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”. 


  1. From MikeW:

    In the link you give for the Strike Brigades, Mark Lancaster (an MOD Minister) describes the alterations to as “ ‘minor changes’ to the sequencing of units to form Strike”. Do you think these changes could be more significant than that ? Do they signify a change in the balance of Armour/Armoured Infantry units to be retained? Or is it all relatively minor stuff?

    And how do the dates arranged for the introduction of the new vehicle (MIV) fit into these changes of role for the units concerned in Strike? I thought the new vehicle was to be chosen early next year and the vehicle was to enter service early in the next decade but maybe I have got that very wrong.

    1. I'm not optimist about this change of plans signaling a reprieve for heavy (tracked) armour. There is no money to suggest such a change. But it is interesting, and maybe it will push the downsizing of armor to the right by a bit.
      It'll have to be watched.

      As for MIV, a purchase is expected "within two years", is the last we were told. The assessment phase has now begun with a 9 million budget. IOC for the Strike Brigade was never expected before 2021, so between vehicle deliveries and work up it is still some time off in any case. Mastiff will cover the gap.

  2. The so called 'year of the Royal Navy'!

    I'd like to make a few predictions for 2018....

    - One additional Sandown mine-hunter will be retired as
    soon as it's convenient.

    - The 'new' patrol boats for Gibraltar will actually be a
    couple of the Archer Class released from Faslane now
    that the Royal Marine's have 3 Island Class boats there
    as apposed to a new purchase, fitted with mini-guns
    instead of GPMG's

    - HMS Gleaner's replacement will be given an old survey
    fleet name like Beagle or Roebuck.

    - There's a slim chance HMS Clyde will be retained given
    the need for extra patrol boats post brexit, but
    transferring a couple of the River's to the border force
    is a likelier outcome.

    - Albion/Bulwark won't be scrapped due to the sheer amount
    of pressure to retain them, but the Royal Marine's will
    be significantly reduced and lots of other comparatively
    peripheral savings will be explored, with The Wave Class
    Tankers, 1 Bay Class, RFA Argus, RFA Fort Victoria, 2
    more mine-hunters and 1-3 Type 23's frigates all being
    candidates for the chop.

    - The 7th Typhoon unit will be 31 Squadron, with 9
    Squadron either becoming the possible 8th or saved to
    become the 2nd RAF badged F35 unit in the 2020's.

    - The Islander recon aircraft moved across from the AAC
    will stand up as a new squadron using one of the lower
    dormant numbers, so 15, 19 or 20.

    - They will have to get on with an upgrade for the Sentry
    fleet, but the talk of several extra crews will come to

    - The retained Hercules will start to look vulnerable as
    more A400m enter service the platform matures.

    - The AAC will be gutted with the older Lynx and Gazelle
    all going pretty soon without replacement and a chunk of
    the Wildcat fleet put into storage and used for spares.

    - The Army will be losing a significant amount of manpower
    given that they can't meet the current recruiting
    targets and haven't successfully made a case for the
    planned levels of manpower in the way that the other
    services have.

    And 2018 will be a make or break year for defence spending and global commitments.

  3. Hi Gabriele,
    Thanks for another informative article.
    Just a thought on the changes to the strike brigades,
    could be this be due to some units getting chopped?
    Maybe the RAC is going to be reduced?
    Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

    1. In theory, no, because the actual impact of that would be the vanishing of a brigade. For now there is no indication of that happening, but we'll have to see what the new year brings.

  4. Hey Gabi question about Saif Sareea 3.
    You said that it's the first test of our ability to generate and deploy a division sized force, does this mean the UK is actually planning on deploying an entire division? Or are notional assets being involved? Or does the "deploy" part include Omani forces? I somehow can't imagine us deploying what amounts to half the army on an exercise halfway across the globe.

    Also, if we are generating and deploying a British Division, I assume not the entirety of 3 UK Div since it's held on readyness? Possibly one armoured brigade and some units from 1 UK div/16AA/3CMDO?

    Thank you.

