Thursday, July 27, 2017

Towards the review of the Review

The SDSR 2015 is under a new review, and there is no denying that it all depends on money, and specifically on shortages of it, rather than on government taking actual notice of the “changed security environment”. We should all be aware of this: money is tight. The savings that were integral part of the financial plan are very hard to make. The amount that is supposed to come from “efficiencies” is enormous, and government has kicked out this review of the review primarily because it is becoming undeniable that generating that much money is just not feasible.

Efficiency targets

The 2010 SDSR ordered the MOD to find, in the following ten years, efficiencies for 7.1 billion pounds.

The 2015 SDSR ordered the MOD to find a further 7.3 billion of money to re-allocate elsewhere within the defence budget. 5.8 of these are expected to come from within the Equipment Plan, and 1.5 from the wider budget.

The Better Defence Estate strategy is estimated to require 4 billion of expenditure on infrastructure over ten years. One billion is firmly allocated, one billion is expected to emerge from budgeting measures already ongoing and 2 billions have yet to be found.

These efficiency targets add up to 16.4 (or 17.4, depending on how much you believe to the vague lines about the second billion of infrastructure budget) billions to be found from within the defence budget, to be reinvested to deliver the aims of the SDSR 2015.

Lately, press sources but even the MOD itself, in the person of Stephen Lovegrove, the MoD’s permanent secretary, consistently talk of a target of 20 billions in “efficiencies”.  There is no immediate explanation for the missing 3 – 4 billion from the targets announced previously, although the MOD claims that the “20 billions” are not a new request and were in the plan all along.
In any case, it is a lot of money. The last time the NAO reported about it, the MOD had identified 4.6 of the 7.1 billion efficiencies mandated by the SDSR 2010. That was months ago, yet the talk still is of 20 billions, like nothing had been achieved at all.
In short: the details are, as always, not provided. The gap could be as “little” as 11,7 billion or as large as 24.6, depending on how you add the numbers that get thrown around.

It is a big hole that needs filling, but the feeling is that there is still a lot of confusion.

Currency exchange rates

Many like to put a lot of focus on the drop in the value of the sterling and identify it as a major factor. It certainly doesn’t help, but is probably not quite the elephant that some would have us believe. At least, not yet.

I will not venture into trying to guess how much coverage the MOD has though currency edging and forward buying as it is not my sector and there are not enough published information about it, but I will put some focus on one factor that regularly gets overlooked when the currency exchange rate gets mentioned: the MOD did not and does not plan its budget according to the day’s exchange rate. While it is true that work on the SDSR 2015 was carried out when the pound traded well over 1.40 or even 1.50 dollar, the SDSR was not built on the assumption that such a rate would hold.
The department writes out its plans on the basis of a central, more prudential assumption about what a longer term exchange rate might be like. As far as I know, the assumed pound to dollar rate that underpinned the SDSR 2015 estimates has not been revealed. A document suggests that, regarding the pound to Euro rate, the central assumption was that a pound would buy 1.20 euro. This means that the actual drop compared to the planning baseline was smaller than if you just looked at the daily fluctuations.

Of course, while 2015 saw the pricetag of several programmes descend in-year due to a strong pound, the situation today still is clearly inverted and this does add pressure.

The absolute vagueness of the 10 year plan

Another factor to keep in mind is the extremely murky nature of the 10 Year Equipment Budget. The document is published yearly, but it is extremely vague. It contains little to no indication of the number of programmes included in any macro area (“ships”, or “land”) and tells nothing about when they start, when they end, and what they procure (number of vehicles, for example).

A little more information comes from the MOD’s Major Project Report sheet, again published once a year and which paints the picture of the status of the main ongoing programmes in the previous financial year.

The NAO used to publish its own review of the MOD’s Major Projects, and that document was particularly interesting because it offered some more detail (dates, numbers) and context for in-year and historical variations. Unfortunately, the NAO no longer produces said report.

The end result is that it is extremely difficult to track MOD plans and detect changes or predict what is going to happen, especially outside of the main projects.

Some points that need to be made: the plan covers a period of 10 years and rolls forwards with each year that passes. The last issue to be published covered expenditure plans between 2016 and 2026. Several programmes, including some of the biggest ones, actually stretch far beyond 2026, so that only a part of their value is included in the current plan.
When the press reports say that the 10 year plan is in trouble because of the “31 billion for the new Dreadnough class of SSBNs”, for example, keep in mind that those 31 billion are mostly outside of the current horizon. In 2026, the first submarine in the class will still be in the shed and most of the programme will still lay into the future.
Similarly, the latest report (finally!) gives us a realistic indication of when the MOD expects the procurement of 138 F-35s to be completed, and that is 31/03/2035, which means that almost a decade of expenditure is outside of the current equipment plan horizon.
Same goes for Type 26, with only 3 ships at most entirely covered within the period (possibly, even they extend outside of the current horizon, depending by how much delivery dates have shifted. The MOD is no longer offering precise dates, only talking about "around the middle of the 2020s"). 

Obviously, this does not mean that these problems aren’t “taking away a lot of space” within the budget, but we ought to be careful with the figures and with the blame-laying.

It is worth noticing that the imprecision in collocating projects and expenditure in the correct timeframes completely skewers perception of who gets more money: there is a common perception that the Navy is getting the vast majority of the equipment money while the army gets “nothing”, but the truth is somewhat different. The Navy “proper” had a share of 30,695 billion in the pre-SDSR 2015 plan, which became 31,983 with SDSR-induced changes. A 4% growth coming from the bringing forwards of some elements to earlier years.
The Army went from 23,387 billion to 28,368, a 21% expansion that makes it a winner in the SDSR, although the enduring confusion in its plans would never make you think that.
The RAF went up 11% from 29,613 to 32,837. Joint Forces Command grew by 35%, in large part due to the fact that it is the budget holder for the P-8 Poseidon as well as the Future Beyond Line of Sight programme for the replacement of the current SKYNET communications satellite capability.
With 49 billion, Strategic Programmes is the largest budget, driven by the Nuclear element, from reactor cores to AWE infrastructure to the (very expensive) maintenance and life-extension of the stockpile of nuclear warheads, with their refurbishment into MK4A standard.
When you count the nuclear deterrent separately (it is not directly controlled by the Navy), Navy Command isn’t quite as rich as people think. And the army is not at all as poor as it claims to be. It is my opinion, already detailed more than once, that the Army is, more than poor, dramatically confused about what it wants to be and do. Some will not agree, but that is the feeling I get from the current situation. There are many, many programmes the Army is grappling with. Many requirements requiring attention. Many of these programmes have been in the limbo of "concept" and "assessment" phases for many years. They swallow money constantly, and never deliver anything. 
And more requirements open up in the early 2020s when the Heavy Equipment Transport truck fleet contract expires, when the C Fleet PFI expires, and the tanker fleet reaches its OSD point. Replacement for DROPS and Light Equipment Transporters have been on the "to do" list for years, as well, and progress is virtually non existent.  

