Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme

The December issue of SOLDIER, magazine of the British Army, contains a brief article which reports the beginning of field trials with the prototypes of the upgraded Warrior family. This is an important and much awaited milestone, reached after a stormy programme review sparked by the difficulties encountered by Lockheed Martin UK in providing the modern turret with 40mm CTA gun. The programme accumulated a 12 months delay and an unspecified cost growth caused by the decision to fit the vehicle with a whole new turret instead of remanufactured ones.

The delay resulted in a 22% in-year saving in 2016/2017 as some activities could simply not progress and shifted to the right. The expected in-year expenditure of 87 million shrunk to 68. There is no indication yet of the extent of the long-term cost increase, however.

The first upgraded Warrior vehicles entered Factory Acceptance Tests earlier this year. In September it was reported that qualification trials were to begin in Bovington by the end of the year, and the schedule seems to have been more or less respected since then.
Lockheed Martin UK manufactures the new turret and also puts together the upgrade “kits” that turn the old Warrior into the new one.
Lockheed leads a team which includes: Ultra Electronics; the Defence Support Group; SCISYS (Electronic architecture); Rheinmetall Defence; Curtiss Wright (they supply the turret-drive servo system for the Ajax Scout turret. Their role with Warrior is the same); Thales UK (optics and Battlegroup Thermal Imaging system); Moog; Meggitt; CTA International (supplying the 40 mm CTA gun); Westwire; TKE; MTL and Caterpillar UK (support to the powerpack).
Rheinmetall is the supplier of the Ajax Scout turret structure, a derivative of their LANCE product, and for WCSP they were meant to rework the existing Warrior turret and adapt it to the new requirements. This is no longer the case, and a whole new turret is produced instead.
The difficulties encountered by the LM team vindicated BAE’s original warning and underline the validity of their offer, which was turned down: BAE had offered a whole new turret along.

DSEI 2017 

As well as manufacturing the new turret for WCSP, LMUK is also responsible for putting together the upgrade ‘kits’ that will refresh the vehicle’s protection as well as the platform’s electronic architecture.
The new turret and main gun are only the most visible of a series of modifications and upgrades. The CSP is the sum of multiple development programmes:

-          WFLIP (Warrior Fightability Lethality Improvement Programme) to improve turrets and sensors, and add firepower by changing the turret and gun;  
-          WMPS (Warrior Modular Protection System) to add a modular frame that takes note of the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan TES armor fittings and prepares the vehicle, PUMA-like, for easy and rapid installation of existing and future add-on armour packages when needed;
-          WEEA (Warrior Enhanced Electronic Architecture) to add a fully integrated set of modern, expandable electronics and communications gear;

For years, the CSP also included the Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle, a family of “turret-less” variants of the Warrior that should have been developed to finally replace the FV432 within armoured formations.

Warrior numbers  

The original production run of Warrior delivered:

- 489 FV510 Infantry Section Vehicle (105 of which are platforms for the mobility of ATGW teams, once with Milan, now with Javelin)
- 84 FV511 Infantry Command Vehicles
- 105 FV512 Mechanized Combat Repair Vehicles
- 39 FV513 Mechanized Recovery Vehicle (Repair)
- 52 FV514 Mechanized Artillery Observation Vehicles for the RA
- 19 FV515 Battery Command Vehicles for the RA

In the 90s, A standard armoured infantry battalion of the British Army was expected to use some 63 Warriors:

- 47 FV510 Infantry Section Vehicles (including those kitted for ATGW transport role)
- 9 Infantry Command Vehicles (these are turreted and armed but have a completely different arrangement in the back)
- 4 FV513
- 3 FV512

A number of Warrior recovery and repair are found within MBT regiments, REME battalions and AS90 artillery formations. The Battery Command Vehicles are no longer in use and some were hastily converted into ambulances in Afghanistan for the armoured company group.

In its early years, WCSP was meant to upgrade 643 of the original vehicles with WEEA electronics and WMPS modular armoring upgrades. Within that group, 449 vehicles were to get WFIP program’s new turret and weapon system as well.

The SDSR 2010, however, drastically reduced the number of armoured infantry battalions, from 9 to 6, and that number has then been further slashed to just 4 for Army 2020 Refine.

In 2014 the NAO reported that the “affordable fleet” was down to 565 Warrior vehicles, 445 of which would be picked for getting upgrades under WCSP. 65 of those 445 vehicles would have been converted in APCs and Ambulances under ABSV, while the remaining 380 would consist of around 250 Section vehicles with turret and 40mm gun, with the balance made up by Recovery and Repair and Artillery Observation vehicles.

ABSV was ultimately split from WCSP, initially to “become its own Category A (400+ million pounds in value) programme” under the main budget heading “Armoured Infantry 2026”. This happened in the 2014/15 financial year.
The latest Major Project spreadsheet published by the MOD, however, which was released in July this year but is, as customary, current to 30 September of the previous year, shows that the “Armoured Infantry 2026” budget has reduced to 1612,72 million from 2176,45 million in the previous report. A note in the sheet says that ABSV was “removed” in the Annual Budget Cycle 2016, giving no other indication about the future of this vital requirement.

As result of all these passages, WCSP has been almost halved in scope, with 380 vehicles now expected to be upgraded, with 245 of these being in the turreted IFV configuration.

“Warrior 2” and ABSV

Once upgraded, the vehicles change denomination:

FV510 becomes FV520
FV511 becomes FV521

And so along. The Army has also assigned:

FV525 to the Warrior Ambulance variant
FV526 to the Warrior APC variant

Prototypes of such turretless variants have been seen already back in the 90s, when Alvis was still active. In more recent times BAE Systems has showcased a Mortar Carrier sub-variant of the Warrior APC, and an Engineering variant, able to serve as breaching and bridging vehicle has also been developed and trialed.

The ABSV requirement is ancient and its history is one of constant deaths and resurrections and uncertainty and delays. In 1995, the UK MoD had formalized its requirement for a new vehicle called the Multi Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV) which was meant to replace the FV432 family; Saxon (4 × 4) armoured personnel carriers and those elements of the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) family which would have not been supplanted by the then Tactical Reconnaissance Armoured Combat Equipment Requirement (TRACER). TRACER eventually died, supplanted by FRES, then FRES SV, now Ajax. MRAV is most commonly remembered because in 1999 the MOD joined the Boxer 8x8 programme and then cancelled it.

The original turretless Warrior, when Alvis Vickers was still a thing. 

Today's BAE Systems ABSV Mortar Carrier 

The Engineer Warrior, which could also fullfil the requirement for a medium weight assault engineering capability which used to be part of FRES SV but did not make it into Ajax 

MRAV, however, was not meant to result in a single vehicle family, but in two: M1P1 was tracked and also known as ABSV; M2P2 was the wheeled element, which became Boxer, then FRES UV and now is attempting to come back under the name MIV.
More than 20 years completely wasted, and the solution to the problem is still not in sight. ABSV, following the unclear ABC2016 decision, is in a particularly worrisome position while MIV might end up being Boxer all over again.

For the development trials, LM must deliver seven FV520s (section vehicle); two FV521s (infantry command vehicles); one FV522 (repair); one FV523 (recovery); and one FV524 (artillery observation vehicle).

The first company group equipped with the upgraded Warrior was expected to achieve IOC during 2020, but this might now have slipped to the right by as much as a further year.

Clear as mud

British Armed forces management is clear as mud. It is not a new discovery, but the sheer complexity and intricacy of the story of every programme never fails to amaze. It would take ages to follow all the name-changes and chair-shifting that have happened over the decades, and this is not the aim of this article.

