Monday, October 8, 2012

Where Is The Royal Navy?

This is a US Navy blog, however, I’m going to wander just a bit afield for this post.  I’d like to discuss the Royal Navy, their purpose, and their relationship to the US Navy from a US perspective.  I know there are a lot of readers of this blog who hail from the other side of the pond and I both welcome and thank them.  I’d also like to challenge them just a bit.

Despite being a born US citizen, I grew up on stories of England’s Royal Navy along with the exploits of the US Navy.  Nelson, the great fleets of WWI, the sinking of the Bismarck, the Battle of the Atlantic, and even the Falklands conflict were the stuff of inspiration and pride in our closest ally.

As I move into this discussion, please understand that I am not, by any means, an expert on the Royal Navy.  I am not well informed about fleet matters and I’m not intimately familiar with numbers and types of ships or their capabilities.  So, please grant me a bit of leeway in this discussion.  What you’re going to read is my perception of the state of affairs of the Royal Navy and some of what I’ll say may be incorrect, as a result.  Don’t hesitate to challenge my perception.  That’s kind of the point of this particular post.  So, to get on with it …

Global Force or Home Waters?

I’m a little bothered (no, let’s be fair – I’m greatly bothered) by the trend I see in the Royal Navy.  The Navy seems to have abdicated its role as a global force and appears to be trending rapidly to a home waters defense force.  From what I gather, the Royal Navy would be hard-pressed even to muster an equivalent to the Falklands force today.  I’m puzzled by this trend.  It’s not as if Britain’s strategic interests or territorial possessions have diminished over the last decade or two.  If anything, her strategic interests have increased in importance (oil, for example) and vulnerability (piracy and terrorism, for example) which ought to dictate an increase in global capability, not a decrease.

Readers, what does Britain see, strategically, that suggests a decreased global posture is appropriate?

Attempting to answer my own question, I suspect that simple budgetary constraints are driving the trend rather than a strategic vision.  My impression is that Britain has opted for social investments at the expense of global defense capability.  If so, I can certainly sympathize – the US is headed down that very path.

Moving on …  What about the Royal Navy’s relation to the US Navy?  If the Royal Navy can’t provide the extent of global coverage it needs, is partnering with the US Navy a solution?  While the Royal Navy and the US Navy have a long history of co-operation would it be in each others interests to formally enter a naval partnership?  Both organizations have readily identifiable gaps in their capabilities that the other could fill.

The Royal Navy lacks aircraft carriers, amphibious force, and simple numbers of all types of ships.  These are all things that the US Navy has.  The US Navy, on the other hand, lacks ASW, mine countermeasures, offensive mine warfare, and small patrol vessels.  ASW, in particular, is an area the Royal Navy has prided itself on.  Could the two navies fill each other’s gaps? 

In other words, should the Royal Navy abandon any pretense at maintaining a carrier force and simply allow the US to fill that need?  In return, the Royal Navy could focus on ASW which is a capability that the US has allowed to atrophy to the point of embarrassment.  And so on with the other capabilities …

Of course, this approach would require unwavering political support both ways so that each country could trust that the other would respond in time of need.  Realistically, though, the two countries have always supported each other and it’s inconceivable that either would allow the other to come to harm so I don’t see this as a major issue.  A simple, two-country NATO-ish agreement is all that’s required.  The bigger issue is whether either country would admit to, and allow, a permanent shortcoming in their naval force structure.  Failure to do so, however, means continued shortcomings whether admitted or not.

Talk to me readers.  How do you see things from the other side of the pond?


  1. This is a complicated question. I will try to be simple..
    Since the disastrous and costly Irak and Afghanistan campaigns there is a reluctance to follow US anyfurther, this of course being complicated with the financial crisis and the perception that it all "started in the US". Brittons and Europeans in general are a bit tired of his ever going on tread and danger posture of the US, they don't seem to stop seeing enemies...on the materiel side, US equipment is absolutely becoming unsellable in Europe since of course we have our own industry but also it is simply in everything too big and expensive! Now, the UK and France signed a kind of treaty you propose but this of course touches the very intimates of a nation...and is not easily swallowed by politicians and inhabitatants alike! Best option might be: Europe "holds" the Med, US the Pacific...and at the mean time, have a look at the french fleet! They miss one carrier to have a balanced fleet again, this could be a realistic aim for the UK and, slowly they are going that path too.

    1. OK, I get that you clearly don't care for the US global political leadership. Fair enough. But what's the alternative for Britain? Do you see Britain having the resources to protect her worldwide strategic and territorial interests with an ever-dwindling fleet? Your idea of Europe holding the Med is fine as long as none of the European countries has any intersts outside the Med - you know, like MidEast oil, for instance, or territories outside the Med that need protection.

      If the Falklands are threatened again, what's Britain's response?

    2. What I tried to explain is the general public feeling in Europe today, I do not allways agree with this. UK felt betrayed by the US being drawned into something they did not want to. Clearly the Obama administration changed the posture somewhat. Europe is too soft on many items but, having had so many wars on our continent, this comes into our genes...It's the definition of "nation interests" that drives decisions. I personally think the Falklands of today are very well defended, Argentinian Navy and Airforce do not have the capability to undertake invasion against high end fighters like a squadron of Eurofighters.On the other hand, Libya showed clearly UK naval shortcomings due to a to stringend and narrow vieuwing ISDSR.In the UK, no politician ever thougt of having to send a battle force to Libya,sure enough! Now, MidEast will allways have a degree of interest for us but it is decaying. Denmark will be allmost fuel independent for it's energy in 2015 and other EU countries are following. Our internal market is potentially bigger than the US. So, coming out of landlocked Afghanistan warzone this will trigger a change of focus. You might be aware that, even after a protracted decision round, the UK will keep it's two new big carriers armed with the VSTOL F35.Both will form the nucleus of their new navy. T45 destroyers are coming into the line and they will be the backbone of the carriers' escorts. The amphib. fleet has been touched a bit but not into the core, they still can deploy a brigadesize amphibious force. The frigate force needs to be reenforced so as to give an allround capability again and with the typs 26 this seems to be the target.At first glance, around 20 frigates might be needed. Nuclear subs will probably leave the force, they are unpayable for the UK and might be replaced by air independent attack subs. This will offer the UK a fleet that can take on national and European missions. The coming years will see if it will be possible. This will also offer the possibility to squeeze-in capabilities into international and probably US led missions. And lastly, military shipbuilding is one of the few industries that fusion high numberd workforce with leading technology and thus, might be vital since the tendency is to reindustralise western economies.

  2. ASW is a high-end warfare function and is actually getting renewed emphasis within USN:

    - MH-60R is operational.
    - P-8A is coming on-line early next year.
    - DDGs are getting continual upgrades to their SSQ-89.
    - Virginia SSN very capable ASW platform.

    I'd argue that it might be in better interest for RN to take on the mine-warfare and patrolling functions, since USN core capability in these areas (LCS) is woefully inadequate.

    1. Your observation about the US Navy improving their ASW is potentially valid from an equipment perspective but not from a training one. ASW is perhaps the most perishable naval warfare skill in that it is the most heavily dependent on knowledge of the opponents tactics and practice of one's own. What made the Spruance class such a formidable ASW vessel during the Cold War was the continual, live practice against the Soviet subs along with good equipment. The US Navy, today, is not seriously practicing ASW. I base that statement on the feedback from numerous sailors I correspond with who are currently serving in the fleet as well as frequent articles in Proceedings and other venues which state exactly that.

      Still, your suggestion that the Royal Navy might be better to take on the mine warfare mission is well worth consideration. Someone needs to take the mission since the US Navy has little interest in it!


    2. I'm not sure that your statement wrt ASW training is true - or at least it might only be true from perspective of surface warfare.

      Have you talked to anyone from P-3, helo, or fast attack submarine communities? If so - I doubt they'd tell you they don't take ASW seriously.

      I don't think SSN folks ever truly lost their focus on ASW. My impression is that MPA folks have rebalanced from overland ISR back to ASW over the last 2-3 years.

  3. I agree with you about social investments, the UK has devoted a greater portion of their GDP over time to these. Other areas, like Defense, get squeezed more and more. There was a reversal of this under Thatcher, but the trend since WWII has been a contracting of Defense as a percentage of GDP.

    I am amazed the British have been able to get so much "bang" for their pound. The UK is not larger in GDP or population than France or Germany. Yet they have SSBNs, SSNs, CVs, even a large LPH and modern LPDs. Their surface combatants have since WWII been compact and well-designed warships. The SAS and SBS are second to none, and the Royal Marines are a small, but very tough corps. And the British are deployed all over the globe.

    France and Germany have a hard time doing some, never mind all, of those missions.

    I believe that British defense policy since 1945 and especially 1956 has been to work with the US in world affairs, with America taking the lead. But the carriers and Polaris subs are a way to maintain independent national latitude.

    On a grand strategic level, the UK and US have had common interests since 1917: WWI, WWII, Cold War, War on Terror. But there has not always been perfect alignment. The British fought in Africa and Asia after WWII in an attempt to keep their empire. The US fought in Vietnam, the UK in the Falklands. There was not much involvement between one another in those conflicts.

    If the US and UK split missions like carriers and ASW then the UK becomes completely tied to US decisions. I think the UK would be at more of a disadvantage than the US in such an agreement.

    That assumes ASW is that bad in the USN and as great in the Royal Navy as you suggest. I think it has atrophied here since the Cold War, but it can be reconstituted if there is the national will behind it. ASW has also been neglected in Britain. Remember, the RAF retired the entire Nimrod fleet without replacement two years ago.


    1. WGM, a great point about the Nimrods.

      Formally linking the US and British navies is not an ideal solution, for the very reasons you point out, and I'm not suggesting that it is. What I am suggesting is that it might be the lesser of evils as the Royal Navy continues to shrink (and all indications are that the trend will continue). There will come a point, if it hasn't already happened, where Britain is incapable of defending her strategic and territorial interests entirely on her own. When that point arrives, a formal partnership with the US may be the only feasible option. For that matter, the US is heading down a path of inadequate resources for the missions it wants to take on.

      You don't seem excited about my idea. That's fair. So, what, if anything, do you think Britain should do?

  4. I don't know what would work for the Royal Navy. The public's consensus in Britain seems to be a withdrawing from overseas operations. There's also from what I've seen over the years a movement toward less "offensive" platforms.

    The CVFs have come under intense criticism, partly over cost, but partly because the desire for that national latitude is waning. My perception, from online newspaper articles over there, suggests that the costs involved are too much for the public. They know the USN will have a CVN in theatre if there is a global threat in the future.

    It's the same for the Vanguard replacements. The USN and RN have agreed to a Common Missile Compartment for both Ohio and Vanguard classes. But the British public seems to find that expensive nonetheless. That's a tremendous savings Uncle Sam is offering them, and they still might walk away.

    The British Army and RAF are trying to preserve their force structure. The Army has made a lot of hay about needing better funding. They both see the RN as a place to get the funds they need. Just like over here, the last ten years have been a ground war, with the defense focus far from the sea. It's short-sighted, but there it is.

