Thursday, May 29, 2014

State of the Royal Navy: a roundup - Part 2

Part 1

Merlin HM2

The passage from HM1 to HM2 is progressing, with two squadrons converted to the upgraded machine: 824 NAS, the OCU, and 820 NAS, one of the "carrier squadrons" (the other being 814 NAS). 829 NAS, which supplies six small ship flights for the Type 23 frigates, should have begun its transition in November 2013 and should be fully converted to the HM2 by the end of June. The last squadron to convert will be 814 NAS,as they are locked in operations in the Gulf area and will only be able to start converting in October, with the process to be completed in early 2015.
Subsequent releases of software are complicating the readiness cycle, as the first HM2 helicopters have to be parked again to receive the latest software standard, including the Night Vision Google capability, which should hit IOC in time for the big June 2014 deployment of 820 NAS on HMS Illustrious (more on this later).
The Full Operating Capability won't be achieved before March 2015, as the last four helicopters to be converted will include additional work done to carry forwards the UOR fit added to 4 HM1 for maritime security operations in the Gulf.
This includes fitting DAS self protection, a ballistic protection package, full motion video capability and EO/IR turret.

As part of the HM2 upgrade, i believe that all 30 helicopters were made compatible with the MX-15 EO/IR turret, but unfortunately this continues to be a role fit for a few machines, rather than a stable addition to the Merlin's capability.
This is depressing, as the lack of EO/IR and of anti-surface attack capability (beyond the M3M machine gun) is a recognized handicap of the british Merlin which was exposed from the very beginning. Unbelievably, after all these years the problem still hasn't been solved. Lack of money and the wish to protect the requirement for Lynx and Wildcat in the eyes of the Treasury seem to be the reason, because the Merlin definitely can receive an integrated EO/IR and launch missiles: ask the italian navy.
This situation leaves the Royal Navy in the awkward situation of having an helicopter good mostly just for ASW (Merlin), and one just for surface attack (Wildcat). With the latter actually facing potentially years of no attack capability at all as FASGW fails to deliver the new missiles in time.
In other words: a Royal Navy ship, to have a full capability set, would need to embark a Merlin and a Wildcat at the same time, otherwise half of the sky is always missing.

The UOR nature of the MX-15 and of the DAS system is evident from their installation. The EO/IR turret conflicts with the possibility to carry weapons on the side on which it is installed, and it also seems to have a limited field of view.
The CSP sadly couldn't include a proper EO/IR fit and the integration of anti-surface capability. Both have been a Fleet Air Arm requirement ever since the Merlin entered service.

Will the Fleet Air Arm ever be able to get this?

The avionics and mission system improvements are massive, and the flexibility of the helicopter is much improved, thanks to the mission consoles that can split and make space for other missions. The HM2 can carry up to 12 stretchers for MEDEVAC, or transport 16 troops in a maritime security configuration, and can also lift 10.000 lbs (a good 4500 kg) under slung. We all hope not to see anymore precious HM Merlins lifting L118 Light Guns around, though.

The first few upgraded helicopters have been getting into the action, with the first deployment made as part of exercise Dynamic Mongoose, a 11-days ASW chase in the waters of Norway held last february. The exercise saw the deployment of three Merlin flights, two of which equipped with the HM2, working from a norwegian air base alongside an HM1 from 05 Flight, 829 NAS, which flew from HMS Kent.

The Merlin force is in for a much more notable challenge as a full ASW complement of 9 helicopters deploys on HMS Illustrious for a oceanic chase for the first time in many years. This June, HMS Illustrious will set sail for the Atlantic ocean embarking 9 Merlin HM2 and 1 HM1, for their biggest test yet as part of the exercise Deep Blue. The exercise will see, from the first time since the end of the Cold War, a full 24 hours / 7 days ASW scenario in which three helicopters are in the air all the time.

The Merlin fleet is high in demand. Four helicopters with DAS and EO/IR turret are always high on the list of the needs of the Royal Navy force in the Gulf; a number of helicopters must take up the job that once was of the Nimrod to protect the movements of SSBNs in and out of Faslane; flights are needed for the Type 23s; and in the future deployments "en masse" on the model of Deep Blue will have to become far more common with the new carriers.
And to all this, the Royal Navy is forced to add the AEW role with CROWSNEST. A small fleet worked very, very hard. 