It is however instructive to try and track the evolution of the budget allocation for the main armoured vehicles programmes in just the last few years to see how dishonest and murky the whole process is. Since the MOD refuses to reveal numbers or even detail exactly what requirements are included in the Equipment Programme, it is pretty much impossible to ensure any form of true accountability. I’ll go back just four years in this brief travel through the dishonesty of a government which wants to murk the waters so that cuts can not only be ordered, but hidden away in the countless folds of the programme.

In 2014 the Army had a massive overarching programme known as “Mounted Close Combat” which covered everything from Challenger 2 to Warrior and from Ajax to Mechanized Infantry Vehicle. That monster programme had a budget of 17.251 billion, spread out to the project end date of 31/12/2033.

Obviously, as a single programme its scope was way too vast and so it was split into four separate components going into 2015.

“Armoured Cavalry 2025” chiefly covers the acquisition and entry into service of the Ajax family of vehicles, to culminate by 30/04/2025 in a completely renewed Armoured Cavalry capability.

“Armoured Infantry 2026” includes chiefly the Warrior CSP, but not only that. There is the enduring problem of replacing FV432 as well, with the ancient vehicle having a notional OSD of 2026.

“Armour MBT 2025” covers the delivery of life-extended MBT capability to be fully operational by 2025.

“Mechanized Infantry 2029” covers the renewal of this other area, with FOC in 2029 and with the main focus being MIV.

In 2015 the MOD included only Armoured Cavalry and Armoured Infantry in the list of the major active programmes, so no detail at all was available about the other components. The Cavalry component had a budget of 6831,53 million; the armoured infantry a budget of 2176,45 million. Thanks to the NAO’s own report, the last one of its kind, unfortunately, we learn that Warrior CSP aimed for 445 vehicles in total, including 65 “Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicles”, aka converted, turret-less hulls to replace FV432 with. The report, however, noted that the ABSV requirement is larger than 65 vehicles and the army envisaged a greater procurement effort, including more variants. A delay of two years to the ABSV element was anticipated, and once implemented it was decided that ABSV will be its own Category A (aka, worth over 400 million) project, separated from WCSP proper.

The report published this year, and which actually details the year 2016, has the Armoured Cavalry pricetag reduced to 6248 million thanks to vaguely described “cost saving measures” including an extended Initial In-Service Support Contract for Ajax. Good news, in theory. In practice, we don’t know what elements of capability were traded out to make it happen.
Armoured Infantry also drops, all the way down to 1612,72 million, to be expended out to 31/12/2026. In this case, the budget has shrunk because ABSV was “removed as a direct cost-saving measure in the Annual Budget Cycle (ABC) 2016”. There is no way to tell whether the removal is permanent or not, and if, when and how we can expect ABSV to reappear. Is the 2015 plan of making it its own programme later on still on the cards? The FV432 still definitely needs replacement, but we are given no clue of what’s happening.

Together, these two changes amount to almost 1150 million which have shifted around / vanished. With no fanfare, no real way to assess how bad the damage is.

Armour MBT 2025 gets finally reported, with a budget line of 744,79 million to be expended between 04/12/2014, start date, and 01/06/2026, current end date.

Mechanized Infantry 2029 remains unreported as it is still in very early stages, with little to no money allocated to it yet. A Written Answer to Parliament has since disclosed that MIV is now in the assessment phase, with a budget of 9 million, for “confirming the optimum fleet mix and delivery sequence”.
I’m tempted to offer a comment about the need for 9 million to determine what should be, really, the very basis of the requirement, but it wouldn’t be kindly worded.

There is still a lot of money left to get to the over 17 billion originally attached to the MCC, but tracking all movements is difficult if not impossible. It is not even possible to determine whether the Multi Role Vehicle – Protected budget is included within this macro budget area or whether it sits under another heading. We might get some information about it, but probably not before July 2018, when a new spreadsheet will make it possible to track the changes enacted during the year that is now ending.

Active Protection Systems

APS technologies can include ‘soft-kill’ defences that jam or decoy the seeker of incoming missiles; and ‘hard-kill’ solutions that intercept an incoming projective with an effector fired from the vehicle itself.
The Army has two ongoing programmes that aim to have pan-fleet applicability: one is MEDUSA, and is looking at how Soft Kill defences could be adopted on british armoured vehicles. The other is ICARUS, which is examining Hard Kill defences.
The studies will run out to 2019, and include equipment trials, some of them already ongoing on Challenger 2. ICARUS should eventually lead to a UK sovereign Modular, Integrated Protection System (MIPS) electronic architecture (EA) that will enable the installation of sensors and effectors (both soft and hard) as required.

MEDUSA trials have already seen Rheinmetall’s ROSY rapid obscurant system tested on a Challenger 2, while a wider test campaign revolves around the integration of the soft-kill Multifunction Self-Protection System (MUSS), manufactured by Hensoldt and already installed on the german PUMA IFVs.

In November this year the Israeli IMI company revealed that a Challenger 2 has also been fitted with the Iron Fist Heavy: this APS is a hard-kill system that destroys incoming missiles before they can hit the tank. It uses "mini-missiles" that are fired against the incoming threat and that should be safer for accompanying allied infantry than the well know Trophy, which uses blasts of pellets. 

Obviously, both programmes could have a major impact on the future of Warrior’s survivability.

The new armoured infantry capability

As of August 2016 the Army was still expecting to get an ABSV to support the “new” Warrior. The importance of this supporting vehicle cannot be overstated. In particular, the Army hopes that ABSV will finally remedy to a capability gap which is rarely mentioned yet is particularly damaging: the complete absence at present of a mobile, fire-under-armour anti-tank missile capability. An ATGW sub-variant of the ABSV APC is a desire the Army has had for years. The last time it dared mentioning it in public was in 2014 when, with remarkable and sadly misplaced optimism, the colonel in charge for armoured vehicles procurement envisaged a 2019/20 entry in service for ABSV. This now seems very unrealistic, and we don’t even know whether ABSV is still alive at all.

Capability-wise, WCSP will deliver a vehicle which is far more lethal and far more aware of its surroundings.
A new Main Engine Generator will provide 1200 amps for the various on-board systems and all variants will be fitted with Auxiliary Power Units to enable silent running. A new battery management system is meant to prevent increased demand from draining batteries dry while a Health and Usage monitoring System (HUMS) should make maintenance easier.

Renewed environmental control makes the vehicle more suited to extreme climates, and the adoption of mine-blast resistant seats improves survivability for the occupants.

Local situational awareness will be provided by six Local Situational Awareness Cameras (LSAS) distributed around the vehicle.
The driver will receive improved vision hatches, forward day & Thermal Imaging camera (SELEX ES Driver’s Night Vision System 4 (DNVS4)) and rear day & low light feed to aid manoeuvre.
An Elbit Instro CRONUS Thermal Imager Gunner Sight is provided for the gunner, with an automatic “cue to slew” function for improved target acquisition. The commander has a Thales Catherine BGTI REO/IR system. The new turret for the Warrior is now LM UK’s baseline Export Turret which is being offered for export. Inside it is more spacious and rationally organized and it offers greater survivability thanks to the under-armour storage of ammunition of the CTA gun.
Local Situational Awareness information, from navigation to imagery feed from the CRONUS and LSAS cameras, will be accessible to both the crew and dismounts in the back thanks to new displays.

Lethality sees the most dramatic uplift of all, as the Warrior goes from the non-stabilized RARDEN 30mm to the new 40mm CTA gun in a fully stabilized installation capable of accurate fire on the move.
The existing L94 chain gun remains as coaxial weapon. The cannon fires two ammunition natures; Armour Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) and a dual function General Purpose Round (GPR), with Air Burst (AB) and Point Detonation (PD) settings. The APFSDS round provides penetration of well armoured targets: the most optimist say that the CTA can take out anything less protected than a T-72. The RHA penetration value is given at 140 – 150 mm at 1500 meters.
GPR-AB will provide suppression and neutralisation out to 2000m.
For training purpose there is a Target Practice Tracer Round (TP-T) that does not have terminal explosive effect and associated hazards.