    The best solution would be for the PM and Parliament to find the money to complete the CVFs and build a Type 26 class in numbers that reverse the decline. To me that is the only real solution to the RN.

    A SLEP for the Vanguards and P-8s for the RAF ASW would be a good idea too.

    We both know navies are very expensive to procure and operate in peacetime. If the national desire or will isn't strong for a good navy, then it will be very difficult to have one. A country can end up with a very uneven fleet or a few white elephants. During the Cold War Great Britain "punched above it's weight" naval-wise because they really wanted a great fleet.


  5. Something I wanted to add: The RN and all modern navies are struggling with what I posted on the combat fleet count piece: Escalating costs for ships. The Royal Navy's Daring class is what I had in mind for the UK.

    The Brits are buying only half the Type 45s as originally planned because of cost. And the time for the lead ship to enter service has taken far longer than expected. The SAM system wasn't declared operational until after the first two ships were commissioned.

    And yet the Daring has no torpedo tubes onboard, and no equivalent to VL-ASROC. The only ASW weapons onboard are dropped from the helicopter.


  6. Simple explanation?
    The Sheep and the wolves are in charge of the Sheepdog and the security of the flock.
    The shepherd has left the field.

  7. The Royal Navy have had a rough time of late, but the future is a little rosier:

    - Type 45's effective and well received;
    - Astute's performance impressing;
    - Indicators pointing towards both CVF's being operated in rotation;
    - Type 23's being refit with up to date equipment;
    - CAMM(M) (Sea Ceptor) coming online shortly (an effective SSDS);
    - Type 26 project passing another gate;
    - MHPC programme to deliver stand-off UUV's to the existing fleet of Hunt's and Sandown's;
    - Vanguard successor project continuing with CMC and PWR3;
    - Tender request for unmanned rotar craft;
    - Tender request for unmanned surveillance craft;
    - New tankers to be constructed;
    - River class fleet have been purchased.

    Add that to the existing fleet, take into account a more reactionary/expeditionary/projection approach and it's not looking as bleak for the Royal Navy going forward.

    1. During the Falklands War, the British reportedly assembled a task force of 43 Royal Navy ships, and utilized 80 some Fleet Aux and Merchant ships. Two carriers embarked 42 Harriers.

      Could the Royal Navy do this today? I truly don't know the answer. What would the equivalent force be today?

    2. Okay. But why would it need to? What is the scenario? The sun has long ago set on British Empire.

      A flare-up in the Falklands is the only reason I can think of where they might have to deploy without overt US assistance.

      But take a close look at capabilites of the Argentinian Navy and Air Force versus that of British. RAF Typhoons would tear their A-4's apart, while RN Astute nuclear subs would also make short work of their diesels and surface fleet.

      The Argentinians are undoubtedly brave, but the outcome would be even more lop-sided than '82.

    3. The sun may have set on the British Empire but Wikipedia still lists 14 British Overseas Territories and 2 Crown Dependencies. If these are threatened, will Britain have the resources to defend them? Throw in protection of merchant shipping around the world, prevention of terrorism, and other such problems and it seems like the Royal Navy is dangerously overextended. This seems like plenty of possibilities for the need for action without US assistance.

    4. the question is: who wants to invade them and why.

    5. you are perfectly right. As allways some issues are still pending but slowly dawn is coming...when ground forces leave Afghanistan and the Admiralty is strong enough to persuade the governement, the Navy will come to his own again...the British are famous for doing with nothing but in ten years from now they will be back in busines with a modern fleet.

    6. Most UK territories are in the Carribean, where there is no apparent threat other than sunburn.

      As for the rest: Cyprus? Gibraltar? British Antarctica? Diego Garcia (huge US base)? I just don't see a threat anywhere other than Falklands.

      2005 CIA factbook says that UK has 504 merchant vessels. They rank 22nd in world behind Cambodia. Not much trade left to protect.

      Regardless - counter-piracy is a maritime commons problems. Ongoing efforts in Horn of Africa show that no one navy will tackle it alone. If UK could provide 1-2 frigates for HOA, it's probably pulling its fair share.

      As for terrorism - if you can figure out how a warship prevents terrorism, I'd like to hear it.

      Realistically the UK stopped aspiring to be a global power about 65 years ago. I'm not trying to blow a hole in your thesis. I do actually think RN is slightly misaligned... but to use Falklands '82 as measuring stick doesn't make sense.

    7. So you don't see any British holdings or strategic interests that can be threatened in any realistic way. Therefore, the RN is not undersized (maybe oversized according to your analysis?). Your logic is consistent given your underlying assumption.

      Of course, the problem with your assessment is that problems have a way of arising with seemingly little warning. Did anyone anticipate the Falklands, originally?

      Also, remember that most merchant shipping is flagged under other countries for legal and economic reasons. The UK is totally dependent on merchant shipping whether the ships are UK flagged or not. I would think the UK would want to vigorously protect all that shipping.

    8. My point is more that I can't see many scenarios where UK would have to act unilaterally - without support of NATO or US.

      Falklands II is about the only scenario - but it's far from unforseen. And even if UK had to go it alone (doubtful if Arg was agressor ) I'd think RN/RAF could handle Argentinans quite easily.

      In terms of merchant shipping, it's curently only threatened by piracy in a few areas of the world: the Horn of Africa and South China Sea. Piracy makes the headlines but is certainly not existential to UK.

      I'd imagine majority of trade in/out of the UK goes across English Channel or North Atlantic - both of which are perfectly safe.

      I'm not saying UK does not need a Navy, but it's fleet requirements are far different from 1942 -- or even 1982 for that matter.

  8. Greetings ComNavOps, from the Eastern end of the big ice pond. Or Britain, which ever you prefer ;) I'll have to split this into sections to make it all fit.

    First I'd like to come to the Navies defense briefly. Currently the Royal Navy sustains a number of task groups that - although not in the league of the US - certainly put our European neighbours to shame (more so than their own crazy european ideas).

    The RN maintains a large mine counter measures force in the Gulf, as well as having two "escorts" - usually a Type 23 ASW Frigate and a Type 45 AAW Destroyer - in that same region basically 24/7/365, who routinely detach to fill various tasks like fighting piracy off Somalia or joining US led exercises.

    We have a permanent escort patrol down south, reminding Argentina of our commitment to the Falklands while engaging partners in the region like Chile and South Africa. Currently a Type 45 is on station. We also maintain a fisheries protection vessel and an Antarctic patrol vessel operating around the Islands and in support of the British Antarctic Survey.

    At home we retain one Fleet Ready Escort (FRE) for deployment to trouble spots around the world at short notice, as well as having other vessels at home conducting training exercises, such as the Perisher course for our future Submarine Captains.

    Then we have the Response Force Task Group, our mini ready fleet, centered around a Landing Pad Dock as the command ship, a helicopter carrier (former CVS aircraft carrier), additional landing craft in support (Bay Class landing docks), and usually a pair of escorts for protection. These vessels often deploy for exercises around this time of year, and indeed Cougar 12 is taking place now alongside the French Navy in the Mediterranean. This force contains a significant portion of 3 Commando Brigade and with helicopters and landing craft can put down a reasonable amphibious force.

    We also deploy usually a support ship to the Caribbean in support of our territories there to help the drug war and to provide support during the Hurricane season.

    Then finally we have our nuclear attack submarines, one of which is often found around the gulf helping to collect intelligence, while one is often assigned to the RFTG.

    So we still make our presence felt around the world!!

  9. To tackle more generally the issues about funding, the Labour government from 1997-2010 really hammered the forces quite hard.

    They presided over basically a doubling of the health budget, in some cases injecting up to £10 billion extra per year in a mad attempt to throw money at the problem and hope it would solve it. They also enhanced social welfare. Other departments had to find savings and defense was one of those.

    Geoff Hoon did tremendous damage as defense minister. He took the view that because Type 45 was considered twice as capable as the previous Type 42 destroyer, that we only needed half as many now! (Political genius at its best. Or worst).

    I think the public sympathises with the plight of the forces, but there is only one party that has any plans to increase defense spending, and they're essentially unelectable on a number of other issues.

    As for Carriers, I think the problem people in the UK have is not with the concept of carriers, but the specifics of the CVF project. They're huge ships by our standards, yet we simply can't afford to fill them with that many aircraft. We've always done sort of aircraft carriers "light", prefering to maintain several small carriers that can respond to numerous incidents, at the cost of punching power on any one ship. The F-35B could have helped us do both, till we signed on for the behemoths that we have now.

    They also have to be considered in light of our limited budget. The last Labour government not only slashed defense spending, but due to the bank bail outs they also left a serious budget deficit. We are now trying to cope with paying down that debt, which means budgets are being squeezed again across the board, including defense.

    The argument that people like myself would put forward is that right now carriers are not a priority for the UK. They will carry very limited air wings (as few as 12 jets on a routine basis) at a time when we really need the money for other priorities (like MPA).

    Hopefully that shares some of the British perspective!

    1. Chris,

      My opinion is that CVF is drastically in excess of United Kingdom military requirements. I don't see them as being relevent to UK pol-mil environment - or at least the costs far outweigh the utility.

      Additionally, UK has foregone quite bit of unsexy but very necessary capabilities (MPA, patrol craft) in pursuit of CVF and JSF.

      So... why is UK pursuing CVF? Is there serious consideration that UK needs an independent carrier force (despite 'special relationship' with US)? Or is it simply a matter of pride/prestige?


    2. Chris,

      What a great summary of the status of the RN and some of the issues it's facing. Very enlightening for me. Thank you very much and thanks for stopping by!

      I have one question for you, which I don't know the answer to: do you think the RN is currently adequately sized and structured to protect Britain's intersts and deal with any reasonably foreseeable threat?

    3. @ Matt,
      I fear it's the Pride/Prestige thing. The old carriers are coming to the end of the their life and the Royal Navy opted for a king size replacement. Keep in mind that the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force get along about as well as Republicans and Democrats discussing the US Federal budget.

      The sheer size of CVF is supposed to overcome some of the perceived weaknesses of the older carriers, as well as keeping a provision for switching to CATOBAR in the future, but it denies the reality that we simply can't afford the kind of naval wing that would make use of the space.

      For us, F-35B represents a dramatic step up over the capability of Harrier, but it's still a very limited capability. I personally believe that the Royal Navy was never going to let go of its carriers, for fear that it would never get them back. I think much will be sacrificed on the altar of this capability, including future Type 26 (ASW) numbers.

      @ ComNavOps,
      My pleasure. If you want to use that in an article or quote in reference for something then absolutely be my guest.

      As for the RN, I think it is adequate for most of our needs. Unlike the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, we really don't have a "major" foe anymore. Our army, navy, and now air force, has always been geared to fight certain opponents, but now we have none.

      Global Terrorism perhaps? Piracy? Counter Narcotics?

      The largest threat posed for our navy would be a repeat of the Falklands Islands, except that Argentinas navy and air force are still using some equipment that they were using back in '82. Meanwhile our forces are much more advanced and better adapted for fighting that kind of conflict.

