Saturday, October 27, 2012

Type 26 changes again

BAE has further refined the design of the Type 26 global combat ship, and the latest changes are visible in the model shown in the last few days at the Euronaval 2012 show. Thanks to Navy Recognition, even us unfortunate ones who couldn't be at the show can see the upgraded look of the frigate.

The gallery also contains countless other sweet images, including photos of the model of the next RFA Tankers to be built under MARS FT, so visit it right away:

As to the Type 26's latest changes, i am a bit puzzled by a couple of things. 
This was the Type 26 as last shown when the MOD announced the end of the first phase of the program:

The new model shows some significant differences:

The general lines have not changed since my last big report, the main gun is still a 127 mm, and the light guns have not moved. If you didn't read the earlier article, i suggest you do it now. It'll help you a lot in understanding the ship.
The number of missile cells does not seem to have changed: there are 24 large cells, presumably and hopefully "strike lenght", arranged in two rows of 12 on the bow.
The CAMM mini-silos have changed, and from two clusters with 3x4 cells each, now we are four separate rows each with 6 cells, for a total of 24 missiles. No change in the number of cells, only in the disposition.
24 more cells are located, in two rows of 12 each, in the main funnel mast, again no change.
The propulsion approach seems also set, by now, with the Royal Navy aiming to a CODLOG architecture, probably with a single Rolls Royce MT30 gas turbine, as already reported a while ago. 

You'll have already noticed that the Phalanx CIWS mounts have changed position, instead, as the arrangement has mutated from Bow-Stern to Port-Starboard, in an a Type 45-like arrangement. Two large sponsons have appeared to allow the Phalanx guns to have a better firing arc, clear of the superstructure.
As a consequence of this move, the missile cells on the bow are now accompanied by four launch tubes, containing decoys, that were originally mounted where the Phalanx now are (see the Top View concept picture, and you should be able to spot them). The Expendable Acoustic Device launchers, part of the S2170 "Sea Sentor" Ship Torpedo Defence System, have also been moved towards the bow.

1) the EAD launchers have moved down the deck some, to make space for the Phalanx guns 2) the launch tubes of the Irvin GQ IDS300 Naval decoy have been moved all the way to the bow

Loading an EAD in the launcher. Look out for these 8-barrel mortars on Royal Navy ships, now that you know what they are, and you'll find them easily enough.
The four tubes are the IDS300 Naval radar Decoy launchers. These launch a floating, inflatable decoy that is essentially an array of radar reflector panels capable to generate a Radar Cross Section that can trick enemy surveillance radars and radar homing anti-ship missiles.

Irvin-GQ Naval Decoy deployed

Irvin-GQ Naval Decoy launch tube on HMS Westminster: it seems a second tube is missing, probably it was in maintenance when the photo was taken.
This inflatable radar decoy, known as IDS300, is also present on the Type 45, as visible in photos on this brochure. It is produced by Irvin-GQ, now Airborne Systems. The tube is extremely easily integrated on any ship and is said to have a very low RCS that does not impact the radar signature of the ship. Indeed, the tubes aren't exactly hidden away, not even on the Type 45. 

This also indirectly gives us a good idea of what Countermeasures, currently in service, are expected to migrate onto the Type 26s. 
There's a chance that the Type 26 will instead replace the current 130 mm SeaGnat fixed launcher barrels for countermeasure rounds with the Centurion trainable launch turret, which was demonstrated and offered to the Royal Navy in recent times, but arrived too late for Type 45, thus failing to gain (for now) an order.

Sea Gnat fixed launchers
The Centurion uses the same decoy rounds (MK251 SIREN, Chemring MK216 MK1 Mod 1 Chaff round and MK245 Infra Red Flare round), but instead of using multiple fixed batteries of 6 tubes each, the Centurion is a trainable turret with 12 launch tubes that can be turned in the best direction and set at the best elevation to obtain the best effect, regardless of the position of the ship.
The turret also offers advantages in terms of Radar Cross Section reduction.   

A graphic showing the Centurion turret. It might make it onto the Type 26s

Back to Phalanx, I'm not entirely happy about the change, personally, because the new position of the guns offers arcs of fire much more constrained. The bow and stern are pretty much blind corners to this kind of installation, while a Bow-Stern solution offered much better coverage.
This new installation is potentially a bit more suited if we assume the Phalanx gun is fending off an assault by fast, suicide crafts, an asymmetric menace taken very seriously in these days, and one of the main reasons behind the upgrades of the Phalanx to 1B Baseline 2 standard.
BAE says that the relocation of the Phalanx guns was made on specific request of the Royal Navy, and i suspect small, fast crafts have much to do with this wish. However, personally my vote stays with the Bow-Stern arrangement, definitely better to offer 360° degrees coverage against missiles and air threats. 

Another change is the downsizing and splitting of port side aft funnel mast. Indeed, it does not seem to be a funnel mast anymore, and this is possibly connected to improved use of internal spaces. The sponsons supporting the remotely-controlled light gun have also been redesigned, and they no longer sport the prominent reverse-pyramid shape they had before. Probably this change is due to RCS considerations and/or, even more likely, to management of the air flows connected to helicopter operations.

The doors in the superstructure, marking the boat spaces and the accesses to the Flexible Mission Space have also been changed. From 2 large doors on the Starboard side, both well ahead of the aft funnel, and a single large door on Port side we have moved to 2 doors on Port side and 1 on Starboard side.
More importantly, and somehow worrisome, the second door on the Port side is no longer full sized, and no longer located ahead of the aft funnels, but behind it. I hope it is only a redesign, not a shrinkage of the Mission Bay. However, the half-height door does not convince me: even if we assume that it is specifically meant to put to sea unmanned vehicles, we should be aware that, in the future, Unmanned Vehicles are likely to grow in size and complication, so we should try to have as few design limitations as possible. In partial compensation, it seems that the two doors left are higher and larger than before, at least.
A more optimistic interpretation of this change is that the Mission Bay might have actually expanded, as the door is now located in a position that before was almost certainly occupied by the now removed aft funnel. The relocation and changed design of the doors might be about better utilization of the space, and in place of the door now moved back towards the stern there might now be space and power connections for an additional container/module of equipment.

1) The funnel mast that is no longer a funnel. Underwent a split and redesign. 2) The relocated, smaller door. 3) The position of the second door on the earlier concept pictures. Actually, as i said, the side with the two doors was originally the opposite one, but you get the idea.

The main radar mast seems somewhat taller, but this might just be a feeling due to differences in the photos. The two white radomes on the mast's sides are huge, and much larger than those visible in the concept pictures, but they might be the SCOT 5 satcom X-band system, nothing particularly mysterious if that's the case.

Not dramatic changes, overall, sign that the design is frozen in its main aspects by now. Still, interesting to note and comment about. It is possible that in the next few days BAE will let us know some more things, and as always, i'll report about them as soon as possible.

For now, enjoy the novelties on show!  

What destiny for collaboration with France?

The two biggest and most visible industrial collaborations that had been announced between France and UK both seem heading towards, substantially, failure.
The BAE/Dassault Medium Altitude Long Endurance unmanned aicraft, the TELEMOS, might be abandoned soon, with the new french government working to get EADS into the picture, collaborating with Germany more than with the UK. Worse, the french side seems to be re-assessing its plan for drones with a forceful return of the Reaper option.
On the Future Air to Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) FASGW(H) front, France is delaying its decision, reportedly already having caused a six months slip which could, however, pale in comparison to a by now anticipated decision not to committ to the joint development of the new missile, that the Royal Navy wants to replace the old Sea Skua.

