible Deterrent

The UK's current nuclear deterrent capability comprises several elements: first, the nuclear warheads, which were designed and manufactured in the UK by the Atomic Weapons Establishment; second, the Trident D5 missiles, which were procured from the United States under the Polaris Sales Agreement (as amended for Trident); third, four Vanguard-class nuclear powered submarines, built at Barrow-in-Furness by what was then Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited, who also designed the bulk of the submarine; and finally a range of logistic infrastructure - at the naval facilities at Coulport (weapons handling and storage), Faslane (submarine basing) and Devonport (submarine refit and maintenance).

An impressive set of images from a Trident firing test. Note the "star-streaks" of the multiple independent re-entry vehicles which, in a live missile, would have carried the nukes. Their Mach 25 re-entry speed is good part of the reason why it is so hard to defend against a ballistic missile strike, even in the age of "missile shields".
The United Kingdom has purchased the rights to 58 Trident missiles under the Polaris Sales Agreement (modified for Trident) from a jointly maintained "pool". These missiles are fitted with UK-built warheads and are exchanged when requiring maintenance. Under the terms of the agreement, the United States does not have any veto on the use of British nuclear weapons. Some of the Trident missiles originally acquired have been fired in test launches, so the Vanguard submarines have never (and will never) have all of their tubes filled with missiles.
In fact, while the theoretical capacity of the four Vanguard-class submarines is 64 missiles and 768 warheads (16 missiles for each submarine, each missile carrying up to 12 warheads), only 58 missiles were leased and some of these have been expended in test firings. The UK leases the missiles but they are pooled with the Atlantic squadron of the USN Ohio SSBNs at King's Bay, Georgia (previously the UK maintained its Polaris missiles in-country). 

One vessel is always on patrol, one to two are in port or on training exercises and one is undergoing maintenance, in the practice known as CASD - Continuous At Sea Deterrence.
These vessels draw their warheads from a stock of available warheads ranging from 140 to 160, with a total of around 200 warheads. Nominally, there is around a 15% of spare warheads.  
The Trident is seen as a deterrent only, to discourage enemy aggressions on the UK and its allies. As such, it is configured as a retaliation system, capable to deal such terrifying damage to make any enemy hesitate. It is thus a “minimum” deterrent. 
But for it to work, it must be also “credible”: 
-          Trident has a range of over 10.000 kilometers, putting most of the possible enemies at reach and allowing the Vanguard SSBNs to patrol in safe waters not too far away from the UK. 
-          Trident is incredibly accurate, allowing to strike point targets such as enemy launching sites: its original role was to target and destroy URSS’s land ICBM silos, much as people brags about flattening Moscow. That was a role for Minuteman and bombers. 
-          Trident has an enormous destructive power, even when loaded with very few warheads. Monstrous as it is, it is what it has been designed for: if it wasn’t for its tremendous power, it would be useless. 
-          Trident is launched safely from the depths of the ocean, from the only real stealthy war machine man has engineered, the submarine. It is the most survivable of deterrents, and once a submarine is out at sea with its missiles, the UK is protected by having an effective capability for striking the offender back timely and devastatingly.
Trident thus is both survivable and effective. Minimum, while still credible. And it is arguably the only system that fits all the requisites.

Trident replacement: a closer look

a) The Warhead: 
The current warhead came into service with the Trident system in 1994. An extensive research programme to assure the safety and effectiveness of the warhead stockpile, coupled with the additional investment at AWE Aldermaston announced on 19 July 2005, gives a high level of confidence that the current warhead design can, if required, be maintained in service at least into the 2020s, with some relatively minor upgrading and refurbishment during the first half of the next decade .
The new target is to keep the warheads operative up to 2030.

b) The Ballistic Missiles: 
The Trident D5 missile came into service with the Royal Navy in 1994, with a planned life of some 25 years. The US Navy has recently announced plans for a life extension programme for the D5 missile, which will ensure it can remain in-service with the US Navy into the 2040s. The successor missile, which will carry fewer warheads but most likely offer an even greater range to put even more of the world under coverage (a necessity now that the target is not necessarily the URSS but an unknown potential future aggressor) will be a further development of the Trident, apparently named Trident E6. 

The UGM-133A Trident II D5 is the most sophisticate of the ballistic missiles developed by the West, and it was the most feared by the russians because of its unbeaten accuracy: the Trident was meant to be the first weapon launched in a pre-emptive attack, with the missiles targeted at the silos of the URSS's nuclear tipped missiles. With a CEP of 90 - 120 meters, the Trident warheads could have wiped out even the most deeply-buried and reinforced launch silos, potentially leaving the URSS incapable to respond (or at least respond in scale). Launched on a "low" ballistic course, from close distance, the Trident would have been detected too late to leave time for a suitable response. 