      Really the modern Royal Navy is geared for two things;

      1 - Providing individual vessels for forward engagement with key allies, developing our ability to work alongside them and our realtionships with them, training our forces at sea (a critical component of Royal Navy success over the years) and deterring enemies by reminding them we are still committed to our allies abroad, and,

      2 - The ability to generate a reasonable sized task force when needed, like we did for Libya, that can interdict shipping, engage land based targets, deploy Marines and special forces personnel, clear and prove minefields or maritime IED's (a key aspect of our role off Libya), extract British and allied nationals from hostile shores, bring aid into friendly but threatened ports, and if needed detach vessels to assist allies with key capabilities (such as HMS Gloucester, which in 1991 shot down a Silkworm missile fired at the USS Missouri).

    4. Chris,

      This was floating on blogosphere this morning. I am still working my way though it. Any thoughts?

      I like the fact they emphasize it would be evolutionary vice transformational. And I like apparent emphasis on endurance over speed.


    5. Matt,

      At a quick read, it sounds like the US LCS which you undoubtedly know has been an abject failure thus far. The mythical unmanned technology that the LCS, and this Black Swan, is predicated on just doesn't exist and won't for some time to come.

      Also, it depends on groups of ships which, unless the UK can build them a lot cheaper than the US, is going to be financially prohibitive.

      Am I missing something attractive about this?

    6. Morning Chaps. Sorry for the delay, just finished laughing at the Titans beating the Steelers.

      Anyway, to the task at hand. First, never underestimate the capability of the British to add 25 pages of largely unnecessary guff to the start of a document, and then second, write incredibly condescending statements in the document to the effect of "if you don't agree with the premise stated here that means your thick and old and stuck in past". And then thirdly to cap it off, it wouldn't be a document by a British service without a bit of inter service rivalry thrown in, describing the Royal Navy as "always being in contact".

      The day we get our version of the Goldwater-Nichols Act will be a happy one indeed. We could call it the "Stop being knobs and work together Act".

      Back on topic,

      Black Swan as a concept has been around for a while now. Essentially it's just a much smaller amphibious assault ship/LPD, used as a platform to deliver manned and unmanned platforms to a theatre where it's hoped the platforms will do all the work and the Black Swan can stay well away from danger.

      Unfortunately the likelyhood that they will come in at the target price of £65m each is about as likely as I am to become the next President of the United States (watched the Vice Presidents debate earlier, think Biden won, but the chair lady seemed a little biased in his favour).

      When you consider that we have recently purchased four new tankers to be built in South Korea at a cost of over £100m each, it strikes me that this document was written with the classic MoD position of "let's grossly understate the costs to get it approved, then worry about the inevitable cost overruns later".

      It also, as ComNavOps points out, is rather reliant on a plethora of as yet non existant unmanned systems to do all the work. And I can only imagine what would happen if someone was able to jam the link to the boats, then take them over. That could get very messy, very quickly.

      A system built on supporting small, manned boats and perhaps two manned helicopters might work a bit better, but would still be restricted largely to permissive environments.

      And of course without an uplift in the budget, this will all come at the expense of probably the Type 26 frigates, something which I don't think the Navy is especially keen about.

  10. Hi there

    Also from across the pond ...
    I think you're a bit behind the times, the RN have a program to renew most of the fleet and many details have been addressed, landing on the carriers at night for instance. With the introduction of CAAM – soft cold air launched anti air missile... (able to be quad packed at high densities) we are going to have high levels of modern air defence across the fleet .

    The new financial controls at the MOD with both management reserve and un committed reserves equal to 8% of the total equipment budget for the next 10 years we now have the confidence to start projects knowing they can be competed in full. I believe we have turned a corner and much planning will now come to fruition

    The first of two new carriers is being assembled and the first blocks of the second are under way

    These are highly automated ships, such as in weapons movements, and with the F35B will be able to generate strike capability in high sea states. There is also coming into production soon the Spear 3 mini cruise missile designed especially to fit the F35B small weapons bays and giving high speed and long range for 6 per aircraft. These will be twinned with meteor (BVR ant air) for a potent mix delivered by stealthy aircraft.

    Please note that this is part of the team complex weapons initiative which is delivering the ordnance needed for future ops and that builds on existing weapons such as Brimstone and Starstreak which already deliver unmatched capabilities to UK forces- see Libya etc..

    This means that there is already a wide range of new capabilities in the pipe line for the RN

    Not the same as a US carrier capability but able to meet a wide range of threats and 48 F35s have now been funded for the carriers in the core MOD budget.

    The RN are already developing the ability to RAS 5 ton loads(across the fleet) which will allow them to move new aircraft engines aboard a carrier – something the USN haven’t worked out yet.

    The type 45 AWD destroyer is now operational and a like for like replacement for the type 23 frigates (13) – the type 26 is likely to be fully funded and is a low risk use of many systems that will debut first on the type 23. So while the type45 was 80% new, the type 26 is only 20% new at introduction ensuring that its costs are under control.

    Early indications are it will be heavily armed and will have again world class ASW capabilities. The Artisan radar will leverage the algorithms used for type 45s larger Sampson radar so ensuring cost control.

    The Astute SSN is now going to be 7 boats and these have high specs possibly second only to sea wolf

    The amphibious ships are not gone, but they are not being fully deployed while money is tight, but a new group of auxiliaries will provide both tanker replacements and replenishment ships with amphibious capability.

    The Royal marine’s vehicles are being upgraded after use in Afghanistan and will give mobility across the global range of amphibious conditions. and we have a new high speed landing craft in development
    With reference to MPA the F35 radar is being trialled on UK helicopters as a plug and play asset for use on a range of platforms so that capability can move to a UAV in due course.

    The Royal Navy will be a little smaller but much more capable than that which went to the Falkland’s by the middle of the next decade (note that one type 45 could destroy the entire Argentine air force) and any way we have the Typhoon based there, the only 4th generation aircraft operational in the Southern Americas.

    The RN will crucially have a very young fleet, with decent levels of crew comfort and low running costs.

    The USN by that point may well be envious of the flexibility that provides.

    Not a massive capability but a very sound basis for expansion if required and more than adequate for the range of threats we envisage, most especially it will be affordable, blue water and high spec.

    1. Thank you very much for that summary. I appreciate the effort you put into it. I've got to say, though, that your view is at the optimistic end of the spectrum of RN writings that I've read. That's fine, though.

      Two thoughts jump out from your summary.

      One is the reliance on the JSF coming through both technically and financially. The US Navy is in the exact same situation. If the JSF winds up with technical shortcomings relative to its promised capabilities, both the RN and USN will have severe problems. Alternatively, if the JSF continues its cost increases to the point that buys are significantly reduced that will, again, mean severe problems due to airframe shortages.

      The second thought is the quantity versus quality issue which we've discussed extensively on this blog. You allude to it with your statement that the RN will be a little smaller but much more capable. That's a disturbing trend that, if taken to its conclusion, will result in fleets that are just too small to be effective and too valuable to be risked in combat. The ridiculous exteme, of course, is a navy composed of a single vessel of immense technological complexity and capability. The rationale of increased quality to make up for decreased quantity has been used for many decades at each round of new construction. At some point (I would argue we're already there) quality becomes insufficient to overcome the loss of quantity.

      I hope your optimistic assessment is accurate and comes to fruition! Thanks for stopping by.

    2. You might also want to read the "Black Swan" note cited in the comment a few up from this one. It paints a radically different view of the RN. I don't know how official or authoritative it is but it makes the same points I did (so that makes a well written piece!).

    3. Yesterday, a RN amphibious ready group entered the Med. This ARG is led by HMS Bulwark and HMS Invincible in her role of LHA together with an aux Landing Ship and some RFA's. They will meet up with the French CdG Carrier Battle Group and exercise amphib landing around Corsica. The ex is called Corsican Warrior. Europe in the making, this is a direct result of the UK-French cooperation agreement...

  11. Hello ComNavOps,

    What you suggest isn't too far from the concept of "Capability Plus" promoted by Think Defence:

    Essential retain full spectrum capabilities on a small core and enhance areas we're good at to benefit future coalition operations.


    Swimming Trunks

    1. Swimming Trunks?? OK ... There's a username you won't likely see a duplicate of. Outstanding!

      Seriously, though, thanks for the link. I read the post and it's a serious, well reasoned proposition that attempts to make the best use of Britain's limited resources. I like it!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  12. I'm from the other side of the pond. Greetings from GB! I don't really agree with your core premise, that the RN is in decline. I can see your point, I just think your wrong. To really understand the point, you need to backtrack to the last days of WW2.

    Though the RN won the naval war, most of the ships needed either extensive refits after 6 years of hard service with (for the most part) no refits or a breakers yard. The only possible enemy was the Soviet Union.

    The Soviet Union had no surface navy worth mentioning. They had however managed to get their hands on the last and best U-Boat designs from Germany and were building them in large numbers.

    Americans tend to foget that WW2 was a total war between the UK and Germany, and it had been going for 3 years before the US joined in. Although the Luftwaffe lost the Battle of Britain they did a pretty good job of bombing industry and quite a lot of population centres flat, and what industry the Luftwaffe missed was pretty well worn out running at full tilt for the entire war. The UK was in a terrible state after the war, we couldn't even feed the population without outside help and the payments for the help bought from the US put paid to rebuilding a powerful military. The war plan for WW3 from the UK's point of view was simply to hold the line as best as possible until reinforcements arrived from the US to win the land war.

    The strategic calculation was that as the Soviet Union intended to use subs to kill the supply and troop convoys from the US as Germany had done in WW2. Therefore the RN dedicated itself to ASW in a big way.

    The RN's last fleet carriers (Ark Royal & Eagle) were actually partially built fleet carriers left unfinished on the slips at the end of WW2. When finished, these ships took us up until the 1970's. The escort carriers from the same source were too small for jets, and so were either scrapped or redesignated (helicopter) commando carriers. I doubt that either of these ship types would have been built from scratch, however since we had the hulls...

    Moving forward to the 70's, the carriers finished at the end of WW2 had pretty much had it, and were decommissioned. The threat was still soviet subs. The USN was operating their super carriers and could be relied to deal with anything floating and a decision was made to do as you have suggested, basically to partner with the USN. The Invincible class "carriers" were supposed to be the centrepeice of an ASW fleet, flying vast numbers of ASW choppers and a few harriers to protect ASW destroyers from Soviet TU-95's with no fighter escort, hence the original designation of the Invincible class being a "Through Deck Command Crusier".

    1. After the Falklands, it was obvious that the UK could not expect help from the US faced with any other threat other than the Soviet Union and the Through Deck Command Crusiers were refitted to be pocket carriers flying the harrier, since it was literially the only thing you could fit on such a small carrier.

      This brings us to more or less the present, when the Invincible class carriers are being scrapped. We no longer have a threat from the Soviets, and the existing armed forces of the UK could probably deal with Russia single handedly without reinforcement. The UK + Germany + France can certainly take Russia, and the Chinese aren't going to war with their largest trade partners. That's the bigger players than us, so any war will be against a smaller player. If any smaller navy went to war with us and they had a navy, it'd get the Belgrano treatment from our SSN's. This leaves the only realistic threat being, well nobody.

