Judgement on the SDSR announcements made today will very much depend on the lens through which you view it. There maybe plenty of room for improvement, but taken in the context of austerity and the ‘rock bottom’ 2010 review, today’s announcements can be seen as broadly very good news for the RN. It must not be forgotten that the UK still has huge public debt, the annual interest on which is nearly equivalent to the whole defence budget. Many government departments are facing major cuts while the MoD has at last seen a small increase and finally achieved some semblance of financial stability.
For the RN leadership there can be some quiet satisfaction in achieving key objectives. The cornerstone aircraft carrier and Trident successor projects remain firmly on track. In a tight fiscal environment something quite special has been pulled off, some of the SDSR 2010 damage is being put right.
Trident successor submarines
The procurement cost of the Trident successor submarines is now realistically costed at £31Bn with a healthy £10Bn put aside to cover contingencies. This is an encouraging sign of better management. Rather than over-optimistic estimates storing up problems for the future, sufficient funds are in place. It is also good to see a sensible plan for 4 boats, not the 3 boat compromise so many have argued for. Final Parliamentary approval for the project should be forthcoming in the next few months but watch for growing anti-Trident rhetoric from the usual suspects.
A credible carrier air group
The order for 42 F35Bs is a vote of confidence in the carrier project and allows for a baseline air group of 24 aircraft that will silence the ill-informed critics whining about “building aircraft carriers with no aircraft”. There are many aspects of the carrier project that can be criticised but lets get them into commission and make the case for upgrades in future.
8 x Type 26 frigates and an escort fleet of ‘at least ’19 ships
Although desirable, it was always unlikely there would be a single order for 13 Type 26 frigates. Warships are ordered (and paid for) in batches. An order for 8 ships is a very large batch by post-war standards. However there is some uncertainly about what could follow.
“We will also launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of lighter, flexible general purpose frigates so that by the 2030s we can further increase the total number of frigates and destroyers.”
Recent plans suggested the final 5 Type 26s would be a general purpose variant optimised for their export potential but there is now a suggestion of some thing completely different. Corvette was a ‘dirty word’ in RN circles until recently but could we be seeing a re-birth of the Black Swan ‘sloop of war’? (Update- this is not the case, the RN does not plan to build corvettes – see later post) There is a real aspiration that cheaper ships offer the opportunity to grow escort hull numbers beyond 19, but the quality and quantity of these vessels will be controversial. The spectre of the Type 45 which went from a requirement for 12 ships down to 6 ships actually built, still casts something of a shadow.
6 x offshore patrol vessels
The 3 batch II ‘River’ Class OPVs currently being built on the Clyde, mainly as a job creation scheme until the Type 26 Frigate work begins, will be supplemented by an order for further 2 vessels. Assuming the 3 Batch I OPVs are retired and Falklands patrol ship HMS Clyde is retained, the RN will eventually have a fleet of 6 helicopter-capable OPVs
A modest manpower increase
The RN had already wisely decided to re-balance manpower slightly, reducing officer numbers by 300 to be replaced by 600 ratings. David Cameron actually mentioned an extra 400 RN personnel, but either way this is a very modest increase and the RN may still need to argue for more.
9 x Boeing Poseidon P-8 maritime patrol aircraft
Buying the P-8 is a most welcome decision. Although inevitably to be operated by the RAF for reasons of historical precedence, they will from a critical part of our maritime defences, providing greater security for our ballistic missile submarines. 9 aircraft is the bare minimum needed to form a credible squadron but the aircraft is the best choice, given the available options. In this rare case government is to be commended for finally prioritising the needs of the frontline ahead of what might be deemed best for domestic industry. Spending several £billion in the United States because British industry has failed to deliver is the right decision. Complex decisions about the integration of UK weapons and sensors remain, but it is a fine platform to work with.
3 x Solid support ships
The RFA will get replacements for the ageing solid stores ships Fort Rosalie, Fort Austin and the more modern, general purpose Fort Victoria. However there is no mention of replacements for RFA Argus or Diligence.
Upgrades to the Type 45 must wait
It had been hoped that funds would be found to fit 2 8-cell Mk41 VLS to the Type 45s which would allow them to carry various weapons including Tomahawk land attack missiles and SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles. Although this will have to wait, there will be a machinery improvement package that should finally cure their propulsion problems.