The "flattening Moscow" argument so often used against it is, therefore, historically not correct. Flattening cities was a work for bigger and dumber nuclear warheads, less accurate but more destructive (Minuteman missiles). Anyway, when talking about nuclear deterrence, and even more about nuclear war, "flattening Moscow" is the point of the whole matter. It has no sense to use it as an argument to bash at Trident: the missile will flatten the target it is ordered to strike.  

c) The Submarines: 
HMS Vanguard entered operational service with the Royal Navy in 1994, with the other three submarines in its class following in 1995, 1998 and 2001. The submarines were procured with a designed operational life of 25 years and on this basis, they would start to be withdrawn from service late in the next decade. A series of studies have considered whether it would be practicable and cost effective to continue to operate the submarines beyond the original design intent. All the studies confirmed that albeit with gradually increasing cost and some increasing risk of reduced availability, the Vanguard could go perhaps out to the mid-2020s, but now this target has been pushed further away, with HMS Vanguard bowing out in 2028 at the earlier, probably requiring a quite significant refit for each of the subs.
The Ohio class used by the US were built with a greater life expectation, and will not need replacement before well into the 2030s. This is a problem for the UK, that needs a new submarine before the US, but is late to count on French help, since they have instead just introduced new submarines and new missiles.
It is also significant that the US are already designing the successor submarine for the Ohio while knowing full well how far away in time the first build is. This is a telltale sign that successive Uk governments have ignored pointedly the warnings of admirals, that have always made it clear that even a time such as 17 years is not unrealistic at all when it comes to design and build something as complex as a new SSBN class. Even drawing a longer life for the Vanguards, as long as possible, the risk is that technical difficulties and delays might force the Vanguards to soldier on for an unhealthy long time… or leave a gap between retirement of old and commissioning of new submarines.  

d) Shore Infrastructure: 
Under the Trident programme, successive Governments have made significant investment in the facilities at Coulport, Faslane and Devonport. We envisage that the facilities at these locations needed to support the nuclear deterrent will not require any significant additional investment to sustain them throughout the currently planned in-service life of the existing system. Clearly, the extent of any additional investment in logistics or infrastructure beyond that point will depend on future decisions on whether and how to maintain a nuclear deterrent beyond the planned life of the current system.

The SDSR 2010 has given just a few indications of a future that might even never be (how high are the chances of additional reductions in future, after all...?: 
-          Each replacement submarine will deploy with just 40 warheads on board, against the 48 of today. 
-          Each replacement submarine will have only 8 launch tubes, compared to the Vanguard’s 16.
-          The overall number of Available warheads will thus drop from 160 to no more than 120. 
-          Consequently, the total number of warheads will drop from around 200 (225 currently?) to no more than 180.

The new submarine: work in progress

The SDSR announced that detailed work on the new submarine’s design will start this year, but the UK is actually already involved in a very fundamental joint programme with the US: the designing of the Common Missile Compartment. As the SDSR confirmed specifically, already defined-details include an increased diameter from 2.21m launch tubes to 3.04m, allowing easier future use of the tubes for other roles (from multiple Tomahawk canister-launchers to drones to special forces gear) and integration of replacement missiles that, in the long life of the new submarines, could grow larger than current D5.
Converted Ohio class SSGNs have already replaced nuclear missiles with American special forces and land attack missiles, and the Virginia Class Block III fast attack submarine replaces 12 vertical-launch cruise missile tubes with 2 Common Weapon Launcher “six-shooters” derived from the SSGNs’ converted missile tubes. It provides an example of what could happen with some of the tubes of the future SSBN. The size of those CWLs will allow these submarines to launch cruise missiles, UAVs, UUVs, and more from these same tubes.
There is no question that the future Common Missile Compartment will be built around the nuclear deterrence mission, as its primary focus. That is unlikely to be its sole use, however, and it would not be surprising if some of those other potential uses ended up influencing the CMC’s design.