      This means that we are free to return to having a more rounded blue water navy again. Hence, aircraft carriers. 6 Type 45's is plenty enough to provide support to cover two carriers and let's be honest- the RN will be by any reasonable measure the 2nd most powerful navy in the world quite capable of dealing with any opposition we could face.

      Partnering with the US to be the ASW department of the USN has already proven to be a disaster from the UK's point of view, so while it would be great for the US it's really not happening again. What would the benefit be to the UK? What has been the benefit to the UK in assisting with invading Iraq and Afganistan?

      To be perfectly honest, with the current state of relations with America I would personally be more concerned with the impending expiration of the lease on Diego Garcia than the direction of our military, because many nations in the EU would love to clip the US's wings by preventing it's use as a US base, and we need barganing chips for a pending negioation on the terms of our membership of the EU. With anti american sentiment by US treatment of the UK at an all time high, it would be incredibly easy to do a back door agreement and suddenly declare how terrible it is that the natives of Diego Garcia have been kept out of their home by the US defense needs of the island etc etc etc, but now the lease is over the natives can of course return to their native land and occupy the housing on the formar american base. It's not impossible that could happen, especially given the attitude the US has taken towards the UK in recent years, and I'm astounded that the US media hasn't picked up on the possibility. The lease ends in December 2014 though there is a 20 year extension possible under the existing agreement if agreed by the end date. I haven't heard an announcement yet.

    2. The War Against Terrorism calls for increased funding for MI5/MI6 for indentifying targets & the SAS to eliminate the identified targets, not a fleet of ASW Frigates. Anti piracy operations would more rationally be handled by putting a section of marines on any ship transiting through the pirate infested area, or by a fleet of sloops/fast attack boats. They don't need an ASW frigate or a billion pound Destroyer.

      Re: your point about Argentina, I don't beleive they are a viable military threat. They haven't upgraded their military since it's last encounter with us. Let's me frank. We could debate if the Typhoon could take the F22 or not, however I am sure that you agree that it's one of the best strike fighters on the planet and easily capable of dealing with Mirages and A6 Skyhawks that Argentina can field. This is germane, because there is a small contingent of Typhoons deployed at the Falklands Airbase as part of the garrison. If you don't have air supremecy, your not going to send ships. If you were Argentina, your not going to send ships at all considering the south atlantic station has a SSN available to it, and I am sure that MI6 can provide at least the same warning as in '82 now it's a known trouble spot.

      Argentina is doing quite well with their little diplomatic offensive, but launching a military adventure would be hugely risky and would destroy their diplomatic gains. If they are going to do anything, it'll be about when the oil starts getting drilled. They won't do anything at that point, because we will then be able to generate at least one carrier battle group with an SSN screen.

    3. Peter,

      That's an excellent historical summary and you raise a few interesting points.

      You indirectly point out that parterning with the US in any formal way is an uncertain proposition given the US constantly shifting political landscape due to our 4 year election cycle. That's unfortunate but it's also a fact of life and does present a significant obstacle to any kind of permanent partnership.

      You also pose the question, what has the UK gotten out of supporting the US? This is one of the views that causes resentment in the US. In the view of the US, we have protected the world by squashing terrorism to a minimal level since 9/11, dealt with terrorism in Afghanistan, stabilized the Mid East oil supply for decades, and provided the "cop on the beat" for the world through our world-wide naval presence. We bear the brunt of the cost while the entire world benefits at little cost. My point is not to start a drawn out political discussion - that's not what this blog is about - but to remind you that there are different, legitimate views. Britain's view is legitimate within their framework of reference and the US view is equally legitimate within ours.

      Your conclusion that Britain has no enemies, or at least none worth a second thought, strikes me as a bit complacent. History is replete with examples of friends/neutrals turning into enemies and enemies popping up seemingly out of nowhere. I would also urge you to think critically and analytically about your assumption that China will never turn on its trading partners. China is in the very process of doing so. Again, further discussion is outside the realm of this post but look at the pattern of aggression towards the US (state sponsered commercial and military computer network hacking, military incidents such as the forcedown of the US plane, claims of 200 nm territorial waters, a pattern of economic domination of US business, claims of ownership of every island in the East and South China Seas, etc.) and ask yourself if that doesn't sound like a war in the making.

      With that said, a great comment! Thanks for stopping by.

    4. The problem is not the shifting US political landscape. If it were, we'd have the same problem in the UK.

      The problem is more fundemental, it's the long term American foreign policy. The US has so many "allies" (Argentina is a case in point) that it is incapable of actually providing Britain with naval support in even such policy goals such as "defend British terrority against a foreign invasion" in the case of the Falklands. This being so, how could we possibly expect help with more modest goals such as promoting our national interests?

      In the view of the UK, invading Afganistan and Iraq have not done much to terrorism.

      In the UK, the US attitude that they have "won" or are "winning" a war against the tactic of "terrorism" after a few years is generally treated with polite amusement or rolled eyes. Terrorism is always, and forever. Groups like the IRA come and go, but terrorism always has been and always will be the price of having any civil liberties worth having.

      You might wish to see this in the context of our "war" against terrorism entering it's 407th year on the 5th of November. Effigies of the hated terrorist Guy Fawkes will be ceremonially dragged through the streets and then burnt at the stake, atop bonfires erected soley for that purpose across the length and breadth of the Kingdom. Fireworks will be launched and parties will be held to celebrate said terrorists failure to blow up Parliment (and the King) with gunpowder in an unmatched decleration that if you mess with the King, he shall mess with you. Eternally.

      At the altar of The War Against Terrorism a great many hard won civil liberties have been sacrified, and for very little but a peicemail acheivement of the terrorist goals of destroying our way of life.

      The USA does bear the cost of the Pax Americana, as Britain bore the costs of the Pax Britannica. It's the cost of being the foremost player of the Great Game, i'm afraid. Don't expect much sympathy from the UK on that score. :)

      If you look at it from a UK centric point of view, instead of your US centric point of view, you'll see that the UK has little to no interest in the area of the world that China is interested in. As a wider point of view, we have more than adequate forces to assure the defense of the realm against any possible agressor. This leaves invading other countries, which has been a moot point since the suez crisis.

  13. An Interesting read,

    I would like to offer my opinion. As a British citizen I take huge pride in the Royal Navy. It is a remarkable organisation with an excellent history. Once the largest Naval power in the world, it built the british empire.

    The modern royal navy is a different animal, its role has changed significantly, during the cold war it was mostly an ASW force.

    Currently the navy is undergoing major changes, re focusing on expeditionary capabilities it is my opinion that the royal navy wields some word beating assets, the Type 45's Air defence Destroyers are extremely capable, along with the astutes. The type 26 programme shows promise also. Operating two CVF carriers albeit in the less preferable STOVL format will allow us to project air power (JSF) wherever we see fit.

    The royal navy is currently short of carrier strike which is unfortunate, and this is due to financial restrictions. but i do not beleive that to be the main issue. The numbers of escorts we can bring to bare are simply inadequate. With commitments worldwide we require more frigates more destroyers, the backbone of the fleet.

    Unfortunatley there is little political will to invest sufficiently in our armed forces in the uk and this does trouble me.

    As for this proposed treaty with the US, I beleive it to be unwise. Asking the Uk to sacrifice all of its capabilities for a promise of US help would never work. As soon as another falklands style situation developed in which the US struggles to take sides, we would be left defenceless.

  14. Hello ComNavOps - another visitor from across the pond. my first visit to your site - like what I see.

    "The Navy seems to have abdicated its role as a global force and appears to be trending rapidly to a home waters defense force" - I think that's correct up to a point, but much too harsh.
    Back when we ploughed 20% GDP into our navy you could not, as Napoleon remarked, look at a patch of water without seeing a RN warship afloat in it. Nowadays we plough most of our revenue into social welfare and spend just 2% GDP on our total defence budget, not just the navy. This isn't a political site so I won't get into arguing the rights and wrongs of our spending priorities, but clearly something had to give and the result is much smaller military forces. Our regular army for example is dropping to around 82,000 - you could fit it in a football stadium.
    However, as a legacy of our past we still have global commitments, as well as our NATO commitments; we are also one of the few nations in the world to maintain a constant independent nuclear deterrence, currently in the shape of SSBNs though this may change. I do feel though that we have reached the point where if the government wanted to cut further, the defence chiefs would have to say: "O.K. but in that case you need to decide what commitments you are prepared to give up, because we can't cover all of the tasks you've allotted us with the force levels you are proposing."

    "Of course, this approach would require unwavering political support both ways so that each country could trust that the other would respond in time of need. Realistically, though, the two countries have always supported each other and it’s inconceivable that either would allow the other to come to harm so I don’t see this as a major issue" - As a patriotic American, how would you feel about gambling the security of your nation on the goodwill of another nation, even one as friendly as Britain? Thought so, so why expect us to do it?

  15. Welcome! Glad to have you aboard.

    Speaking for myself, I would be quite comfortable trusting some of our security to Britain (no other country, though!). I feel like Britain will always stand with us, and vice versa. Of course, there will always be differences of opinion about what constitutes national interest but I can't see either country allowing the other to actually come to harm. We have far too much history together and far too much in common.

    I don't know if this is true or not but I've read that the US was positioned to step in and assist Briain in the Falklands had it been needed. For what it's worth, I think we should have anyway.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  16. "I've read that the US was positioned to step in and assist Briain in the Falklands had it been needed" - It has recently emerged that President Reagan made an offer to PM Thatcher to lend the USS Iwo Jima (hope I've spelt that right)to the RN if the Argies managed to sink one of our carriers. I'm sure he made this offer in good faith but of course it would have been impracticable; by the time a RN crew could be trained up on the ship and its systems the Falklands conflict would have been all over one way or the other. Still, it's the thought that counts!

    Your direct help would have been much appreciated but I fully understand why, given the political situation in Central and South America at the time, that it wasn't forthcoming. You did help in other less overt ways though - like supplying us with the latest version of the Sidewinder AAM which were crucial in protecting our forces.

    I don't think, given our membership of the EU and the recent treaty we signed with France on military co-operation, that the sort of formal arrangement you propose between RN and USN would be possible. Of course, unofficially....

  17. I'm flattered by your assessment of the RN's ASW capabilities, but suspect that you're underestimating the capability of the USN itself. All such capabilities are closely guarded secrets, but I imagine the Royal & US Navies are close enough to share such with one another. The problem for outsiders is knowing just how capable they really are. It's generally accepted that the best ASW weapons are SSN's and the US certainly has more than anyone else, and in the form of the (admittedly few)Seawolf boats, better SSN's than anyone else. So, I don't really believe that the USN really has any need for RN help...

    More to the point though, I think the political consequences in the US of losing American lives in the pursuit of British military objectives, and vice versa would be unacceptable to both nations.

    Unlike some of the other replies to your comments on the RN, I think the US is generally very well liked and respected in the UK. The Iraq war was unpopular, but the blame was attached to Tony Blair rather than George Bush. The problem though is that the US forces are so substantial that any allies are very much junior partners. At least with the French we're on an equal footing (although I don't doubt many British servicemen would rather be working with the US).