2012 images by LM. They should still be representative of the design, but probably not up to date

There are 70 rounds ready to fire in the ammunition handling system.
Made by Meggitt, it is composed by a translator, which holds 15 rds, and the magazine holding 55. At least 30 more rounds can be loaded internally through the turret, and the AHS identifies the type of round using colour bands on the case. It can cycle up to 400 rounds per minute, so selection of effects is not an issue. The AHS sits outside of the manned spaces of the turret, along the right side, so the crew is protected by a layer of armor and spall liner.

The power train remains the same with an option to upgrade, and this is the one weakness of an otherwise ambitious programme. The upgraded Warrior, at nearly 28 tons in combat order, once fitted with the roughly 10 tons of the WRAP 2 add-on armour package will max out its existing powerpack and will rapidly begin to grow limited in speed and agility.

The armoured infantry section is going down from 10 to 9 men, which actually means from 7 to 6 dismounts, since the others are the Warrior IFV’s crew. The Warrior loses a dismount seat in the upgrade, as new blast-protected seating and situational awareness troop compartment screen take away precious space.


Another enduring mystery is what exactly will happen with the Artillery Observation Post variant (FV514, to become FV524). The WCSP does not include mission-specific upgrades for this variant, which is by now obsolescent and which has to literally be transformed from an old school vehicle for the observation of the fall of artillery shots into a Joint Fires Control platform capable to direct precision air strikes as well as artillery and mortar fire. The FV514 has a turret, but the 30 mm gun is a dummy. It is not clear if under WCSP it will get the new turret, but without gun, or at least a "make up" to make its existing turret indistinguishable from that of upgraded Warriors IFVs. It is obvious that if it keeps the dummy Rarden gun and the current turret shape, it will stick out like a sore thumb among the upgraded and much different Warriors amongst which it is supposed to hide from enemy attention.

The Royal Artillery is responsible for developing and funding a new, up to date mission package of sensors and communications that will enable the direction of artillery fire and air support from under armour.
The RA has been experimenting possible solutions since 2010 / 11 if not from earlier, but it is not at all clear if it has the money to fund the upgrade.

The Royal Artillery has been working to define the mission equipment for the FV524, but the status of this particular upgrade remains uncertain 

If the upgrade can’t be embodied into the WCSP production phase, it will have to follow it, and this means, at best, that it would happen in the 2020s, and it would come into service near 2030, way too late.
Worse, if the RA package of upgrades can’t be funded at all, the FV514 risks being close to useless.
Moreover, since one of the Ajax sub-variants is equipped for Joint Fires Control (we don’t yet know exactly how, however), the opportunity of pushing on with the FV524 is questionable. Maybe purchasing more Ajax Joint Fires would provide an easier, more straightforward solution to the problem.

Battlefield implications

Armoured Infantry units are contemplating the possibility of more frequently operating without MBT support. Fire on the move capability, greater range and increased armour penetration coupled with better sensors will enable Warrior to hide less and fight more.
This could become more feasible if ABSV progressed and delivered that much-desired ATGW under-armour variant that would enable Warriors to take a much more aggressive approach in the field.  
The enhanced thermal imaging capability of the vehicle, in addition to local situational awareness and to the infantry’s own improved Night Vision capability (through visors and FIST weapon sights), is likely to also increase the focus on night manoeuvres.
The Warrior coming out of CSP will be a “real” fighting vehicle and can expect an increase in tempo and pace of operations. It will be asked to contribute more.

WCSP modular mounting frame for WRAP 2 side elements is tested 

The full WRAP 2 and Theatre Entry package 

A lot depends on FV524 and on ABSV. The ability to call in and accurately direct supporting Fires from under-armour is obviously of utmost relevance, while the availability of supporting vehicles, from ambulances to mortar carrier and ATGW, will determine the true capabilities of the AI formations.

Training implications

The CTA 40mm gun hits harder and further away. This will complicate training and require upgrades to the current AFV ranges. The new gun has a shorter shelf life, and that is true for ammunition as well. The latter is also considerably more expensive.
When added to the greater complexity of scenarios for which Warrior crews will need to prepare (see “battlefield implications”) means that training will have to change and adapt. The use of simulation will increase even further, both to save money and to give the crews the chance to face complex battle scenarios.

Wild proposals and “MIV for everything”

A proposal that sometimes surfaces in discussions about the future of the British Army is that of using Ajax as an IFV, binning WCSP. This is a rather wild idea, that does not seem to have any root in official thinking, and for good reasons: it is pretty much impossible to convert the existing Ajax into an IFV. The space in the back is more or less nonexistent. Obviously it would be possible to develop an IFV variant with logistical commonality to the Ajax, but that would not save anything. The easiest way to do it would be to adopt an unmanned, remotely operated, non-hull penetrating turret, which would free up all the space needed. That is what the germans did with their PUMA, or the Americans did with the new 30mm gun turret for Stryker.
It is not impossible per se, but would require a new contract, a new development phase, and new vehicles, or at least a complex renegotiation of the contracts for both the hulls and the turrets.

Another proposal revolves around MIV. What if ABSV was cancelled in favor of more MIVs? This one is a far more realistic proposal, and in theory it could well happen. In general I would not recommend mixing wheels and tracks: the Army itself reaffirmed this basic truth in its Agile Warrior studies. On the other hand, though, it seems pacific that modern 8x8 retain excellent off road mobility and it can be assumed that MIV-based variants could support Warrior well enough. It would be a compromise, obviously, but everything tend to be. The closest thing worldwide to a MIV-Warrior combination is seen in the Netherlands, where Boxer was procured specifically (and only) to replace supporting vehicles, including the tracked M577. The Netherlands never acquired the Boxer as APC for their infantry.
The advantage would be that the various sub-variants would only need to be developed once.
Obviously, a Warrior-based ABSV would share the exact same logistic tail and the exact same mobility as Warrior. It is also hard to imagine that converted Warrior hulls, which will be available in the hundreds, could ever cost the same as, or more than, new MIVs. In theory, converting “surplus” Warrior hulls remains the logical and cheap approach.

There is also another option, which is “MIV for everything”, with the Warrior CSP cancelled and MIV used as replacement, with the turrets ordered for Warrior being installed on MIV hulls instead.
 The examples of wheeled IFVs employed within armoured brigades alongside tracked MBTs are much more numerous: Russia and France spring to mind.
It would be embarrassing to end the WCSP now, after spending more than 200 millions and entering deals with multiple companies, but until the Manufacture contract isn’t agreed there is, in theory at least, the chance to go with this radical approach.
Can the existing contracts be renegotiated without huge negative impacts on the budget and on timelines?
Does the money suffice to purchase enough MIVs, and in all the sub-variants that are required?
If the answer to both questions was to be “yes”, the idea would not be insane. As always it would be a compromise, but not a bad one.

When Warrior was proposed for everything

Note that no one knows for sure how many MIVs the Army expects to procure. Four battalions are expected to be equipped with MIV, exactly the same number of units that will be getting Warrior CSP. Unsurprisingly, one estimate of the number of MIVs to be ordered is around 350.
However, much higher numbers have made the news: when the press reported that the army wanted to fast-track a 3 billion pounds deal for Boxer, for example, the number given was 800. That number is far higher than what is required for 4 battalions. It must be said that the expectation is that MIV will include more sub-variants, which in Warrior’s case are covered by FV432 now and by ABSV, assuming it materializes, in the future. MIV could probably include an ambulance for the medical regiments and a mortar carrier used to be part of the requirement.
It is also true, however, that 800 continues to sound too high a number. In addition, the Army 2020 Refine papers suggest that Mastiff will remain in the longer term as a supporting vehicle to MIV, and the variants of the Multi Role Vehicle – Protected might also help in some areas.