However, it has been reported that the Common Missile Compartment will have 12 tubes each, as opposed to the current Ohio SSBNs’ 24, or the Vanguard SSBNs’ 16. This is in obvious contrast with the 8 figure reported by the SDSR. It is extremely unlikely, if not full-out impossible, that the US have changed their mind about the number they reportedly went for barely a year ago. So, either the UK compartment is “cut short” (but then it would not be all that Common, and it might be a stupid way to waste money in redesigning work which might also end up being source of delays, troubles and cost overgrowns) or four tubes will never be filled with Trident… which might not be a bad thing if they are used properly for other roles.
The US are reportedly already developing, between other things, a drone that can be launched from a submarine submerged and then fly its way to a target area and back for recovery. Even more readily available is the All Up Rounds Canister used on the two Trident-sized silos that replace the previous 12 single TLAM vertical tubes on the latest batches of USS Virginia SSNs. The All-Up Rounds Canister is already used on the Ohio submarines transformed in SSGNs by the US Navy, and it contains six or seven TLAMs. The converted Ohio carries up to 154 Tomahawks, while a UK SSBN might carry 4 x 7 = 28 TLAMs, plus easily 14 more launcheable from the torpedo tubes if the Successor SSBN will have the same weapons-capacity of the Astutes.
It is another indication of the possible future uses of such spaces. The end result might be a mix of SSBN and SSGN, combining nuclear and conventional deterrence by carrying Tomahawk missiles along with Trident.

The contract for the Common Missile Compartment was signed as far back as 23 December 2008:  General Dynamics Electric Boat Corporation, Groton, CT received a $75.6 million sole-source, cost plus fixed fee contract to perform concept studies and design of a Common Missile Compartment (CMC) for the United Kingdom Successor SSBN and the USA’s Ohio Class Replacement program. The contract included options which would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $591.8 million, and take design work to December 2013. The contract was not competitively procured, and is formally run through the Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, DC (N00024-09-C-2100) while involving involves Foreign Military Sales to the United Kingdom. January 21, 2010, a first option was exercised, for 118.2 millions, with other options exercised subsequently, until 16 June 2010, when Northrop Grumman received a $148.6 million sole-source cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to work on the CMC’s advanced launcher development program for FY 2010-2011. Specific efforts included technical engineering services to support the common missile compartment concept development and prototyping effort. Lockheed Martin has then been contracted to ensure combatibility and integration of the Trident D5 missile with the new launcher, that is apparently proceeding rapidly. The effective amount of money provided by the UK for the joint programme is an information I do obviously not have, but the UK has been investing in the programme from 2008, when the development was started.

Rolls Royce has been contracted to prepare the Nuclear reactor core and the propulsion design for the new submarine, while Bae has been working on concept submarines from as far back as 2007. In order to keep costs down, however, an all-new submarine design has become unlikely for a Vanguard-class replacement and current thinking probably assumes an evolution of the Astute design. Indeed BAE Systems Submarines already examined two Astute variants fitted with an extra hull section a few years ago. The first included the fitting, external to the pressure hull, of sixteen Mark 36 Vertical Launch System tubes for missiles such as Tomahawk, and the second included four Trident II size (86 inch diameter, 36-feet usable length) missile tubes, installed aft of the fin.  The later approach is preferred as the large tubes are extremely versatile, alternative to Trident II SLBM’s they could potentially carry a next generation ballistic missile, a multiple all-up round canister accommodating seven Tomahawk cruise missiles per tube, equipment and swimmer vehicles for special forces, Unmanned Underwater Vehicle’s (UUV’s), deployable decoys and sensors, and even encapsulated Unmanned Air Vehicle’s (UAV’s).  While a re-role will not be trivial, the new submarines would certainly be far more flexible than the current SSBN/SSN divide permits.
While utilizing a modified Astute design to carry Trident has been much discussed for several years, officials of the Navy are continuing to make it clear that this is not a trivial exercise, at the very least a major and costly redesign will be required, so that no miracles should be asked from this approach.  The final result may have as much similarity to the Astute's as the Astute's (originally called Batch 2 Trafalgar!) have to the Trafalgars and Vanguards. It is still the most effective path to follow, probably… but don’t expect miracles.

Keeping costs down

This vital requirement is also the hardest met. The main chance to reduce cost is to drop the requirement for Continuous At Sea Deterrence, so to build only 3 submarines and have them at sea with a lower frequency, with considerable savings and less wear and tear on the hulls.
However, the CASD concept is the core of the whole deterrent: as unlikely as we want to consider it, it is self-evident that, with all the submarines in dock at Faslane, an enemy wanting to attack the UK would just have to target its first nukes at Faslane to completely kill any and every response capability. The whole point of the deterrence is to always have a submarine out at sea, ready to answer to an attack, and moreover making this attack impossible with its sole presence.
A CASD policy pretty much rules the number of hulls for the fleet, however: 4 is the bare minimum to ensure a constant presence, and both the UK itself and France have realized and accepted it. A recent accident which saw HMS Vengeance having to get back to Faslane under reduced power because of sea debris (possibly fishing nets) ending up in her propulsion system, proves that the unexpected is always on the headlines.
Besides, it is to be noted that the savings of building 3 hulls instead of 4 are very much relative: the fourth submarine is going to be the cheapest of the bunch, since it will benefit from the experience of the ones built before, and most of the cost will come from design and not from building.