    Currently the RN is in quite a sorry state, for the most part due to cuts caused not by increased social spending, but in response with the recent recession (which hit the UK harder as the banking sector accounts for a much larger percentage of our economy than yours), and the truly dreadful budgeting at the Ministry of Defence. Our new carriers, each one as big as all three of the vessels they are replacing, won't have catapults and are only going to use VSTOL F-35's. That means shorter range, smaller payloads, and no effective AEW on ships that should last for half a century. It makes you wonder just why we built such large (the biggest warships ever built for the RN) carriers in the first place. The T45 destroyers are being touted as the best AA destroyers in the world, and yet cost twice as much as Arleigh Burkes, hold half as many missiles, can't use Tomahawks and have no ABM capability. I could go on, but it's too depressing.

    In comparison, I think the USN is in a very good condition and the only weakness I can see is the number of Mine warfare vessels. That's surprisng given that they must cost far less than other warships and given the recent US interest in littoral warfare, I would have thought would have been essential. Nations that can't afford subs and aircraft will certainly be able to afford mines. I think a US cruiser was struck by a free floating one during the Kuwait war.

    To digress a little, the position currently occupied by the USN was held by the Royal Navy in the mid-nineteenth century. No one tried to compete with it because it was never going to be overtaken. Due to the nations industrial capacity, when some one did, as the French tried with the Gloire, British naval dockyards simply built better and quicker and ended up with HMS Warrior. The Dreadnought was also built in response to US & Japanese designs. It was just as well we won, as if we'd lost we'd be talking about the 'Satsuma' era. The RN was allowed to atrophy with lots of small and obsolete vessels because there simply was no competition. At least the US hasn't allowed that to happen.

    The disaster that struck the RN however was the loss of that industrial capacity, and the wealth it generated. Britain was the world workshop and when it ceased to be (due to competition from everyone else, not least the US) she could no longer afford the worlds best navy. That I think is the problem that the US is beginning to face. Britains downfall was exacerbated by two world wars, and so I don't forsee a similar US outcome for many years but it requires consideration, even at the expense of military budgets.

    BWC 10/11/2012

    1. Now that is a great comment - well reasoned, well written, logical, and helpful to the conversation. I disagree with a few of the points but that in no way detracts from the value of the comment itself.

      I find your take on the Type 45 to be fascinating. It mirrors my own assessment. Unfortunately, I'm not a RN expert so I may well be missing a key aspect of the Type 45 that makes it far more formidable than it appears on paper. How did it acquire its reputation? I'd love to hear a few words from you (or anyone) on this ship and why it has the reputation it does.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!

  18. The T45 destroyers are at £6.46 billion for six ships are probably the worlds most expensive ships of their type. They certainly represent a quantum leap in capability over the previous Type 42's although these were a generation behind the latest US systems even as they were being built. They also have plenty of room for expansion. A further twelve silos can be added (although I can't see why they weren't built with them), and ASW Torpedo's and Harpoons can also be bolted on....

    So, all in all, they're not bad ships, but are they the best in the world? The Dutch Aegis ships, and the French Italian Horizon frigates are all single purpose AAW vessels, so the dual purpose T45's could be called better, but that isn't true of the US Arleigh Burkes, or the Japanese Aegis Kongo's. The Korean Aegis ships carry more missiles than even the US ships.

    The T45's could have been built with US silo's which were compatible with the Sea Viper missiles, and been big enough to accomodate Tomahawks, but for whatever reasons weren't. Presumably the RN wants to reserve Tomahawk missiles for SSN's. Presumably Anti ballistic missiles must be quite large too, and so I guess the T45's won't be able to be upgraded to that standard either.

    The only substantial difference between T45's and the US ships is the new Sampson RADAR which is a traditional rotating design compared to the Aegis ships which use fixed arrays... I really don't know which system is better, and I doubt if anyone else outside serving officers does either. Maybe that's where the superiority lies?

    All in all, I suspect that the claim that the T45's are the worlds best destroyers is simply hyperbole by senior RN officers. I've not seen any other commentators repeat the claim and to be honest, if I'd spent over a billion pounds on a warship, I'd probably want to claim it was the best in the world too.

    BWC 14/11/12

  19. An example of whats wrong with the Royal Navy.

    It's an example of a very weak procurement process. I wonder what other problems the MOD is covering up in other projects.

    I think that Lewis Page authoer of Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs (, said that the purpose of the MOD now is to give money to BAe.


    1. I should clarify my earlier comments and say that I believe the T45's are very capable ships; just not the worlds best destroyers and certainly nowhere near as capable as their US cousins, the Arleigh Burkes. They have the potential to be improved greatly when the current economic mess is eventually sorted out. I'd have liked to see more (and a couple more would certainly have improved the cost per unit), but the RN itself declined any more to bring forward the orders for the T26 frigates.

      I saw the Guardian article about the Astute but it seemed very shallow to me (no pun intended). The boat is a first of class and you'd expect to see teething problems, all of which should be sorted out in subsequent vessels. The comments about the Astute's top speed seemed particulary ill informed. Speed is nowhere near as important as quietness, and not required to keep in contact with carriers. Aircraft carriers are only likely to be moving at 30 knots when they're launching aircraft, and 65-100,000 tons charging through the water at that speed will render SONAR completely ineffective anyway. In time I believe the Astutes will be every bit as good as the US Virginia's.

      Ministry of Defence procurement was certainly a complete disaster, but I think the issues may well have been rectified by the current government although at a very high cost to the RN. No Harriers, no Invincibles and worst of all no maritime patrol aircraft. Hopefully all these deficiencies will be resolved by the end of the decade. One of the problems with the Astute must be the lack of skills at the Barrow shipyard due to the shortage of orders for submarines caused by previous MoD procurement policy. Nuclear boats need to be ordered continuously, every three years or so to maintain a very specialised skillset.

      From a RN perspective aircraft carriers are essential... The old Soviet Navy, although a national threat was in fact also a corporate ally in that when the cold war ended the raison d'etre for a substantial RN disappeared with it. Consequently the RN is busy reinventing itself and to make a worthwhile contibution to any of the recent wars, only aircraft carriers and marines are of any use at all. Without that contribution the RAF and army (the corporate enemies) will eat into the RN share of the budget as has already occurred (Harriers, MPA, etc...).

      I've read 'Lions, Donkeys & Dinosaurs', and although I'll grant you that Lewis Page is a talented writer, his view of the RN seems to be entirely negative, almost as if he has a chip on his shoulder. He was correct to indict the MoD, but are all destroyers and frigates a complete waste of money? Do we want to decimate our own defence industry so that we can no longer build our own weapons and make all those workers and their skills redundant? Do we want BAe, possibly the biggest remaining manufacturer in the UK and one of the biggest Defence companies in the world to go under? All in all, anyone who reads Lewis Page should remember that whilst it's always been very easy to criticise, it's never quite as easy to propose a solution.

      That's it... Rant over.

      BWC 17/11/2012

    2. I'm sure the Guardian isn't the best source for defence news, and perhaps I was a little quick to post it here. The follow ups in the Guardian were more even. It's effective front end, combat capable, but with engineering deficiencies.

      And the corrosion problems seem to be simply down to poor workmanship. At least according to the MOD memos.

      You say that submarines don't need to go fast. I'm not an expert, but I have read that sometimes they want to outrun a torpedo fired at them from long range. So, having a good top speed is probably necessary.

      If the Guardian is correct in it's assertion that a bad choice of power plant gearbox combination was made to save money. That looks very like having big carriers, with short ranged aircraft that could fly from a mini carrier. Again, short term thinking costing money and capability, and perhaps lives in the long term.

      And the choice of the F35B for the carriers ism most likely driven by the idea of supporting BAe in the F35 project. From what I've read F18s would be more capable, and could be ordered in worthwhile numbers, including the cost of the catapult, for a lower cost.

      I'd agree with you that Lewis Page has weird ideas about the frigates and destroyers. That said, his chronicling of other failures of MOD procurement do seem credible. The MOD seems to pay far more than the going rate, and they seem to support British industry in preference to combat capability.

      The Nimrod MPA saga is a good example. Years late, apparently with each plane delivered (had they not been cancelled) costing as much as a space shuttle.

      I think that Lewis Page's suggestion that the UK buy of the shelf, rather than trying to develop indigenously, when we can't buy sufficient numbers to make development cost effective, is a credible proposal for a solution.


    3. The US Navy and the RN have co-operated in the development of a common missile compartment for their respective SSBNs. Conversely, the RN has developed the Astute class and the US the Virginia. Does anyone have any idea why the two navies didn't develop a common submarine design? It would have increased the ecomony of scale for both parties. Are the operational requirements that different? Just wondering.

  20. In theory, I think a common submarine design would certainly offer the RN a cost effective platform for the future. The USN and RN certainly share more requirements than Britain does with the European navies. Having said that, RN designs seems to mirror the US boats remarkably closely anyway. Trafalgars are very similar to Los Angeles class boats, and the Astutes in size at least seem like near twins to the Virginia's. It seems to me that there is already a great deal of hidden co-operation.

    Historically, the RN is greatly indebted in terms of submarines at least, to the USN. The first boats used by the UK were Holland type vessels bought from the US in 1900 or thereabouts. The US also supplied the rear end and reactor for Britains first SSN, appropriately named Dreadnought. Most surprisingly of all, the US supplied not only the Polaris and Trident missiles used to deliver two generations of the UK's nuclear deterrent but also substantial parts of the SSBN's that carry them. That US decision always left me slightly mystified wondering why it would share the power to trigger armageddon, even with a close ally like the UK.

    There have been a few developments going the other way, rafted engines, and shrouded propellors (first used on HMS Triumph)to more effectively silence SSN's but that seems a paltry payment for the technology that's come the other way.

    Returning to the point though, I understand that BAe tried to sell off the submarine yard at Barrow to one of the American sub building companies when the Astute programme was going very badly. The British government stepped in to prevent the sale as the ability to build SSN's was deemed essential to national security. Even so, BAe needed to buy US expertise (specifically people with CAD experience, as this was the first time a British company had used that process on such a complex warship)to complete the vessels.

    To summarize then, British and US requirements are very probably identical and their design solutions seems very similar too. Is that a result of collusion, or just a huge coincidence? I rather suspect that we might already be building common designs.

    BWC 20/11/2012

  21. Hi,

    I know this is an old post but I have only just read it and thought I would give a reply.

    Like a few of the other posters from the UK, I don't think the RN is in quite as bad state as you seem to think, and really don't think we would ever agree to becoming the ASW wing of the USN. Like someone else said, we were basically the ASW wing of NATO during the cold war and it meant that we had overlooked a number of other areas that really caused problems during the Falklands war. One of the main things being anti air. As the focus at that time was for it to do ASW in the north Atlantic, and be in range of land bases most of the time, anti air warfare had really taken a back seat.

    I think one thing most people would agree on is that the RN is low on the number of escorts that it has. So there are a number of ideas of how to overcome that problem. Starting with the C1, C2 and C3 ideas. C1 was basically going to be the first rate ASW ship. While C2 would be a bit less capable, and C3 would be the low end patrol ship as well as carrying out mine warefare and surveying. As with most plans related to UK defence, it wasn't long before those plans had changed.