Unmanned Air Vehicles 

The Royal Navy, after trying for years (since 2005, when it first trialed it) has finally managed to obtain a couple of Scan Eagle systems, employed in the Gulf, one on the Bay LSD acting as mothership in the area, and one on the deployed Type 23 frigate. 
The two UAV systems are contractor owned and contractor operated, but under mission control of the Royal Navy. The senior service hopes to build on from this first achievement, and hopefully obtain full control of its UAVs. 
A first development, however, could be linking the Scan Eagle to the ship's helicopter, so that the UAVs can be sent patroling further away from the frigate: for the moment, security and safety concerns comport the limitation of flying the UAVs within the direct control of the frigate, including radar contact. 

Later this year, the Royal Navy will trial its first rotorcraft UAV onboard a Type 23 frigate. The test aircraft will be an optionally manned SW-4 SOLO helicopter provided by AgustaWestland under a 2.3 million contract. The SOLO will be fitted with a Selex ES PicoSar radar, a VigilX imaging system and a DRS Technologies EO/IR turret. 

VigilX is a Selex ES product that brings together feeds from multiple cameras situated around an aircraft to create a single integrated panoramic image that is displayed to the crew. It provides the aircrew with an all-direction view of the outside environment, allowing them to ‘see through the hull’ of the aircraft. The system improves flight safety and, via a combination of camera types supplemented by 3D conformal symbology, allows platforms to operate at any time 24/7, even in degraded visual environments caused by darkness, sand, dust, heavy rain and sea spray.
This will help the SOLO demonstrate operations up to Sea State 6, as required. 

The possibility to have a pilot on board ensures no problems with civilian airspace regulations when in transit. 

The helicopter will serve only as a test and concept development machine, for now. The Royal Navy has called in other contractors to provide other systems to trial, in order to explore the possible uses of a rotary wing UAV for ISTAR and even Mine Counter Measure operations. Atlas and Thales will be involved to demonstrate subsystems for the MCM role. 
The Royal Navy plans to eventually acquire an operational RWUAS in the early 2020s, built on the lessons learned with this experimentation program. 


The Future Air to Surface Guided Weapon program is due to replace the venerable Sea Skua missile with two different weapons: FASGW Light, is the Thales Light Multirole Missile, while the Heavy round is a new missile to be jointly developed with France by MBDA.

Unfortunately, both programs have suffered delays and won't be ready to deliver by 2015 to equip the Wildcat, causing a new gap in capability that will get progressively worse as the Lynx MK8 and Sea Skua are withdrawn from service, without their replacement being ready.

The MOD and Thales signed a contract in 2011 for the development and delivery of some 1000 LMM missiles. This was possible by modifying the existing contract for the supply of Starstreak VSHORAD missiles. The deliveries have started, but the integration contract to get the missile onto the Wildcat helicopter is still missing.
To make things worse, it has emerged that Roxel has been unable to hand over satisfyingly performing rocket motors for the LMM, and Thales has decided to ask Nammo to step in. Roxel is not going through a good period: it also had significant problems in getting the Vulcan rocket motor for Brimstone 2 to perform, causing a delay to that program. But while that problem was solved with Roxel staying in, a different decision has been made in this case.

The Wildcat should eventually be able to carry up to 4 FASGW Heavy, or 20 LMM, or 2 FASGW Heavy and up to 10 LMM.

A mock up of FASGW Heavy (for the french it is instead ANL, light anti-ship missile) Image by

The go ahead for the development of FASGW Heavy has instead been slowed down by budgetary problems. France had to go through its defence white paper, and getting them to sign for this program while they had greater priorities elsewhere proved to be a struggle. The contract was finally signed in april this year, but the delay means that we are looking at a late 2020 entry in service. It is not yet clear if the gap caused by this delay will be somehow mitigated, and how.