Collaboration is instead continuing on marittime mine countermeasures, for which the plans of both countries roughly match each other, with both navies wanting to replace their current fleets of minesweepers with fewer but larger and more multimission-capable vessels equipped with suites of unmanned suface, air and underwater vehicles for the stand-off neutralization of mines.
Probably, the UK and France will also continue the joint work on the future modernization program for the Storm Shadow cruise missile.

For Dassault and for the british aerospace industry, however, a failure to go ahead with Telemos will be a serious blow. The RAF and BAE have been pinning their hopes on the new MALE drone for quite some time, but the reality is that industry might have to accept a much reduced task than originally envisaged: instead of developing a new drone, they might well be asked to intervene on Reapers and add to them new, sovereign capabilities.

The RAF has not ruled out the option of using Reaper as answer for the Scavenger requirement, that is the need for an armed MALE ISTAR platform, and now France is reportedly reviving contacts with General Atomics, which back in the Sarkozy era had already offered a financially advantageous deal: 209 million euro for a package of 7 Reapers, two ground control stations, 10 years of support at an assumed flying rate of 2000 hours per year. There was provvision for integration of french-specific payload at an additional cost of 88 million euro.  
Back then, despite gaining the support of the french senate, the Reaper offer was turned down, in favor of a Sarkozy-backed approach that would see Dassault work with Isreael's IAI to modify (at much higher cost) an equal number of Heron TP drones for french use.
The Dassault/IAI solution would deliver 7 drones and 2 control stations, with the same 10 years support scheme, at 2000 flying hours per year, but it would cost 368 million euro, of which just 50 (deemed insufficient by senators, who expected this amount to grow during the program) to integrate french sensors and equipment.

The drone purchase back at the time was seen as a stop-gap on the way for the entry in service, in 2020, of the franco-british Telemos.  It seemed weird from the start, since last january an order had yet to be placed and it would take at least 12 months to have the first aircrafts delivered, so that the expensive drones would have been in service for quite a short period. The argument used to support the Dassault/IAI bid was the protection of french industry, as Dassault would gain considerable know-how by the activity, and gain strenght to negotiate a better deal in the collaboration plan with BAE.

The new government in France is considerably less supportive of Dassault, and both the UK and France have budget cuts to deal with. While the UK is still keen to go ahead with Telemos to support its aerospace industry, in France the interest for a new MALE program seems to have lost a lot of luster.
Without french money, the UK might well decide that it cannot afford Telemos (development and procurement would cost no less than 1 billion pounds) and both countries could end up deciding that Reaper can do for the future. Laurent Collet-Billon, procurement chief at the french DGA, confirmed to the french parliamentary defence committee that they are in informal talks with General Atomics.

General Atomics is not standing idle, and is offering to both countries support to adapt the Reaper to their national requirements, adding sovereign capability by changing sensors and weaponry.
This is important to gain the RAF favor, but it absolutely crucial to gain France's approval: separating the aircraft and the mission system (sensors and weaponry), France would be confident to be able to operate the aircraft regardless of any restriction imposed by the US.
Inserting new sensors and weapons is also the key to keep the aircraft up to date.
To address these wishes, General Atomics recently flew a Reaper modified and fitted with a Selex Galileo Seaspray 7500E radar. On its part, the RAF has said that it wishes to see new sensors developed that can fit inside a common mission pod, enabling the Scavenger drone to be easily updated and kitted for the mission at hand.

This Reaper shows a very evident new radome: that is the Seaspray 7500E installation recently demonstrated and test flown.

As of now as i write, no news has come out of the talks between Philip Hammond and his french counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, who visited the combined british and french fleet in exercise in the Mediterranean and held bilateral talks yesterday, expected to be centered on these two programs, among other things.
The silence points to further delays, at best, and to a failure at finding an agreement in the worst case. At the moment, i think General Atomics's chances of seeing the Reaper retained by the RAF as Scavenger solution have grown considerably. 

Regarding FASGW(H), the situation is just as complex. The Royal Navy wants the weapon to replace the ancient Sea Skua and it wishes to have the new missile ready by 2015, to put it in service alongside the FASGW(L), the already ordered Thales Light Multimission Missile, on the Wildcat helicopter.
The new missile would be a major evolution from the current Sea Skua, and at the same time it would retain much of the external characteristics of the predecessor, using, as a consequence, already existing support material and procedures. However, the little that is known of the missile at the moment is hardly impressive. A 30 kg warhead optimised for targets of up to 500 tons, and an advanced Imaging Infra Red seeker do not make much of a revolution. I don't know how much the program of development is due to cost, but Defense News mentions a pricetag of 400 million euro, and frankly, if it is right, i think it's way too much, and it did not surprise me to read that the Royal Navy might decide to pull out of the enterprise, instead of going at it alone.

A photo of a FASGW(H) model showcased by MBDA - via Mer et Marine

Isn't there some kind of alternative?
One option could be joining forces with Italy's branch of MBDA, which has been funding, entirely on its own but with italian navy interest, the MARTE MK2 ER, which could be ready in around 36 months. This missile is, however, considerably different from what was being created with FASGW(H): it is radar guided, and it is not in the 100 / 150 kg class, but in the 300 kg range. Instead of 4 missiles (or 2 plus clusters of LMM missiles), a Wildcat would probably only carry two Marte ER, at most with a small number of LMMs in addition.
MARTE ER is an high-subsonic speed, turbo-jet propelled anti-ship missile, sea-skimming, with a 74 kg warhead of which 27 are of high explosive. It would offer considerably greater lethality, and it has a range of over 100 km.
In partial compensation of the differences, it should be noted that MBDA already ran studies for the adoption of an IIR seeker in place of the radar one, if this was requested by a customer. A data-link for man-in-the-loop is also envisaged.

The MARTE ER would be a true "heavy" missile for anti-ship duty. Too heavy? Perhaps, depending on how the Royal Navy sees the future. It is always impressive to note, however, that FASGW is 'Heavy' for the UK and Light for the French.
In my opinion, a more capable air-launched anti-ship missile wouldn't hurt. The FASGW(H) seems more than a bit limited in the range of targets it can succesfully disable, even if a single helicopter can carry more missiles.

Perhaps, a rethink on Scavenger and FASGW(H) would not make for completely bad news. We should ask ourselves if the Reaper can't be made into a suitable, less expensive and more immediately available solution that could just evolve onwards from what is already available and in use due to operations in Afghanistan.
The Reaper is already evolving, thanks to US money and effort, and this is another plus, as the UK could buy into some of the improvements without having to finance big works on its own. A new landing gear enabling a max weight at take-off increase of 1200 lbs, new datalinks and even an extension to the wing's span have been offered already, offering dramatic improvements in several areas.

The new landing gear has already been ordered by the US. External fuel tanks, wings and control surface extensions are proposed as an upgrade that can expand the endurance of the Reaper in a surveillance mission (no armament carried) to as many as 42 hours.

And we should also think again about FASGW(H), and decide if there is really not a solution that costs less and allows to use money on something else.
I read that MBDA deems the FASGW(H) fundamental work for its future, but if the UK could save on this requirement, and reinvest the money saved on other missile activities i could immediately think of resurrecting the passive radar seeker option for the Meteor, to develop an anti-radar variant, or even better a dual-mission missile.
The RAF will need a replacement for ALARM soon in order not to lose a big part of its SEAD capability. And a dual-mission missile that fits the F35's weapon bays (something that ALARM, HARM, AARGM and company can't do) could prove a real winner on the export market, too. 