    Now the type 26 will fulfil the C1 and C2 roles. With the current plan being that there will be 8 ASW type 26s (with towed Sonar array) and 5 general purpose type 26s (without the towed array). While the C3 is now called the Mine Countermeasures, Hydrography and Patrol Capability programme (MHPC). From what I understand, this has been changed so that the patrol part is now secondary to the mine warfare part. But basically it still is likely to be a general purpose ship. A bit like your LCS, but with much lower top speed and not as modular. No one knows how many of these will be built, but it seems there is often talk of between 8 and 14 of them. They are also unlikely to be built until sometime in the 2020's.

    So to relieve the pressure on the escort fleet, there is repeated talk of building some off shore patrol ships or sloops in the next few years. The ideas for these seem to range from improved River/Clyde class ships (which are the RN current Offshore patrol ships) to one's like the Black Swan. Which seems closer to the MHPC idea.

    The reason people want OPV/Sloops is that currently the RN is using Type 23 frigates and Type 45 destroyers on tasks like anti privacy or to patrol the Caribbean (it also uses RFA support ships to perform these tasks). So if it had more patrol ships, then they would be able to perform these tasks and free the higher spec ships for more demanding tasks.

    So my view is that ideally the RN would get 4-6 more frigates or destroyers. If it could also get a number of patrol ships then that would be even better. However that isn't going to happen, so if it could just get about 8 offshore patrol ships then I think it would be enough to give the RN the number of escorts that it needed for the tasks demanded of it.

    There does seem as though there is a chance for it to get at least some new patrol ships in the next few years as one of the shipyards will have a couple of years or so without work, after it finishes its work on the carriers and before it starts working on the type 26. So there is talk about having it build some patrol ships to keep it going during those years.

    So while the RN is smaller than it used to be, it can still do what is asked of it. And once the new carriers are operational will be more capable than it has for a very long time. Apart from the lack of carriers, it is much more balanced now than it was at the time of the Falklands.

    1. Of course the lack of MPA aircraft is a big problem, but that isn't actually a RN issue as they never operated them. The Nimrods were operated by the Royal air force. Which is the reason a lot of people think they were given up so easily. They think the air force gave them up so it could protect its core fighters and such. I do think though that around 2015 we will order some P8s, and a lot of people want the navy to operate them this time.

      Talking about the Falklands, you ask if we could do that again. Well I believe that we certainly could. As I said the capability and balance of the navy is much better now. Plus stand off weapons would completely change how it was thought anyway. I know people will say that the current surface fleet doesn't have any stand-off weapons but I'm sure that would quickly change if the need was there.

      Also I don't think that the size of the fleet that we sent to the Falklands was anywhere near as big as a lot of people imagine it was. The initial task force included: 2 carriers , 2 LPD amphibious ships, 6 destroyers and 10 frigates. A reinforcement group later joined them (after the fighting had started and a number of ships had been sunk or damaged) and that contained: 2 destroyers an 5 frigates.

      Of the initial task group, only 4 destroyers and 2 frigates had anything like modern surface to air missiles. The main anti-air missile of the other two destroyers was known to be so obsolete that from what I read it was only fired once and that was in a surface to surface engagement. The Sea cat missile that armed the other frigates was fired a number of times but I believe there was no confirmed kill from it. The reinforcement included 2 destroyers and 1 frigate that had the more modern anti air missiles.

      Another thing about the ships that were used in the Falklands is that most of the frigates were of a size that if they were built now, wouldn't even be called frigates. Apart from the two type 22 frigates that had the modern sea wolf missiles, the others were all around 3000 tons or less and 115 metres of smaller. These days they would most likely be called corvettes.

      The type 45 is bigger than any of the destroyers or frigates that was used in the Falklands (it is actually a few meters shorter than three of the destroyers but it has a bigger beam and draft and quite a bit heavier weight.) While the type 23s are bigger than any of the frigates other than the two type 22s. Of course size doesn't really matter, but in this case they are also much more capable than those ships.

    2. In terms of the amphibious ships, although one bay class ship was sold to Australia in the last couple of years, the RN still has a good capability in that area. Certainly a better capability than it had during the Falklands. Then it had 2 LPDs and 6 landing ship tanks. Now it has one helicopter carrier that has some amphibious capability, in that it carries 4 landing craft on davits and has a vehicle deck with a rear ramp access. There is also the last remaining aircraft carrier that is currently used as a second helicopter carrier (the two helicopter carriers are rotated between service and refit). It also has 2 LPDs that are bigger and more capable than the ones during the Falklands, plus it has 3 bay class LPDs, which are much bigger than the landing ship tanks and also have a dock (which the LSTs didn't). The MOD also have 6 roll-on roll-off ferries which were custom designed and built to fit the needs of the MOD (there has been some trails of unloading from these to landing craft).

      With regard to submarines, we sent 5 SSNs and 1 SSK. Now we have no SSKs and 7 SSN, so we wouldn't be able to send as many submarines, but I think ~3 assute or Trafalgar submarines would be enough to make sure their navy never moved far from port.

      In terms of merchant ships, we used: 3 ocean liners, 8 roll-on roll-off ferries, 4 cargo container ships (that were modified and used as auxiliary carriers to ferry helicopters and harriers), 7 freighters, 15 tankers and a number of repair/support ships/tugs. (its quite possible that this list doesn't include all the merchant ships used.)

      One of the modified container ships is now part of the RFA (RFA Argus), as it was bought after the war and further modified and is now used as a Primary Casualty Receiving Ship and for aviation training. The 6 roll-on roll-off ferries of the point class have a bigger capability than the 8 that was used then. These ships aren't actually owned by the MOD but are part of a 22 year Public Private Finance Initiative.

      Really the only area that I think that we could have problem if we needed to do something of a similar scale to the Falklands is in terms of tankers. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) currently only has 5 tankers and 1 AOE (it currently has 4 new tankers being built), where during the Falklands it deployed 10 of its own tankers plus the merchant tankers. However the current ships of the RN are more fuel efficient than the ships that were used then, plus any modern task force that the RN sent would contain fewer but more capable ships, then I think it most likely would still be able to manage.

      Another thing to note that is a lot of the merchant ships (of all types) didn't actually arrive anywhere near the Falklands until after the combat had already finished.

      So in 1982, the total task force was :

      2 carriers
      2 LPD
      6 LST
      8 destroyers
      15 frigates
      5 SSN
      1 SSK

      If the RN needed to send a task force for a similar mission in 2013 then it might contain:

      1 or 2 helicopter carriers
      1 or 2 LPD
      2 LPD(auxiliary)
      3 or 4 destroyers
      ~7 or 8 frigates
      ~3 SSN.

      So it would be smaller in number of ships, but would certainly be more capable. Also remembering that not all the ships in 1982 were sent initially, some for sent as replacements. Now considering the state of the Argentinian military and the much better anti air capability of the modern ships, then I don't think the lack of an aircraft carrier would stop the RN being able to deal with any situation.

      If a similar task force was needed in a few years time then it would also likely contain one of the new carriers.

    3. Regards to how the Type 45 compares to the Arleigh Burke, well I don't think there is ever enough public data for anyone to really know how they compare.

      Some of the things that are known is that the Arleigh Burkes carry more missiles and carry Tomahawk cruise missiles. While the type 45 does contain space reserved for the future fitting of 16 extra full strike length VL tubes, so it could carry Tomahawk (or the shiped launched version of the SCALP/Storm Shadow).

      In terms of the missiles each ship carry, well with the introduction of the SM-6 missiles, there doesn't seem much difference from the public data. Before the SM-6 was introduced the main difference was that the SM-2 was semi active guided while the Aster are active. So the type 45 could guide more missiles at the same time, as the SM-2 needs terminal guidance by the three AN/SPG-62 radars. As I said with the SM-6, I wouldn't think there is much difference between them now.

      In terms of radars, again we can only go by public data so we are very limited in what we know. First though we know that the Sampson radar is a active electronically scanned array , while the AN/SPY-1D is a Passive Electronically Scanned Array. The Samson is also quite a bit higher on the Type 45 than the AN/SPY-1D is on the Arleigh Burke, so the Sampson has a further horizon. So all we really know is the Sampson is a newer design and is a AESA rather than a PESA type. The type 45 also carries a second radar which is the S1850M long range volume search radar. From what I understand, it can guide the aster missiles in some situations. So can give some backup if the Sampson isn't working.

      As I said we really don't know how the various radars compare but from reports I've heard and read, comments from USN officers believe the radar performance of the Type 45 is better than a Arleigh Burke. These reported comments also say how those USN officers don't understand how we could build a 8000 ton destroyer with great radars and then only put 48 missiles on it, but who knows how if those reported comments were even really said.

      My guess is that the radars of the Type 45 can be roughly compared to the Air and Missile Defense Radar, that will be fitted to the Flight III Arleigh Burke. Although in the same way that I think the Sampson would be better than the AN/SPY-1D, if for no other reason than its a ~20 year newer design, I also think the AMDR will be better than the Sampson and S1850M as if nothing else, it will be a newer design. The AMDR also will consist of two different radars. By time the AMDR is fitted to the first flight III Arleigh Burke, the launch of the first Type 45 would have been at least 10 years ago.

    4. Anon,

      Better late than never. Glad you stopped by!

      You've offered a lot of information and thoughts and I've read them carefully and very much appreciate the time and effort you put into it.

      My only general reaction is to caution you to beware of the trap of assessing forces by comparing current/new ships to their predecessors. That's a common arguement that is inherently flawed. The flaw is that one's enemies have advanced, also, and the proper comparison is not new to old but, rather, new to enemy's new. Having said that, the RN does have a solid, if small, force with the exception of a total lack of carrier fixed wing aviation which may or may not be corrected in the future depending on how the carriers and the JSF turn out. Further, I have absolutely no idea what Argentina's capabilities are today so I have no idea how the RN stacks up against the Arg military.

      My comment about the RN mounting a Falklands type effort was meant to be more general rather than a specific replay of the Falklands conflict. Could the RN, today, mount a distant offensive effort of the magnitude of the Falklands and against an adversary with a semi-modern Air Force, which Arg had at the time. For instance, could the RN mount such an effort against Iran, N. Korea, or some other MidEast actor? Today, the answer would seem to be no, if only due to the complete lack of air cover. Hopefully, that will change in the future but not, apparently, for several years since neither carrier nor JSF will be ready any time soon. Remember, it was the Harrier air groups that largely allowed the Falklands effort to succeed. Am I misinterpreting this? Your thoughts?


    5. Hi, Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my comments.

      I totally agree that you have to compare your current forces against an enemies current forces. In the case of Argentina their military hasn't improved since 1982, it's actually worse in a lot of ways. Like they are replacing their fleet of Mirages (which one of their own reports stated that hadn't flown since 2006) with the domestically produced Pampa. Which is a Jet trainer, with a sub sonic Max speed and no radar. As others have said the current forces based on the Falklands are enough to defend it.

      However I completely understand that you meant the scale of the operation when talking about the Falklands, but the problem is thinking of any other possible situation where the RN would need to operate on its own without being in range of land bases.