FASGW (Heavy) will have a 30 kg warhead, good for targets in the 50 to 500 or 1000 tons range. The range will be at least double that of the current Sea Skua, it is expected. Weight will be between 110 and 150 kg, and guidance will be passive, imaging infra red. The missile can also be employed against static land targets.
FASGW (Heavy) will be compatible, with minimum adjustements, with the support tooling and even the containers used for Sea Skua. 

The LMM is a derivative of the Starstreak missile, and is compatible with the Starstreak launchers, including the man-portable, LML and vehicle mounted system. It is much slower (Mach 1.5, reportedly, versus well over mach 3) and it employs a 3 kg unitary multi-effect warhead instead of the three darts of Starstreak. Range is roughly 8 kilometers. It can be used as air-to-air, air to ground and ground to air weapon.
The air launched Starstreak (ATASK)
Initially the missile will be produced in laser beam riding variant, but development of a Semi Active Laser variant is ongoing, as well as studies on different warhead options and new forms of employment. LMM is offered as an additional weapon for the SIGMA naval gun mount, for enhanced anti-FIAC and anti-air capability; and it has also been tested in a free-fall, gliding ultra-light munition for use from aircraft, primarily unmanned.

Future growth potential
A free-fall extremely low collateral damage weapon derived from LMM was tested from a Lynx helicopter simulating a UAV. A gliding munition would give UAVs a cheap, long-range mini munition.
The addition of LMM cluster to naval gun mounts brings long-range precision firepower. This arrangement was trialed at the Eskmeals range and has the eye of the Royal Navy as a potential answer to swarming attacks at sea.

Tide class tankers

The much needed new tankers to be delivered under MARS FT will represent a massive boost in capability from the current old and tired fleet of diverse tankers, made up by the big Orangeleaf and by Black Rover and Gold Rover.

The small Rovers are military vessels with a flight deck plus capacity for 340 tons of solid stores, 7460 cubic meters of diesel fuel, 600 tons of AVCAT, 70 tons of lubricating oils and 362 cubic meters of fresh water. Orangeleaf instead began her career as a civilian tanker, so has no aviation facilities at all, but carries 22.000 cubic meters of diesel and 3800 cubic meters of aviation fuel.
These old vessels are all single-hulled, old and hard worked, and they badly need replacement. MARS FT took a long time before starting, and the delivery of the new vessels will greatly improve the capability available to the navy.

The new 37.000 tons tankers - Tidespring, Tiderace, Tidesurge, Tideforce - have a 19.000 cubic meters capacity for ship and aviation fuel. They are designed to be military vessels, and include a vast flight deck (suitable for Chinook operations), an hangar - workshop for a Merlin-sized helicopter and spaces for aviation stores to support the operation of a permanently embarked flight. There are also a dedicated admin office and an aircrew briefing room separated from the ship's own.

The fuels and oils are carried in tanks arranged three abreast, with the centreline tanks designed as issue tanks. Surrounding these will be ballast water tanks providing the double hull mandated by international law.

The abeam RAS system selected for the new tankers is of conventional design, but comes with several improvements over ships in service: all winches and drives are installed below deck to protect them from the elements and make maintenance easier while leaving more clear space on the upper deck. The system has a lower power consumption, and the RAS masts are boxed in to reduce their exposition and radar signature. The whole vessel has a clean line, with the ship boats recessed into the superstructure, again with benefic effect on radar cross section.
Each abeam rig carries up to to 7'' hoses and one 2.5'' hose. The larger hoses are meant to cut down the time required to resupply the aircraft carriers with fuel and fresh water. The tankers have two RAS masts on the starboard side, corresponding to the Queen Elizabeth class's two receiving stations on port side.
On the port side, the MARS tankers have a single RAS mast, meant for the resupply of escort vessels.
On deck, eight 20' containers can be carried, containing solid stores, including refrigerated.

The ship has provision for refueling astern and for receiving a line over the bow.

The ship has hybrid diesel-electric propulsion on two shafts with controllable pitch 6.5 meters propellers.
The ship has accommodation for 108, accounting for a crew of 63 plus 45 additional berths for RFA training margin, embarked flight and embarked military force.