In more general terms, i'd like to see the money eventually saved going into the Fast Landing Craft requirement. The LCU MK10 is not out of place in a movie on the second world war under many points of view. Its extremely low speed dramatically affects operational tempo. A dozen landing crafts would only cost a few tens of millions, while making a great difference.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fast jet fleet of the future

In its October issue, Combat Aircraft Monthly has published a new report into the future of the frontline of the RAF, which is an expansion on a series of rumors and reports first published by Jane's some time ago.
While not yet officially confirmed, it seems to be a quite accurate representation of the new plans of the MOD for the future force of fast jets available to the armed forces.

The recent past tells us that in 2010, prior to the SDSR, the UK lined a force of 12 frontline squadrons of fast jets: 3 squadrons on Typhoon, 7 on Tornado GR4, 2 on Harrier GR9. The nominal strenght of the Typhoon and Tornado squadrons is 12 jets, while the Harrier squadrons had only 9 due to an endless list of earlier reductions and cuts.
During 2011, two Tornado GR4 squadrons (XIII Sqn, RAF Marham, now to stand-up as second Reaper squadron;  and 14 Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth, which re-born as Shadow R1 squadron, with the planes coming out of 5 Squadron, where they had been flown together with Sentinel R1) were disbanded, and, notoriously, the Harrier was retired from service, shrinking the force down to 8 squadrons.

Today, following the return to life of 1st Squadron, re-formed officially on 15 September on the Leuchars airbase, the UK lines 9 fast jet squadrons: 4 on Typhoon and 5 on Tornado GR4.
According to the MOD Business Plan 2012 - 2015, 1st Squadron will now face a long build-up period towards IOC, which will conclude in March 2013.
The 5th Typhoon squadron is on the way, too, and it will stand up and achieve IOC between April 2013 and March 2015. 

Again in March 2015, the reduction in the Tornado GR4 force and readiness level will be fully implemented, with around 96 aircrafts in the fleet (down from over 130) and with just 18 Force Elements at Readiness (down from 40). It is expected that this will mean the disbandment of a further two squadrons, leaving a force of 3 Tornado squadrons to carry on until the Out of Service date for the type, now officially set as March 2019 (down from 2025, then 2021).

In the meanwhile, it is planned/hoped that the Typhoon deliveries will be completed (2017) and that the Typhoon force will achieve Full Operating Capability by March 2018.
By then, it is hoped that the Typhoon will be capable to employ Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles, while there seems to be currently no plan to migrate the RAPTOR reconnaissance pod. Unfortunately, there is no firm date for the integration of the weaponry on Typhoon. The RAF once hoped to have it by 2014, but there seems to be no chance in hell of it happening, unless the UK (and possibly Saudi Arabia) go ahead on their own with the integration effort.

In December 2010, after the SDSR's publication, Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell, commanding officer of the Royal Air Force's No. 1 Group (the HQ from which all combat squadrons depend) released an interview in which he painted a sad future of a RAF down to just 6 squadrons by 2020, with 5 being on Typhoon and 1 on F35.
At the time, however, they were reasoning on an order for 96 F35C, with a consequent build-up of the force in the years past 2020 and out to 2027 or further out into the future. Bagwell, in a demonstration of (bitter) realism, said that he was only sure about the single F35 squadron by 2020, implying that the rest of the plan was very much at risk.

The 5 Typhoon squadrons are justified by the existance of a plan for the shredding of all of the Tranche 1 aircrafts between 2015 and 2018/19, leaving a total of just 107 airframes. This plan is even mentioned on the RAF's Typhoon webpage.
In his interview, Bagwell said that the number of Typhoons was even at risk of shrinking further, with the Omani order possibly coming out of the UK's total without a replacement buy, bringing down the fleet's consistence to just 95.

The deal with Oman, which has been described as "imminent" for years now, is currently expected to be signed by year's end, but there has not been any recent mention of the planes coming out of the RAF's totals.
For a while, Oman thought about ordering up to 24 Typhoons, possibly Tranche 1 ex-RAF, but things changed with time, Oman ordered additional F16s instead, and eventually decided that it wants only 12 Typhoons, but fully-capable Tranche 3 ones.
It is still possible, in theory, that the RAF is forced to lose a dozen Tranche 3 production slots, ideally with a production tail added in 2017 to ensure the UK gets all 40 Tranche 3s on order. In the worst case, they could be simply lost.
But, as i said, this possibility has no longer been hinted at, so it probably has been abandoned, luckily. We have to keep in mind the UK would have to get the Eurofighter consortium and the partner countries approving such a change in the plans: an agreement was reached to reduce the Tranche 3 order for all 4 the countries, but another unilateral cutback might meet resistance.

Other things have changed, as well, since Bagwell released his interview. Namely:

- The standing up of the 4th and 5th Typhoon squadrons has been speeded up by a year. 

- The Prime Minister exposed himself a lot on Typhoon, on its value for the UK's armed forces and industry, and he's backing the export effort intensely.

- In Libya, the Typhoon Tranche 1 proved more effective and useful than the RAF expected.

- Last May, the last RAF Tranche 1 Typhoon was handed to BAE for the R2 retrofit to bring it to the Block 5 standard, known by the RAF as "FRG4, for Fighter-Reconnaissance-Ground attack.  

- BAE Systems is successfully collaborating with the RAF to deliver software Drops to upgrade the Tranche 1s, expand their capabilities and keep them relevant. Apparently, this method is working much better than anticipated, and at acceptable cost. It is believed to have greatly eased RAF's concerns about the cost of keeping the T1s relevant to operational needs. 

- The budget was "balanced", but in the process it was made clear that ordering 90/100 F35s in the relatively near future is not possible. Philipp Hammond has since announced that the UK is planning a first order of 48, very possibly including the 3 IOT&E airplanes already on order. And this will be it, for the moment. The switch to the F35B will be complete by April 2023, according to the Business Plan, possibly meaning that deliveries will be over by then.  
It will be close to 2030 before a second order can be discussed. Until recent times, the delivery of up to 138 (then 96) airplanes by 2027 had been the expectation.

- The export potential of the used Typhoon Tranche 1s proved very low, with the airplane not attractive enough for high-tier air forces and not cheap enough for the East-Europe air forces who are looking for western replacements for their russian fighters. Gripens and used F16s, cheaper and more complete in their capabilities, are dominating this market.

Jane's and Combat Aircraft Monthly report that the RAF's planning has changed, too.
With less F35s on the way, with not even the hope of jam tomorrow represented by new F35 squadrons in the 2020s and with the Typhoon T1 effectively without a market differently from what had been hoped, the RAF is now seriously thinking about keeping the Tranche 1 Typhoons and restore its earlier plan for 7 squadrons mounted on the type.

The aim is, quite clearly, the sustainment of a force of 8 to 9 squadrons into the 2020s, using what is available and on the way, instead of what exists only in hopes and promises.
The 5 Squadrons of Typhoons available by March 2015 could be supplemented by two more standing up in replacement of the 2 Tornado squadrons expected to go around that period, with the remaining 3 GR4 squadrons keeping numbers up.
In 2018, the first F35B squadron should be working its way into service, and by then the force could be made up by 7 Typhoon Sqns and up to 2 / 3 Tornado ones.
The following year the retirement of Tornado would leave a force of 7 + 1, and in the early 2020s a second F35B squadron would bring the force level back to 9 squadrons, which the RAF would try to sustain towards 2030, when a new F35 order is envisaged (either the B, or possibly the A variant) as a replacement for the Tranche 1s.

It represents a better utilization of available and funded resources, and keeps force levels up at acceptable levels. The F35B force would be very small (2 frontline squadrons, most likely) and very much carrier-focused, while the Typhoons would inherit most of the Tornado's work and roles.

