Recent comment about the development of drones that can detect and track submarines, with the inference that they will easily find and follow Trident submarines reminds me of an occurrence 35 years ago, when a CND activist approached my brother and asked if he would sign a petition, protesting against the proposed basing of cruise missiles at Greenham Common. Feigning ignorance my brother asked what a cruise missile was. The activist explained that it was a small nuclear armed missile that on launching, deployed short wings and flew to the target. "Rather like a pilotless aeroplane" my brother remarked. "Exactly" replied the activist. "Sorry mate" said my brother, "you're too late, we've had them here for years; the only difference is that the present cruise missiles have pilots in them". My brother did not sign the petition.
So submarine hunting drones? Yes we've had those for years, albeit with people in them. They are called destroyers, frigates, submarines (both nuclear SSN's and conventional SSK's), aircraft (rotary and fixed wing) and satellites. Of course, unmanned drones may be cheaper to produce and operate than the manned versions and so could be distributed in far greater numbers, with possibly greater persistence (although that is questionable). I suggest however that unmanned decoy drones, that would emulate the signature of a Trident submarine would be even cheaper to produce and could lead the sub hunting drone a merry chase. Submarine hunting technologies have been in development for over 100 years and that research will continue. Likewise the technologies aimed at keeping the submarine hidden have been in development for a greater period than that and they also will advance. Shakers that neutralise a submarine's sound signature are being developed, the modern version of degaussing and non magnetic steels can be used to mask the magnetic signature, plate coolers help to dissipate heat, anechoic tiles absorb sonar pulses, decoys (both manned and unmanned) draw opponents away but if all else fails a Trident submarine is not without the means to deflect the weapons aimed at her or the teeth to defend herself and kill her hunters. Another consideration is that the unmanned drone, by the very fact that she is hunting instead of hiding, will be far more visible than her prey; thus she will be relatively easily avoided and vulnerable to interference and/or neutralisation.
Seabed arrays of listening and upward looking detectors have also been mentioned as another development that will detect Trident submarines but, like the drones, these also are not new. The SOSUS/ACOUSTINT/FDS listening systems have been in development and/or use since the 1950's, with mixed success. As the submarines have become quieter their effectiveness has been reduced and they are not beyond interference by the trawling up of their cable network or the sensors themselves. During the Cold War, submarines and surface vessels, of both sides, planted listening devices in the back yards of their opponents. An ex US navy diver told me that they had once found a Soviet listening device on the seabed at the entrance to Holy Loch on the west coast of Scotland, where the US Polaris submarines were based.
System and counter system have always been in development and they will continue to be so. It should be borne in mind however that equipment that performs well in controlled tests, frequently fails to produce the desired results when practical operating difficulties become apparent in the field! In the forthcoming debate on whether to renew or not to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent this should be borne in mind, so that suggestions of systems that will sweep away the cloak of invisibility the deep oceans afford to quiet submarines are scrutinised with a critical eye. In this way proportionality can be maintained and it may be seen that a quiet submarine that does not want to be found is still a very small needle in an extremely large haystack.
The Replacement of Diligence, Argus & Ocean. SDSR's Forgotten Trio.