The ships have a communications fit allowing them to operate seamlessly with the fleet, and can receive weapons including two 30mm light guns and two Phalanx CIWS mounts.

The first ship is to be delivered to the MOD on 15 October 2015, followed by the others at six months intervals, with the last delivery planned for 15 April 2017.
The building of the first vessel, Tidespring, is planned to begin in South Korea this June, with the building of each vessel taking 10 months.

MARS Fleet Solid Support

Decisions for MARS FSS are due in the next SDSR, with the program having been included into the Carrier Enabled Power Projection capability. These new vessels will have to replace the Forts and deliver solid stores, including huge amounts of weapons for the aircraft carrier air wing.
There are little news about this project for the moment. The only new thing is that the MOD has apparently moved back to Fleet Solid Support as project name, after a period in which the acronym was Solid Support Ships.

The key innovation of these vessels will be the high capacity Heavy RAS system by Rolls Royce, able to move oversize loads weighting up to 5 tons, twice as much as the current. For details, see this earlier article.

Self protection weapons fit

The Royal Navy has 36 Phalanx CIWS mounts, and five more on order. All of the existing 36 should be brought to Block 1B Baseline 2 over time. Several already have been upgraded under two separate contracts that cover at least 20 turrets, and there's a years-old Foreign Military Sales authrorization from the US that covers all 36 upgrade kits needed. It just seems that, due to their significant costs, the kits are actually being acquired in small successive batches.

The Royal Navy is refurbishing the Phalanx mounts that it supplied to the army for conversion into Centurion land-based Counter Artillery Rocket Mortar (C-RAM systems). An unspecified number of Centurion systems, needed in Iraq, was obtained using leased trailers, which have been since handed back to the US, and Phalanx guns which were taken out of the 36 available to the Royal Navy.
At the end of the operations in Iraq, these Centurion-Phalanx guns have been removed from the trailers, quickly re-navalized and urgently installed on the cargo deck of Bay LSDs deploying to the Gulf. They are being now re-converted to fully naval Phalanx mounts and upgraded. 
Cardigan Bay is in the gulf right now with two re-navalized Centurion systems, formally "Marinised Land-Based Phalanx Weapon System" MLPWS, which will later be refurbished. 
MLPWS on Cardigan Bay

RFA Lyme Bay has already received a permanent fit of fully naval, upgraded Phalanx guns on the intended CIWS positions (originally tought for Goalkeeper, by the way, but Goalkeeper is going out of service by the end of next year) and i believe the other Bays will get their own sets at the next maintenance periods.
Phalanx is part of a series of upgrades to the Bays that include communication systems coming from the Type 22s, and 30mm light gun turrets. 
Lyme Bay during Cougar 2013, showing her Phalanx fit and the new radomes of the enhanced communications suite coming from the old Type 22 frigates
30mm guns are also being fitted.

Phalanx is present on the Type 45s (2 on each destroyer), on HMS Ocean (3x), on RFA Fort Victoria (2x), on RFA Fort Austin (2x) on Wave Ruler and Wave Knight (2 on each), on Lyme Bay (2x) and Cardigan Bay (2x MLPWS). That means that some 27 are currently installed, if i'm not missing some.

Mounts Bay didn't have Phalanx during Cougar last year and still did not have them in Joint Warrior, but should get them eventually, i believe. Fort Rosalie also seems to still be missing them.

When Goalkeeper goes out of service next year, we can expect the LPDs HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark to receive a Phalanx fit as replacement.

Strategic sealift 

Contrary to esplicit promise made in the SDSR, the government has, over the course of 2011, dropped two of the six Point-class RoRo transport vessels.

Only four such ships remain available to the MOD.

Mr Dunne: The movement of cargo by sea is primarily provided through the private finance initiative (PFI) strategic sealift service. The review of the Ministry of Defence's (MOD) strategic sealift requirement, in autumn 2011, concluded that better value for money would be achieved if the number of vessels contracted as part of this PFI was reduced from six to four. This reduction became effective on 27 April 2012 following detailed discussions between MOD officials and representatives of Foreland Shipping.
All six vessels are owned by Foreland Shipping under the PFI agreement. They were not purchased or maintained by the MOD.