      If it was the middle east then it would be within range of land bases. Not that I could imagine us having to take on Iran on our own. Even if the US didn't get involved for some reason and no other European country would send forces, I would still expect us to have access to land bases in the region. If somehow we were trying to fight Iran on our own and none of the countries in the region would support us by letting us use their bases, then I would think we were out of our minds.

      Really I can think of only two ways we could get involved in action in the middle east. One being that part of an action that was US lead. The other being that maybe sometime in the future, the US switched all its focus to south-east Asia and Europe agreed to deal with the middle east. In either case, we wouldn't be acting alone and would have access to land bases. Could Europe (and the gulf states) deal with Iran on its own, well that largely depends on how committed other European countries were to it, and a lot of other variables. But as a quick answer, I would say if the political will was there, then we could.

    6. With regards to North Korea, well apart from some token forces, I can't really see us getting involved in a big way in any war between North and South Korea.

      I think any action that we got involved with in Asia would be just token forces. Maybe a couple of frigates and a destroyer, and a submarine in terms of navy, and maybe a brigade in terms of land forces. The only way we would be more involved is if an all out war developed between China and the US/Australia/Japan. Even then I would expect at first we would be limited in what forces we provided. However I can't really see a war developing overnight. Maybe in 10 years time, a new cold war will have developed, then maybe we would start to build up our forces again. I think the only way currently that we would go all out in a war in Asia, is if Australia was threatened with invasion. Not that I don't think we would get involved if there was a big war with China, but in terms of what we provided it would be a slow build up and take a couple of years or so for us to build up our forces. So if China started invading all of east Asia, then our initial support would be limited. A small task force and maybe one or two Divisions. Maybe we would do a general mobilization, but I'm not sure there would be public support for that. Similar to in world war II before pearl harbour there wasn't general US public support for it to get involved. The only things that I can think that would almost certainly give the public support is the threat of invasion of Australia or New Zealand. Or if things went really bad and the US and Canada were at risk.

      So the problem is trying to think of any place that we might get involved in and not have land bases nearby. The only place that anyone has been able to think of is the Falklands, and the only way really that is threatened is if the whole of south America joins together and invades. Now if that happened, would we be ale to deal with the situation? Well I don't think it would come to military action if that happened. As I just can't imagine us going to war with the whole of South America. If we did, we would be completely on our own. I don't think any other country would help us, and risk their future relations with all of South America. I think the only thing we could do in such a situation is declare the Falkland islands independent and take the matter to the UN. Personally I think that is the solution to the Falklands issue anyway. Getting them to declare themselves Independent with a security treaty with the UK. It was also the UK governments plan after the Falklands war in 1982. From the recently released Government papers from the time, they wanted to do it, but were talked out of it by the US. As it would upset Argentina too much. Argentina likes to keep bringing up the issue of it being a colony but don't actually want anything done to stop it being classed as a colony. Well other than them taking control of it. But if they were independent, and were invaded by Argentina, then I think we would get a lot more support for any action we took than we would currently. There is the same issue with Gibraltar, Spain will not allow any change that would stop it being a colony. But in their case, the treaty that gave us Gibraltar, actually stops it becoming independent. As it says if we no longer want it, then it goes back to Spain. In the case of Gibraltar, I think all we could do is declare it to be a full part of the UK. As France did with some of its former colonies so that they were no longer classed as colonies. However that also would upset Spain too much.

    7. So basically we aren't a big enough country to try to deal with any problem that might come up in any part of the world. Our areas of interest are Europe, the Falklands, the Mediterranean, the middle east, and parts of Africa. We also have some interests in the Caribbean, but that is basically your back yard, so I think the US would get involved in any big issues in that area. By areas of interest, I don't mean that things that happen outside of those areas won't be of interest to us, just we can't realistically expect to deal with any issues outside of those areas without support of other countries.

      It is almost impossible for us to imagine a major war in Europe. Things might change in the future, but really us going to war with another European country (other than Russia) is almost like New York state going to war with Florida. I can't see us going to war with Spain over Gibraltar, unless we want to go to war with a big proportion of our pensioners who have retired over there. We aren't going to go to war with France. London is now France's sixth biggest city. Meaning that there are so many French citizens living in London, that if it was part of France then it would be their sixth biggest city. They even get to vote for their own MP in the French parliament. The same with eastern Europe (Poland etc), there are more than a million people from eastern Europe living in the UK. Of course that doesn't stop any future issues and people can always move back, but it's just not likely to happen, and we can't plan our future on it happening. That would be like the USA basing it's future military planning on a future civil war.

      So I think the RN is a little bit too small, if the last 4 Type 22s hadn't been retired in 2011, then I think it would have been about the right size that it needs to be. Of course ideally I'd like it to be bigger, but I'm talking about what is realistic. Realistically the best it can hope for is to get a few more offshore patrol ships in the next few years and then sometime next decade get the MPHC ships. If Santa was listening and I was trying to still be realistic, then I would ask for 4-6 more frigates (at least two of them AAW focused) and one or two more submarines. It of course certainly needs the Carriers and MPA aircraft, but those are both certains. The Carriers are being built, the first one will be floated out later this year. There was some talk of selling one of them, but that has been dropped now, and who exactly would buy a 65,000+ ton Carrier? India or Brazil are the only two countries I could think of, and neither would be likely to be interested. The RN will do anything to keep those carriers, so I think the only issue is if the US dropped the F35 project. If that happened, then we would have to go back to the plan to fit them with catapults, which would mean a delay of a few years. With the MPA, we will almost certainly order some around 2015 (when the next defence review happens), the only question is what type we get. Hopefully we go for the P8, but its possible we go for some cheaper solution.

    8. The main threat to the RN and UK defence in general is the 2015 defence review. It's possible that they might try to make more cuts, but all current talk is of increasing the budget and getting back capabilities that we have gapped. If there are any more cuts, then I will agree that the RN will most likely lose it's blue water ability. However, currently how many other countries in the world could even think about deploying a task force, of the size I talked about yesterday, thousands of miles from its home waters? The USN of course, but who else?

      As it stands, I think the RN is still about the third most powerful Navy in the world. Once the new Carriers are operational then I would move it back up to the second most powerful. Currently I would put France in that place as it has the carrier. The only two countries that are likely to challenge us for that place are China and India. I think neither of them are likely to really challenge for quite some time yet. Both are building up their navies, but they are lacking in a lot of areas, and have little blue water experience.

      So if the question is, could the UK deal with any potential situation anywhere in the world, then the answer is a clear no. If the question is, could it deal with any situation that is likely to happen in its areas of interest, then I believe it could. Although some could really stretch it. As with all things, situations can change, but military forces take time to build up. So if a new threat emerged that was vital to the UK's interest then I think we would get some notice. Things like Libya were sudden situations, but even if we hadn't been able to get involved, they weren't vital to our national interest. Argentina could start to rebuilt its forces, but that will not happen over night, so we would have some warning. If we decided to ignore those warnings then that is another matter.

      The only way we are going to play a bigger global military part in the future, is if there is some new cold war, or if we deepen our co-operation with France. It's possible that the current co-operation will develop so that in the future we both do focus on different areas. So that would be like your idea of the UK acting as the ASW wing of the USN. I don't believe it will ever happen between the UK and the US, but its possible that something similar might happen between the UK and France. Well actually something similar is already happening to a limited extent. We have capabilities in some areas that France doesn't and the same the other way round, and the recent resource sharing treaties are meant to cover them being used in support of each other. The reason that something similar would never happen with the US, is because in that situation we would always be the junior partners, with France, we are both about equal. The thing that could ruin future co-operation with France, is if they try to involve too many other countries into those treaties and joint forces. There is already talk that the new French government wants other countries involved in some of the things covered by the recent agreements between us and them. The more countries involved in anything, the harder it is to get agreement. So if things work out and the co-operation deepens in the future, then it's possible that a future Joint UK-French military could be more involved in global issues.

    9. Now a few last thoughts on the lack of air cover. It certainly is an issue for the next few years. If an emergency came up then I think we would most likely see the RN deploying a task force with some fixed wing air cover. In the next couple of years that would likely be either the old Sea Harriers II that we still have in storage (none have flown though for 6 years so getting them flying could take some effort), or maybe the US Marines would lend us back the harriers we sold them last year. We also have the three test F35Bs (with another one to be ordered this year) that we bought and are currently part of the test program in the US. How realistic it would be to attempt to deploy them, I have no idea. In the next couple of years I would imagine that it wouldn't be possible, but after that, when the test program has progressed further, then I'm not sure. So currently our issue is in terms of what aircraft we could deploy. In most situations, I would imagine that if we needed air cover from a carrier, that either the US, Spain or Italy would lend us a few harriers if we needed them. We still have one of the aircraft carriers, and we also have HMS Ocean which is the helicopter carrier. HMS Ocean is of the same basic design as the aircraft carriers were, it just has some changes to give it some amphibious landing capability. So I would think we could quite quickly do what ever was needed to be able to operate Harriers from that as well as HMS Illustrious (the remaining aircraft carrier). Later this year HMS Queen Elizabeth (the first of the new carriers) will be floated out of its dry dock. They will then spend the next few years finishing to fit it out and doing sea trails, and it's due to be handed over to the Navy in about 2016. I would imagine in an emergency that would be speeded up. So I don't think in an emergency that we would be lacking in carriers, we would just be lacking in aircraft to fly off them.

      I didn't realise my comment(s) were so long. That's what happens when you write a reply in word and then try to break it up into 4096 character bits.

    10. I completely understand your observation about the challenge of writing but being limited by comment size. That's the problem I face in writing posts for the blog. People today want shorter, "sound bite" pieces of news so I have to pare my writings down to the bare minimum. For your purposes, though, take as many comments as needed. I'm happy to read them and comments from the other side of the pond are very helpful and provide much insight for me.

      As an aside, have you considered writing an article for the United States Naval Institute Proceedings or some similar journal? You've got the basis for a good article outlining the scope of RN committment, future needs, and future direction.

      I would disagree with your overall assessment of UK strategic interests somewhat. It's more a matter of degree, I guess. In addition to some of the areas you mention, I think the UK has more of a stake in worldwide shipping lanes, general commerce, the flow of oil, the security of the sources of oil, rare earths, vital minerals, etc. than you've acknowledged. These are the types of things that can be easily threatened by anyone with a few mines or suicide bombers. Admittedly, responding to those types of threats doesn't require vast flotillas but it does require a moderately nearby presence to ensure a reasonable response time and ample stores of munitions (depletion of munitions was a reported problem for the various participants in the Libyan conflict). Also, the time and place to respond to these types of threats is before they happen - in other words, engaging terrorist "bases" wherever and whenever they can be found.

      Also, be cautious about counting total numbers of ships as available for duty. Assuming the RN is like the USN, it take three ships to ensure one is forward deployed and available (another is in drydock/repair and unavailable in any usable time frame and the other is in limited availability undergoing maintenance and training). Thus, the readily deployable force for the RN would be around a third of the total force. Given additional time on the scale of the Falklands, perhaps half of the total force could be assembled - and, of course, there are other committments that can't simply be abandoned. The point being that the available force is always significantly less than the total force. This will be one of the problems for the RN with two carriers. One will almost always be unavailable to a greater or lesser extent.