The Army still doesn’t seem able to decide where these closely related programmes meet, where they overlap, and where one could replace the other.
But maybe there is a part of the Army that already thinks that MIV should take the place of Warrior. So long as it didn’t result in further battalions being left mounted in nothing but boots, it could be a solution. It is very much time to take decisions and then stick to them, however. 20 years of expensive doubts and rethinks and U-turns have caused more than enough damage already.  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Plans and numbers, prior to the "review that is not a review"

A Written Answer provides a couple of interesting numbers about the Royal Navy today and in the future. As of 5 December 2017, the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary have 72 commissioned surface ships. Note the date because it makes all the difference: HMS Queen Elizabeth is not included as she was commissioned on 7 December. RFA Tidespring is included as it was put into service on November 27. The River Batch 2 Forth has not yet been commissioned, while HMS Severn left service back in October.
Finally, as the first taste of cuts coming from the “review that is not a review”, the two Hunt-class HMS Quorn and HMS Atherstone left service on December 14 in a rather secretive decommissioning ceremony in the BAE shed where they had been brought to be refitted and life-extended.
HMS Gleaner, the smallest of the commissioned units, also left service this month.
It must also be noted that, being chartered as part of a PFI and not RFA owned and manned, the 4 Point-class RoRo sealift vessels are not included in these calculations. They do not appear in MOD statistics on the fleet.

Keeping all these notes in mind, we can compose a list of the 72 vessels. The Written Answers does not detail it, but the ships in commission by 5 December are well known:  

6 Type 45;
13 Type 23;
2 River Batch 1 OPV
1 River Batch 1 (Helicopter) OPV [HMS Clyde]
18 patrol vessels (16 P2000s Archer class plus Scimitar and Sabre of the Gibraltar Sqn)
3 Survey vessels (Echo, Enterprise, Scott)
15 MCM vessels (8 Hunt and 7 Sandown)
HMS Ocean
HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark
HMS Protector
2 Wave-class tankers
RFA Tidespring
3 Bay-class LSD(A)
3 Fort-class replenishers (Fort Victoria plus Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin)
RFA Argus

As of today that has further shrunk to 71, with HMS Queen Elizabeth coming into service but with 2 MCM ships leaving. Forth will come into service later on.
As recently as 2016, the surface fleet had counted 76 vessels, but the demise of the last couple of Rover-class tankers and of RFA Diligence cut that down to 73, then 72 with the demise of HMS Severn.
Going back further, the number was significantly higher and suffered a dramatic fall with the cuts mandated by the SDSR 2010. 4 Type 22s, the Leaf-class tankers, Fort George... the list is impressive. 

For the future, the Written Answer announces that by December 2020 the surface fleet will include 77 vessels. That total is also not explained, but can nonetheless be broken down with relative ease:

2 Queen Elizabeth-class;
6 Type 45;
13 Type 23;
18 patrol vessels (16 P2000s Archer class plus Scimitar and Sabre of the Gibraltar Sqn)
4 Survey vessels (Echo, Enterprise, Scott, plus the as yet unnamed Gleaner-replacement due in May 2018)
13 MCM vessels (6 Hunt and 7 Sandown)
HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark
HMS Protector
2 Wave-class tankers
4 Tide-class tankers
3 Bay-class LSD(A)
3 Fort-class replenishers (Fort Victoria plus Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin)
RFA Argus

The SDSR 2015 gave an MCM force of 12 vessels going towards 2025, so at least another MCM ships is expected to vanish in the next future. According to press reports, two more could go as the latest cut of 2 Hunt vessels is an urgent measure on top of the 3 vessels to be lost as part of the SDSR. If this is accurate, the long term MCM fleet would go down to just 10.
The “up to 6” OPVs appear to be definitely 5, although a specific strand of review is supposedly looking at the patrol fleet to see what the requirement Is, considering also Brexit and the increased need to regulate fishing waters after it.

Taurus 2009 - apart from the french Dupleix on the left, the whole group was made in the Royal Navy 

Cougar 13 

JEF-M 2016 

JEF-M 2017. This sequence helps visualize the "growing Royal Navy". What will 2018 look like? 

Obviously, if the insane idea of cutting the amphibious capability and decommissioning the LPDs early was to be confirmed, the number of ships would rapidly shrink further.
In terms of number of hulls, the mythical growth of the Royal Navy remains non-existent unless measured on today’s low point. Even so, with further cuts very possibly on the way, any claim of growth looks very puzzling if not downright dishonest.

Exercises in 2018

There has been a cull in the number of training exercises planned for next year in an effort to save money, but even so the programme remains very full. The Royal Navy in particular will not have a Joint Warrior 18-2 but looks set to struggle all the same to generate ships for all the things it is tasked to do. Written Answers suggest that the Royal Navy will send out the Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) next year. This is what was once called Cougar, and earlier still Taurus. This year it did not take place as HMS Albion was regenerating after coming out of mothball while one Bay was in the Caribbean pre-positioned to respond to Hurricane season and HMS Ocean was committed to NATO duties in the Mediterranean.

The Royal Navy will also take part in Saif Sareea 3, the “biggest exercise in 15 years”, which will take place in Oman and will be the first true test of the British Armed Forces’ ability to still generate and deploy a Division-sized force abroad. Details are still scarce about what units will take part and how, but if the exercise has anything to share with the previous two events it will be very large.
Since Saif Sareea is due in the autumn, which is also the normal COUGAR / JEF-M period, I’m guessing that the two things will be closely related. Probably the JEF-M task group will head towards Oman as the maritime side of Saif Sareea. That is, of course, unless the cut to amphibious capability goes ahead and turns the UK JEF element in nothing more than Marines on French amphibious vessels, plus perhaps a lone Bay and an escort. The “Review that is not a review” can very well ensure that the Royal Navy is unable to generate any meaningful task group before 2021 at the earliest, when HMS Queen Elizabeth is scheduled for her first operational deployment.

The Royal Navy will also take part in the big NATO exercise Trident Juncture in Norway. On current planning assumptions, as detailed in a November Written Answer, the UK will send:
from the Naval Service, three destroyers and/or frigates, four mine counter measures vessels, a mine warfare battle staff, and one Royal Marines Company;
from the Army, HQ 4 Infantry Brigade in command with squadrons from 11 Signals Brigade, Light Dragoons, Engineers, combat service support, 1 Royal Irish and a Military Police Platoon;
from the Royal Air Force, four Hawk aircraft from 100 Squadron based at RAF Leeming.
While the precise details are yet to be confirmed, it is expected that in the region of 2,300 Service personnel will deploy on the exercise.

3 frigates / destroyers in the same place at once are not an easy feat for today’s Royal Navy, especially considering that 2 frigates (Argyll and Sutherland) are due to travel to the Pacific and at least another is earmarked to escort HMS Queen Elizabeth to the US east coast for her first F-35B flying trials in October.
The Royal Navy will also provide the flagship for Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) out to June 2018.
In addition to duties in the Gulf and elsewhere, this ensures a full year.

Joint Helicopter Command is particularly badly affected by cuts to training exercises, with much of its overseas activity curtailed. Arctic training also gets a cut although thanks to Trident Juncture a component of Royal Marines will still get in Norway. Initially a single company was earmarked, but a new plan has been crafted that will see two companies employed, as emerges from a December 14 Written Answer to the Commons.