Any remuneration between the MOD and Foreland Shipping as a result of the change made to the PFI agreement has yet to be determined. This is dependent, in part, on the sale of the two redundant vessels. The MOD will receive a percentage of the sale receipts from Foreland Shipping.

Overall the MOD is expected to accrue significant savings over the remaining period of the PFI agreement as a result of the decision to reduce the number of contracted vessels.

The two ships no longer part of the PFI used to be available on call. While the other four are in the immediate tasking availability of the MOD, these two vessels were used on the civilian shipping market but available on 20 and 30 days notice to move respectively.

P2000 inshore patrol boats

The P2000 boats are getting a new breath of life in a refit program aiming for a 15-years life extension. The boats are receiving new CAT C18 ACERT engines.

HMS Tracker and HMS Raider have been given kevlar armor and other upgrades, and have been assigned to the force protection role in the Faslane patrol boat squadron.
The Royal Marines of 43 Commando have two patrol boats of their own, Mull and Rona (Island class), obtained by upgrading and refurbishing ex MOD Police boats.

One of the two Island-class patrol boats of 43 Commando 
HMS Raider with the new kevlar armor fit

Mine countermeasures

The Royal Navy's precious minesweepers will have to work hard for many more years, so they are receiving an extensive refurbishment. The Hunt class is receiving new engines, gearboxes, bow thruster systems, propellers and machinery control systems under a six-year contract with BAE Systems. HMS Chiddingfold was the first vessel to re-enter service after the full change of engines and machinery, and after a program of upgrades and obsolescence removal.

The Sandown minehunters also receive substantial touch ups during their refits.

In addition, for their enduring presence in the Gulf the mine countermeasures vessels of both classes are receiving communications upgrades, including the addition of X band SATCOM. The four deployed ships have received their equipment fit, and Airbus is under contract for fitting out a further two vessels. The MOD hopes to be able to finance the installation of the system on the whole fleet.

As MCM ships rotate to the Gulf, they all progressively get "tropicalized" to better perform in the harsh climate of the gulf, and all forward deployed ships receive "significant" upgrades in force protection measures, including fitting miniguns, using enhanced ammunition and adding ballistic protection.

Looking out to the future, this could be a decisive year for the evolution of MCM technology, thanks to Hazard, an optionally manned - and later fully unmanned - surface craft that shall be able to venture into minefields to launch and recover unmanned underwater vehicles to search, locate and dispose of mines.
Hazard will also be used to tow combined influence sweep gear, re-instating a capability that was lost in late 2005 when the Hunt vessels finally disembarked their own kit.
A requirement has existed ever since, to procure and put in service an unmanned surface vehicle with sweep equipment, capable to be deployed from a Hunt ship.
Despite successful experimentation with systems such as FAST, no system was actually brought into service, instead being used to refine the concept and experiment the delivery of greater and more diverse capability.

Hazard, if she will prove herself capable of living up to all the promises, will be a key component of the Mine Counter Measures and Hydrographic Capability (MHPC) programme. The remotely operated boat will be able to deploy from a Hunt ship, move at high speed to the danger area, release UUVs for underwater search (such as the in-service REMUS 100 for swallow waters and the larger REMUS 600 for deep waters) and later sweep the area with towed equipment, or proceed to disposal of the mines in the deep with an unmanned system such as the in-service SeaFox or, better still, with a reusable ROV armed with multi-shot stand off disposal capability. 

In the future, such an unmanned boat will also be able to conduct hydrographic survey, deploying from any suitable mothership, or even from the coast. This will eliminate the need for extremely expensive specialized vessels with glass reinforced plastic hulls such as the Hunt and Sandown, which are, per meter, the most expensive vessels in the navy. The system of unmanned vehicles, potentially to include air vehicles as well, will be effectively decoupled from the mothership. The system will be able to deploy forward quickly by air or with land transport, and move onto a suitable vessel to reach a safe stan-off area. Only the unmanned vehicles will move into the minefield itself. 