It is extremely difficult to say which programme is most at risk and most in trouble, simply because we actually are given no information about the vast majority of ongoing and planned efforts. This also means that a lot of things (and a lot of money) will shift around in the incoming review with us, on the outside of the MOD, getting little to no clarity about it.

One example of just how hard it is to keep track of things will help you realize the extent of the problem: 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 great 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 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 aims for 445 vehicles in total, including 65 “Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicles”, aka converted, turret-less hulls to replace FV432 with. The report, however, notes that the ABSV requirement is larger than 65 vehicles and the army envisages a greater procurement effort, including more variants. A delay of two years to the ABSV element is anticipated, and once implemented it is 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. 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 gets worse when considering the Multi Role Vehicle Protected, which made the news recently when the US approved the UK request for purchasing up to 2747 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles from Oshkosh. The number surprised a lot of people because the Army had earlier been reasoning in terms of far smaller purchases, of a few hundred vehicles at most, while saying that the rest of the requirement was still being defined.
Details about MRVP are extraordinarily scarce, despite the Army having talked repeatedly in public about this programme. To this day, the exact requirement remains non formulated. MRVP includes three “Groups” or “Packages”. Group one is for a general purpose 4x4 platform, and is the one to be fulfilled via JLTV (if the go ahead will be given early next year, when Main Gate is planned).
Group 2 calls for a larger vehicle, probably a 6x6, that must deliver a Troop Carrying Variant with a capacity of 2+6, probably in various sub-variants; plus the Future Protected Battlefield Ambulance variant.
Group 3 should deliver a lightweight (air portable) recovery vehicle for support to the other two groups and the other platforms within the Protected Mobility Vehicle portfolio (the likes of Foxhound, Jackal, Husky, RWMIK+).
The Army hasn’t yet been able to decide exactly what replaces what, and when. Group 1 will replace a number of unprotected Land Rover and Pinzgauers in various positions across land formations, but is also “candidate” replacement for everything from Panther to Foxhound. The graphic offered by the Army, however, offers a variety of OSDs (some of which ridiculously absurd, such as Foxhound leaving service in 2024!) while not formulating a concrete plan for replacing those fleets.

The Army itself, as early as last year, seemed utterly confused about the where, how and when of the Multi Role Vehicle Protected. Confusion appears to rule supreme in many areas. 

The most amazing thing is that we don’t even know where the MRVP belongs. In a presentation given by the army at DVD 2016, the MRVP is the future solution to the Light Protected Mobility Requirement, and sits under Protected Mobility Vehicle Programme, itself just one of three areas of the Operational Support Programmes, with the others being Operational Support Vehicles Programme (including the MAV SV fleet, Heavy Equipment Transporters, tankers, C fleet, B fleet, Phoenix service for the provision of civilian vehicles etcetera); Operational Infrastructure Programme (including tents, shelters, deployable workshops and bridging equipment). 
From the presentation it seems that even MIV sits in this area, but we would expect it to be under Mechanized Infantry 2029. Where does it actually sit? Is MRVP part of Mechanized Infantry 2029 too? Impossible to say. Is Group 2 progressing? How many vehicles will, in the end, be pursued? Over how many years? Few know it, and those few are all somewhere within the MOD or Land HQ in Andover. Nobody seems to have a complete picture of what is going on. 

What next?

There is a lot of uncertainty ahead. It is very hard to tell in which exact direction things will tilt. I do not think the government wants to be seen walking back on major SDSR commitments after banging the drum about them so much. The review is not MOD-limited, and this might actually be somewhat encouraging as it signals that the pain will be shared, and that some more money might be shifted towards defence to plug the worst holes. There will be pain, but wherever possible it will be kept well hidden in the vast dark zones of the equipment plan, the voids in which entire programmes float, out of sight.

Among the big ticket items, MIV is, I think undeniably, the most vulnerable one. Main Gate for the MIV is only expected in 2019, and until then there is little to no money solidly committed to contracts relating to it. It is also a relatively unglamorous programme, which is far less recognizable in the public eye that the MPA, or the carriers, or even Warrior and Challenger 2 themselves.
Rumors have started to circulate about the putting on hold of the “Strike” experimentation, and if there is any truth to them the army must be thinking about what it can (and what it should) salvage.
I’ve already argued at length about the reasons why I consider Army 2020 in its current form is a suicidal move, so I won’t repeat it now. I will only say that if the review puts a stop to this half-formed Strike madness and forces a more realistic look into the army’s force structure and goals, then some good can still come out of it. 

Other commitments that already look vulnerable or dead include expanding the Shadow R1 fleet. So few know about it in the general public that it is easy to imagine the expansion being quietly abandoned. Especially as the RAF takes over command of the Army’s few fixed wing Islanders and Defenders in the new year. Who wants to bet that the additional Shadows never come; or if they do they come at the expense of the Islanders?
Another vague SDSR commitment that looks essentially dead is the “longer range helicopters” for the Special Forces. MV-22 Osprey was greatly desired, but is not going to happen. Chinook air refueling probes and a couple of tanker kits for C-130J were the second option, but even that seems dead, especially with the wing box replacement programme on the Hercules being targeted only at the long fuselage variant, while the tanker kit is associated to the short fuselage.
657 AAC, which flies for the Special Forces, is flying on borrowed time. Latest information released show that only 8 Lynx AH9A remain in use, and nothing can be seen moving in terms of procuring a dedicate replacement. Director Special Forces might end up having to regret turning down the 8 “Light Assault Helicopter” configured Wildcats that were put forward in 2011.
Sentry updates are up for scrutiny as well, although the RUSI proposal of dropping the update in favor of a new fleet purchase might not be realistic. While the update is expected to cost a lot of money, i'm not sure there is a cheaper new-buy alternative out there. 