It could still be attractive, however, to build only 3 submarines and ensure CASD through a collaborative approach instead of a strictly-national method. This is theorically possible by publically and officially announcing an agreement with France, in which would be possible declare that the patrols of UK and France submarines will be synchronized, so that a UK sub returning in port is replaced by a French submarine going out at sea. This would allow a reduced 3-boats fleet, and cut by half the number of sorties at sea per year for both fleets, while still ensuring a form of CASD. The problems, however, are significant: we can all accept that an attack on the UK of such a scale to justify nuclear retaliation would almost certainly be enough of a problem for France itself to react and vice versa… But even accepted this, there are political white-hot problems destined to emerge from such an agreement, in particular because, as I’ve earlier exposed, the Nuclear Stance of France is much more aggressive than the UK’s one. Would France be willing to review its policy, or wound the UK support France’s policy when on turn of patrol? Who will give orders to the SSBNs out at sea? Communicating with a sub is complex as it is. Communicating with it under nuclear attack might prove impossible. Coordinate orders between two countries, two ministries and two command chains and send the instructions to the sub is pretty much unthinkable.
Any such agreement, subsequently, poses such challenges that i believe it is very unlikely to go past suggestions, and mostly only has the potential to become a terrible mess.

Savings on missiles are not possible, since the current way of operating them is probably the very cheapest option as it is. It is thus hard to see other ways to save big sums and still deliver a realistic minimum credible deterrent. It already is very minimum, so cutting back further on it would make it not credible anymore. The reality is that the government, be it Con or Labour or whatever it will be by 2016, will have to come clear on the matter. The question is pretty simple, really: the UK wants to retain a place of relevance in the world and thus keep a nuclear deterrent? Fine, then it must be properly funded, and not by gutting the rest of the armed forces and see them bleed to death as piece after piece is cut off them. If the UK is not willing to keep its place anymore, then Trident is not needed. In terms of security, I guess the country could still claim to be under America’s own nuclear umbrella, or even under France’s. But it is better to think very carefully about it: South Korea is still internationally relevant, even without nukes of its own, because it is a growing economy in full ascension. The UK will not have this anchor: arguably, the Armed Forces are (were?) the only thing that still kept the UK in the top league. The government will respond of the long term setbacks coming from gutting that last element.

The case for Trident   

I remember reading a ridiculous comment about Trident, where someone had the smartness of observing: “We don’t need it. We’ve never used it, and never will!”. I did not know if I should have laughed of it, or cried. We should all be grateful that it never proved necessary to launch nukes on anyone after Nagasaki, but Trident has actually been used every single minute, day after day, year after year, from when it was put in service. The job of nuclear weapons like Trident is existing, and thus ensuring they are not used. That’s why we call it “deterrence”. I’m personally firmly convinced that the third world war in Europe was avoided merely because of the Mutually Assured Destruction concept: not the URSS nor the US wanted the world to be obliterated by nuclear fire, and by fielding their respective arsenals, they dissuaded each other from trying. 
Differently from the machinegun, which is probably the weapon who killed most men ever, the atomic bomb, despite being the deadliest of weapons by far, was never again used after the Japan strikes of the IIWW. This makes the nuclear bomb the most successful weapon ever: so terribly effective that no one has the courage of using it. Churchill wrote that Yalta’s meeting had the target of ensuring “60 years of peace” for Europe. It almost surely wouldn’t have been possible without the nuclear arsenals, and I highly doubt that a world without nukes would be that better: I like more a world held in overall-peace by the “balance of terror” than a world where there are no nukes but major conflicts between nations, in exchange, grow far more frequent. But maybe I’m just cynical. It is my idea. 

What I will always oppose is unilateral disarmament: giving up the nuclear weapons while more and more nations get them would perhaps be noble, but it would still be stupid. It would be like standing in a room filled with armed people aiming their guns at each other’s heads, and throw away your own gun.
Is it more likely they do throw theirs away… or that they exploit the fact of being armed while you are not to boss you around? 

As I said, I do not believe in happy fairy-tale land, and so I find I totally share the thinking behind the words of Des Browne, defence minister, who said on 25 January 2007:

"I do not believe it makes sense to say that nuclear weapons are inherently evil. In certain circumstances, they can play a positive role - as they have in the past. But clearly they have a power to do great harm. Are we prepared to tolerate a world in which countries which care about morality lay down their nuclear weapons, leaving others to threaten the rest of the world or hold it to ransom?"

Trident replacement is the answer to this question. 