This new thinking might have an impact on basing plans, as well, and a lot of things are said to be hanging in the balance: the transfer of Typhoons from Leuchars to Lossiemouth might not happen. The Army 2020 plan will have an impact as well, because Leuchars was expected to become an Army Base as part of the plan which would see a large Multi-Role brigade based in Scotland, but with the Multi-Role brigade concept dead, Scotland is now planned to host only an infantry brigade part of the Adaptable Force, meaning that Leuchars might well not be needed anymore.

Combat Aircraft even suggests that a third Typhoon base might be needed, and mentions Leeming and Cottersmore as possible solutions (I'd say Leeming, in the case, as Cottersmore is already an army base)  but this would imply new and additional costs, so i'd be careful on this part. I think the RAF might just squeeze more squadrons on the existing Typhoon stations.

The magazine also suggests that the activity of Tornado GR4 out to 2014 might obstacle the build-up of the F35's force at RAF Marham, which has been publically singled out as the preferred Main Operating Base for the F35s. It suggests that, while the Tornado maintenance infrastructure stays in Marham, the Tornado squadrons might end their career flying from Lossiemouth (which would then very likely be without a future, if the Typhoon transfer is really cancelled). Again, on this point more than on others i am doubtful, as i think that standing up the F35 force on Marham should be possible even with the Tornado around.

What matters the most, though, is that the F35s are heading for carrier duties and that the chance to see 7 Typhoon squadrons is growing, while the possibility of seeing the RAF down to just 6 squadrons by 2020 is growing remote.
Not bad, overall.    


Saturday, October 13, 2012

The many letters of Amphibiosity

This year's big deployment of the Royal Navy's Response Force Task Group is coming, so some reflections on the amphibious warfare capabilities available to the UK are in order. It is also an occasion for a quick look towards the immediate future, and a chance to look at some beautiful images as well.
I'm going to be very graphic in this article, using a variety of photos coming from current and earlier Royal Marines exercises, and highlight a few things,


Amphibiosity: for the UK at the state we talk of the ability to put ashore 1800 men or, in a major war scenario and with Ships Taken Up From Trade, a brigade of 5200 or more, with armored vehicles, artillery, helicopters and, when necessary, a number of main battle tanks as well. 

The 1800-strong force is at five days' notice to deploy anywhere in the world, and that "anywhere" is quite literally true as, in theory, the Task Group can poise off the coast of 147 nations - three out of four countries in the world.

The amphibious force can get ashore quickly and can move to a crisis zone rapidly. Poising off the coast, with the ability to stay there for months, a powerful amphibious force is a formidable deterrent, and provides the government with options.
In a war situation, the huge number of potential landing sites forces the enemy to spread his forces, or to leave a weak spot undefended and open for attack somewhere. 

Aircraft Carrier: the national capability in this area at the moment is limited to Apache attack helicopters flying off ships. Which is not to be undervalued, but that has plenty of limits. The Cougar 12's deployment will see HMS Illustrious deploying with helicopters, and jets available from France, as the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will join the formation for training.

In a few years time, the Task Group will be centered around a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier embarking Merlin HM2 helicopters for ASW, AEW and maritime security; Merlin HC4 for utility and troop transport; Chinooks for heavy lifting; Apache helicopters and, crucially, a restored airwing of high-performance fighter jets that will be able to provide air cover, air support and strategic strike to the force.
It will be a dramatic enhancement to the overall package.

Airborne Early Warning: not having an aircraft carrier does not mean you can't have AEW capability, luckily, when your AEW platform is an helicopter.
A number of hard-worked but always effective Sea King MK7 ASaC will be aboard HMS Illustrious to provide the task force with an unblinking flying eye that will detect and track enemy air and surface activity.

The Sea King MK7 will be eventually replaced with the Crowsnest programme, putting an AEW radar suite on Merlin HM2s. Crowsnest should finally enter assessment phase within the end of the year, but there are real fears that there will be a gap of several years in this vital capability from 2016, when the Sea King MK7 is expected to retire.

Hopefully, good sense will win. AEW is not a capability to be gapped. It is constantly in demand: Sea Kings MK7 are in constant operation over Afghanistan, flew around 100 missions over Libya last year (compare that with just 22 Apache sorties!), flew to protect the Olympics and will now ensure the Cougar 12 task group has clear situational awareness.
Need i to say more...?

Sea King MK7 lined up on HMS Illustrious' deck. The "baggers", so nicknamed because of the very evident radome, are constantly in action. The fleet of MK7s is tiny (around 10 or so), and there are just two frontline squadrons plus an OCU, but they sustain a now years-old constant deployment to Afghanistan, while delivering AEW services to the fleet at the same time. They are one of the most precious, and less celebrated, assets for the Armed Forces. 

Air Defence: Cougar 12 is to set sail without an anti-aircraft destroyer. Air defence will be provided by 2 Type 23 frigates with their SeaWolf missiles, and by a French Horizon destroyer later on once the fleets join forces.
The Air Defence capability of 3rd Commando is very basic, with just a Starstreak-equipped AD troop part of 30 Commando. It can do little more than protect the brigade HQ. Still better than what 16 Air Assault brigade can do (its own AD battery, part of 47 Royal Artillery regiment, became a UAV battery), but insufficient in any scenario in which the enemy can launch air attacks.

Of course, the Royal Artillery can supply a Rapier battery in the case, but the Rapier is showing its age, and won't be very useful against modern airplanes and weapons. By around 2020, the Rapier will be replaced by CAMM missile launchers mounted on HX60 4x4 trucks. The new missile will offer much greater range and far better capabilities. However, differently from Rapier which can be brought quickly ashore under slung from helicopters, the truck launcher of CAMM will need transport on a LCU.

In presence of enemy air menaces, bringing ashore air defence batteries would be a priority, as happened in San Carlos during the Falklands War, so that a quickly-deployable air defence system would very much improve the capabilities of the force.
In my review of CAMM, i proposed development of a pallettized vertical missile launcher exploiting the cold-lauch feature of the new missile, along with the fact that CAMM uses a secure data link to dialogue with pretty much any kind of radar to get target bearings.
Such pallets could be very easily under slung by helicopters and landed around the area to protect, and they would use the data-link to be feed initial targeting data by whatever radar was available.

Allies: 3rd Commando Brigade has an historic ally and operational partner in the Dutch marines, which are assigned to the british amphibious brigade as part of NATO force arrangements. The collaboration is so total that the Dutch marines all but adopted the Bowman C4I system to be able to fit seamlessly in with the Royal Marines.
Now of course the focus is on building up the relationship with the French marine infantry, and Cougar 12 will be a big step forwards. France is sending to the exercise elements of its 9th Brigade, Marine Infantry, aboard the LHD Mistral.
France is also providing the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle with its embarked air wing, the tanker and supply ship Meuse, the Horizon-class AAW destroyer Chevalier Paul and the F70-class frigate Jean de Vienne.

Amphibious vessels: the UK currently has two Landing Platform Dock ships, the two sisters HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, but unfortunately the SDSR 2010 mandated that one of the two would be tied up in port at Extended Readiness, with the two ships alternating into service each time they hit their major refit period. Currently, HMS Albion is at low readiness, and will only return in 2016 (if there's not a rethink or an emergency before that) when the sisters will trade places.

The LPDs are excellent in terms of Landing Craft capability, as they carry each 4 LCVP MK5 and 4 LCU MK10. The first can carry 35 Royal Marines or a medium vehicle up to BV206; the second is a slow but autonomous ships that can stay out at sea on its own for up to two weeks, and with the payload capacity to take a Challenger 2 main battle tank.