MARS Solid Support Ship is also at risk, as it is a rather expensive programme (i think the ballpark for the 3 vessel was in the region of 1 billion), with no contracts yet signed. It is unfortunately pretty easy to imagine it shoved into the future once more. Type 31E herself is still essentially a question mark. There is no indication of when the actual programme might actually begin, and it comes as no surprise that the Shipbuilding Strategy is taking ages to come out. Even though i fully expect it to leave more questions than answers, even when it'll come out. 
Warrior CSP manufacture and entry in service is delayed by an expected 12 months due to the reported difficulties with integrating the new turret and negotiating new terms for the final contract, so that is yet more pressure that gets pushed to the right.
MRVP is penciled for Main Gate early next year, but will it actually begin? And with what numbers, and over how many years?

Apparently, the Army is trying to see if something can be done to cut down the “regiment mafia” and streamline the string of RHQs and Infantry Divisions commands. This is extremely controversial and already has caused an explosion of leaks and comments by illustrious ex-high officers, but it is highly desirable to press on with a reform in this area and, indeed, with a realistic reassessment of the Army’s structure and the balance of infantry to supports.
If the MOD wants to carry out a serious rethink, they do have plenty of areas to touch.

The amphibious force is unfortunately badly exposed. The loss of a Bay, the incoming loss of HMS Ocean, the mothballing of one LPD and the delay to a vague future of every single major programme the Marines tried to get funded (BV206 replacement, lost in the wilds; Desert Hawk III replacement, not funded; Fast Landing Craft and Force Protection Craft, out in the cold...) are signals of how weak their position is. 
It would be a tipical MOD cock-up, to close the carrier gap but kill off amphibious capability while at the same time saying that it is key and that the future of war is dictated by geo-demographic considerations, with more and more people living close to the world's shores. 
I'm particularly worried about the future of the amphibious capability. It is badly exposed and i don't know if the Navy is in any condition to be an ally and a defender, considering the difficulties elsewhere in its own budget and manpower. 

We’ll be subjected to increasingly catastrophic news report in the coming period, as always at times of budget reviews. MOD insiders will make sure to drop soundbites to the press about some of the most unpalatable options in an attempt to rule them out by public outcry. We’ve seen it all happen in the past.
As of today, I don’t think anyone can claim to know the ins and outs of the budget situation, and even less can guess what exactly will happen next.

Regardless of what happens, everyone who cares about the armed forces should renew the call to the Defence Committee to push in Parliament for a substantial change in how the long term equipment plan is shaped up, formulated and reported. The current 10 Year Budget Plan is absolutely unaccountable and basically doesn’t commit government to any measurable target. And the feeling is that, even within the MOD itself, this convoluted and deliberately vague method of planning is preventing joined up thinking, generating capability holes where a programme doesn’t properly talk to another and in general promoting a “decide only at the last second, and only for the short term” culture which ensures the math of the budget will never work out. Type 31E risks to be too disconnected from the future programme for replacement of MCM and Survey vessels. There risks to be an overlap between the two ships, which will drag the Royal Navy’s capabilities towards the bottom. The Navy risks to go from having no “second tier” flotilla to having 3 classes of low-capability ships for use on constabulary tasks (Type 31, River Batch 2 and the future MHC). In the Army, the disconnect has reached levels of ridiculous that are simply hurtful: Ajax being out of place and awkwardly trying to reposition before its production even starts is just the most glaring example, but the ABSV saga adds to the pain. In general, the Army seems to have little clue about how to make sure that WCSP, Ajax, ABSV (?), MIV (?) and MRVP together cover the requirements.

Budget cuts happen everywhere, and in most of Europe the budgets are much smaller than the one the MOD gets to play with. It is high time to ask why only the MOD cuts generate such nightmares and the brutal cancellation of entire capabilities. No, the fault doesn’t sit only on the shoulders of politicians.  

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Trying to correct Army 2020 Refine

The cost of the official Army 2020 Refine

The King’s Royal Hussars lose actual tanks in favor of inexistent “Medium Armour” platforms, which are Ajax recce vehicles somehow posturing as tanks.

The number of Warrior-equipped battalions drops from 6 to 4.

There won’t be Light Mechanised Battalions on Foxhound. All six are reverting to Light Role infantry and only receive some Foxhounds on deployment. A portion of the Foxhound fleet is handed to the RAF Regiment which is building two permanent Light Armoured sqns, 1 Sqn and 34 Sqn.  

The Army intends to move from 3 Mastiff-mounted battalions to 4 MIV-mounted ones.

102 Logistic Brigade will vanish, and its units will be redistributed / robbed of manpower to rebuilt other units

32nd Regiment Royal Artillery will disband in 2021 with the withdrawal from service of Desert Hawk III. The provision of battle-group level ISTAR beyond 2021 is a floating question mark: cavalry regiments are arguing that mini-drones should be part of their role and equipment, but I’m not aware of any definitive decision in that sense, while the Joint Mini UAS programme, strongly wanted by the Royal Marines who do not consider the Black Hawk to be adequate for use in the littoral environment, is not funded and has failed to take off. As of today, after DH III there is just a black hole.

A “new” 26 Regiment Royal Artillery ceases to be a Close Support Regiment and becomes a “Divisional Fires” regiment by taking under command all of the Precision Fires batteries from 19 RA and 1 RHA as well as from the current 26 RA.

35 Engineer Regiment will become an EOD regiment, but it is not clear if any new EOD or Route Proving & Clearance (TALISMAN) squadrons will stand up as part of the move. The Army is making a U-turn on hybrid EOD regiments and will stand up a “new” 101 Regiment in which all reserve squadrons will be contained. 35 Regiment will go to supplement 33 Regiment (and 11 RLC). In the process, two of the current squadrons of 35 RE will be re-subordinated to 21 and 32 RE respectively, to bring these two regiments up to strength (under Army 2020 they were cut down to just 2 regular squadrons each) so they can support the Strike Brigades.