      The JSF is the weak link in a lot of country's plans! This plane is failing miserably at the moment. Realistically, it's probably gotten too big to fail in terms of money committed. Otherwise, it should have been cancelled long ago. I believe we bought those Harriers from you because the JSF was so far behind schedule!

      You no doubt noticed that some of your countrymen have offered differing opinions in some of the other comments. Not a problem! We have an enormous range of opinions here in the US about our own Navy. If everyone agreed, I'd have no reason to do this blog!


    11. I totally agree that the UK has a lot of interests outside the areas that I spoke off. I just meant that it was hard to imagine the UK taking part in major operations outside those areas. Especially if it had to act alone.

      If the flow of shipping was threatened in any part of the world, then I would expect us to take part in action to stop that threat. However we wouldn't act alone in that, and wouldn't be sending a big task force to deal with it. If it was piracy that was the threat then we would send a ship or two. Ideally these would be just off shore patrol ships, as like one of our generals recently said, it seems crazy to have £1 billion destroyers chasing pirates. If it was a rogue state that was the threat then we would likely take part in some coalition. However for these sort of tasks, we don't really need a big navy. If those were the only sort of situations that we thought that we needed to deal with then it would be better for us to scrap the carriers and just buy more escorts.

      The RN is the same as the USN in that it does take three ships for every one deployed. Well other than a couple of exceptions. The patrol ship in the Falklands island and the mine hunters in the middle east are stationed there nearly permanently and the crews are rotated in and out. Even then though really there are still three ships for each one deployed. As the crews are rotated between the ships of the same classes that are based in the UK and the ones that are deployed.

      However in my example of the sort of task force that we might send to some operation that was like the Falklands, I was assuming that we would have a bit of notice to get it ready (at least a month, like in 1982), and we would take the hit on the fact that some other deployments would have to be cut or there might not be a ship to replace one already deployed somewhere. We should at least be in a better situation than we were in 1982, then NATO was still facing the soviet threat, so we still had to keep forces assigned to NATO. If some emergency happened in the future where we had to send a task group, then hopefully at the very least, friendly countries would fill in on some of the normal peacetime deployments. So for that example task group, I was assuming we could deploy from around 33% to 66% of the fleet for a short time period. Which I would think is possible with some work. I'm not sure of what the percentages were in 1982, but we certainly sent the only two carriers that we had. Although another one was just being completed and was ready about a month or two after the fighting finished. I believe that there was also some work on reactivating one of the carriers that had been retired a couple of years previous. We also sent both the LPDs that we had. We sent all six LSTs that we had. We sent two off the three Type 22 frigates and five of the eight Type 42 destroyers that we had. These two types were really the only modern (for the time) destroyers and frigates that we had. So the task group in 1982 certainly stretched the RN.

      If the JSF does fail, then we are in some trouble. The only option will be to fit the carriers with catapults and buy either F18E or Rafales. There is some talk about a SeaTyphoon (converting Typhoon to be able to operate from carriers), but I think that is extremely unlikely.

      And of course everyone has different opinions. The ones I have stated are purely my own and have just as much chance at being wrong as they do at being correct.

    12. I will leave you with one final thought to consider. It's not enough to simply respond to problems throughout the world. To some extent, it's necessary to be the policeman walking the beat to ensure that problems don't even arise.

      What would the Iranians be doing right now if the US Navy wasn't present in the MidEast in significant force? What trouble would N. Korea be causing if S. Korea and US forces weren't present at all times. Consider the problems China is causing currently (staking fictitious claims to territory, harassing the fishing vessels of its neighbors, declaring a unilateral 200 nm exclusion zone, etc.) with the USN present. What would China be doing with no US presence? And so on ...

      The USN has 280 or so ships and aside from maintenance and training none are deployed in home waters. All are forward deployed around the world.

      What if the USN had the same philosophy that some in the UK espouse - to simply respond as needed but otherwise maintain a very small fleet and a very small global presence? The responsible nations of the world need to maintain a global presence to dampen problems before they even become evident.

      One of my concerns about the RN is that too many are viewing the UK as somehow isolated with the thought being that the UK will respond when directly and overtly threatened but otherwise will remain "inactive". If every "good" country in the world took that approach, the "bad" countries would cause no end of problems. One of the US resentments toward the rest of the world is the perception that too many countries are benefiting from US "policemanship" without paying for it.

      As I mentioned in the post, it seems as if the UK is abandoning some of its global responsibilities in favor of social spending. Sadly, the US is headed down that exact same path.

      Anyway, be sure to factor in the cost (number and types of ships needed) of a reasonable share of global presence when you evaluate the size and strength of the RN.

      What should be the RN's share of world responsibilities? I have no idea. That's a complicated balance of monetary cost, resources, dependence on international commerce, susceptibility to terrorism, and a hundred other factors. Of course, no one expects the RN to be the same size and shoulder the same degree of responsibility but has the RN/UK divested itself of too much? Food for thought.

      Great discussion!

    13. With regards to being on the beat, that is one reason that I fully support the RN getting the new aircraft carriers. For most of their tasks, long range land based aircraft (and long range cruise missiles) could most likely do nearly as good. However they don't have the presence that a Carrier battle group has. Moving navy forces into a neighbourhood is often enough to defuse the situation before it develops. So I again totally agree that is needed, and I don't think the RN have any plans to give that sort of role up. Although I do think in future that we will be slower to get involved in anything that looks like it could be a long term operation. I also think the US will be much slower to get involved in things in future. After the last ten years, if nothing else, the public support is just not there in either country for having forces deployed in long wars. I personally think the Iraq war was a massive mistake, and caused a lot more harm to things like public opinion etc then it did good. I also think it drew attention away from where our efforts should have been, which was in Afghanistan.

      I can totally understand the feeling of the US that it has to pay to be the world's policeman. There is often similar feelings in this country about how a lot of the other European countries (like Germany) never pull their weight. I do think that the UK should be spending more on defence, but I also think that it is spending at least its fair share on policing the world. I'm not saying that the US doesn't pay more than it's fair share, but I also think that the US would be spending nearly as much on defence even if it pulled all it's forces back home. I think rather than the UK paying for more or the US feeling like it has to continue to pay too much, the answer is to get countries like Germany and Japan to start getting involved in global issues. Also even though the UK has made cuts in its defence budget recently, it hasn't made any cuts in its commitments. In the gulf for example, we still maintain year round, 1 destroyer and 1 frigate, 1 LPD, 4 mine hunters and not confirmed but believed to always be in the area, one submarine. I think we also still keep a repairship in the area that acts as a submarine support ship. It is really a difficult question to answer, as to what is a fair size for the RN to do its fair share. Once the carriers are operational, it (and the RFA) will be something like: 2 Aircraft Carriers, 2 LPD, 3 LPD(A), 6 destroyers, 13 frigates, 4 offshore patrol ships (assuming no more are ordered), 14 mine hunters/sweepers, 3 survey ships, 7 SSN, 4 SSBN, 3 Solid supply Ships, 6 Tankers, 1 aviation support ship, 1 repair ship, 6 roll-on roll-off ferries. It's not known if the helicopter carrier will be kept beyond 2018-2022 (various dates given for its rumored retirement). So that's around 75 ships. Now the UK has less than a fifth of the population of the USA, and it's economy more than a fifth smaller. As I said, I think it needs a few more frigates/destroyers and some more patrol ships, but what size RN does it need to be, to do its fair share? I'm not trying to compare it to the USN or to say that the US doesn't do more than its fare share. I'm just saying it's very hard to tell the UK population that it hasn't or isn't doing its fare share.

      In Afghanistan since 2001, the UK has suffered a higher percentage of casualties than the USA (percentage in terms of the forces each country deployed). I really don't mean this to come across as some contest, I'm just saying that public opinion in all countries has to be taken into account. Now I would really like to see a major increase in the UK's defence budget. I would support up to a doubling of it, but the most it can hope for is small increases in the years ahead. Beyond ten years who knows what will happen.

    14. I also think the UK will be much slower to get involved in any land campaigns. So I actually hold out some hope that after we have withdrawn from Afghanistan, that the Navy will see some improvements. If the government wants to get involved in military action in the future, I think the navy and air force will be the ones carrying out most of the task, while the army will take a back seat. So hopefully the last decade where funds have been channelled away from the navy to support the army and to an extent the air force, will be over. One thing I really hate about the current UK policy is that the overseas aid budget is increasing each year where every other budget decreases. We now spend something like 40+% on foreign aid as what we spend on defence. I wouldn't mind if it all did some good, but so much of that aid is wasted. What I would like to see is some of it diverted to the military so that they can provide some of the aid. Spending some of that budget on more amphibious ships, would have the duel purpose of being able to be used to provide aid in disasters but also being able to be used for other military operations when required. There is strong public opinion against all the increases in foreign aid at a time when we are decreasing budgets everywhere else, so there is some hope that something like buying duel use assets could be considered.

      I really don't think the UK or the RN will be cutting down on its global tasks. If for no other reason than a government always likes to show that it is playing a big part on the global stage. In future operations the forces we deploy might be slightly smaller than they were, and we might be slower to get involved in land operations, but other than that I don't think much will change. As I said I think the US will also be slower to get involved in future operations. All I've been trying to say in previous comments is that the UK isn't going to get involved in many operations on its own, but will be part of coalitions. Which is no change, as apart from some small operations and the Falklands, we haven't really been involved in any operations in that last 50 years or so, that wasn't as part of a coalition.

      One note: in all my previous comments, I have been saying that we deployed 6 LST (landing ship tanks) to the Falklands, when they were actually LSL (landing ship logistics). The same ships as I meant, I just repeatedly gave the wrong designation.

      Thanks for the great discussion.

  22. Late as usual !!

    Today our choice as a nation appears to be that Social / Welfare will take a larger proportion of the budget at expense of defence. UK will collaborate with our allies, US is seen by many as our most reliable ally along with the Commonwealth (Canada and Australia/ New Zealand).
    Our leaders anticipate that we will have time to act in event of escalating tensions globally or in areas requiring our assistance. Therefore our priority now should be in keeping trained personnel, even at the expense of ship numbers. If we can work with USN and others and hold on to our manpower experience this is of more benefit to the nation than an extra vessel or two.
    Why do I say this, because the time to retrain and reactivate that capability will take far longer than the time to build an vessel for defence purposes.
    I firmly believe though it may not be ideal, the use of simulators and the correct training of personnel will stand us in good stead for the future.
    Another element that needs to be held onto even at the cost of a surface unit is the logistic train. Again the RN has a disproportionate number of RFA to the size of the fleet. We now use these vessels in place of Frigates and Destroyers, which though regrettable does allow us the expansion capability when the fleet starts to grow again.
    But we all need to realise, we must hold on to number of personnel over vessel numbers if needs be. We must work with our allies and keep the experience of our people by deploying them to other forces as required.
    At some point we may need to change our choice of spend as a nation. If we did, we could easily double our defence budget and that would allow for a swift expansion of RN. Should that day come we would have preserved our core of personnel to form the embryo of a capable fighting force.
    The Royal Navy has been here before (Even Nelson was laid of), stand fast, but be prepared to respond as we did in 82.


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