Government is seriously considering axing HMS Albion and Bulwark, severely curtailing UK amphibious capability. Recent reports suggest the new defence secretary is resisting the cuts and is in a battle with the Treasury for new funding. If the Treasury needs reminding, speaking before the House of Commons Defence Select Committee this week, the former First Sea Lord Admiral Zambellas said: “Nobody in the world of complex warfare thinks a reduction in sophisticated amphibiosity is a good idea”. The LPDs (Landing Platform, Dock) Albion and Bulwark are the key ships needed for credible amphibious capability.
1. Amphibious capability is a strategic part of our conventional deterrence
To be ready for unexpected events, the RN has developed the Response Force Task Group (RFTG) and more recently the Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) concepts. These are exercised during annual deployments to maintain amphibious capability and have been centred on HMS Ocean or the LPDs. (although in recent years the number of ships and marines participating has been reducing as the navy has been hollowed out). There JEF(M) is an important tool for the government foreign policy.
There may be increasing public opposition to involvement in major overseas conflicts but our amphibious forces provide the option for small-scale raiding, interventions and humanitarian operations. Our Amphibious forces offer potentially large strategic impact for a relatively low cost. In the mid-1990s the RN had a plan for a balanced amphibious force which eventually delivered HMS Ocean (LPH), HMS Albion & Bulwark (LPD) and the 4 Bay class (LSD(A). The entire cost of these 7 ships (at 2010 prices) was just £1.26 Billion.
2. Other nations are investing, not cutting
Should the government cut the LPDs, be prepared for disingenuous claims about how “amphibious warfare has changed and we are adjusting our doctrine accordingly”. The rest of the world does not agree that LPDs are redundant and many nations are striving to modernise their amphibious vessels or gain the capability. It should be noted that the US, China, Russia and France can all deploy and support amphibious forces over distance and the UK could drop out of that club. Australia, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Singapore, Netherlands, China, Italy and South Korea have also all invested in modern LPH and LPDs.
3. You cannot do amphibious assault entirely by air
The justification for axing HMS Ocean is that troops will go ashore by helicopter from one of the new aircraft carriers. As already discussed, this is a flawed concept, even with LPD support. It may make sense to deliver the first wave of troops quickly by air from a deck, far out to sea, instead of by slow landing craft from a vulnerable stationary ship close to the beach. Unfortunately, Troops need heavy weapons, vehicles, fuel food and ammunition which cannot be delivered in sufficient quantity by helicopter. In more intense conflict, armoured vehicles, artillery or even a few main battle tanks may be required. Unless there is a convenient port close by, the armour and logistic support must be delivered over the beach even if in a ’second wave’ after the helicopter-borne troops have secured the area.
Armed Forces Minister Mark Lancaster recently suggested that even if we lost the LPDs, we still retain some amphibious capability with the RFA Bay class landing ships. This is very misleading. The Bays are auxiliaries designed to carry additional stores to support the LPDs. They carry a single landing craft (LCU) as opposed to the 4 LCUs and 4 LCVPs that the LPDs can carry. They are manned by merchant sailors and not intended to spearhead an amphibious assault. More importantly, they are a victim of their own success. The inherent flexibility of amphibious platforms has made them well suited to other roles. One of the three remaining ships is permanently forward-deployed in the Gulf supporting minehunters and they have been used to conduct humanitarian operations and anti-narcotics patrols in the Caribbean. The Royal Marines have had limited opportunity to exercise with the Bay class which are often in use for other things.
4. We would be throwing away decades of investment
HMS Albion recently completed a £90 Million refit at Devonport and was planned to be the high-readiness amphibious ship for the next 5 years. In 2013 RM Tamar was constructed as base for Royal Marine landing craft at a cost of £30M. There has been considerable investment in specialised amphibious kit and equipment for the Marines and the navy. Axing the LPDs, together with the loss of HMS Ocean (refitted at a cost of £65M between 2014-15) represents a ludicrous waste of money and hard-won defence assets.