Headquarters 64 Works Group Royal Engineers will disband. Not clear yet if all STREs currently commanded by 64 Group will survive and resubordinate, or if they will disband as well.

2 Medical Regiment will disband,

Headquarters 4th Regiment Royal Military Police will disband

33 Field Hospital will disband

104,105 and 106 Battalions of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers reserve will be rationalized by “merging” them in 101, 102 and 103. In reality, it seems that their manpower margin will be used up in favor of other reserve units (including possibly the two extra infantry battalions formed with A2020R).

Overall, these cuts underline a drop from 3 + 2 deployable brigades (the two light brigades from the Adaptable Force were admittedly always quite threadbare) to 4.
The resulting Army has:

Two Armoured Infantry Brigades (20 and 12 Bde) each on one Type 56 tank regiment and 2 infantry battalions on Warrior, with no recce cavalry

Two “Strike” Brigades (1 Bde and another to be chosen later, initially know as Strike Expeditionary Group) on 2 Ajax regiments (one in recce role, one in “medium armour” role) and 2 infantry battalions on MIV.

All four brigades are in 3 Division, the only deployable division the army will have.

Strike Brigades: what for?

These half-tracked mechanized formations are a huge question mark. Nobody has yet given a credible indication of what they are for. The cost for setting them up is massive, while the gain is at best questionable. Carter wants these brigades to be highly independent and mobile, able to move “2000 kilometers” on their own, moving quickly back and forth across a vast and contested environment.
How, and for achieving what, against what kind of enemy?

Half the brigade is tracked (Ajax) and half is wheeled. It is honestly quite hard to imagine the tracked half coping well with a 2000 kilometers movement. At best, it will slow down the entire brigade because, remember, the tracked half brings the firepower, since MIV is unfortunately expected to be an APC, not an IFV with turret and heavy weaponry. Ajax is also tasked with recce, so, by definition, it will be scouting ahead of MIV.

The lack of firepower and the presence of just two battalions of infantry also make it inevitable to ask what these brigades are supposed to achieve once in place. How much maneuvering do you expect to do with 2 infantry battalions in a “vast and contested” battlefield? What kind of enemy can you face, when the biggest direct fire weapon available is a 40mm CTA gun?
The brigade will do well enough in a low intensity scenario (think Mali), but won’t fare well in any more challenging situation. Even in a “Mali-like” scenario the brigade might finds itself outgunned: the French have found out that the ubiquitous ZSU 23 mm guns and 14.5 machine guns can become pretty dangerous when you try to fight back with a .50, outranged and outweighted. They ended up hastily rolling back out the old 20mm gun and put it on the back of trucks to complement their Sagaie (90mm), AMX-10RC (105mm) and VBCI (25mm).
The French themselves do not seem to have learned their lesson very well since they are replacing both Sagaie and AMX-10RC with the EBRC with the 40mm CTA, shelving earlier plans and studies which had brought around the Nexter 120mm Low Recoil. I think the absence of something more punchy than the 40mm will be felt loud and clear going ahead. Compared to Ajax, the EBRC has the saving grace of carrying two MMP long-range anti-tank missiles for launch under armour.

The French “Strike Brigades”, clearly one of the inspirations behind the british ones, come with the same number of cavalry regiments (2, both with EBRC) but with more infantry (3 regiments, and French regiments are individually larger to start with, on 4 rifle companies rather than 3) and more firepower (120mm mortars, 155mm howitzers, and the missiles on EBRC).
The Royal Artillery does intend to acquire a wheeled 155/52 howitzer, thankfully, which might well be the French CAESAR, but funding (and consequently timelines) for that ambition to become reality is far from certain.
Another key development in the french army is the addition of 175-strong combat squadrons to logistic regiments to protect convoys and secure routes. If you want to manoeuvre in a "vast, contested, congested" environment, you can't really do without this particular capability. The British Army probably hopes to use Light Cavalry and extra infantry from the remaining infantry brigades for this (and other) roles, but this further exacerbates the problem of what happens after six months or so, when the deployed force has given what it could and there is next to nothing left for a follow-on. 

What is the Strike Brigade actually good for? I feel that this is an entirely legitimate and very key question, and the Army hasn’t given an answer.
Despite all the hype, considering that Army 2020 Refine is all about putting in the field a Division of 2 armoured and 1 strike brigades, it looks to me like the whole brigade is some sort of super-sized divisional reconnaissance cavalry formation. A mobile screen.
But even so, its composition (primarily the lack of firepower) brings to mind questions about what is the concept of employment and how the formation will face the enemy weaponry, in both "low" and "high" intensity scenarios. 

Is it worth it?

From the above comes the key question: is the Strike Brigade a revolution?
Honestly, I fear the answer is no.
Is the formation of the Strike Brigades worth the cuts elsewhere in the Army needed to (try to) fund MIV?
Again, I think the answer is no.

The army is consciously turning itself in a one-shot, short-term silver bullet. A division in the field, until it lasts, and then, maybe, but only maybe “put together something to maintain a presence at up to brigade level”. And the maybe isn’t mine, is general Carter’s. He is well aware that the Army will very much struggle to put the division effectively in the field and even more so will struggle to keep a fielded brigade after that.
Army 2020 Refine maintains “six infantry brigades”. These are what remains of the Adaptable Force of Army 2020 after robbing away all supports and converting 4 infantry battalions in Defence Engagement-roled “Specialised Infantry Battalions”. These brigades have nothing but riflemen and some Jackals for light cavalry work. There is no artillery, no logistic group, no signals, no engineer, no medical elements. A huge proportion of the Army’s manpower and several key resources will continue to be pumped into these “almost-brigades”, which can, of course, help, but cannot quite deploy anywhere as they are.

Alternative priorities

I advocate a different approach to the problem. Instead of focusing on equipment, namely on MIV, I want to focus on structures and on making the best possible use of what there is. Of all what there is.