The LPDs have also excellent command and control facilities and communications fits, with a 73-workstations command centre, but they have no hangar for helicopters and normally only carry around 305 deployable Marines. A further 405 could be embarked, but only in Overload conditions and for a short period.
Space for vehicles is described at times as sufficient for 33 medium armoured vehicles or six tanks, but none of the two descriptions seems accurate. Obviusly, the number of vehicles carried depends on the mix of types embarked. Navy Matters, normally extremely well informed, reports capacity for up to 6 tanks plus 6 L118 light guns and up to 67 other vehicles, probably Land Rover-sized.
In any case, the Albion class carries relatively few men and vehicles. I've found mention of the vehicle-space being just 500 lane meters, which means less than half the capacity of a Bay class LSD (1200). Vehicles can embark via a RoRo ramp on the starboard side, and there is a ramp that allows them to drive up to the flight deck, from which they can be brought ashore under slung by helicopter.

There are extensive spaces for supplies and ammunition, and the palletized supplies are embarked via ports located port and starboard at vehicle deck level.
Munitions for the embarked force are embarked and struck down to the magazine complex on their transit package using mechanical handlers and an ammunition lift.

Originally, the LPDs' flight deck was meant for simultaneous operation of two Sea King or Merlin helicopters, with space for a third helicopter parked near the superstructure. The last refit cleared the ships for simultaneous operation of two Chinooks.

The decision to build the LPDs without an hangar was unfortunate, in my opion, but at least they were given extensive aviation support capabilities and, during their latest refits, the two vessels have been given significant improvements to flight deck facilities, and now they can operate with two Chinooks at once on deck.
HMS Albion proved last year, during Cougar 2011, that she could operate from her deck a large Tailored Air Group made up of two Sea King HC4 and two Lynx, with a fifth Lynx joining sporadically onboard.

The well deck on HMS Albion, empty. The two lanes, separated by the wooden wall, each can take 2 LCU MK10, parked one after the other. The MK10 is a Ro-Ro with ramps at both ends, so vehicles can drive through the first LCU and get into the second, speeding up operations. The overhead gantry crane speeds up embarkation of palletized supplies (up to 6 tons) and palletized ordnance and ammunitions (up to 4.5 tons). Monorails and cranes speed up movement of supplies from stowage spaces to the crafts.

The lack of helicopter facilities was of course justified at the time of building with the presence in the fleet of dedicate Landing Platform Helicopter ships, which lack the well deck and have very little vehicle space but excellent aviation facilities in exchange.

In fact, the LPH ended up being one, with a planned sister actually never built. HMS Ocean is the sole ship in her class, and the lack of a second hull has been and still is balanced by using Invincible-class aircraft carriers in Commando Carrier role.
Ocean can carry a force of 480 Marines (803 at Overload for short periods), with 4 LCVP MK5 landing crafts. She has a small vehicle space for 40 Land Rovers and 34 small trailers, plus 6 L118 Light Guns, and there's a vehicle ramp leading to the sea level in the back of the ship, where a pontoon (carried on Ocean's deck when not in use) can be deployed to form a boat boarding area.

The Pontoon can be seen here clearly as it is prepared on the Flight Deck prior to being lowered into the water.
Pontoon and rear RoRo ramp deployed

Nominally the ramp can take a Viking, but this capability is very rarely tested, and only Land Rovers and Pinzgauers and perhaps BV206s are likely to move on it.

Boarding HMS Ocean via the pontoon and rear ramp, from a LCU MK10

HMS Ocean's main role is however that of providing hangar and support facilities for the Task Force's helicopters. She has six spots on her deck for helicopter operations and can carry 12 Sea King HC4 or Merlin helicopters and six Lynx. From 2003, the ship has been capable to embark Apaches, and has done so to great effect last year in Libya.

The hangar and aviation facilities are the main reason d'etrè for HMS Ocean

HMS Ocean tipically embarks a couple of Grifton 2400 LCAC(L) hovercrafts of the Marines.

HMS Illustrious is currently used as Commando Carrier, but lacks the LCVP capability, the rear ramp and boarding area and the vehicle deck. 300 to 600 Royal Marines can be taken aboard.
Illustrious will be decommissioned in 2014, leaving Ocean alone until HMS Queen Elizabeth is fully operational. HMS Ocean herself might be decommissioned as early as 2018, and any hope for a dedicate replacement has long been lost. LPH(Replacement) has been a dead program since at least 2006.

Under the "Carrier Enabled Power Projection" heading lays the expectation that the Queen Elizabeth carrier(s?) will be used as a Landing Helicopter Aviation (LHA) ship, carrying Royal Marines (up to 600) plus an F35B squadron and up to 30 helicopters. CVF's hangar is big enough to take over 40 folded-up Merlin helicopters.
It will be crucially important to get both carriers in service, so they can rotate in and out of deployment as the center of the future Royal Navy task groups. Bringing back a fixed wing aviation capability, they will massively expand the possibilities of the Task Force. Major improvements that they will offer include hangar and lifts big enough to comfortably take the Chinook helicopter: having no folding rotors, the Chinook currently cannot be lifted down into the hangar of Ocean or Illustrious. On CVF, it'll be easy.

Sure, folding rotors would still help using space in a more intelligent way, though...

The Queen Elizabeth carriers in their Commando Carrier role offer a rear boat boarding space (not accessible with vehicles however, differently from what happens on Ocean) accessible by stairs going down from the Hangar level.
It is not clear if the carriers will have davits capable of taking LCVPs. One drawing would seem to show LCVPs embarked, but i've been unable to obtain a clarification on this point.

The ACA confirmed that the CVF hull includes a rear area stretching outwards, which will improve sea handling and provide a boat-boarding space, accessible via stairs. Marines will be able to use this area to board landing crafts coming from other ships.
We know pretty much nothing about the ship boats facilities planned for CVF. I even asked the ACA on Twitter about it, but got no answer. In this graphic we see what (might) be the position of the ship's boats, and i think there might be LCVP MK5s depicted. In the image, the boats are roughly as long as an F35B, so well over 15 meters, so the size factor is positive.
This image, clearer and larger, also clearly shows a couple of RHIBs. Worth remembering that the blue lines represent the hangar and aircraft lifts of the Invincible class carriers, shown for comparison purposes.

Assault Squadrons Royal Marines: each amphibious ship has its own Assault Group Royal Marines as part of its core crew.

4th Squadron is HMS Albion's
6th Squadron is HMS Bulwark's
9th Squadron is HMS Ocean's

The exact current composition of an Assault Squadron is not entirely clear, but the formation mans the landing crafts and also provides a Beach Party that provides vital services early in the first phases of an amphibious landing.
The Assault Squadrons on the LPDs are, for obvious reasons, much larger than Ocean's one. An LPD's Beach Party is equipped with:

1x 'Hippo' Beach Armored Recovery Vehicle - there are only 4 such vehicles in the armed forces. 2 are permanently embarked, one on each LPD, with the other 2 used by 11 Trials and Training unit Royal Marines. The Hippo is a modified Leopard 1A5 tank fitted with a wheelhouse-like raised superstructure to operate constantly in deep water (up to 2.95 meters of depth). It can tow a 50 tons vehicle on the beach, or push back in the water even a 240 tons LCU MK10 if it becomes grounded.

HMS Albion's Hippo parked on the vehicle deck. BV206s can also be seen.

2x Medium Wheeled Tractor (Winterized/Waterproofed) -  At least one Medium Wheelie will be fitted with a Beach Trackway Dispenser unit, with which it will be able to lay down, in very short time, 50 meters of Class 30 trackway that will make soft ground safe for vehicles weighting up to 30 tons. The other MWT(WW) will probably be fitted with a earthmoving bucket.