5. We would be letting down our NATO and European partners
The amphibious capability of the UK is integrated into NATO planning. The Dutch marines have especially close ties with the Royal Marines and frequently exercise together. As Brexit looms, it would be especially poor timing to abandon a critical defence relationship with our European allies. The US Marine Corps also enjoys a good relationship and mutual respect for the Royal Marines and several senior US officers have already spoken out against proposed cuts. At a time when we need a trade deal with the US, any significant downgrading in our defence capability would be poorly received by president Trump who expects Europeans to be shouldering more of their own defence costs.
6. They are well suited to humanitarian aid and relief work
Recent history suggests the RN is more frequently involved in disaster relief work or humanitarian operations than in combat. The LPDs and UK amphibious forces are especially well suited to this work and it would be foolish to diminish this important soft power asset.
7. They have valuable command and control facilities
The LPDs have large, purpose-built facilities designed primarily to exercise control over amphibious assault operations. The facility can also command a task group at sea or other operations – HMS Bulwark was used as the control centre for the security of the 2012 Olympic sailing events at Portland. There are no other large C3 facilities available in the fleet apart from aboard the QE aircraft carriers. Most of the time, only one of the carriers is likely to be available, leaving the RN with very limited flagship options.
8. The RN needs as many hulls as possible
Put simply, the RN needs ships. The loss of the 2 LPDs would be a further decline in hull numbers. (One of the LPDs has been kept in mothballs or refit since 2010). Mass matters and the LPDs are large, capable ships able to perform in many roles beyond their core assault function. Rescuing migrants, evacuating British Citizens or protecting the Olympics are all tasks these versatile ships have performed since they joined the fleet. For officers who aspire to senior rank, they are an important intermediate stepping stone, a step up from a frigate or destroyer command on the way to becoming a candidate to captain an aircraft carrier or attain flag rank.
9. Once a capability is gone, it is difficult or impossible to regenerate
If we dispose of the LPDs we will quickly lose the institutional knowledge and experience of amphibious operations built up over decades. Once lost, it would be expensive, difficult and take years to regenerate this capability from scratch.
10. The wrong signal at the wrong time
As discussed in a previous article, axing the LPDs at the same time as HMS Ocean would call into question the future of Devonport naval base. We do not have ships to justify bases but we need to keep options open and retain skilled workers available to support the RN in an emergency or allow future expansion. Cutting the LPDs would further damage the morale of the navy and marines, cause loss of civilian support jobs and above all, say to our allies and potential enemies we are not serious about defence.
I totally agree, if there must be a cut in naval expenditure and they are thinking about HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark then why not do it a different way. Hand both ships over to a newly created ‘relief fleet’ paid for with monies from the international aid budget. It would mean that we keep this capability until the nations finances are either in a condition to bring them back into the fleet or build new.
This option would also mean that front line warships would not need to be deployed for rescue missions.
What a joke I would have thought the politicians would have learnt there lessons by now explain Boris johnson
How can you keep moral up please don’t do the poor managementof Cameroon and Blair if you want to know look at history
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/202588 Prevent the cuts, please re-post this link, prevent MP group think that cutting assets is sensible or sustainable – keep HMS Ocean / HMS Bulwark / HMS Albion / all the mine hunters / The 1000 marines / The type 23s / Sustain the R & D and replacement ship building projects – http://www.military-today.com/navy/type_054a_class.htm http://russianships.info/eng/today/ http://petitionmap.unboxedconsulting.com/?petition=202588
Did we not learn from the loss of Atlantic conveyer what results from putting all your eggs onto one ship? – http://www.atlantic-conveyor.co.uk
Was nothing learnt from the Falkland’s?
1) Ships get hit, put out of action and sometimes get sunk – The ability to survive attrition is what wins a war
2) Using HMS Queen Elizabeth as a poor man’s assault ship does not make sense for several reasons – Can she maneuver on her own against a lee shore ANS: No she needs a tug
3) What bureaucrat thinks that an aircraft carrier can serve as an assault ship? Can an aircraft carrier get in close to shore to disembark marines, tanks, and troop vehicles – Under fire – under fire ANS: NO how much money was just spent dredging the channel into Portsmouth? What does this tell the Bureaucrat spreadsheet analyst who is trying to reduce the defence budget?