The replacement vessels for the current Hunt and Minesweepers, in fact, are expected to be much larger, built of steel, with greater seakeeping and deployable capability. 3000 tons is the expected weight range for these new ships that, from 2028, should begin replacing not just the MCM ships, but the multi-role hydrographic vessels HMS Echo and HMS Enterprise as well, plus the tiny inshore survey boat HMS Gleaner. 
The same common hull could replace, in good time, the River OPVs. Unless, as we saw in part 1 of this report, they get replaced much earlier by the new ships to be built to keep the shipyards busy.

For now, Hazard has been working with a small team on board. The boat can easily touch 30 knots speed.

A re-usable ROV armed with a stand-off multi shot disposal weapon is a desirable upgrade from the SeaFox, which is a "suicide" vehicle which is sacrificed to dispose of the mines.

The REMUS 100 is meant to locate mines in waters from very shallow to 100 meters deep

Hazard is being tested around Portsmouth by the men of the Maritime Autonomous System Trials Team (MASTT). Before the year is over, though, the boat will have been experimented and demonstrated also in Brest (the french are partners in the development of future MCM solutions) and in La Spezia, Italy. 
The first interim package of MHPC modular minesweeping capability should be delivered in the 2018-19 timeframe as of current planning, and to achieve that the Royal Navy plans to conduct a full scale demonstration of the concept by modifying one Hunt minesweeper sometime within the next two years. The modified Hunt would have its stern modified and fitted with an A frame for the launch and recovery of one or two USVs like Hazard, and the ship would need to be modified to provide suitable command spaces, communications to the unmanned vehicles and storage space for their transport. 

A very old graphic showing how the Hunt minesweeper will be modified to launch and recover USVs. Hopefully we'll see the first ship modified within two years.
Sweeping minefields with helicopters is standard practice in USA and Japan. In particular, Japan uses the Merlin as the helicopter for this hard, risky job, and the Royal Navy has shown some interest in the possibilities. It is more likely, however, that the air component of the MHPC capability will be centered on an unmanned helicopter with sensors for the discovery of minefields.

Visions of the future? The french navy has its own program, SLAM-F, which follows the very same concept. Uk and France are collaborating in the definition of the future MCM system. This concept show a possible mothership replacement for the current french minesweepers. Image by

Hazard is an ATLAS Elektronik ATLAS Remote Combined Influence Minesweeping System (ARCIMS) boat modified according to Royal Navy requirements. Thales offers a very similar product, Halcyon. The video below shows Halcyon in action, and is very much representative of what Hazard is meant to do.

Successor SSBN 

The future SSBN project is progressing on both sides of the Atlantic. The less known but most interesting ongoing activity emerges from US documents that show that a prototype section of the Common Missile Compartment is being built, with activities having begun in early 2013 and with the schedule of the program fixed in June 2013.
By 2018, the first quad-pack module, with four Trident tubes, will have been built.
The US Navy has formalized its choice of going with an X stern control surface design, which also appears to be the Royal Navy's target. The US submarine will have 16 tubes, the UK's one probably 12. Earlier suggestion of having super-large tubesof 97 inches diameter as future-proofing measure was abandoned on cost grounds, and tube diameter is now set at 87 inches.

The US SSBN will largely draw from the Virginia design, and the Royal Navy similarly plans to draw all it can from the Astute, to keep costs down.
The new SSBN will adopt the PWR 3 nuclear reactor, derived from american expertise and seen as offering greater safety.

The existing class of SSBNs will have to keep working into the 2030s, with Vanguard not replaced before 2028. The PWR 2 Core H installed on HMS Vanguard is to be precautionally refueled to ensure she can get that far, after the test core reactor on land developed faults.