Conventional Trident

The Pentagon proposed the Conventional Trident Modification program in 2006 to diversify its strategic options, as part of a broader long-term strategy to develop worldwide rapid strike capabilities, dubbed "Prompt Global Strike". This is not intended to replace nuclear deterrence, but to give commanders a first stike option against distant targets, even deeply buried and well protected, which would require to be destroyed in time-critical manner, ideally within half an hour from the start of a military operation. 

The US $503 million program would have converted existing Trident II missiles (presumably two missiles per submarine) into conventional weapons, by fitting them with modified Mk4 reentry vehicles equipped with GPS for navigation update and a reentry guidance and control (trajectory correction) segment to perform 10 m class impact accuracy. No explosive is said to be used since the reentry vehicle's mass and hypersonic (around Mach 25) impact velocity provide sufficient mechanical energy and "effect". The second conventional warhead version is a fragmentation version that would disperse thousands of tungsten rods which could obliterate an area of 3000 square feet (approximately 280 square meters). It offered the promise of accurate conventional strikes with little warning and flight time.

The primary drawback would have been establishing sufficient, recognized and trusted international warning systems so that other nuclear countries would not mistake it for a nuclear launch which could provoke a counterattack. For that reason among others, this project raised a substantial debate before US Congress for the FY07 Defense budget, but also internationally. 

Then Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, warned that the project would increase the danger of accidental nuclear war. "The launch of such a missile could ... provoke a full-scale counterattack using strategic nuclear forces," Putin said in May 2006.

The Conventional Trident has never been officially dropped, but it is now seen as very unlikely to ever happen. A scaled down, 3000-miles conventional ballistic sub-launched missile was also touted for the role of global strike, and it reportedly had UK interest, but it also seems a programme unlikely to progress.   

Fleet Air Arm

Undoubtedly a winner in the contest of my alternative Strategy for 2020, the Fleet Air Arm will inherit the Fast Jet responsibility from the dismantled RAF command structure. This will mean that the 107 Typhoon fighters in 5 active squadrons will retain RAF badges and colors, but come under the responsibility of the Fleet Air Arm. Savings will come from substantial reductions in personnel, from the closure of bases such as RAF Benson and the reduction of top brass and high command structures. Obviously, QRA service will remain unchanged. I will cover the future of the Typhoon and of the other “RAF-colored” assets in the next posts. The “Pure” Fleet Air Arm will assume the following structure of squadrons and equipment.

700W – Wildcat OCU (5 airframes) From 2013 to 2015, with the delivery of the new helicopters. Already planned, no changes here. Based in Yeonvilton, the Wildcat training will prepare crews for both the Army and the Navy, as already planned.

815 NAS – Wildcat Lynx

The Navy will have between 19 and 23 available Wildcat helicopters for Surface Attack and ASW role. (5 will be in the OCU, 4 more might be in Army configuration for the Commandos, see below)
Armament will go from a door-mounted M3M 12.7 machine gun to 4 Sea Skua II (FASGW-H) to multiple clusters of 7 LMM missiles. Ideally, 23 Small Ship Flights will be formed, replacing the current Lynx HMA8 units, available to deploy on warships for operations. The helicopter will probably employ the same FLASH dipping sonar used by the Merlin when it enters in service, but the contract for the sonar has not yet been awarded. 
23 Ship Flights could be formed if the 847° will be equipped with Wildcats coming from the Army’s 34 and not from the Navy share of 28. Currently this detail is unclear.  

The 815° Squadron is a crucially important part of the Royal Navy, and one of the most active squadrons of the armed forces. Its roles include: 
- Supplying two 'ICE' Lynx flights for HMS Endurance (future of these flights and of HMS Endurance itself is now uncertain) 
- Supplying helos for each warship deploying to TELIC-related activity in the Gulf
- Supplying helos for each warship deploying to CALASH ops (Indian Ocean)
- Provvision of helos for ships in the NATO Marittime Group 2
- Deployment on ships due for Atlantic Patrol North and South
- Two helicopters ready at all times for counter-terrorism role
- One helicopter always ready to deploy to the Fleet Ready Escort vessel if called out for ops 

and others, included often supplying a Lynx or two to "simulate" Apache helicopter gunships during pre-deployment Army exercises on Salisbury Plain.And you must consider that, ideally, the "rule of the 3" is always valid: each standing task should have at least 3 Flights covering it, so that one could be resting after deployment, one would be deployed, and one training before deploying.

705 – Elementary Flying Training with Squirrel, based on Defence Helicopter Flying School at Shawbury.

824° Squadron –  Merlin OCU. Two flights, one for Merlin HM2 and one for Merlin Utility variant. Common Merlin OCU for all squadrons on Merlin. Based in Culdrose.