RFA Diligence, the Royal Navy's (RN) forward repair ship, is now 35 years old and is scheduled to be withdrawn from service in 2020. Now is the time to purchase her replacement, while the offshore oil and gas industry is depressed, the related ship building industry is short of orders and good, new or relatively new, vessels are coming onto the market. An article written by Andy Kimber of BMT Defence Services Ltd. 'Future Concepts for Repair & Maintenance @ Sea', is worthy of study. In it he lays out the history of RN repair and depot ships and then goes on to analyse and suggest a possible replacement for Diligence. The study lays a heavy emphasis on the required engineering repair facilities and mentions the operational flexibility that such a vessel should possess. While the desirability of Dynamic Positioning (DP) is suggested, the article does not, in my view, emphasise sufficiently the operational importance of this system and how robust it should be. The ability of such a vessel to hold position in relatively sheltered water, where anchoring is undesirable or not possible and at the same time take alongside one or two vessels, which may be physically larger than herself (say T45 destroyers), must be of operational value. In order to do this, the repair ship must possess sufficient power, thrust and redundancy. Also, the suggested requirement of a 25 tonne lift capacity should be available over the entire radius of the crane(s), which would suggest a far greater stated capacity at minimum radius (possibly as much as 150-200 tonnes). The commercial vessels that most often possess these qualities are the DSV/ROV seabed operations vessels that are developments of the 'Diligence' type. They are often larger than Diligence, have a much greater deck area and load capacity, ample craneage, plenty of power/thrust, a large heli-deck, 100+ personnel capacity (to commercial standards) but are still optimised for operation by a very small crew. The survey vessel option suggested by Mr.Kimber possesses some or all of these facilities but the DP system and power availability/redundancy are often less as is the craneage. Whichever option is taken, it would be better to buy a vessel now, while they are relatively cheap, rather than wait 4 years, by which time offshore oil and gas may be recovering and all of the bargains will have disappeared.
RFA Argus, the Royal Navy's 'Aviation Support and Primary Casualty Reception' vessel is, like the Diligence, about 35 years old and due to be withdrawn from service in 2024. Originally the container ship 'Contender Bezant', she was modified at considerable expense for her present role. Another commercial vessel conversion could be an eventual replacement and the type that I believe would be most suitable is the modern car carrier. These high sided, flat topped vessels have several decks within and many of them are hydraulically adjustable for height, which would aid the fitting of a modular medical facility. The exiting RoRo facility would be of much use for bringing vehicles of all types onboard and the relatively flat top would facilitate the installation of a long flight deck with possibly a ski ramp above the bridge (what more of a potential casualty than an F35 pilot requiring fuel!?). She would be more than just a hospital ship and in extremis could perform like the Jeep/Woolworth Escort Carriers of WW2 and possibly even transport an assault group.
However, the RN is about to dispose of a vessel which is not yet old and which could replace Argus.
HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy's helicopter assault ship is due to be withdrawn from service in 2018 when only half way through her potential service life (although she may remain in service until HMS Prince of Wales is commissioned, shortly before Argus is due to bow out). There are of course several reasons for this; running costs, the need to show an ongoing requirement for the 2nd.Queen Elizabeth class carrier (which will double as an assault carrier), most certainly the manning problem and possibly others that are not apparent to casual onlookers. Regardless of the reasons, it is a shame that such a useful vessel should be laid up when she still has 20 years of useful life remaining. She is in essence a navalised commercial car carrier with a flat top/flight deck. A modular medical facility could be fitted into her hanger/vehicle deck via the aircraft lifts and stern ramp. Troop accommodation could be converted into cabins for the medical staff and less critical patients. By removing much of the war fighting apparatus (but retaining the ability to re-fit it quickly) the base crew numbers could be reduced. The conversion of Ocean to replace Argus would kill two birds with one stone. It would replace the ageing Argus and at the same time, retain Ocean as a working vessel (with base crew), which could be quickly re-converted to the assault carrier role if needed, while her modular medical facility was pulled out and put into a ship taken up from trade (STUFT). A further option would be to have the converted and disarmed Ocean placed under a defaced Blue or a Red Ensign, painted white with a Red Cross on her side and have her, together with a flight of transport/rescue/medivac helicopters, paid for out of the Foreign Aid Budget (thus for the Navy, killing three birds with one stone).
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the US and UK, showed the world that nuclear weapons were not being developed in that country and furthermore, post the invasion, that they could not be developed there. Without that assurance, I believe that the west's negotiators, even with the influence of economic sanctions, backed by cyber attacks, would have had little chance in delaying Iran's nuclear program. If Iran had continued to develop nuclear weapons, it is likely that Saudi Arabia would have followed a parallel course. A senior person within the Saudi government is quoted as saying that they would "not wait one month" if Iran acquired a nuclear bomb and allegedly, Saudi Arabia has an agreement with Pakistan for the provision of nuclear warheads, should they be required. We could by now have been seeing a nuclear stand-off between the militant Shia Mullahs on one side of the Persian Gulf and the hard line Wahhabi Sunnis on the other; both of which hate an equally nuclear armed but much beleaguered Israel! By taking Iraq out of the equation, the US and UK have made it possible to stall a nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf; an area that fuels the global economy.