Strike Brigade changes

There has been a significant change in plans for the Strike Brigades, with the Strike Experimentation Group activated in April 2017 within 1st Armoured Infantry Brigade.
Initially the SEG should have been an independent formation which would have transformed in 2019 into one of the two Strike Brigades. This has now changed, and SEG-1st AI Bde will convert to the new role in 2020, while the second brigade remains unidentified.

The unit roster of 1st Strike Brigade has also significantly changed, as it is now planned to include:

Household Cavalry Regiment (on Ajax)
Royal Dragoon Guards (on Ajax)

It is not clear how this impacts plans that included having the King’s Royal Hussars being the first unit to convert to Ajax, at the cost of losing Challenger 2 by 2019. This might now happen a bit later.
Similarly, the conversion of 1 YORKS from Warrior to MIV might also slip to the right.

The two Strike Brigades had earlier been expected to follow this scheme:

SEG on conversion to full brigade in 2019

-          Household Cavalry Regiment
-          King’s Royal Hussars
-          SCOT GDS
-          4 SCOTS

1st Strike Bde

-          Royal Dragoon Guards
-          Royal Lancers
-          1 YORKS
-          3 RIFLES

Obviously, there has been quite a shift in timelines and in the position of several units.

The 6th Typhoon Squadron

The identity of the 6th Typhoon Squadron has been revealed following the purchase by Qatar of 24 Typhoon Tranche 3 which will be assembled in the UK.
12 Sqn, currently a Tornado GR4 unit, will stand up in Coningsby and will be equipped with the latest standard of Typhoon. For a period of time the lenght of which is not yet known it will be a Joint Operational Squadron which will include Qatari elements as aircraft and personnel are worked up towards operational capability. The squadron will also deploy to Qatar to provide security for the Football World Cup.

The sale of Typhoon to Qatar is a very significant win for UK industry and ensures a few more years of activity for the Warton assembly line. Qatar is also expected to firm up a committment to 6 Hawk training jets, and has signed contracts to purchase Paveway IV, Brimstone and Meteor.

Overall, a very welcome boost for the UK defence industry. The JOS arrangement should also ease the costs connected with standing up the new squadron.

At least another Typhoon squadron is expected, but its identity is not yet known. It will stand up beginning next year in Lossiemouth. There was also talk of a third, but that might prove unfeasible.

The Joint New Air to Air Missile goes ahead 

The JNAAM is a development of Meteor that will include, it is believed, an AESA seeker developed by Japan. This evolved missile would then equip aircraft including the F-35s of both UK and Japan. It is currently the most interesting joint programme among those launched with the aim of deepening the bilateral collaboration. At the Ministerial Meeting on 14 December the two coutries agreed to looking forward “to the early embodiment of the joint research project including the research prototyping and the launch testing”. 
The ministers also “welcomed that the first bilateral co-operative research project of Chemical and Biological Protection Technology was successfully completed in July 2017. They welcomed progress made on the Project for the Cooperative Research on Personnel Vulnerability Evaluation, and confirmed the exploration of possible co-operation on projects of interest including the Joint Preliminary Study on Potential Collaborative Opportunities for Future Combat Air System/ Future Fighter, launched in March this year”.

The JNAAM is very interesting on its own, but it becomes even more important as it could help open a path to joint development of that “Future Fighter” that could be the post-Typhoon face of UK airpower and the future of the british aerospace industry.

“The Ministers welcomed the progress of defence co-operation through bilateral and multilateral joint exercises, including UK-Japan bilateral exercise Guardian North on the occasion of UK Typhoons’ visit to Japan in 2016. The Ministers confirmed that in 2018 UK-Japan bilateral ground exercise would take place for the first time in Japan and that both countries would take various opportunities such as deployment of HMS Argyll and HMS Sutherland to the Asia-Pacific region to conduct bilateral exercises. The Ministers also decided to seek to regularise bilateral exercises and others including observer exchanges. The Ministers also welcomed steady progress in unit-to-unit exchanges, which are an important basis of the bilateral relationship”. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

US and British Army attempt to Strike

Nicholas Drummond, ex-British Army officer and now consultant and commentator for defence industry, has decided to start a new blog, focused chiefly on the Land environment. I've had the honor of providing one of the posts with which the blog is beginning its journey, which will hopefully be long and rich of satisfactions.

In my post, which might be followed by a wider discussion on here in the coming months, i've decided to compare what the US Army and the British Army are doing to tackle the same problems. Multi Domain Battle and Integrated Action / Joint Land Strike are far closer in concept than some may realize, but the differences in approach and in proposed solutions could hardly be any more diverse.

The Reconnaissance and Security Strike Group and the Strike Brigade are on two parallel courses. They are not entirely different, yet they never seem to touch.
It is worth spending some time reflecting on similitudes and differences, and see what makes sense and what does not.

I recommend you visit the blog and read the article.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The enduring role of the Amphibious Force

The MOD defines Littoral Manoeuvre as the “exploitation of the sea as an operational manoeuvre space by which a sea-based, or amphibious force, can influence situations, decisions and events in the littoral regions of the world. This will be achieved through an integrated and scalable joint expeditionary capability optimized to conduct deterrent and coercive activities against hostile shores posing light opposition.

In simpler terms, the ability to insert a significant land force from the sea is one of the primary outputs of a Navy and one of the key attributes of Sea Power. Keeping things equally simple, this is because the overarching truth of war is that the final effects of any military operation are felt on land. Theorists of Land Power like to remind everyone that wars are ultimately won on land, and that is certainly true. As long as humans will live on land, that will always be the case. The whole utility of Sea Power is not conquering salt water, but influencing events ashore through the denial of the sea to the enemy; the protection of own forces and economy freedom of movement at sea and sea-based strikes through Fires (missiles, naval gunfire), airpower (the carrier air wing) and land power (the landing force).
The golden age of Britain coincided with the historic period that saw economies worldwide at their highest ever dependency upon the sea. The Royal Navy dominated those times through a form of sea denial (working to keep the main competitors “trapped” in European waters) while projecting british power abroad with its ability to put enormous pressure ashore. The “gunboat” diplomacy was literally built upon the Navy’s ability to bombard ports and littoral towns into submission, land naval brigades to storm targets ashore and sail up the major river networks to reach deep inland.

Amphibious warfare became more complex and demanding over time, and it soon became impossible to land a “naval brigade” from a single warship and have sufficient strength in it to achieve decisive results; yet there are signals of a partial return to the age of “every ship an amphibious ship”. The embarkation of a relevant number of Marines in frigates and destroyers is becoming increasingly important once more in an age of hybrid threats. Marines are excellent to counter piracy; Marines can go ashore for small raids, rescue operations, first response to terrorism or disasters and for many other tasks, from defence engagement and local capacity building to more kinetic operations.
In modern times, a fleet on fleet clash has become a very rare occurrence, while the need for rapid response to events ashore has increased steadily: gunfire support, deep strike inland, blockades, counter piracy and disaster relief are frequently required.

The MOD’s Future Character of Conflict document notes that human populations and their economies remain dependent on the sea, and they are once more gravitating towards the shore.

‘In the future, we will be unable to avoid being drawn into operations in the urban and littoral regions where the majority of the World’s population live and where political and economic activity is concentrated’. (Future Character Of Conflict)

70% of the world’s urban areas are found within 60 km from the shoreline, and a further 10% growth in urbanization is expected in the coming years. 8 of the world’s 12 megacities are in the littoral zone.
 ‘We will not want to fight in urban areas, but the urban environment represents in my view a highly credible worst case – and we would be foolish indeed to plan to fight only convenient battles against stupid adversaries. Urban areas are where politics, people, resources, infrastructure and thinking enemies converge’
 (Designing the Future Army: Ex URBAN WARRIOR 3 First Impressions Report – 14 Nov 11)

The Army has concluded in its “Agile Warrior” studies that it is highly likely that over the next ten years it will be called to operate in a densely urbanized battlefield; and human geography dictates that this is highly likely to happen close to the sea.