814° - Merlin HM2

820° - Merlin HM2

829° - Squadron responsible for deployment of Merlin on Type 23 (and in future Type 26) frigates

Merlin HM2 - Full rate aircraft production/conversion is set to begin in the second half of this year. Once the production is underway, full conversation from a Mk1 to Mk2 is expected to take around nine months. Initial operating capability is expected in late 2013 with four aircraft and 12 crews and full operational capability (FOC) is due by the end of 2014.
As well as avionics, the upgrade also adds a new mission computer, map systems as well as new processors for the radar and acoustic sensors.
These new systems and improvements in technology mean a smaller number of black boxes in the aircraft allowing the avionics compartments to be redesigned and shrunk. The Mk1's Sonics processor, described by some as like a 'small fridge' has been replaced by a considerably smaller unit.

The changes mean that the Mk2 is a leaner machine than its predecessor. When weighed, the aircraft came in around 200 kg (440 lbs) lighter than a Mk1 even with test instrumentation onboard.
The rear mission console, designed to be operated by two air warfare officers, has the option to be split in half if the aircraft is required for non anti-submarine warfare missions. With half the console removed, the aircraft can carry 12 patients in the CASEVAC role, over the Mk1s eight, or up to 16 combat troops, with the area previously occupied by the console being used for 'bergen' or backpack storage.

Other changes to the aircraft include a new environmental control system, fast roping equipment and the option of fitting a M3M 0.50 calibre machine gun for use out of the cabin door.

848°, 845° and 846° - Commando Helicopter Force. Each squadron lines up to 12 Merlin HC4 taken from a fleet of 37 (one for one replacement for the HC4 Sea Kings) Merlins: 12 converted HM1 platforms (the 8 not updated to HM2 plus the 4 in stowage) plus 25 ex-RAF converted HC3. Designations possibly HC4A and HC4. 

At least one of these three Squadrons would be fully “Special Operations-capable”, fielding Merlins armed with miniguns, air-to-air refueling probes when needed, armor, fast-roping equipment and improved self-protection, including low-flying sensors aid. These helicopters would be able to support even the most ambitious SAS operations in mostly any situation and environment.

847° - Commando Helicopter Force. Scout, Light Utility and Support. December 2010 reports suggested that 4 Wildcats taken from the Navy’s share of 28 but built as “Army” ones and used to fill this role. These four Wildcats will replace the current 6 ex-Army Air Corps Lynx AH7.
Other reports, more recent, suggest that 6 of the 34 Army Wildcat helicopters could end up into this squadron instead. At the moment, it is unclear which report is correct and which is wrong, but the second option now appears more likely.  
Fitted with a door mounted M3M or GPMG weapon, capable of taking a M134 Gatling gun and potentially capable to carry 20 mm gunpods and rockets, the army Lynx should be integrated with LMM and Hellfire missiles. In my plan, at least. 
Real, current plans are not clear: gunpods and rockets are apparently not envisioned, and only the Navy will use LMM at least at the beginning. However, the Wildcat helicopters will be almost the same in both variants, and have the very same Stores Management System: if the Navy Wildcats get integrated with LMM, the Army Wildcats will be able to carry it as well.  

When funding was to be gathered up, the already mentioned (see Future Force 2020 Army section) buy of 24 additional Apache AH1 helicopters would include 8 helicopters to assign to this squadron.

849° - MASC unit. The US Navy is buying 75 Hawkeye E2D, the latest variant. This is very capable, but also quite expensive, and it might be difficult for the UK to find the money needed for acquiring the latest model. However, the US Navy is probably going to have a quite sizeable surplus of still very capable E2C Hawkeye. Leasing 6 E-2 Hawkeye's (if possible) or buying 4 to 6 E2D is my preferred solution for MASC. 
         6 planes would be enough to equip one squadron containing a second-line HQ flight of 2 aircraft, a single front-line operational flight of 3 aircraft, plus 1 aircraft in reserve, deep maintenance or modernization. While the higher acquisition cost will scare someone, i believe that, all things considered, it should be quite a cheap and effective solution compared to developing and buying an helicopter-based platform, which would most evidently be a Merlin fitted with ex-Sea King Cerberus suites, giving less performance and requiring most likely more airframes to cover the same role.
The small fleet of 6 E2Ds would be able to provide 3 MASC platforms in peacetime and 4 in Wartime for use on the Strike Carrier. The fleet could be joint supported together with the French fleet, with a single mainteinance and support contract agreed with the US. Jointly-funded update programs in the future (to bring both French and UK airframes to D standard, or an even more advanced one, would also be an option.
Another very attractive option would be to have 4 Hawkeye and 2 Greyhound – the Greyhound is the same base-plane of the Hawkeye, but has no AEW radar. These airplanes are used for Carrier-On board Delivery COD. The UK could use them for training the crews, for COD, and as embarked mini-aerial tankers fitted with underwing buddy-buddy refueling pods to further extend the strategic range of the airwing.
The French have a fleet of 3 Hawkeye in total and manage with it. With 4, the RN should certainly be able to have 3 AEW platforms at sea itself, plus two COD/Tanker platforms of great strategic value.
A RFI for such an acquisition was issued as far back as 2001, but officially “ruled out” in 2005 because, if not a catapult (STOBAR trials of the Hawkeye have been done, and were relatively successful), arrestor wires would have to be fitted to the carrier for it.
Now the problem does not exist, since the carrier will be a “true” carrier, and I believe the option should be attentively considered. 
In light of my “radical” proposal for the elimination of the RAF, it might even be attractive to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of buying a larger number of the latest Hawkeye model for equipping at least another Squadron and possibly two, 854° and 857°. This would come at the expense of the E3D Sentry fleet, however, leaving a single, larger fleet of deployable AWACS assets capable to work from land and carriers both. Evaluation should be given to determine if this would be a cost effective solution in the long term.   