Possibly the disbandment of the Iraqi army (against the advice of several military heads) was a major mistake. It is also likely that had far more resource and persistence been applied by the invading powers, stability could have been imposed long enough for proper institutions to develop, which might have stabilised the country. The invasion itself however has paved the way for negotiators to resist, for the time being, a nuclear crisis between two regional powers that are presently funding Shia/Sunni proxy wars throughout the Middle East. Local turmoil may be the result and some of that will affect us in the UK but globally I believe we are safer as a result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and if for that reason alone we should not be apologising.
The 2005 London bombings that killed 52 people and the recent Paris attacks that killed 130 are an obvious sign of the affect that Middle East instability is having on our society. The flood of refugees from the stricken areas is another. Dramatic and horrific as those events may be the real danger to us generally is that we over react, allow them to disrupt our way of life and give the impression that we are running scared. The closing down of Brussels for several days, Capital of the European Union, must be regarded as a propaganda victory for ISIS! Guarding against further attack is of course a task that must be afforded the utmost resource but we must also apply a certain amount of proportionality. In 2013 in the US for instance, there were 33,169 firearm related deaths. Many of those also left a trail of bereaving relatives and friends. The UK is no stranger to terrorist acts. In 1605 for instance, Mr.Guy Fawkes and accomplices attempted to blow up the houses of parliament. They were foiled in a success for the security services of the time. Since then there have been many assassination attempts and terrorist attacks, some of them successful but we are still here.
If the prima-facia reason for invading Iraq was to stop regional nuclear weapon development and proliferation (there are also other reasons), one has to ask the question, 'whose nuclear weapon development'? Could it be that the Blair/Bush combination had a chess player among their advisors, who, when viewing the greater picture, saw that the sacrifice of a pawn (Iraq) in 2003, might be of benefit several moves into the global security game?
On 7 Nov 2015, Con Coughlin (CC) Defence Editor of the Daily Telegraph published the article, above. Normally a fan of CC I was disappointed in the tone of the content, its inaccuracies and what was omitted from the article thereby giving an unbalanced view of the ‘Battle’.
Aircraft Carriers – CC writes that the cost of the QE Class carriers has 'rocketed' to £6Bn with the dramatic implication that the Naval budget is taking valuable resources from the other Services. This belies the fact that the original estimate of their cost was £3.9Bn which had risen to £4,1Bn at the time of budget approval. Gordon Brown delayed the delivery of these two ships by two years which promptly added £1.5Bn to the cost such that by SDSR2010 the cost estimate was £5.9Bn. In 2013 the contract was set at £6,2Bn where it has remained, perhaps because BAE has agreed to pay 50% of any cost overruns.
There is no evidence of 'rocketing' costs here, merely that political interference to delay delivery of the ships pushed up the cost unnecessarily. The redesign and back again of the 'cats and traps' farce added a modicum but not a significant amount of increase.
Type 26 – It is believed that the RN needs 19 of these warships so that 13 are available for operations. Already the projected cost is coming under criticism. Media defence journalists overlook the reasons why these and indeed all warships are expensive. It is not the size of the ships that costs, as steel, Chinese or otherwise, is cheap as is the cost of welding it together, usually about 5% of the contract price. It is the ship systems that push up the cost - warships have to be acoustically quiet, stealthy, fuel efficient, be able to operate a helicopter / drone in high sea states, be able to replenish underway at sea, be equipped with sophisticated satcom, tactical communications and data links that are interoperable with NATO systems, carry offensive and defensive weapon systems for ASuW / AAW / ASW / EW, which have to be capable of dealing with a wide range of 'threats' (missiles, torpedoes, aircraft, swarm attacks etc etc), they require advanced NBCD protection. The list is not endless, but it is extensive and very little of it is cheap. Manpower is expensive so is reduced by having sophisticated automated systems - unfortunately many peacetime missions are manpower intensive.