Viking refurbishment

I think the total british orders over time for Viking are north of 160, but apparently a lot less than that will remain in use. 108 were originally purchased for the Marines, but several more were added when the army asked the RM to leave Viking in Afghanistan as it proved so useful in theatre. The Afghanistan orders came in several batches: 14 in 2008 (9 recovery, 1 command, 4 troop carriers), 9 in early 2009, and then in September 2008 a further 24 Viking, in the MK2 variant (22 Troop carriers, 2 command). Under Army 2020 i believe all remaining Vikings are going to the Royal Marines with one single exception: 21 Viking vehicles have been ordered by the army as carriers for the Watchkeeper tactical parties. Assuming all orders went ahead to delivery, the MOD should have received a total of 176 Viking vehicles.

99 Vikings are being refurbished and uplifted to MK2 (amphibious) protection level, are heading for long term service with the Marines, and 21 more will serve as part of the Watchkeeper system in the Army.
That leaves as many as 56 out of the picture, unless the MK2s are still workable and in service without needing to be included in the refurbishment. At least 27 vehicles have been written off due to Afghan damage, maybe more than that.
It must also be noted that the UK loaned 12 rear cabs with full TES armor kit to Sweden to fill their UOR for use on operations (front cars were given by the dutch), and Sweden is due to return an equal number of rear cabs in full MK2 specification. Not sure how these fit in into the future fleet either, as the MOD hasn't been very detailed in its news releases. 

BAE systems stated, at the time of the 99-vehicle refurbishment award:

All but the existing Mk2 Vikings will be rebuilt around completely new front and rear car hulls featuring the latest mine-protected v-shaped underbodies of the Mk2”

How should we read it, though? Some of the 99 vehicles were already MK2 and only got partial touch-ups, or there are MK2 vehicles in use in addition to the 99 that did not need refurbishment at all to remain operative...? Not sure at all. BAE says it has refurbished some MK2s returning from Afghanistan in the Phase 1 (the quickest and easier) of the refurbishment programme, so i'm afraid it is 99 and not one more. 

The MK2 Viking is fitted with a shallow V-shaped shield in both cars (with the exception of the Recovery and Mortar variants, which have no V-shield on the rear car as no one sits inside when on the move), and has a steel body fully protected against 7.62 armor piercing rounds and 152 mm artillery slivers at 10 meters of range. The MK2 has greater engine power and electrical power output increased to 260 amperes. It is also equipped with blast-protected seats, hung on rails, and comes with four-point seat belts.
It also has weight growth margin to take additional armor to gain 2a/2b NATO STANAG resistance against mines and IEDs, and can be fitted with a cage armor to resist to RPGs, but with these additions it is no longer amphibious. The refurbishment program financed by the MOD includes the delivery of these additional armor kits, which will be available for use on deployment.

The 99 vehicles being refurbished will see 9 emerging as mortar carriers, and 19 as Crew Served Weapon Carriers. The numbers of these two "special" variants appear just enough to replace the unarmored BV-206 carriers in the single RM battalion held at High Readiness.

The Viking mortar gives protected mobility to an 81mm mortar and over one hundred shells.
It is not sure if the Royal Marines are getting the "full optional" Crew Served Weapon variant, which comes with a RWS with .50 machine gun on the front car, manned turret on the rear car and ROTAS mast-mounted EO/IR turret.

It must unfortunately also be noted that the refurbished MK1 Vikings are not entirely common with the MK2, as the budget didn't go up enough to enable replacement of the 5.9 litre engine with the 6.7 of the MK2. With an engine with so much less power for the same base weight, it is easy to imagine that the old Vikings will feel somewhat "tired" when driving around, at least compared to the newer ones.
The wiring is in place to hopefully replace the engines later, hoping it does not mean "in the next century". 
Will the Royal Marines have long-term access to the Viking ambulance variant?

A Viking ambulance variant was used in Afghanistan, but it is not clear if it'll stay around in the long term, nor do we know how many vehicles have been converted, if any past the "prototype" that was prepared in theatre. It sure would be helpful to the RM to have an armored ambulance with this mobility, but there's no mention of it being in the refurbishment contract.

Force Protection Craft and Fast Landing Craft 

The Royal Marines will have to wait at least until 2020 before trying again to have a quicker landing craft brought into service as replacement for the sluggish MK10. 