The urbanized littoral

There is a current of thought that sees the increasingly urbanized littoral as an issue for amphibious operations. The proliferation of man-made infrastructure on the coast might negate or complicate beach landings, and the number of ports is constantly increasing.

In reality, urbanization of the littoral is at least as much an opportunity as it is a problem. Landing a military force in absence of port infrastructures is a very complex and dangerous undertaking. Amphibious forces land on beaches not because we want to capture a sandy strip of shore, but because the enemy will be closely guarding its ports. The whole point of any amphibious operation is to remedy to the impossibility to land directly in a port, and in any major operation the amphibious force’s first objective would be to secure some port infrastructure to exploit.
Beaches are more numerous than ports, more dispersed, and thus far harder to guard and defend. Littoral manoeuvre seeks first of all to land where the enemy is not. When talking of amphibious assaults most people appear to think of the scenes of Saving Private Ryan, but that is completely misleading. There is no country in the world today that can build up an Atlantic Wall, and the amphibious force commander will always seek a weak spot to violate. Think San Carlos waters: that is an opposed landing, with a very dangerous air threat, but with little immediate presence of enemy troops close to the beach. The Royal Marines were able to land in Egypt as well, during the Suez crisis, without any "Omaha beach" scene. They also stormed Al Faw peninsula in Iraq in 2003, although mostly by helicopter insertion from the sea side, as their supporting vehicles took an indirect route, avoiding the beach initially selected for the assault because it was mined. In that occasion it was not thought necessary to clear the beach, and the risk was simply bypassed. 
There is a perception in some quarters that amphibious operations are too risky and are not realistic anymore, but insertion from the sea has actually been one of the most frequent actions the British forces have been asked to carry out beween 1945 and today. 

The ever growing number of harbors and ports on the world’s shores is seen as a negation of action spaces for the amphibious force, but in truth it represents a new opportunity: any port, even a small one, is better than a beach as it immensely simplifies and speeds up the flow of stores, vehicles and troops ashore. In light of this single truth, more ports means that the enemy has even more entry points it needs to guard and protect. This will force an even greater expenditure of troops and resources in the attempt to defend the coast. In turn, this will leave beaches even more exposed.
The amphibious force in the urbanized littoral will need to be able to clear more and greater man-made obstacles and will need to be prepared to fight in an urbanized space, but on the other hand will have greater chances to secure port facilities early on. This makes entry from the sea more viable, not less. 

Urbanization of the littoral also means that more and more economic interests will be concentrated in “easy” reach of the sea-based force. A highly mobile force inserted by the sea could rapidly inflict crippling damage to an enemy nation's infrastructure.


Anti-Access, Area Denial (A2AD) is today’s main concern in military planning. Whether we should consider this a new thing is at the very least debatable, since warfare has always comprised a whole series of efforts to prevent the enemy’s movement into a given area. Some area-denial systems have been around for decades (the ever present mine, but also, to stay in the littoral, the shore-based missile or gun battery) and others are more recent and descend from the normal evolution of technology (UAS, the ubiquitous shoulder launched missiles, both anti-air and anti-tank, all the way up to ballistic missiles, including the nascent anti-ship ones). Is A2AD truly new? Arguably, no. The means have evolved, the aims and the application, not so much.
Is A2AD a reason to abandon amphibious operations? No. What concerns military planners is not the enemy’s wish to deny an area, as this has been a fact of life in warfare since the night of times, but the perception that, in the endless fight between “sword and shield”, the sword currently has the upper hand.
Whenever amphibious operations or aircraft carriers are called into question the real problem that emerges is an evident lack of faith in the current escort ships and their weapon systems, for example. In the land domain, there is finally an awakening to the fact that there are rivals out there which could actually strike western forces by the air, something for decades has been more or less unthinkable. Different other areas of warfare that the west has neglected for many years are now, inexorably, advantages that opponents are well equipped to exploit.
Few of the problems that compose the A2AD conundrum are genuinely “new”.

The US and British Army, which both came out of Afghanistan and Iraq in a bad position and in countries now very much averse to new ground operations abroad, have immediately picked up on the A2AD discourse to find new arguments for Land Power. In the US this has generated the Multi Domain Warfare doctrine; in the UK it has brought about “Joint Land Strike” and the Strike brigade.
The underlining argument is that in presence of A2AD threats which could deny access to air force and navy elements, the land forces will manoeuvre in deep against the adversary to take out key nodes of its multi-layered defences.
There are many questions connected with this concept, particularly in the British case which puts way too much emphasis on Ajax and a wheeled 8x8 APC, formulating highly questionable hypothesis about what they will achieve once teamed. There are also some merits, however, and the expectation of having to deal with a wider battlefield involving great distances to cover seems justified by recent experiences, from Iraq to the Ukraine conflict.

The Strike Brigade is based on the ambitious concept of deploying a medium armour force ahead of the heavy armour brigades. From the Air / Sea Port of Debarkation, the brigade would then be asked to move up to 2000 kilometers to secure objectives and hit enemy weak points through mobility and a greater freedom in the choice of routes. Dispersion is the key to Strike, with the experimentation seeing independent groups from Battlegroup down to Troop level operating independently in up to 60 points of presence. Among the many doubts that this concept raises is the very issue of theatre entry. An Air Port of Debarkation is mentioned but it is pretty much impossible for the UK to ever be able to deploy a Strike Brigade by air. The US Army once hoped to deploy a Stryker brigade by air thanks to the USAF’s C-130 fleet, but it soon became evident that only C-17 had an hope and the whole concept more or less vanished away. It takes 15 C-17 sorties to deploy a single Stryker company group, which the US Army keeps at high readiness in support of its air assault component, and that is with an APC that weights a good 10 tons less than any British Army MIV candidate. To do the same, the British Army would require the maximum lift capacity the RAF is equipped to express. 
The Strike Brigade, just like the armoured brigade, is firmly tied to a Sea Port of Debarkation. The crews might well come by air, but their vehicles almost certainly will not. One of the hypothesis of employment that have circulated include the “replacement” of an amphibious landing by a debarkation in a friendly port in a nearby country followed by a road move to the objective, in order to avoid the enemy coastal defences. While this might have some merit in some circumstances, unanswered questions include how the Strike Brigade would deal with the Land and Air firepower available to an enemy well equipped enough to put up such an A2AD bubble. An enemy with the kind of capability required to shut the Royal Navy out of the picture will be more than able to batter back Ajax and wheeled APCs and moreover will have the capability to strike back against the nearby country which allows the Strike Brigade to disembark. This, in turn, might well mean that said nearby country will not want to open its ports to the british contingent to avoid being drawn into the conflict. A2AD includes not only the kinetic means of area denial, but also the political ones: lack of access to an area can be due to multiple different factors.

The need for a sea port is unchanged, and will remain unchanged until air transport becomes able to deal with the weight and volume associated with military operations. Today it simply is not an alternative.
As long as the vast majority of goods in trade and supplies in war will need to travel on ships, ports will be the key to a country’s future and to the feasibility of any military option.
The amphibious force is the only instrument the UK has to gain access to a shoreline when ports, for whatever reason, are not immediately available.