The two Medium Wheeled Tractors on HMS Albion. In foreground, the one fitted with Beach Trackway Dispenser system, with the drums of Trackway piled up ahead.
Other vehicles and kit - The Assault Squadron probably also has a MAN HX60 6-ton truck and a Land Rover, and possibly other vehicles. On the ship there will also be quite a reserve of drums of Trackway in both Class 30 and Class 70, plus other useful equipment. 
Beautiful image from an exercise in Norway: many Royal Marines are already marching on from the shore, along with a number of BV206s, and the two LCU MK10s at the bottom are bringing in the equipment to prepare the ways out of the beach for vehicles that, differently from the BV206, would inexorably sink in soft ground. On the LCU bottom-left we can see the Hippo, while to the right we see the Beach Trackway Dispenser and drums of Trackway. 
Here the HIPPO is seen coming ashore from the PACSCAT prototype, trialed extensively last year to refine the requirements and targets for the future Fast Landing Craft. 

Apache gunship: powerful element in the Task Force, the Apache of Cougar 12 come from 656 Squadron Army Air Corps, by now the true specialist "naval" squadron in the Apache force, having operated over Libya from HMS Ocean last year.

The Apache is generations ahead of earlier gunships available to the Marines: the amphibious brigade used to get support "only" from Lynx AH7 of 847 Naval Air Service squadron armed with TOWs, with a flight of Gazelle helos providing reconnaissance and targeting.
Now the Gazelle is gone and the AH7 era is over: 847 is currently using the Lynx AH9A for Afghanistan operations, and next year will be the first squadron to convert to the new Wildcat AH1.

Once, 847 NAS had been planning to get Apaches directly, but the reduction from over 90 to 67 attack helicopters meant that ambitions had to be reduced massively. Luckily, the UK still went ahead with several modifications for its Apache fleet, which included much greater all-weather capability and folding rotors for ships operations.

Apache gunships on HMS Illustrious for Cougar 12

Artillery: there's the unpleasant rumor going around that 29 Commando Royal Artillery will be badly hit by cutbacks as part of Army 2020. 148 Bty Meiktila and a Gun Battery might be disbanded, and it would lose the brigade a lot of firepower and capability.
Meiktila battery is made up by Fire Support Teams capable to direct artillery, mortar, air and naval gunfire strikes. They are parachute trained, and a couple of the teams are also trained for underwater insertion from submarines, via Chalfont (british name for the US Swimmers Delivery System MKIII). 

Army: since 2008, 1st Battalion The Rifles Regiment is part of 3rd Commando Brigade, but it will likely move away from it as part of Army 2020.


BV206: the smaller and lighter, unarmoured predecessor to the Viking is still fundamental to the Commando brigade. It is used in a wide variety of roles, including Mortar Carrier, Electronic Warfare (a BV206 variant carries the ODETTE EW system for Y Squadron, 30 Commando IX) and Satellite Communications, with the REACHER-Medium terminal (capable of 2 MEBs) mounted on two BV206 plus trailers.
The Royal Marines would like to finally retire the venerable 206s, and tried in 2008, but the All Terrain Vehicle (Support) requirement was killed in just a month, while Warthog was procured as UOR instead.
Will Warthog go to the Marines at the end of operations in Afghanistan...? It is amphibious, all terrain, armoured and is built on the same concept as the BV206 and Viking. We shall see.

BV206 Mortar Carriers of 42 Cdo in action 
A BV206 personnel carrier of 45 Cdo in Norway


Commando Helicopter Force: the Commando Helicopter Force will, in a few years time, say goodbye to the Sea King HC4 to transit onto the Merlin HC4 instead, and it will be a great step forwards in capability.
The Merlin HC4 is a variant (yet to be fully defined) of the Merlin HC3 currently in service with the RAF. It is planned that the HC3 and 3A airframes (28 in total) will go through a Mid Life Upgrade that will include some navalization measures, prior to being handed over to the Navy for use in the "Junglies" squadrons of CHF, the numbers 848, 845 and 846.
A forward fleet of 25 is anticipated.

The Merlin offers the advantages of modern avionics, younger aiframes, a rear ramp that the Sea King never had, greater payload and the capability to carry 24 troops.
The full extent of the upgrade is still being planned out, as is the extent of the "navalization". It has long been anticipated that the need to keep costs down will probably mean that the tail won't be modified, and so won't be foldable, unlike with the naval HM2 variant of the Merlin. This will mean using up more deck space, but with the enormous Queen Elizabeth carriers on the way, this is no longer seen as a problem as urgent as before.

In the last few months training for naval personnel on the new helicopter has been making big steps forwards with the first flights of a Merlin HC3 with a sole-Navy crew.
RAF personnel will be out of the Merlin activities by late 2014 or 2015, and 846 NAS will be operative on transferred Merlins already in 2015.
The machines won't be upgraded and navalized to full HC4 standard before January 2017, however, so the phasing out of Sea King, the arrival of Merlin and the upgrade of Merlin will all be gradual, and will need some careful planning. 846 NAS is anticipated to be the first (frontline) squadron getting the Merlin HC4.

848 NAS is the OCU squadron.

This Sea King HC4 is seen with a L118 Light Gun under slung. The Merlin HC4 will replace the Sea King in 2016.
Marines boarding Sea Kings on HMS Illustrious
Interestingly, the HC3 is the only helicopter in service with a demonstrated air to air refuelling capability, even if it is not normally used. A RAF HC3 validated AAR taking fuel from a C130J tanker provided by Italy's air force. Trials took place in February 2008.

Above, a Merlin HC3 working in Afghanistan. Below, a photo of the AAR trials in 2008.

Along with 847 NAS with its Wildcat helicopters, the Merlin squadrons will keep the CHF effective and relevant well into the future. 

This Special Forces insertion mini-submarine (should be available in 3 units) used by the Special Boat Service is a capability that has been quietly gapped for years, since HMS Spartan, last submarine modified to take it, was retired in 2009.
With the Astute era, however, Chalfont returns to full glory, as all Astute submarines are ready at build to embark the Dry Deck Shelter and the mini-sub carried into it. The Astutes also have a lock-out chamber to allow divers to go in and out without the submarine having to surface, and the new SSNs also have 11 spare bunks, with the possibility to carry a significant number of special forces operators and additional personnel.
HMS Astute was fitted with the Chalfont during its trials.

Chalfont seen on HMS Spartan

The Swimmer Delivery Vehicles have been procured from the US in 1999, while the Dry Deck Shelter used as part of Chalfont is british designed and built. The Hangar was designed and built under 'Project Alamanda'. It is around 40 feet long, 9 wide and 9 high. Weight is likely to be around 30 tons, so Chalfont is air portable on C17 and, almost certainly, it will be capable to be carried by the A400 Atlas when it enters service. 
It is said to be separated in three compartments, one for storing the SDV, kayaks or rigid raiders, another to allow passage into the main submarine and a forward compartment for decompression and treatment of divers.

Special forces operators, Fire Support Teams and beach reconnaissance parties could use the Chalfont to go ashore undetected ahead of an amphibious operation. 


Engineer support: unfortunately, 3rd Commando Brigade took an hit from Army 2020 with the killing of the plan for standing up a proper engineer regiment.
24 Commando Engineer Regiment formally stood up in 2008, with the aim of building up an additional squadron (56 Sqn) to be added to 24 HQ & Sp Sqn, 59 Sqn and 131(V) Reserve squadron. In reality, 56 Squadron was never formed, and the cuts of Army 2020 imply the disbandment of 24 Regiment and the return to the sole 59 Indipendent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers, plus 131 (Volunteers).
This despite the call and need for more engineer support.