I would agree with many commentators that a small 'second rate' ship for independent ocean and littoral patrol would be ‘sensible’. A good example of the type is the Irish Navy’s Samuel Beckett OPVs at 2,000 tonnes, built by Babcock at Appledore, and which cost about £45m. It is certainly likely that some of the T23s will run on beyond their 'use by' date.
Armchair critics there are a plenty, but the T26 comes better equipped, in the round, than the T45. A new gun (the first in 60 years) a 5" BAe Mk 45 54/62 calibre which has been in USN service for a number of years. The Army needs the RN to upgrade the calibre and range of shore bombardment guns. Sea Ceptor is an excellent replacement for Seawolf, with three times range and no requirement for a FC radar. The T26 will carry Harpoon anti-ship missiles and possibly Tomahawk or its replacement for long range land attack (deep strike). It has a big hangar and flight deck for two Wildcats or two Merlins or a mix, and a mission bay. The ship's company numbers 118 that can be
'surged' to 190 by embarking Royal Marines or even soldiers.
There have been queries as to why the Russian Navy achieved so much recently off Syria with the small Gepard Class Frigates and Buyan Class Corvettes, which were deployed to their Caspian Sea Flotilla. These vessels are 'day runners' and therefore require very modest, even by Russian standards, accommodation. This allows more room for lots of weapons including the Russian equivalent of the Tomahawk, the 'Klub' / Kh35. These ships displace 1,500 and 500 tonnes respectively and are not considered ocean / blue water vessels.
Carrier escorts. A Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is escorted by fewer ships in peace than in war. Typically an AD destroyer (T45), and one or two ASW frigates (T23/26), a SSN (ASW and land attack), a fleet tanker and a stores auxiliary. These supporting ships have their own aircraft (Merlin or Wildcat), which carry ASM and ASW torpedoes. To suggest that this is excessive when the carriers were ordered is naive.
JSF / Lightning II / F35B. It might be logical to add the cost of these aircraft to the overall carrier project. But it is probable that the RAF F35B Squadrons will operate more often from land and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) ones will be permanently carrier based, save when in home port, so it would make more sense to keep the aircraft as a separate cost entity so as to avoid confusion. This is how the costs of the rest of the Carrier Air Group (CAG), the Merlin Mk 2 ASW and Merlin Crowsnest AEW helicopters are presented.
The F35B is always given the soubriquet 'most expensive defence programme ever' by the media, thus giving a perception that the aircraft is also the most expensive to be constructed. This is not true as over 4,000 of these aircraft will be built at some profit to BAe and RR and will benefit from economy of scale. The net result will be an aircraft with a unit cost much less than the Typhoon of which just over 600 will be built, unless there is a significant improvement in its export potential.
Typhoon – I do not understand why the costs of this 4th generation aircraft avoid inspection by the media, although it was slated by the NAO in 2013. The original cost estimate for 232 Air Defence Typhoons was about £8Bn which quickly lifted to a more pragmatic cost of about £13Bn. The cost has now grown to nearly £60Bn for an aircraft that is still not fully operational as a MRCA. Unfortunately the RAF will have only 107 of Tranche 2 & 3 aircraft at a cost of £127m (NAO 2013 price) each.
The RAF has reactivated some 30 of the 50 Tranche 1 Typhoons to keep up the numbers of squadrons and combat aircraft. The plan was to sell the Tranche 1 version to pay for the numerous upgrades for the Tranche 2 & 3 aircraft to enable them to be ‘Multi-Role’ and then ‘Swing-Role’. As yet there have been no sales of the Tranche 1 aircraft. It would seem that to adapt the original AD fighter design to a multi / swing role combat aircraft, which won’t be fully operational until 2020 at least, has cost to date some £45Bn. This would fund 16 aircraft carriers or 90 SSNs, for example.