For the rest, the Strike concept borrows quite a few pages from amphibious forces’ concepts and doctrine. After an amphibious landing it is important to move rapidly inland and secure objectives before the enemy can respond in force. The mobility and dispersion of Strike have much in common with the attributes and needs of littoral manoeuvre.
Increasingly, amphibious forces around the world are seeking speed and agility to evade the threats lined up against their operations. Fast landing craft make it possible to keep the amphibious ships far from the shore, out of range of most weapon systems. From there, fast landing craft can take multiple directions, further complicating the task of a defender.
Long range insertion of troops by helicopter is used to create a defensive screen around the landing zone and to beat back the enemy presence. The USMC has brought this concept to its present day pinnacle thanks to the MV-22 Osprey, that has the range and speed to push one thousand miles inland when necessary.
Once ashore, the landing forces are relaying on increasingly mechanized elements that give the protected mobility and firepower needed to push deep inland. “Strike” as a concept is familiar to any amphibious force. The USMC is looking for an 8x8 armored vehicle to increase its ability to push rapidly and decisively inland. 
The Royal Marines have sadly fallen behind these developments. They were the first to employ helicopters for vertical encirclement during the assault on Suez, but in more recent times their attempt to stay up to date has been frustrated by lack of funding. Their Fast Landing Craft programme is on hold, leaving them to operate the terribly slow LCU MK10, which requires the amphibious ships to sit just a few miles away from the shore. Their Force Protection Craft requirement remains unanswered, meaning that they lack the fast, agile combat boat they need to escort the landing craft in and out of the littoral area; to suppress enemy defensive positions on the coast; to insert small reconnaissance and raiding teams and to push deep inland exploiting rivers. Their mechanization has not progressed beyond the Viking, while elsewhere 6x6 and 8x8 are becoming increasingly common.

ARES trials: beach landing from an LCU MK10 

There is an unjustified disconnect between the Army and the Marines, despite the fact that their operations are always closely connected. Any “Strike” concept worth of the name should be very much part of the amphibious capability discussion and vice-versa.
The Royal Marines, conversely, have attempted to carry on bypassing the constant cancellation of their equipment programmes by promoting themselves as a lighter, “quasi Special Forces” element with their “Special Purpose Task Group” approach. This is single Company groups, inserted chiefly by air and carried by a single ship, useful for very small scale, very short term raids.
While this approach has its own uses, it is not amphibious warfare and it will not represent a strategic option for the UK nor a role substantial enough for the Royal Marines to survive. There is no specific need for Royal Marines for boarding an helicopter and going ashore light for a short, quick task. Plenty of other infantry units, beginning with the PARAs, can do that, and the entire Corps would end up crushed to death between a Navy short of money for ships and an Army eager to protect its own capbadges.

A USMC MEU is always resourced with a troop of Abrams tanks. MBTs remain invaluable for clearing out enemy resistance and provide protected firepower. The british amphibious force should see heavy armour with much greater frequence as well. 

The amphibious force’s true value is in the fact that it gives a capable, medium to heavy entry option that air assaults simply cannot match. Ships and landing craft carry everything that helicopters and cargo aircraft cannot carry or anyway cannot insert in enemy territory. Landing craft can bring ashore a mechanized battlegroup mounted in Viking and reinforce it with anything up to Challenger 2 MBTs. This is the true value of the amphibious force: it deploys with the protected mobility and firepower needed to carry on complex, demanding tasks which are beyond the possibilities of an air assault force.

It is time for the Marines and the Army to forge a much closer alliance and work together on ensuring that the UK retains an adequate forcible entry capability.

Be a hero where you need to be and where you can be one

The UK does not have the budget to do everything it wishes or even needs to do in order to be a global power. For example it is not in a position to be a major continental power matching the mass of armoured and mechanized forces fielded by its allies.
What it needs to do is decide where it wants “to be a hero” and resource those areas appropriately.
Amphibious warfare is one such area. The UK needs to retain its amphibious capability because:

-          Any operation it decides to mount abroad will pass through one or more ports. Without adequate amphibious and port opening capabilities in support, any future operation will only be possible if someone else secures a port of entry. It would signal a dramatic loss of operational independence, much more definitive than the current limitations imposed by lack of mass.
-          As “Global Britain” attempts to secure new allies and new markets in the Middle and Far East, its naval group will become more important than ever. The Navy’s Expeditionary Force will be the face the UK shows to potential allies and opponents in Asia, in an area where the sea, islands and shores are key. Lacking the ability to go ashore in force would severely curtail the value and capability of the task group.
-          There is every reason to believe that the urbanized littoral is where interests, risks and opportunities will concentrate. Human populations continue to concentrate near the shore or along rivers, canals, estuaries and lakes for their economic value and for their impact on a nation’s road network.

The UK is in a good position to be a world leader in the amphibious arena as it has arguably the greatest treasure of know-how of anyone in the West, thanks to a history of operations that include Suez, the Falklands, Kuwait and Al Faw. It already has most of the pieces in service and paid for. It already has one of the most significant amphibious components in NATO.

With the carriers coming online the big pieces are all in place, and the United Kingdom, in a rare moment of wisdom and awareness of its potential, had actually also taken leadership of a NATO Smart Defence initiative to develop a strategic Port Opening capability to enable theatre entry. Unfortunately, nothing has ever been heard about it since then, even though this is a capability that would be simply invaluable both in war and in peace (for example for disaster relief, such as after the Haiti earthquake, when establishing a point of easy access from the sea is vital). The UK can be a world leader in this area, with relatively tiny investment.

The blueprint for the UK to be a leader and framework nation in littoral manoeuvre is also the blueprint for the survival of the Royal Marines in the future. Going lighter and lighter will soon make the Corps redundant. The future of amphibious capability is “Strike”. While the current Army “Joint Land Strike” concept is very questionable and the structure proposed for the Strike brigade completely out of tune with the stated ambition, the value of an expeditionary, mechanized force is not in question.
Such a force hinges on a Sea Port of Debarkation, and the Marines are a key capability to ensure there is an entry point. Unsurprisingly, one of the very first scenarios to be war-gamed in the simulators at Warminster for the Strike Experimentation saw the Strike Brigade, supported by the amphibious task group, enter a notional African state where they faced a “multi-faceted” threat dispersed in a complex environment.

The key to the future is going ashore heavy, not light. A mechanized force is required to face complex threats and deal with vast battlespaces. The Marines must focus on how to be part of that force, and on how to get a larger army force where it needs to be. In the short term this means retaining the LPDs because they are key enablers for such a “heavy” entry.
Longer term, resurrecting the Fast Landing Craft is a key requirement to increase the survivability of the whole force by enabling the amphibious vessels to launch the assault waves from over the horizon.
The Force Protection Craft should become a primary responsibility of 42 Commando now that it has been forced into becoming the “Maritime Ops” specialist. The FPC is needed to accompany the Fast Landing Craft in its long transit from amphibious ship to shore, protecting it from threats including fast attack boats, suicide boats and other hybrid threats that could be lurking in the littoral. The firepower of the FPC would also provide intimate support in the early phases of the landing. It will be particularly important for suppressing enemy anti-tank missile teams, which represent a grave danger to the landing crafts.
The FPC should also be used to regenerate a true, powerful riverine capability to perpetuate Strike along the waterways.

A US Navy Riverine Command Boat (a development of the swedish CB90) operating from a RFA Bay class LSD in the Gulf. These assets provide force protection and reach, including up rivers. They can operate hundreds of miles away from a mothership, turning a single vessel into a "task group" perfect for Littoral operations and counter piracy 

The Marines and the RLC’s Port regiment should work together around that “Sea Port Opening” capability that the UK took the lead of within NATO but never did anything about. Opening a port is fundamental for progressing an operation after the initial landing: the UK is only equipped to land a single battlegroup, and can only augment that assault force by reactivating the mothballed LPD and by taking ships up from trade.
Large transports, beginning with the Strategic Sealift RoRo vessels (the Point class, unfortunately cut from 6 to 4 ships in the 2011 round of cuts) need to insert a larger army force if the operation is to achieve its aims.  