The fate of the Force Protection Craft, instead, is not clear. The Royal Marines have a requirement for a dozen fast armed crafts, to serve as replacement for some of the LCVP MK5s, while delivering a long range combat platform meant to protect larger vessels and amphibious forces from enemy FIACs. The craft would also need to be able to beach to put ashore a recce party at least 8-strong. 

The Royal Marines have loaned a couple of CB90 combat boats from Sweden, trialing them extensively for a year to put down a definitive list of requirements.  

FPC is a high speed craft capable of defending a boat lane, in which the Fast Landing Craft will operate, against hostile Fast Incoming Attack Craft and land based threats. It also has a secondary role to transport eight Royal Marines and their personal equipment as part of the Pre-Landing Force. To satisfy this requirement the FPC will be capable of 40 knots in calm water whilst its hull form will be optimised for offshore operations in Sea State 4. Significantly, the design of the FPC will have to meet constraints imposed by current davits. A total of twelve craft are planned with the first anticipated to enter service in 2016.

[...] The pair was modified to be davit compatible, with trial serials including a limited davit interoperability assessment with the UK LPD HMS Albion.

The CB90 trialed later became four. The report of the Royal Marines was largely positive, although they evidenced some areas in need of changes and improvements. But since the loan concluded, news have been very sparse, and it is not clear if the program is still alive or if it has fallen victim of the budget axe. 

The Force Protection Crafts were meant to be delivered from 2016, but it is not clear if this is still true.

24 Commando Engineer stays, P Squadron goes

I reported last year about the ongoing fight that Navy HQ and the Royal Marines were fighting to ensure the survival of 24 Commando Engineer Regiment. The news available in the open were few and sparse, but the delay in disbanding the formation was evident, and by november 2013 there was some optimism.

For once, this optimism has been rewarded, as a bit of common sense has won the day for once. Yesterday, the Minister for the Armed Forces, Mr Mark Francois, made a statement in Parliament that confirms that this battle is won: the regiment will not disband.

On 5 July 2012, Official Report, column 1085, the Defence Secretary made a statement to the House on the outcome of the Army 2020 review and laid out the future structure of the British Army. The announcement explained the need to restructure the Army to face an increasingly uncertain world and to create the agile and adaptable armed forces as set out in the 2010 strategic defence and security review. Included in the statement was the withdrawal of 24 Commando Engineer Regiment.

At the time of the Army 2020 announcement, the Army acknowledged that engagement with the Royal Navy was still ongoing, and this would refine the allocation of Army manpower available to support Royal Navy tasks. This process is now complete and it has been decided that 24 Commando Engineer Regiment will be retained although the regiment will be reduced in size. This change will be achieved by rebalancing Army manpower within 3 Commando Brigade and allows for the best use of available resources to deliver the strategic defence and security review and Army 2020 capability.
We envisage that these structural changes will be implemented by no later than July 2015. 24 Commando Engineer Regiment will remain in Royal Marines Barracks, Chivenor (Barnstaple).

The regiment won't disappear, and this is a major step forwards. But it is still shrinking, and considering that it never even gained the second regular field squadron that was once planned and that remains very much needed, this is no good. It is a step in the right direction, but this regiment should actually be growing in size to better respond to the busy schedule of the high-readiness amphibious force.
There is also some worry behind the meaning of "rebalancing army manpower" within the brigade, which knowing politician language could hide unpleasant news, perhaps to hit 29 Commando Royal Artillery (which already had to win its own fight earlier, to ensure the survival of 148 Meiktila Bty).

But at least, it is a step in the right direction. Let's take away some joy and hope from it.

P Squadron, 43 Commando, has instead disbanded in December 2013. The squadron stood up in 2010, manned not by Marines but by RN personnel, to provide force protection teams to "second line" ships deploying: RFA, Point RoRo, minesweepers and survey ships. Escorts have their own Green (Royal Marines) team and normally a Blue team formed by members of the ship's crew.
A Royal Navy sorely in need of manpower has had to close down this squadron, and its contribution to providing teams to all vessels has to be replaced by men coming out of the Commando battalion in its "Other Tasks" year; aka the year of rest and operational reset that follows the year spent at very high readiness.