There is really not enough engineer capacity for the Amphibious Brigade, but the Commando Engineers that remain provide all the capability they can.


Force Protection Craft

The Royal Marines have a requirement for a dozen combat boats which have to carry at least 8 fully equipped soldiers and be able to land them ashore, but that must also be very fast, very maneuverable and well armed, to provide fire support and force protection, particularly against enemy fast boats. The boats should start arriving in 2015 and be in service by 2017 and replace part of the LCVP MK5s, of which they will share the general dimensions, so that they can be deployed by the same davits and carried on LPDs and Bay-class LSDs.

To build experience and determine their full list of requirements and wishes, the Royal Marines have borrowed a number of CB90 combat boats from Sweden. The trials campaign is ongoing, and i reported about it quite extensively in January.
The Force Protection Craft would also introduce a much greater Riverine Combat capability for the Royal Marines: the US have selected the CB90 for their own Riverine Command Boat requirement.
Operations in Brown waters and along rivers and strategic waterways are expected to be a lot more common in the future, and the RM's experience of riverine combat in Iraq made clear that LCVPs and simple RHIBs are not quite enough in such demanding and dangerous environments.

The CB90 is indicative of what the Royal Marines want as their new combat boat under many aspects, but not quite what the Marines want.
This month, in the Gulf, the Royal Navy had further chances to trial operations with CB90s, as the US brought their Riverine Command Boats to the IMCMEX 2012 exercise, and operated two of them from RFA Cardigan Bay. The Bay-class LSD also worked as base for a US ScanEagle UAV system.
Cardigan Bay is in the Gulf acting as support ship for the british MCM flottilla. She carries supplies, command and control, and can refuel the minesweepers, acting as a true support hub. She is fitted with a couple of Phalanx CIWS guns for self protection.

Fast Landing Craft

The LCU MK10 is a good landing craft, but it definitely is not fast. They can land a Challenger 2, or carry 120 Marines, or deploy Hippo BARVs, or deploy 5 Vikings at once, and so along. They can operate autonomously for 14 days with a crew of 7 and have a range of 600 naval miles.
But they struggle to travel at 9 knots of speed. They are slow, slow, slow. They force the amphibious vessels to go closer to the shore than we would like, and slow down the operational tempo.

The Royal Marines want something better for the future, without daring to walk down the very expensive road traced by the americans with their huge hovercrafts.
The Fast Landing Craft must have the same dimensions as the LCU MK10, and the same general payload capabilities, so to immediately fit into the fleet and into already well-known practices. But it must be much faster.

Enter the PACSCAT (Partial Air Cushion Supported Catamaran) prototype, extensively trialed last year to refine the requirement and design for what is hoped will be the LCU MK11.
The PACSCAT has the same general sizes as the MK10, and roughly the same payload capabilities, but during trials it made 19 knots carrying a Challenger 2 MBT, and nearly 40 knots when unladen.  Like the MK10, it is a RoRo craft with ramps at both ends. Replace a LCU MK10 with a PACSCAT, and your operational tempo improves dramatically. Especially since they have almost exactly the same footprint, so Albion and Bulwark would still carry four each.

The PACSCAT was trialed extensively from the LPDs, and proved successful. It was used to carry the Hippo, the Challenger 2, packets of 5 Vikings or 4 HX60 trucks and the Terrier engineer vehicle.

Even more relevant than speed is the ability of the PACSCAT to operate on an higher number of beaches thanks to a more favorable Beach Gradient requirement.
An hovercraft like the US LCAC is normally able to access almost all beaches (roughly 70% of the world's coastline is suitable for LCAC operations, it is estimated), but a conventional LCU has considerably less choice.
In 2003, the armoured vehicles for 3rd Commando brigade were planned to go ashore on a US LCAC because the planned beach landing point was not accessible for the old LCU MK9.

It is evident that a landing craft able to menace more beaches make defence even harder and more expensive for an enemy.


The Royal Navy plans to retire from service the mighty Goalkeeper CIWS in 2015, since there will be too few systems in service to make it cost-effective to support it any longer.
The Goalkeeper is installed in pairs on HMS Albion and Bulwark. Another 3 such systems are on HMS Illustrious, and will retire with her in 2014.
Each of the four Type 22 Batch 3 frigates scrapped by the SDSR had a Goalkeeper too.

The MOD aims to sell to other navies the Goalkeepers removed from the ships which have been withdrawn. It is not clear what will replace the Goalkeepers on Albion and Bulwark in 2015, but probably they'll just be fitted with Phalanx.

However, there would be better uses for the Goalkeeper systems available: each of the 3 Bay-class LSDs of the RFA is fitted-for-but-not-with Goalkeeper. Their Dutch "sister ships" (not identical, but of the same design family) are regularly fitted.
Fitting the Bays with the available Goalkeepers would mean making good use of 6 out of 7 mounts that will be otherwish ship-less by 2014, and it would of course make the Bays much more survivable and well protected.
Currently, the Bays deploying to the Gulf are fitted with Phalanx guns on their cargo deck, but this wastes valuable space and does not provide arcs of fire as good as the intended Goalkeeper positions.
The Goalkeeper is, of course, more complex and more expensive, and penetrates one deck, while Phalanx is bolt-on, but Goalkeeper's firepower is considerably greater in exchange.

It's a shame to waste a precious and already available resource.

The two Phalanx CIWS can be clearly seen installed on the cargo deck of this Bay. The grey boxes behind would seem to be part of the Phalanx fit, too: they are probably generators. Phalanx is bolt-on, sure, but need access to ship's power and hydraulics, and the Bay was not built with Phalanx spots in mind.

The first Goalkeeper well
Second Goalkeeper well


Hovercraft: the marines recently renewed their small fleet of armored hovercrafts, with four Grifton 2400TD. It can fly at up to 45 knots over water and over any kind of terrain and clear vertical obstacles 0.8 meters tall, carrying a 2-ton pallet of supplies or a squad of 16 fully equipped marines, with a crew of 2.
The craft is armored, armed with a machine gun and fitted with thermal cameras for operation in all weathers, day and night. It is an excellent vehicle allowing raids to come, quickly, from unexpected directions.

They are known as Landing Craft Air Cushion (Light) and are operated by 539 Assault Squadron RM. They can also be transported by air on C130, A400 and obviously on C17.

There have been mentions here and there of a Royal Marines' interest for a LCAC (Medium), but very little is known about this. Unclear even what its role would be within the Task Force. 


Logistic ships: the Bay class Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) are operated by the RFA and complete the list of the proper "amphibious" vessels available to the UK. Once, up to 6 were envisaged, but only 4 were effectively built and, unfortunately, the SDSR 2010 took the disasterous decision of selling Largs Bay to save a paltry 12 millions a year in running costs.

The Bay are excellent vessels, with very low running cost and great flexibility, so much so that one is always kept in the Gulf as a support vessel for the Mine Countermeasure flottilla forward deployed in Bahrain.
With a crew of 59 and accommodation for 356 Marines, the Bay offers a well deck sized for a single LCU Mk10 and 1200 lane meters of space for embarking vehicles. Its cargo deck can be used to carry 24 standard 20' containers or a wide variety of other stores, boats, vehicles and equipment. The ship has an ample flight deck, but no hangar. It can, however, be fitted with a shelter for aircrafts built on the cargo deck, if deemed necessary. Two LCVP Mk5s can be carried on davits.
The number of troops can be increased to 500 using undesignated spaces, and in overload 700 Marines could squeeze aboard.
The cargo deck comes with two large 30-tons cranes, while two large mexeflote rafts are carried secured to the hull, port and starboard.