What would be lost along with the Albion class

In light of the above considerations, few cuts proposals ever made less sense than the rumored withdrawal of the Albion-class LPDs.

An Albion can operate 2 Merlin or even 2 Chinooks at the same time, but does not have a hangar. That is an unfortunate weakness, but when the two LPDs were designed the expectation was that there would be two LPHs to accompany them. Surface assault and air assault were deliberately split on two separate platforms, but problems began very early on when the two LPHs became one, today’s HMS Ocean.
With hindsight, a class of two large LHDs, combining the surface assault and air assault capabilities in a larger hull, would have been a more sustainable choice, but there is no easy correction now. With air assault needs covered by the second of the QE class aircraft carriers, it is imperative to maintain the LPD capability until the ships are due for replacement, in the early 2030s.

The Bay class LSDs have a flight deck that can land one single Merlin. They have no hangar. Today they are regularly seen with a shelter that provides an enclosed maintenance space, but for a major amphibious operation this structure might actually need to be removed to restore the full capacity of what was designed as cargo deck.

The LPD carries 4 LCU versus 1 and has four times more well dock space, enabling two lanes operations and keeping up operational tempo to enable the delivery of more waves during one night period. The Bay class ships have a well dock dimensioned for a single LCU MK10. This was a welcome last-minute addition to their design. Still, a single Albion carries one LCU MK10 more than the whole fleet of 3 Bay LSDs put together.  
The importance of the LCU is that it is the only landing craft able to carry any kind of payload up to a Challenger 2 MBT. The mexeflote raft can carry even greater payloads but it is extremely slow and unprotected and is more suited to follow-on reinforcements than first wave insertions.

The LPD carries 4 LCVPs versus zero on the Bay. The latter can only embark them as deck cargo, stealing space otherwise destined to stores and containers. It is worth remembering that an amphibious operation would already see the Marines’ LCACs (light hovercraft) carried on deck, and the group would also carry at least one of the four army workboats that are used to aid Mexeflote ops (towing, tugging etcetera) and dracone ops for delivering fuel ashore.  
Some of the LCVPs should be eventually replaced with the Force Protection Craft. In 2011 the Marines trialed the Swedish Combat Boat 90 and demonstrated its compatibility with the LCVP davits.

The LPD is fitted with the command and control spaces and communication outfit needed to run the amphibious operation, while the Bays have a much more basic communications fit, which has only been enhanced somewhat in recent years using equipment taken out of the prematurely decommissioned Type 22 Batch 3 frigates.

The Bay has twice as many lane meters of storage space for vehicles and embarks more or less the same number of troops. The tables normally detail 305 for an Albion and 356 for a Bay, but the crew of the LPD includes 40 or more men of the Beach Tactical Party, which goes ashore with the HIPPO beach recovery vehicle, a communications team, excavators and trackway dispenser to open a safe exit from the beach, enable movement of wheeled vehicles on soft terrain and push back landing craft if they ran aground, so the difference is actually much smaller.

Losing the LPD means losing the dedicate amphibious C2 centre; some aviation assault capability; most of the group's landing craft; the tactical beach party; a good share of the capacity for stores within the group and a Company-group worth of accommodations for Marines and support elements.
That is before considering that one third of the Bay class is regularly Gulf-bound, where it serves as MCM mothership, and another ship of the class ends up spending Hurricane season in the Caribbean as a disaster relief first responder. While they could both be recalled ahead of a large amphibious operation, the UK conversely would probably not want to gap those standing tasks in “peacetime”, so that without the LPDs the Marines would often literally have no amphibious ship available at all.

Without the LPD and its landing craft the UK would no longer be able to insert the current battlegroup (1800 strong including its support elements) and, moreover, it would lose the capability to insert a mechanized element. Today, an amphibious group including an LPD and a couple of Bays can send ashore the beach tactical party and a whole company group mounted in Viking armoured vehicles (16 troop carriers, command and recovery vehicles plus 4 mortar carriers) in a single wave of 6 LCUs. Without LPD this capability is destroyed. 

The Viking provides protected mobility and firepower. It is amphibious, but too slow to routinely proceed on its own from an LPD to the beach. A Royal Marines company group can be mounted, along with its Mortas section, in 20 such vehicles. An 

The loss of the LPDs would have a completely disproportionate impact on the amphibious capability of the UK, and any claim that the Bays can fill the gap is at best misinformed and completely dishonest at worst.

What the UK can have with the Albion class

Within a few more years, the bleeding capability gap caused by the early demise of HMS Ark Royal will be closed with the entry in service of HMS Queen Elizabeth. At that point, if the UK does not mutilate further its capabilities in the ongoing “review of the review that isn’t really a review”, the Royal Navy will be able to match the Expeditionary Strike Groups of the US Navy.

With one QE class at the center, carrying a company group of Marines in addition to their helicopters and at least a squadron of F-35B, the group would then have one Albion and at least two Bay LSDs. The landing force would be closely comparable to a Marine Expeditionary Unit of the US Marine Corps. This would be a potent expeditionary force, able to threaten the sea side of any opponent and valuable enough to gain influence for the UK East of Suez, an area which is inexorably growing again in importance as the economies of Asia gallop and the world’s money increasingly goes east.

The USMC MEU. The United Kingdom lead commando battlegroup resembles this force. Centered on a QE carrier, an LPD and a couple of Bay LSDs, it could field a substantial air element; 6 LCU MK10 and 4 LCVPs. The armoured element would come with Viking, with non-armoured BV-206 vehicles in support. The RM also employ Jackals. 

The acronym CEPP, Carrier Enabled Power Projection summarizes what the carriers really are about: they ensure the fleet has the air support it needs to operate in the congested, cluttered, contested, connected and constrained environment of current and future warfare. Without organic air power, a fleet cannot venture far from the air cover coming from land bases. Without a fleet capable to go into a contested environment, far from home and potentially far from friendly land bases. there can be no power projection at any serious  scale. With the Navy planning to have one carrier at Very High Readiness (5 days notice to move) and the other at 20 to 30 days notice to move, continuous carrier capability is a realistic aim.

A USN Navy Expeditionary Strike Group: the Royal Navy expeditionary group would have Queen Elizabeth in place of the LDH; an LPD and a couple of LSDs plus Type 45s, Type 26s and an SSN, with the RFA in support. A full spectrum response force which would be the face the UK shows to the world. 

Air power is a fundamental requisite but it is also primarily a support element. Ground operations of some sort will always be required to achieve the desired results, and the naval expeditionary force can only be considered complete if it maintains this equally important element of capability.

The value of an Expeditionary naval group is summarized as follows:

-                     It safeguards the UK’s forcible entry option, albeit limited by considerations of mass. The UK simply does not possess the numbers required to mount a large operation independently; but a powerful naval group preserves a degree of operational freedom and puts the UK in a position of leadership within a coalition effort.

-          Its global deployment is a statement of intention that is not matched by any other short-term deployment form. At the same time, it does not come with the dangers of a long term presence in foreign territory, which can generate as many bad feelings as good ones.

-          It is valued by the US as it helps cover all stations, enabling the progressive shift of US naval groups to the Pacific. The UK has not been able to provide a comparable level of assistance since its last aircraft carriers helped cover the gaps created by the US involvement in Vietnam.

-          It represents a capability that, in Europe, only France can, in part, replicate. The amphibious force is also closely integrated with the Netherlands’ own Marines and is an enduring connection link between UK and Norway as the Marines are the UK’s arctic specialists and the designated reinforcement for NATO’s northern flank.