    1. There are no details yet about who will go, but if it is anything like the previous two Saif Sareea, a lot of units will be involved. It won't be a full division, but it should be the framework of one.

  5. Hi Gabriele and guys,
    On the changes to the strike brigade,
    How will the 4th (extra) squadron of the Household cavalry be equipped? As I understand the current situation, its supports 16AA, but with Ajax will this be, as Ajax is a much heavier beast than the scimitar?
    The SCOTS GDS are to be one of the infantry units,
    but they must have to take a lot of time out due to public duties. Pre and post public duties stuff as well as the normal 6th month 'tour'?
    If the army is to be cut, as there is only a requirement for 6 RAC regiments within the current brigade structure, (2 challenger, 4 Ajax), the others having jackal with no role in the deployable division, could they be under threat?
    I am assuming there are a number of infantry battalions also outside the deployable division structure that could also face the chop?
    Currently, I think there are only 11 battalions in the current brigades, (4 armoured, 4 Strike and 3 16AA). Others that may remain, 4 training, 2 overseas (Cyprus), 3 Public duties, that's 20 out of a total of 31 battalions?
    I think Albion and Bulwark will be kept, but in extended reserve role, until they are forgot about then sold.
    Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

    1. Phil with any luck some of the Infantry Battalions will be disbanded and the manpower allocated to supporting arms. We need to bring the Infantry/rest of army ratio back into balance and with luck we might actually be able to increase the numbers of deployable units!

    2. BTW the allocation of Infantry Battalions to Brigades at the moment (prior to the change to strike) are:
      3x 20th AI (+1x CR2, +1x CVRT)
      3x 12th AI (+1 CR2, +1X CVRT)
      3x 1st AI (+1 CR2, +1x CVRT)
      3x 16 AA
      3x Cyprus
      1x Brunei
      2x London District (Ceremonial Duty)
      3x 7th Inf (+1x Light Cav)
      3x 51st Inf (+1x Light Cav)
      2x 11th Inf
      2x 38th Inf
      2x 42nd Inf
      1x 160th Inf
      1x 4th Inf (+1x Light Cav)


    3. There no longer is a cavalry squadron for 16 Air Assault, there has not been for years now. Recce patrols come from within the PARA battalions, the rest is attachments, but the enduring connection with HCR was severed.

      As for the SCOTS Guards, the Army intends to keep them permanently in the mechanized role, according to their regimental journal.

    4. Gabriele and MR.
      Doesn't the Household cavalry have an extra squadron?
      That's interesting to hear that SCOTS GDS have left the public duties role behind them.
      Gabriele, the lack of a mention of the 2nd strike brigade, should we read anything into that?
      MR, I don't think there will be any extra units raised. The units are being cut to save money and sell there barracks. Of course I doubt that the word cut will be mentioned in the review, It will all be smoke and mirrors.
      We will just have to wait and see what is said in two mouths time.
      Phil (the cynical ex pongo)

    5. Not anymore. B sqn became the ISTAR Sqn, leaving A, B and D with Scimitar. D Sqn formally lost its connection to 16 Air Assault brigade in 2014.

    6. Thanks Gabriele,
      If the SCOTS GDS are out of the public duties loop. Does that mean the remaining 4 guards battalions will be on permanent public duties, each doing 6 months on then 6 months off? With pre and post duties leave and training does that make them no longer deployable units?
      Phil (The cynical ex pongo)

    7. No, don't think it'll be anything like that. They will continued to rotate two battalions into role and two out on yearly basis, i'd think.

  6. Any word on the fate of HMS Tyne? Was hoping she’d become the Gibraltar Guard Ship. If the Gleaner replacement isn’t included in the numbers then this would work...

  7. Also, I thought HMS Tamar and HMS Spey will not commission till 2021?


Everybody can comment on this blog without needing a Blogger account. It is meant to keep the discussion free and open to everyone. Unfortunately, anonymous accounts keep the door open for spammers and trolls, so i'm forced to moderate comments and approve them before they appear. Apologies for the inconvenience.