Since the formation of the Coalition government in 2010, the Prime Minister, The Rt Hon David Cameron MP, has regularly reaffirmed his commitment to the Defence of the Realm as his government’s ‘first duty’:
‘First, on defence: protecting our national security is a first priority for all of us as national leaders, and for the UK (let me be clear) NATO has been and will remain the bedrock of our national defence.’ (PM’s speech to the European Council, Dec 2013)
‘The first priority of a Prime Minister is to try to keep your country safe and that means not having some lah-di-dah, airy-fairy view about what this all means.’ (PM’s speech to the European Council, Oct 2013)
‘The first priority of the Government is the defence of the realm. Strong defence, protecting our interests.’ (PM’s interview with Plymouth Herald, Oct 2010)
A recent e-mail to the UKNDA board expressed concern that ‘rockets’ fired at ISIS jihadists in northern Iraq by Tornado aircraft and Reaper UAVs might encourage a response with weapons of a similar nature. The writer alluded to the difficulties national air defence encountered in dealing with V1s and V2s in the last years of WW2.
The last bombing campaign by Goering’s Luftwaffe petered out in May 1944 and thereafter German air attack was delivered by the V1, a cruise missile, and the V2 a ‘theatre’ ballistic missile. The V1 could be destroyed either by gunfire or by the dramatic manoeuvre of flying a manned fighter aircraft alongside wing tip to wing tip and physically tipping it off course. There was no system that could detect or counter the V2.
So what is the threat from the colleagues of ‘Jihadi John’ and other rogue states and organisations? The Middle East is awash with a variety of short, medium range (theatre) and inter-continental ballistic missiles with ranges from 100 to well in excess of 2000 miles. Not many, if any, are believed to be hands of ISIS (yet); however, the distance from Aleppo to London is 2,100 miles. It is also swamped with cruise missiles whose range varies from short to 1500+ miles. These can be launched from submarines, ships, land vehicles and aircraft.
It is not inconceivable that a renegade group might gain control of one of these systems and, if so, it is possible they might decide to launch a rocket in retaliation at the UK or Western Europe. What system in the UK can protect against such an attack? Unlike the nations of Europe the UK has not invested in any land-based anti-missile or ballistic missile defence (ABM or BMD). They can be detected but there is no ‘hard-kill’ able to destroy them. National Air Defence (AD) is primarily the responsibility of the RAF who by 2020 will have 107 Multi-role Combat Aircraft (the Typhoon) and an as yet unknown number of F35B Lightning II aircraft, the latter being shared with the Fleet Air Arm. These aircraft have no capability against ballistic missiles and a limited capability against cruise missiles, which flying at low altitude to avoid detection, will be difficult to destroy as a fighter aircraft will need to be in the right place at the right time.
The UK has Surface to Air Missiles (SAM); the Army and RAF deploy Rapier, a system in service and regularly updated since 1971. It is a point defence short range weapon for protection of military and other key sites against aircraft. It is due to go out of service in 2020. There is a plan to replace Rapier with a land based version of the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile, which has been selected for the Royal Navy’s T23 & T26 Frigates and is known as Sea Ceptor. CAMM has a range of 13.5 nm (25km) and like Seawolf the system it replaces, is a point, or self, defence missile system designed to destroy anti-ship cruise missiles and aircraft. It has no capability against ballistic missiles.
The Royal Navy’s and the UK’s only long range AD system is the Sea Viper Missile carried by the six T45 Destroyers, which are primarily designed for anti-aircraft and anti-missile warfare. Detection of targets is by the Sampson AESA and Type S1850M long-range radars, which can track more than 1000 targets at ranges of up to 200+nm. The system can track, target and destroy a variety of high performance air threats, including saturation attacks of very low altitude (sea skimming) supersonic cruise missiles, fighter aircraft and UAVs using either the Aster30 (long range) or Aster15 (short range) SAM It can launch 8 missiles in under 10 seconds while simultaneously guiding up-to 16 missiles to designated targets at any one time. With only 48 missiles onboard it could – in theory – empty its silos in about a minute. Importantly, the system can track ballistic missiles and funding is in hand to develop its ABM/BMD role.
However, the RN’s mission for the T45 is ‘to shield the Fleet from air attack’; not, therefore, the United Kingdom, which remains, uniquely in the western world, undefended from the most likely form of aerial bombardment. NATO takes the ballistic and cruise missile threat more seriously. The Patriot missile has a BMD capability and is deployed by Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece and the US Army in Europe. There are NATO European plans for integrated BMD in the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) which is being implemented in three phases.
Phase 1 uses a combination of ship naval and land-based missile defence systems which share a common architecture and missile. The core component is a deckhouse enclosure which contains the command and control centre, and enhanced SPY-1(D) radar similar to those aboard USN destroyers and cruisers. The vertical launching system contains 24 SM-3 missiles. The USA is building three ‘Aegis Ashore’ sites: the test site is in Barking Sands, Hawaii, and the other two are at the Deveselu Air Base in Romania and Redzikowo in Poland. (http://cimsec.org/not-fathers-aegis/13697).
In Phase 2 NATO’s Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) command and control network will be operational at an initial level. Additionally France, Italy and, possibly, Poland will have land-based BMD systems of their own and it’s possible that ALTBMD compatible BMD-capable ships will be included. The Netherlands Navy is already upgrading its ships to be able to track ballistic targets and to re-equip with the SM-3 missile. PAAMS missiles are carried by British, French and Italian warships.
In Phase 3 which is expected to be delivered in, or about, 2018, the US hopes to deploy longer-range SM-3 missiles on both USN ships and ashore at Redzikowo, and thus contribute to the BMD of Northern Europe. This system is intended to kill all shorter range types of Ballistic Missiles and have some capability against the very long range intercontinental range missiles (ICBMs). It is reckoned that just three locations for the long range SM-3 will provide ABM / BMD cover for all of Europe.
In the meantime ABM / BMD protection for the UK and Europe is provided by USN cruisers and destroyers based off western European coasts. The UK’s contribution to this effort will, or might be, the T45 destroyers. But of the twelve originally ordered, and paid for, only six were built and their task remains to protect the deployed fleet not the UK. Thus the UK relies upon the USN and European allies to the East for its air defence against ballistic missile attack. The last conventional bombing raid against these islands was seventy years ago. The last, and probably the next, air attack was and will be delivered by ballistic missile. We had no defence in 1944 and we have none now and there is a hole in our defences.
Cdr Graham Edmonds RN
(Vice Chairman, UKNDA)