-          The Army should not condemn itself to being a one-shot gamble by design. A two divisions structure is key.
-          The Army cannot afford to have 6 “half-brigades” of dubious deployability.
-          Communications are key to combat in contested environment. The current shortage of signal support must be corrected.
-          Combat Support and Combat Service Support cannot be cut ad infinitum because government doesn’t want to take the flak connected with shutting down an infantry battalion. The army is completely out of balance.
-          16 Air Assault and 3 Commando should not be “wasted” as brigades by being barely resourced to support a single battlegroup on rotation from within their structures.

Alternative Army 2020 Refine 

Below, I’ve provided tables detailing an alternative army structure on two Divisions, with each containing one armoured, one mechanized and one light / air assault brigade. 3 Commando brigade is restored to full combat strength as well, and the reserve force is organized in four “shadow brigades” supporting the main body of two armoured and two mechanized brigades.
The Army already has most of the pieces needed to make it happen: most of the changes are needed in CS and CSS units which have been cut back by Army 2020 Refine.

The guiding principle is that each brigade should be able to field three battlegroups, built from within the brigade itself.
Armoured brigades employ Combined Arms Regiments replacing the separated Infantry and Tank formations.
The 3 tank existing tank regiments are each split into two “battalions” of 2 tank squadrons (14x) and 1 recce squadron. 
The six existing armoured infantry battalions all lose one rifle company. This cut is unavoidable unless more money can be found to upgrade more Warrior IFVs, as 245 are not enough for 6 complete battalions.
The resulting combined arms regiments will each have 2 armoured infantry companies, each supported by a tank company (Every company of 14 Warrior accompanied by a squadron of 14 MBTs), plus one Support Company (mortars, ATGW, snipers etc) and one large recce company (at least 8 Ajax, plus a dismounted element).
Compared to Army 2020 Refine as currently envisaged, this approach:

-          Cancels the reduction in the number of operational MBTs (168 active tanks, the same as 3x Type 56 regiments, spread on 12 squadrons of 14 rather than 9x18 plus RHQs. Wouldn't hurt to have tanks in the recce cavalry as well, if possible.) 
-          Forms 2 extra square battlegroups. The amount of rifle companies is the same as in the official Army 2020 Refine, but 2 extra support companies survive. 

Army 2020 Refine armoured infantry brigades will only be able to field 2 square battlegroups each, by task-organizing the remaining 2 tank regiments on six “demi-squadrons” of 9 tanks, allocated to each rifle coy.
I’m merely forming permanent battlegroups, with the tank regiment split becoming a daily reality, with more tanks retained.

The Mechanized Infantry Brigades will continue to employ Mastiff and Ridgeback for longer, adding a fourth battalion to the 3 that were always part of the original Army 2020 Refine.
The third battalion in each mechanized brigade will be lighter and equipped with Foxhound. This is partially because there might not be enough heavier vehicles for more battalions (some Mastiff and Ridgeback are used in CS and CSS formations, after all) and in part due to the need for six infantry battalions to rotate in and out of Cyprus. The units involved in the rotation should ideally be Light Role, at most Light Mechanized. Trying to keep six battalions in a pool to sustain the Cyprus rotation was one of the most complicated factors in working out this structure, because the Guards already have their rotation in and out of Public Duty; the Gurkhas have to cover Brunei and the PARAs are busy. Doesn't leave much room to wiggle into. The British Army is burdened by all of these lateral tasks. 

16 Air Assault brigade gets a Foxhound-mounted Gurkha battalion, and 4 Brigade is built up as a light / air assault formation with 2 Light Role and one Foxhound battalions. 16 and 4 Brigade won’t have a “shadow brigade” of the reserve in support, but will include a reserve battalion directly into their structure (4 PARA and 4 PWRR).

All Light Role and Light Mechanized battalions receive a manpower uplift towards an establishment of over 600, rebuilding the lost companies that were dismantled under Army 2020 (the 2010 one). Note that also the official Army 2020 Refine includes this correction, an implicit admission that what was always clearly bound not to work (binary companies counting on reservists being there to form the missing platoons) did not, in fact, work.

Each “shadow brigade” of the reserve gets three infantry battalions, one cavalry formation and one artillery regiment. This should ensure that there is a good and timely availability of reinforcements. Again, the official Army 2020 Refine partially does this by coupling 4 reserve battalions to the regular armoured infantry battalions; by reinforcing the Royal Wessex Yeomanry and by tipping 104 and 105 Royal Artillery for support to the Heavy, armoured artillery. I’m pushing on further with the concept.

I also encourage the formation of Combat Aviation Brigades under Joint Helicopter Command, to synchronize resources and readiness mechanisms. The deployable aviation HQs to make it happen already exist: JHC 1 is routinely generated from the Attack Helicopter Force and JHC 3 is generated from the RAF Support Helicopter Force, while JHC 2 is provided by the Commando Helicopter Force.
Ground supports would be reorganized accordingly, forming Aviation Support Groups combining elements currently spread over Joint Helicopter Support Squadron, Tactical Supply Wing and 132 Sqn RLC.
The fleets to be used already exist, but I encourage the formation of an additional Chinook squadron, to enable a more regular distribution of the tasks and the permanent allocation of one squadron to maritime ops (as done within the Attack Helicopter Force with 656 Sqn).
In general, I’d recommend 7 Sqn to use the Chinook HC5 for Special Forces support and long range operations; one squadron with up to 8 HC6 as primary actor in maritime tasks (as I understand that this mark comes with foldable rotor blades) and two large “green” squadrons using the remaining HC6 and HC6A (the HC4s’ new name once retrofitted with Digital Flight Controls).
One Combat Aviation brigade will support each deployable division while the third brigade, essentially Commando Helicopter Force expanded with 656 AAC and the new Chinook sqn, supporting operations at and from the sea.