The vehicle deck is big enough for 24 Challenger 2s or up to 150 smaller vehicles. 

Cargo deck crammed with boats, Rhibs, containers, vehicles and stores, Mexeflotes secured to the hull. The Bays are true workhorses.
And the well dock.

Workboats: the four workboats of the Royal Logistic Corps (17 Port and Maritime regiment) are perhaps the less known bits of kit in the armed forces, but they are very much in demand and part of the action.
Procured in 2007, the current four boats (Storm, Diablo, Sirocco, Mistral) are used as deployable mini-tugs to help operating Mexeflote rafts and to town unpowered rafts and do a variety of other tasks. One workboat was at the Jubilee's river pageant, another was part of the effort for protection of the Olympics, and one probably is part of the Cougar 12 deployment.

Their favorite way to get to the area of operations is, you guess it, on the cargo deck of a Bay!

You should have no difficulties spotting the Army workboat on the deck.

Mexeflote: simple and unglamorous. Perhaps even ugly. But it works! Mexeflotes are pontoons made of welded steel construction with flush sides, that can be assembled to build different sizes and shapes of floating structures. There are bow, centre and stern sections that can be assembled together.
Once formed in a Maxi-Mexeflote raft, which is the one normally carried by the Bay class LSDs, a Mexeflote can carry almost 200 tons of vehicles and stores, even with waves of 1.5 meters. 

Fitted with special outboards engines, they can be made into powered rafts, usually commanded by a NCO and with a crew of 5.

If the ship can go close enough to the shore, Mexeflotes can be assembled to form a causeway allowing vehicles to drive ashore directly.

Think Defence has written some very clear description of the Mexeflote raft, so i suggest you read it. It should answer all your questions.

Like the Workboats, Mexeflotes are provided by 17 Port & Marittime Regiment RLC.

In this photo from Think Defence, a Mexeflote is used to unload vehicles from the rear ramp of a Point-class RoRo transport.
Again thanks to the Australians, we have some really great images of a Mexeflote being deployed from HMAS Choules, (ex-Largs Bay).

Inside the ship in this photo we can see the propellers and engine units for the Mexeflotes, stored.

Here the Mexeflote raft is deployed into the water

Assembling the engines, and then a container unit will be lowered in the middle as wheelhouse

Now the work is for the ship's crane, lowering vehicles from the cargo deck onto the Mexeflote.

The powered raft can also just drive into the well dock and let vehicles roll on and off directly from the vehicle deck.
Deploying vehicles ashore. Also note the trackway Class 30 deployed to overcome safety the soft ground.


Point-class RoRo ships: these invaluable vessels were delivered early and on budget, and proved themselves immediately, when four of them alone, just delivered, carried roughly 11% of all the equipment shipped to the Gulf for Operating Telic in 2003.
They offer 2606 lane meters for carrying vehicles, or can take 668 TEU containers, with 30 reefered. They have a 40-tons crane.


I've in the past written a detailed overview of these strategically invaluable transports.


Royal Logistic Corps: we have seen already examples of the importance of the RLC to amphibious operations, with the workboats and mexeflotes. The RLC also lines a substantial fleet of Combat Support Boats, and a flottilla of large landing crafts, the Ramped Craft Logistic. This large kind of craft can carry two fully laden containers or other loads. 2 are based in Cyprus, the others at Marchwood.

The vessels are maintained by Serco Denholm under a PFI contract. Serco also provides the Royal Navy with all tugs and port support ships (see here for details. 

Complement 6 (2 NCOs)
Length 33.3 m
Beam 8.3 m
Maximum draught 1.5 m (laden)
Displacement 290 tonnes (laden)
Carries around 100 tons of stores max, normally four TEU containers, troops, one Challenger or four Scimitars
Engine 2 x Dorman 8JTCWM diesel
Maximum speed 10 kts (laden)

Number   Name                      Year        Homeport            
L107        Andalsnes                1984    Cyprus        
L109        Akyab                       1984    Cyprus
L110        Aachen                     1986    Marchwood
L111        Arezzo                       1986    Marchwood
L112        Arromanches             1987    Marchwood
L113        Audemer                    1987    Marchwood

Unfortunately, these vessels are to be all decommissioned in the next few years, one per year, and there is no replacement in sight.
One solution might be to give the LCU MK10s to the RLC (they are still quite young) when the Royal Marines receive the new Fast Landing Craft.

L113 Audemer

Supply ships: the new MARS FT tankers on order for the RFA will also have the task of ensuring that fuel can be delivered ashore to support the troops.

The next phase of MARS is the purchase of 3 new Solid Support Ships to replace the Fort-class vessels. These SSS vessels will have the task of delivering food, ammunition, spare parts and other consumables to ships at sea and, crucially, they are also required to support troops on land. The new vessel might be given a vehicle deck and a well dock and RoRo arrangements to help in this. 

Smart Defense: the UK will be leading two projects under the NATO Smart defence umbrella. The most fascinating and relevant to amphibious operations is the Theatre Opening Capability project which seeks to develop a multinational capability for expeditionary operations to establish a port of debarkation and conduct cargo handling and movement operations.

The scope of this initiative is potentially very ample, depending on the level of ambition that will be set. We are looking, potentially, at a true re-edition, in modern key, of the Mulberry Harbour pre-fabricated port of D-Day memory, depending on the level of existing infrastructure envisaged as requisite for “establishing a port of debarkation”.  

I've looked into this subject here



Tanks: amphibious forces, differently from air assault forces, have the realistic capability of deploying immediately with meaningful quantities of vehicles, included tanks. The capability to land Challenger 2s on the beach was demonstrated early on in the life of HMS Albion and of their LCU Mk10 landing crafts: 4 Challenger 2s, in fact, were landed on the US coast on 3 July 2004. They were from 1st Troop, A Squadron, 1st Royal Tank Regiment, and they were landed in support of 42 Commando as part of exercise Aurora. The tanks were actually borrowed from The Queen's Royal Lancers. Since then, the ability to beach heavy armor has been (relatively) frequently trialed and demonstrated.



Soon, the Navy hopes to have UAVs flying from ships and helping naval operations.
The Royal Navy has launched a 40 million UOR for the acquisition of a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, and probably the Scan Eagle (or its newer, bigger and more capable incarnation, the Integrator) will be selected.
The Navy validated Scan Eagle on Type 23 frigates already back in 2006, and in the Gulf the Bay-class LSD Cardigan Bay has been operating with a US Scan Eagle battery aboard. Soon enough, the Royal Marines could well have access to embarked UAVs that would help make the brigade even more effective.

In the longer term, the Royal Navy expects to put into service an unmanned helicopter with much greater capabilities, possibly including that of carrying under slung loads and employ weapons.

Unfortunately, the selection of the STOVL path for the aircraft carriers makes it harder to plan for the long term, where ideally there will be larger UAVs (Scavenger?) and UCAVs roaming the sky.

Scan Eagle comes back to the ship
Wire caught, drone successfully recovered. 


Viking: recent and most welcome news is the contract for the reconditioning of the Viking fleet, exhausted by the use in Afghanistan.


For now, this is the list. There are countless other things that could and should be mentioned, from Tomahawk missiles to MCM capability. But one point is, i think, very clear by now: the flexibility and effectiveness of amphibious forces, with all the options they do offer.
Amphibiosity is an area where i'd definitely put my investments.

And one thing that i think was really, really stupid in the SDSR, was the withdrawal of Largs Bay.