RAF Combat Aircraft Numbers, as justification for the early removal between 2005 and 2010 of some 400 combat aircraft (Jaguar, Harrier, Tornado F3), was planned around a 'two combat aircraft type fleet' of the F35 and Typhoon and this plan was ‘sold’ to SDSR2010. If there are no export orders for Typhoon that aircraft’s production, already ‘slowed’ by BAe, is set to complete with the delivery of the Tranche 3 aircraft in about 2020. To sustain combat aircraft numbers for the RAF's land / carrier and the FAA's maritime / carrier / amphibious roles at least 96 F35s will be required if not the full 136 originally planned. That is the 'cost' of the RAF's not unreasonable 2 aircraft type decision. The alternative, argued by some, would be to give up the on the F35 and buy an alternative naval aircraft such as the F18 Super Hornet or Rafale N with the consequent alteration costs to the carriers to fit cats and traps.
A400M Atlas – another programme not mentioned by CC; this is a prestige Euro project badly managed by Airbus and which has incurred significant cost overruns, delivery delays and engineering problems. It is said that the unit cost of each aircraft is greater than that of a Typhoon, such that the cost is now classified. So great is the cost that the French, always loyal to Airbus and Euro projects, have augmented their tactical lift fleet by purchasing new C130Js which are priced at a third of the price of an A400M.
P8 Poseidon MPA – It was probably the correct decision not to proceed with the Nimrod Mk4, but to stand down the entire Nimrod fleet post SDSR2010 without considering a replacement, temporary or otherwise was extraordinary. Despite a number of problems the Poseidon is the 'top of the crop' of modern MPA and it is understandable why it is desirable, but the Japanese have a very high tech, cheaper and more readily available alternative in the Kawasaki P-1.
The USN does not intend to replace the Orion P3C one for one with the Poseidon P8, but to augment it with the MQ-4C – Triton, yet there is no indication or planning that the FAA or the RAF is to operate
similarly – which would be a mistake.
Special Forces – it is not clear whether the PM intends more SAS and SBS, or more Royal Marines and Paras. Apparently 40% of the SAS are drawn from the ranks of RM. Given the difficulties and relatively high drop-out rates of recruits to the Paras (already serving soldiers) and to the RM (straight from civilian life) it has to be doubtful how the PM’s plan can be achieved without diluting core skills of these units. It does not help recruitment and retention if the Chancellor has designs on freezing Service pay.
As most SF recruits are drawn from the Corps and the Paras at which stage there is further drop-out rate it would seem, to me, that the PM is indulging in fantasy about the physical and mental stamina of available military personnel - including, soon, women.
(Vice Chairman UKNDA)
The threat is: Naive complacency, fuelled by geo-political ignorance, stimulated by misinformation and perpetuated by pacifist groups who have become very active in political circles.
In one of the most prosperous countries of the world, where malnutrition has been banished and given way to obesity as the main health hazard, where poverty is judged not on basic needs but on what the 'guy next door' is getting, where individual right is pre-eminent and the questioning of authority the norm, that hasn't had war inflicted upon it for the last 3 generations, where any potential foe is deemed to be a long way away and partly because of that distance they don't seem to be all that threatening; the mention of 'a threat' often raises an eyebrow and offers the question of 'what threat'? The apparent inability of the establishment to categorise the threat in the one or two sentence sound bite beloved of the popular media, leaves the way clear for very active pressure groups to put forward their belief that the maintenance of armed forces in general and the nuclear deterrent in particular is nothing more than militaristic aggression that is both unethical and a waste of money.
The threat has a multi-faceted complexity and to understand it you must first consider how this secure and benign environment in which we live has been achieved; beyond that how it is maintained and only then will the threat become apparent. Our wealth has been derived from commercial activity and trade, gradually increasing over the centuries and developing alongside the institutions which govern our society and the rule of law that sets the standards by which we live. The generally secure environment, within which all of these have been able to thrive, has been protected by the force of arms and at times by our forebears fighting and sometimes dying in foreign fields. While the struggle to maintain this benign environment may not be as intense and all consuming as it was in decades past, it goes on to this day.