In order to build up this structure, a number of changes have to be made, including the sacrifice of two infantry battalions: without additional manpower forthcoming, the adjustements have to be made within what is already present, and while the Combined Arms Regiments and the Specialised Infantry Battalions release a significant number of posts, the many holes in CS and CSS require a larger shift.
A particularly massive hole exists in communications, and in order to close it I recommend rationalizing deployable HQs and the attached Signal resources. The UK created a Standing Joint Task Force HQ and a Standing Joint Force Logistic HQ, and there also are two small early entry elements, supported from within 30 Signal Regiment.
22 Signal Regiment is tied down by ARRC needs, but I’m recommending a review of whether this is an appropriate use for finite and invaluable resources already in short supply. ARRC is just one of 9 deployable Land Corps HQs in the European side of NATO. A lot of HQs without deployable Divisions. The Army should not cling on to ARRC just for pure vanity. It might be sensible to seek out the help of a smaller country which might be willing to replace 30 Signal Regiment in the supporting role. A number of the other existing HQs are multi-national, and the ARRC might well take that path too. Or vanish entirely. 30 and 22 are needed elsewhere.
Joint Standing Task Force HQ should really become one with the Division HQs. Early Entry has its most obvious home as part of the deployable command elements of 16 AA and 3 Cdo. Rationalization is key.
Standing Joint Logistic HQ should not be disjointed from 101 and 102 logistic brigade, as these are the main supporting formations the UK has and would be the core of the whole logistic element in any case.
As a consequence, with the signal regiments assigned directly to the formations they support, 1st Signal Brigade will be disbanded, leaving 11 Signal Brigade in charge of the reserve element and of the technical support for networks and infrastructure as well as specialisms such as ECM.

1st Artillery Brigade will also vanish, replaced by strong Div Arty cells aligned with the deployable divisions.
Instead of building a Division Fires regiment, I recommend adding a fourth Precision Strike battery, so that each armoured and mechanized brigade has one. Ideally, an Exactor element should be made available to the Light brigades as well, but it will probably be impossible due to manpower and resources constraints.

The other changes, detailed in the tables, are primarily in CS and CSS. Missing squadrons must be rebuilt (as in 21 and 32 Engineer regiments, for example), REME resources expanded and better distributed, logistics assured to each formation.

The end result

The end result is a more complete and sustainable army, which makes good use of every major formation it has. The Force Generation Cycle could try to replicate the ambitious 2:2 model pursued by Army 2020 Refine, with one armoured and one strike brigade at readiness at all times, but doubts about the sustainability of such a rhythm suggest that a different approach might be favorable.

I suggest that each Division should be at readiness for 18 months; with each of its brigades generating a battlegroup at readiness for 6 months. In every moment of the year, the UK would be able to deploy a 2-star command element overseeing a brigade including, from the start, an armoured battlegroup, a mechanized battlegroup and an air mobile battlegroup including a parachute company group. 3rd Commando adds an amphibious battlegroup.
Every single battlegroup would be at readiness for six months.
Each Division would force generate from within its formations: its three combat brigades, its logistic brigade and its aviation brigade.
The air mobile battlegroup and the amphibious one are notionally held at 5 days notice to move; while the others are at 30 days (as already happens). The balance of at least one, and possibly two brigades would follow over another 60 days. 

What could not be fixed

As all plans, my Army 2020 Refine proposal is a compromise. It prioritizes mass, sustainability and deployable formations over equipment (MIV delayed to better times), vanity (ARRC at all costs, because playing Corps without having Divisions is politically tasty) and, in part, capability. Mastiff has well known problems off road: its tactical mobility is inferior to any realistic MIV candidate. Mine is, however, a wider assessment: I do not believe the costs of the current Army 2020 Refine are in any way justified by a more tactically mobile MIV. There are too many holes elsewhere.

In an ideal world, Mastiff would still be replaced by a capable 8x8, and at least a quarter of those should be well-armed IFVs, not just APCs. Because being able to move a lot, and quickly, means nothing if you can’t fight, and win, once you are there.
In an ideal world, the “Medium Armour” element would be delivered by 8x8 with 120mm smoothbore, rather than by Ajax trying to be two very different things at once.
In an ideal world, the Mechanized Brigades would not use Ajax (tracked) for reconnaissance.

This is not an ideal world. The dramatic change of heart of the Army, which in 2010 prioritized tracks and heavy armour just to change its mind less than 5 years later, means that the Ajax contract is now effectively an hindrance, not a benefit. With the Strike Brigade idea, Ajax is suddenly the wrong vehicle. And this is eloquent about how confused the army is, because the damn thing isn’t even being delivered yet.
There used to be a Medium Armour variant of FRES SV in the plan. It was cancelled. Now, a few years later, the Army wants two regiments worth of medium armour, but will pretend that the Recce variant can double up as medium tank. This is rather extraordinary and extremely depressing: the Ajax contract was announced in September 2014. General Carter was there already, not yet CGS but in charge of Army 2020 and tipped to replace general Wall. Army 2020 was there. The need was for three armoured reconnaissance cavalry regiments.
A year later, the Army says it wants two wheeled brigades, and since it is now stuck with an expensive Ajax contract, it puts tracks into those wheeled brigades, and since it only has recce vehicles with 40mm guns it pretends that half of the same fleet can cover recce and the other half can somehow magically become two regiments of “medium tanks”.
This is an extraordinary mess. Extraordinary. Within one year, Ajax, which was bought to do recce for the armoured brigades, ended up hijacked so badly that it now won’t even be part of the armoured brigades (save for small numbers assigned to armoured infantry battalions and tanks regiments replacing Scimitar in the scout platoons, unless these vanish as well). Within one year. One year. It is almost impossible to believe, yet it is what is happening under our eyes.

My proposal includes two (mostly) wheeled brigades because there is merit to the greater on road autonomy of these formations. Moreover, there are not enough resources for an army with an armoured division of three (tracked) brigades and one mechanized division of three mechanized brigades. I wanted a symmetric force, because it allows for evenly spreading of the tasks, and so of the burdens.

From whichever direction you look at it, however, Ajax becomes, at least in part, the wrong vehicle.
In Army 2020 Refine as proposed by general Carter it is completely out of place; in my proposal two of the regiments are in the right place and two… not so much. You’d ideally want to halve the number of Ajax on order in favor of 8x8s with the same turret, to put tracks with tracks and wheels with wheels.