Incidentally – Is the Aircraft carrier equipped to go into a contested environment? NO – a couple or motorised Gatling guns and machine gunners hanging over the side is as laughable as it represents a tragic inability to put peoples life’s in front of a financial spreadsheet
Even this Unionist Propaganda Platform admit what we have long known, the the British Armed Forces under the Tories are no longer fit for purpose. What is the point of the Union if they can’t even protect us. What is the point of Trident if it is bleeding funds which should go into conventional defence. What is the point of the whole sorry mess?
The fact is that years after it was recognised that Britain has lost an empire and doesn’t know what to do, the mess of the Royal Navy, its lack of ships and its manning problems merely encapsulates the total failure of the United Kingdom
Irish Republican sympathiser by chance?
No actually, I certainly don’t sympathise with any form of Irish Republicanism or any physical force movement, though I would say that the configuration of the naval branch of the Irish Defence Forces is better for carrying out its task than the Royal Navy which really needs a new Fisher.
Thank you again, STRN, for articulating a view I share… is there anyway of sending this to every MP?
Once again I agree with all the logic of this article, you have missed however the ability for these to act as mother ships for unmanned assets and also as light helicopter carriers alongside a carrier.
Their utility is far greater than even this article discusses.
Wears an island and we have always had a first class Royal Navy we still need one.
I think no 4 is the best argument. So much money already recently spent on these ships.
Pure madness lets uild it up not cut the navy and even if you do cut don’t cut the spearhead !
Would HMS Albion ( name for Britain! ) and sistership HMS Bulwark be placed in reserve or Flogged off cheap for a few more plastic coffee cups for Treasury/MOD?
End the madness and put defence beyond the Treasury’s ridiculousness.
It either the amphibs or a carrier. You can’t man or afford both. Defence has a £15 billion hole in the budget and we need to be realistic.
We can afford to keep giving £billions of Britain’s hard earned money away every year to foreign countries though (“foreign aid”), right?
Yes we can, The LPDs and the carriers are bought and paid for, we already have crews for the active LPD and QE (that’s why Ocean went – to free 600 crew). If we axe the ships we will still have sailors to pay so all we will save is the annual running costs of the LPDs, which are small about £30 million a year for the active ship and even less for the one laid up. The £10-£15 billion black hole in the budget is caused by upcoming procurement mostly and not day to day running costs.
That’s the foreign aid. It has black hole because it is being underfunded. How come frontline is being affected.
So HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark each cost around 130 million pounds back when ordered, which today is still only around 255 million pounds.
The 154 or 139 million pound price by Vickers (Latter lower due to a Vickers subsidy), for a shorter life ship does look to of been a worse deal compared to Swan Hunter’s longer life standard which put the price at 210 million, for an estimated 10 plus years of service (or certainly without very expensive refits), which could have meant less maintenance etc. The 210 million pound price back then is still only about 390 million pounds in 2016.
Why is the frontline being affected?
http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/defence-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/inquiry5/commons-written-submission-form/ http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/defence-committee/royal-marines-web-forum-17-19/ . Those are the links to put your views and reason across.
I’ve been re-reading this article to help me compile my response on the link that you note. I suspect that most people who signed the original online petition have been invited to give their views.
This is exactly what I am doing, I was surprised I got a follow up e-mail asking for my views. perhaps the politicians are starting to listen or is that just being too optimistic?
I would encourage all who view this site to sign the petition and give there views, mine will be going in shortly
Unfortunately the Navy top brass were allowed to go on an unnecessary ego trip and order the construction of two fleet carriers. We will never be able to “man” both of these at the same time and given the problems of our destroyer fleet we will be hard pressed to deploy a single carrier task group. Given the state of defence spending this was utter madness. The only way we will ever be able to do anything with them will be to tag along as a political gesture to a US carrier Task group. Given current POTUS is that what we really want.?
Badly let down by senior defence staff in my view and if the proposed cuts go ahead our once proud navy will be a laughing stock.