The struggle to establish and then maintain this secure and stable state of affairs has not been achieved by the UK's efforts alone. We have been very successful in the nurturing of friends and allies (oldest alliance in the world = England/Portugal circa 1373) who broadly share our way of life and have helped to develop a network of democratic nations which sustain the status quo. This global network of inter reliance depends upon many things for its cohesion and not least among these are military alliances and agreements. Although the UK may not now be the most powerful nation on earth, her position at the head of the commonwealth, status within the United Nations, voice in the EU, history of stable government, backed by a constitutional monarchy with 3 further generations of legitimate heirs ready to take over (which is an insurance policy against extreme political adventurism), an economy that has not defaulted for 700 years with the oldest working currency in the world and a record of supporting friends and allies when they are in need, give her an influence that belies her size. Despite what some critical groups may claim, the maintenance of a strong military stature is one of the things that our friends and allies see as our commitment to the overall security of this family of nations. A scaling back of that ability will be seen by some as a loss of commitment to our common security and by others as weakness.
Our armed forces help to bolster not only ourselves, fourteen sovereign territories with 2.3 million square miles of ocean (excluding Antarctica) and NATO but also through article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty, all of the EU; all of the commonwealth who may call upon us for support and by default through them, other nations with which they have defence agreements. Those defence interests span the globe and while it may no longer be true to say that the sun never sets upon the British Empire, it still shines continuously upon the UK's responsibilities. While we in the UK sit comfortably on the eastern edge of the North Atlantic with, in one direction, the whole of Europe as a buffer between us and Russia, the Middle east and Africa and North America acting as a breakwater in the other direction, to the troubles of Asia, many of our friends and allies do not have the same isolation from problematic neighbours. From our standoff position however, with our multi layered defence force, all the way up to the nuclear deterrent, we give support and act as a reserve that strengthens the whole network of like minded nations and in a way, because of our distance from the 'wire', that is not immediately threatening to nations that lie outside our network of friends. The UK's forces therefore act as a stabilising influence so that we can all maintain the status quo of peaceful watchfulness and respect for what we and possible foes are capable of.
The long term threat of course is that the network unravels; the nations closer to what they deem to be immediate threats experience a surge of militaristic necessity and arms races, including possible nuclear proliferation ensue; with the world becoming a far more dangerous place. The UK's military is one of the elements that maintain the present stability and people should not delude themselves into thinking that the world geo political chemistry will remain unchanged if it is taken out of the mix. Consider the previously put question of why the UK does not have carrier battle groups? Answer - because the Americans have them and we are in an alliance. When the previous UK government came to power in 2010, had it not been for contractual fiscal penalties, the indications are that they would have cancelled the building of the two Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers and for virtually the whole period of that government their fate was in question. Following the announcement that the US was pivoting its forces towards the Pacific and putting less emphasis on European defence, there is now a commitment to complete both carriers and bring them into full service. The bolstering of the UK's armed forces in that way emphasises a commitment to the common defence, helps to keep our main ally, the US, on board and shows the militarily less capable nations that we still have the capability to stand by them. If we reduce our capability and the US, sensing a failure of commitment, turns her back on European defence, what would the result be? Would the Germans for example, who can see a resurgent Russian military flexing its muscles and who in response have decided to increase their tank numbers by almost 50% but who also presently shelter under the nuclear umbrella provided by us, decide that they must take a much stronger military stance!!? What of the nations even closer to the east/west divide; the 3 NATO Baltic states are currently feeling extremely exposed?
By preparing for war we are ensuring peace and it is not an exaggeration to say that the immediate threat is that a misinformed and disinterested public may allow elements within the British political scene to emasculate the UK's forces, which could act as the catalyst for world instability. It is time for the establishment, i.e. Government, MOD and interested parties, to step forwarded, challenge the misinformation that is being transmitted through various media and educated the UK public to the truth of what our armed forces stand for and what they achieve. If they do not, then 'Naive Complacency' may increase and instability follow.