The army has completely messed up its own plans and its own internal balances. It has Warrior to upgrade, Ajax on the way, and a big number of ancient FV432 to replace with ABSV, but this last program has been in the limbo for years and it is not clear if, when and how it’ll finally move onwards. And then there is MIV.
It is almost impossible to fix the mess now, because the Ajax contract is huge and probably cannot be modified. It ties up a lot of money and does not deliver quite what is needed.
In a better world, the Army would sit down with General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin and find a reasonable arrangement to change current contracts. Basically, it would have to say “look, we messed up. Here is what we need to do to remedy”:

-          Cancel Warrior CSP (which is continuing to encounter problems with the new turrets)
-          Reduce the purchase of Ajax from 245 to 140 or so (two Cavalry regiments plus 6 scout platoons of 8 vehicles each for the six Combined Arms Regiments)
-          Cancel the Warrior FV514 upgrade for the Royal Artillery, replace with Ajax Joint Fires sub-variant, increasing the number of these
-          Introduce an IFV variant of Ajax and purchase 245 to replace Warrior instead of going with the CSP for it
-          Remove the turrets from existing Warrior and convert the hulls into ABSV variants (APC, Command Support, ATGW, Mortar Carrier…)

And then, eventually, get on with MIV, purchasing a number in IFV configuration and a number armed with 120mm for the direct fire punch.

But this is the real world, and that would probably never work out. There’s a big contract signed, and the Army can only blame itself for the mess it now is into. It cannot change its mind every five minutes. It cannot purchase a new, expensive vehicle after years of suffering to trial it, define it, get it funded, and then decide that it is not what it wants. Pretending that said vehicle can be what it clearly isn’t will only make the mess worse, and more painful.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Type 26: where does the money go?

The MOD has announced the signature of the Type 26 Manufacture Phase 1 contract, covering the first 3 of 8 planned Type 26 frigates. First steel will be cut in the next few weeks, and perhaps we'll hear about names too. 
The latest, and presumably final CGIs released show "fat cheeks" on the superstructure that give long passageways around the bridge, good for situational awareness and for the placement of small weapons for anti-swarm, anti-FIAC defence. The mast design has been further refined, and the Sea Ceptor cells arrangement has been finalized, with the launchers being the same "mushrooms" tubes used on the Type 23s refitted with the missile. The number of cells has not changed, while the export design targeted at Canada (and, with further modifications, at Australia) has been shown replacing the CAMM cells with an additional MK41 module (from 24 to 32 cells).

The latest images show what Type 26 will look like

This model of a Type 26 proposal for Canada shows an extra MK41 module instead of CAMM cells. 

The contract is described as a 3.7 billion pounds deal, but this figure urgently needs to be clarified. Government seems to be playing games by using it: on one side, it is giving the impression that it is committing more money than it actually is; on the other it makes it impossible to figure out how much each of the three vessels is costing. Unfortunately, whatever the exact amount, the answer is: a bloody lot.

The confusion is due to the MOD having already signed contracts worth more than 1.9 billion pounds to get to this point.
The first big Type 26 contract dates back to 2010 and was a 127 million, 4-years contract for designing the new vessel.
In February 2015 this was followed by an 859 million Demonstration Phase deal, which included selection of suppliers and long lead items orders, plus the construction of three shore-based test facilities to de-risk key parts of the vessel. David Brown built a test facility to demonstrate the new cross-connect gearbox developed for the Type 26; General Electric Power Conversion built the Electric Power Generation and Propulsion facility to de-risk the power segment of the ship; and the Combat System Land Based Integration and Test laboratory demonstrated the entire Combat System. This investment should pay dividends later on by ensuring that all works as intended, preventing many of the teething issues associated with new systems in new ships.
In march 2016, contracts for 472 million in long-lead items including side doors, helicopter handling system, bow sonar domes and other parts was announced.
In July, 183 million pounds were added to procure the MK45 gun systems (including automated ammunition handling, gun fire control system and ammunition) for the first three ships; plus another system to be installed ashore as integrated training facility.
In December 2016 another large contract followed, for 380 millions, covering chilled water plants, hangar cranes, hatches and watertight doors, membrane sewage treatment plants, steering gear and stabilizers.

The long list of suppliers and systems already under contract and at work due to earlier Demonstration Phase contracts 

Most, but not all, of these almost 2 billion pounds, which have been converted in a long list of parts already on order / delivered / being delivered for the first three vessels, have effectively been announced a second time, because they are included in the 3.7 billion deal.
A part of what was already expended is counted separately: probably the non-recurring cost of setting up the shore test facilities, the gun training system, and other voices of expenditure.

Whatever the exact division of costs, the pricetag of the Type 26s remains disconcerting, because most of its known systems and capabilities are non-developmental, funded by different budget lines, or straight out recycled.
The ship will have a newly designed gearbox but will use well known MT30 gas turbines already used all around the world; and it will have a CODLOG (Combined Diesel or Gas) which is arguably the simplest configuration involving a gas turbine. A well understood, definitely non innovative propulsion system and, arguably, in some ways a step back from the Type 23’s CODLAG (Combined Diesel and Gas) which allows the ship to exploit all of its installed power for obtaining max speed.

The ship’s main defensive weapon is the CAMM / Sea Ceptor missile, which is developed and acquired under the Complex Weapons budget line and which is already being procured for the Type 23 life extension and capability sustainment project, with three vessels already refitted.
Type 26 will have more Sea Ceptor cells (48 in two well separated silos, fore and aft, of 24 cells each; versus 32 all on the bow for Type 23), but will essentially inherit most of the arsenal from the retiring Type 23s.

The ship’s gun is new to the Royal Navy, but is the latest iteration of a system which is decades old and used in hundreds and hundreds of exemplars on US Navy and other nations’ vessels all around the world. The only developmental addition is the automated ammunition handling system and depot, but similar systems are already operational around the world and hardly break the bank.

The main radar is planned to be the Artisan 3D, already operational on Type 23, from which it will migrate to the new hulls.