792° - Mirach drone targets for SAM firing training.

750° - Beechcraft King Air – Flying Officers and Observers Training.

800° NAS – Designed F35C user squadron. Large frontline squadron combining OCU/OEU and frontline role, supporting 12 frontline airplanes, a number of OCU-dedicated planes and  20/25 crews. To be activated in time for the entry into service of the Carrier in 2020.

801° NAS – 12 F35C, assigned after the successive acquisitions of F35C. There is still hope for a decent F35C fleet in the long term. By 2020, the current plan is to have a single, large OCU/Frontline Squadron, but the plan is still to get “around 100”

"Six squadrons is the low point for the U.K.'s fast jet fleet," one analyst said. "You can expect that to recover a little as the Ministry of Defence bolsters its force of Joint Strike Fighters beyond the current level mandated in the new strategic defense and security review."
Bagwell was less sanguine. He called the first JSF squadron a "start point" and said more may come, but for the moment, "I expect a single squadron in 2020 and that's it."
Other senior RAF officers have said they aim eventually to operate around 100 F-35Cs, which will split their time operating from land bases and from the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers being built for the Royal Navy. [http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=5211718]

It is worth reminding that, for the F35, the US armed forces expect at least the 50% of the training to be done all with flying simulators, with a massive reduction in need for in-flight training and allowing for a much smaller OCU allocation than usual. It can also be pointed out, even if admittedly it does not mean much, that Liam Fox exposed himself in supporting the need for the F35 for an effective Defence in the future decades during its visit in Australia. The recent flight of the J20 Stealth Fighter built in China has been a major blow to overconfident Western militaries that had considered impossible for the Chinese to develop such a machine, at least for ten more years or so. They also had advocated that the PAK-FA Russian stealth fighter was just a myth, that Russia had not the money nor the technology, yet it flew. Even more “shock” is likely to come soon if, how it by now appears likely, the PAK-DA proves reality as well: the Russian stealth bomber is likely to be revealed in the next few years, and you can bet that ministers will be shocked of it. Somehow, they always seem to live in a fairy-tale world where the other nations are “incapable” to do this and that, until they are roughly awakened by their dreams.
The first Chinese aircraft carrier is bound to start going at sea in a few months time as I write, since it is by now official that, despite the promises made when they bought it (and someone even believed them…???), they are completely revamping the ex-URSS Varyag aircraft carrier and preparing to start an intensive experimentation and training programme to build their own Naval Embarked aviation. Her engines have already been revamped and tested in dock, and they are now fitting sensors and defensive weaponry. It appears that the Varyag will be China’s first aircraft carrier.
Meanwhile, Russia is launching new training facilities for its embarked aviation, and has publically recognized long-term plans for as many as 6 aircraft carriers. You can bet, however, that until they start building at least the first one, our “wise” ministers will delude themselves believing they cannot. In the meanwhile, they have acquired 4 Mistral ships, two of which will be built in Russia, helping to revamp the shipbuilding industry and skills and elevating the technology level of Russia’s manufacture… probably to make it easier to tackle the challenge of getting on full-sized carriers.
One has to hope that these developments will be taken into account in the 2015 SDSR, which will be fundamental to shape the form of the F35 force and decide the destiny of the CVF carriers. I’m not advocating for the UK to tackle Russia and China as challenges and grabble alone with two superpowers, but I expect that the dangers connected with the undeniable growth in capability of the most likely rivals will help determine a defence policy a bit more realistic and a bit less based on dreams, hopes and “they can’t do it, no worry!”.   
Even around 80 F35C would suffice and be a very good fleet:

Current indications (late 2006) are for a JCA buy of around 80 F-35B's - covering front line units, training aircraft and attrition. It is expected that these will equip four carrier capable  front-line squadrons (two predominately RAF, two predominately RN) plus one second-line joint Training/OCU squadron of 16 aircraft.  JCAF squadron designations will probably remain the same as now, i.e. 800 and [eventually] 801 NAS; 1(F), IV and 20(R) RAF.  It has been suggested that that an 80 aircraft buy will in practice only allow a 9 aircraft front-line squadron strength - the same as the squadrons have today with the Harrier. [http://navy-matters.beedall.com/jca1-2.htm] 

The 9 planes figure is bugging, but hopefully squadron strength can be maintained at 12 airplanes. If the Tornado GR4 post-SDSR is any suitable example, the 96 airframes that are to be retained are expected to equip 5 frontline squadrons plus OCU, so 80 newer airframes should arguably allow for 4 + 1. In this case, the Fleet Air Arm would reform both 801 and 899 NAS Squadrons, with the last taking on the 617° “Dambusters” badge to keep their spirit and ethos alive. [Note that, as I write, the latest reports seem to indicate that Planning Round 2011 will actually cut back further on Tornado numbers, bringing them to just 60, because the MOD is being asked to save yet one more billion a year. This after Peter Luff confirmed, in several answers and debates, that 96 Tornado GR4 were to be updated and kept in service. 60 planes might be enough for just 3 frontline squadrons + OCU]

In my plan I’d want two squadrons of F35C available for routine deployment on the Carrier Strike vessel, with a third embarking for a full-force major exercise every two years and, of course, when required for operations. JCA squadrons strenght had been envisaged in 4 Squadrons of 12 planes and 18 pilots each (same structure now is expected for the Tornado squadrons), and this is the plan i want to stick to.

                          Marittime Patrol Aircraft Squadron -  I really can’t see a nation like the UK without a maritime patrol aircraft asset available for the monitoring and protection of shipping and other valuable possible targets such as the drilling stations in the North Sea. Besides, the invaluable SAR support provided will be sorely missed. How long before a tragedy happens that makes it very, very embarrassing not to have the Nimrods…? I expect a small buy of MPAs assets in the future to remedy to this absurd decision. One realistic option is to buy a bunch of 8/9 P8 Poseidon from the US, and get a “common plan” of support, running and mainteinance like envisaged for the Rivet Joint to aim for the highest possible savings. They could operate from Waddington.  
By then, the RAF and RN both will have long lost any experienced crew for this role, and since it’ll be a whole new start, I think the Squadron should not be part of the RAF, but of the Fleet Air Arm. 

My vision was confirmed by reports that a "one billion pounds" joint RN/RAF study programme is running to come up with a long-term solution for replacing the lost Marittime Patrol Aircraft capability. The planes are expected to be FAA operated.  

Cost-saving measures:

-          Transfer of Merlins to the navy and conversion of surplus HM1 airframes over new-buy option.
-          Closure of RAF Benson or RAF Odiham 

-          Sea King ASaC retired after Afghanistan drawdown, not to be replaced before 2021, and just by a small squadron of Hawkeye, down from 3 squadrons. 

-          Reduction in personnel and top-brass, and reduced cost for personnel (RN pay is lower) and improved long-term deployability. (RAF guidelines require the personnel to be deployed for very short time, often just one-two months. RN personnel is expected to deploy for at least 660 days in a 34 months period, RAF personnel for 140 days along 12 months. The ratio is 0.55 rest days for deployment days for Navy personnel, while 1,57 days of rest are given for each day of deployment to RAF. (Data calculated from Service's Harmony Guidelines assumptions, months assumed of 30 days each) 
      Eventual retirement of the E3 Sentry fleet in the long term in exchange for a larger fleet of Hawkeye. The Sentry will be quite old anyway by 2021, and despite the limits of the Hawkeye, it might not be a bad solution to focus on a single, larger fleet of smaller carrier-capable AWACS. 
     Ideally, the target would be to have 4 Hawkwye available in 2020/21 for carrierborne ops and Sea King replacement, with more to be acquired in the successive years in order to replace the aging E3Ds. The Sentry will need further upgrades to live that long: over 700 millions have been spent recently to keep the Sentry flying, and the official OSD is 2025, even if the RAF expects to make it become 2035. Considering the much higher fuel and crew demand of the Sentry, an evaluation in the economic feasibility of a replacement of it with additional Hawkeye squadrons is, i believe, in order.