The Type 26’s main offensive power will entirely depend from three 8-cell MK41 vertical missile launchers. Again, a new system in Royal Navy use, but well over a thousand such VLS modules are operational in the US Navy and elsewhere. Their cost is far from prohibitive, and they are non developmental and well understood.
What is not well understood is what, if anything, the Royal Navy will put into these VLS. It currently has no weapon, in service or planned, which is ready for MK41. The Tomahawk is an obvious candidate, but the small Royal Navy stock of the missile is all in the encapsulated variant for submerged launch from submarine’s torpedo tubes.
Harpoon is going out of service next year, leaving the Royal Navy bare of any heavy anti-surface missile, and the Type 26’s offensive power is entirely dependent on “Maritime Future Offensive Surface Warfare capability”, a programme which is funded under the Complex Weapons budget (so entirely additional to other Type 26 costs) and which only appeared in the Equipment Plan in the 2016 edition. We know absolutely nothing of its exact aims and of the timeframe associated with it.

Light guns for ship’s self defence will come from retiring Type 23s, as will a good part of the decoy outfit, including the S2170 anti-torpedo system.
The towed array sonar Type 2087 also comes straight from the Type 23s. We don’t yet know about the hull-mounted sonar on the bow. Maybe this, at least, will be new. Or maybe no.

The exact details of how equipment will migrate between Type 23s and Type 26 is not known. The MOD was asked about it in a few occasions, but offered very little in terms of answers. It is obvious that a Type 23 will have to leave service early to be dismantled and robbed of parts to enable the fitting out of a new Type 26 unless a few new sets of equipment are purchased.
According to admiral sir PhilipJones, three such “extra” sets have been procured, for the first three vessels, to ensure that there is no need to shrink the fleet early to fit out the first new Type 26s. After that, the equipment for the following vessels will come from the withdrawn 23s.

Admiral Sir Philip Jones: Yes, that is absolutely true. One of the things that we think will de-risk the Type 26’s entry into service is the fact that much of its equipment will have been tested and proved by operating on the Type 23 frigates, in particular the Sea Ceptor missile system, the Artisan Type 997 air surveillance radar and a number of other things.The Type 23 that we bring in to pay off has to be the donor platform to the next Type 26. We’ve bought new equipment for each of the three first Type 26s, to sort of get the class going, if you like; that is part of the long-lead items we have procured. So we will then have, as it were, a residue of decommissioned Type 23s’ equipment, which we can return and recycle, and deliver to the builder to fit into the Type 26. We won’t have to bring one in and stop it operating before we send it north; we’ve deliberately factored that in. I think that means that we will have much more resilience and already-tested equipment in that ship, which will bring it into service much faster than we’ve seen before.

Exactly what these “extra” sets include is not clear. It seems highly unlikely that there will be extra Type 2087 sonars, for example. Probably we are only looking at the essential pieces.
In theory, the extra sets could afterwards ease the fitting out of the Type 31e frigate if it will ever actually come together and if there will ever be more than 5 of them. In theory, purchasing three extra sets of parts gives the Royal Navy enough kit for 16 frigates instead of 13. Whether this benefit is ever realized is anyone’s guess.

The Type 26 introduces very little in the way or truly new systems to the fleet. There is a hope that the Royal Navy will be able to improve the crucially important self-defence decoy fit by replacing current fixed-tube launchers with something like the CENTURION trainable decoy launcher, which can adjust to fire the decoy in the best possible direction for maximum effect, without the entire ship needing to change course first. This is extremely important in light of the development abroad of faster and faster anti-ship missiles which will not wait for the ship to manoeuvre into a new position. But even this very, very modest development is currently a mere hope: data about Type 26 so far makes no mention of this and earlier attempts by the RN to invest in this area were frustrated by lack of funding.

CENTURION trainable decoy launcher 

It even seems that the Type 26 will not carry ship-launched anti-submarine torpedoes. For years now there has been no mention of migrating the Type 23’s magazine torpedo launchers. In absence of a vertical launch anti-submarine weapon such as the American ASROC, the Type 26 will be entirely dependent on the embarked helicopter for prosecuting the submarines it picks up on the sonar.
While the limitations of the ship-launched light torpedo are well understood (being close enough to a submarine to employ it probably means the submarine has already fired its own much larger torpedoes), it seems rather disconcerting to do away with them entirely. And if they aren't fitted, this is another capability the Type 26’s budget is not funding.

How the ship can be quite so expensive despite all of the above is mysterious. We are light years away from the affordable pricetag that had been the target of the programme, yet many of the big-ticket items are not even contributing to the cost. 
We are left to wonder whether spreading the build on two shipyards (Scotstoun and Govan) is at least partially responsible. Earlier plans included spending serious money on finally building a single, capable “frigate factory” plant, but this would have meant closing one of the current two yards, and this was unpalatable. One look at the two-site Type 26 construction strategy, however, is enough to see how much more complication, risk and waste of time (and, inexorably, cost) it adds.

Above, the single-site shipyard proposal. 

BAE Systems two-shipyards Type 26 assembly strategy. 

The Type 26 is also now described as a 157 men ship. Earlier, the “Core Crew” had been given as 118. To be fair, however, 118 probably excluded elements such as the embarked helicopter flight, which are very much an integral part of what makes a warship work. Probably, 157 is not sign of a step away from automation, but merely a more complete and realistic indication of what it takes to make the warship operate. In 2012, the Royal Navy described the 118 core crew as needed for mere “Float, Move and Self Protect” activities, with ASW specialist “packets” coming separately, along with all other teams needed for the mission.  There is space for a further 51 souls (208 bunks in total) to be embarked to operate systems carried in the Mission Bay or as reinforced boarding teams or for other necessities.

The MOD is being very vague about timeframes for entry in service. What once was 2021 had already become 2023 and might now be closer to 2025, with the MOD talking of “around the middle 2020s”. It won’t be earlier than 2023, might be 2025. This is bad news as it means shrinking the fleet or delaying further the exit from service of the aging Type 23s. HMS Argyll was meant to bow out in 2023, followed by the others roughly with a yearly drumbeat. This will have to change unless the fleet is to dramatically shrink.

While we wait for the Shipbuilding Strategy and for a plan for the Type 31e frigate that is supposed to complement Type 26, it is hard to rejoice for Sunday’s announcement. It was a key, much delayed and long expected development, definitely overdue, but it brings forth unpleasant questions. How can this ship cost so much? How can british shipbuilding go on if this is the best price it can offer?