Amphibious capability – as you were
As expected no replacement for HMS Ocean, which will retire around 2018-19 has been forthcoming and the operational aircraft carrier will have to double as a helicopter assault ship. HMS Albion and Bulwark will be retained but with one operational at a time. The Royal Marines and 3 Commando Brigade appear to be in tact with rumours of an Army take over unfounded.
No immediate cuts to the existing fleet
The existing fleet is survives unscathed with the threat of further ships cut or going into reserve or proving to be unfounded. This alone is an achievement, for many years the RN has been forced to prematurely retire assets in return for the promise of new vessels in the future. There will be a reduction in minehunters from 15 down to 12 but it is unclear when this will happen. Salami slicing the RN’s excellent mine warfare capability has been going on for decades but perhaps this will be slightly offset by investment in unmanned mine hunting technology.
Caveats and concerns
Despite the good news there are many caveats and areas for concern. This generation of politicians has managed to create such low expectations for defence that it is easy to exceed them and appear upbeat. The world is a far more unstable and dangerous place than in 2010 and the threat of Russia in particular is undeniable. To fully address these threats, small adjustments to the defence budget, even if going in the right direction, will not be enough. It will require a significant change in mind-set and outlook that the public and most politicians in the UK and Europe seem unwilling to make.
Spending something around 2% of GDP on defence will never provide sufficient resources needed address decades of neglect and decline. For all of the today’s positive news, UK defence spending still drifting towards a record low.
By the late 2020s the RN’s capital ships will comprise 2 aircraft carriers, about 19 surface escorts and 7 attack submarines. However modern these vessels will be, numbers remain wholly inadequate.
It is all very well to make promises about future equipment but as we can see in the last five years, events can quickly overtake planning and assumptions. In the approximately 7 years between now and when HMS Queen Elizabeth and her air group become fully operational, it is safe to predict the world will witness major geo-political changes and probably experience further economic turmoil. Despite the many positive aspects of SDSR 2015, there is an alarming lack of urgency in delivery schedules, a lack of numbers, and a lack of strength in depth across the whole of the UK armed forces.
The answers to many complex defence issues can’t all be delivered in a single Parliamentary statement so expect to see much more detail emerge in the coming months. The devil in the details will reveal more about whether these promises can really be delivered and the if right choices have been made.
Despite the considerable concerns and uncertainties, this Defence Review is the first in many years that is not about cuts and more about future investment. The 23rd November 2015 can be remembered as a good day at the office for the Royal Navy.
- Strategic Defence and Security Review: £178bn of equipment spending (Gov.UK)
- National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 (HM Govt – PDF)
- Reacting to the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (RUSI)
I still don’t see how we will have a destroyer and frigate strength of 19. 6 x type 45 and 8 x type 26 equals 14.
Type 23 will be 35 plus by then. They won’t be sea worthy by 2025.
Ocean will be scrapped in 2019. Bulwark and Albion we can’t afford to keep both going now so we moth ball one.
Total joke. 34 years service to rn think I know what I’m talking about.
6 x T45 + 8 x T26 + 5 x “Light GP Frigate” = 19
To improve to Royal Navy. Build 13 Type 26 frigates. 4 New Nuclear submarines to replace the vanguard. Atleast 100 F-35Bs for carriers, training and land based. Massively increased recruitment and increasing spending of gdp on defence to 3-4%.
34 years in the RN? Sounds like you might be a little blinkered and bitter and aren’t aware of the refit work which is about to be put on stream. 😉
There has to be some new thinking. My theory is we should have at least a second tier of warships. Surface and sub surface. The surface element can operate as flag showing gunboats with Helicopter, SSM and SAM capability and in times of trouble be always partnered with ‘Uboats’.
I’ve always thought a class similar size to the Leanders, modern propulsion but tailored weapon fits, AAW, ASW etc. Can’t understand the need for a 7000 ton frigate?
I said U-boats and I am impressed by the German Navy’s new subs. I think there is a case that a balanced fleet should include some SSKs and pairing these with light frigates to provides that. There are several areas of strategic interest (including our home waters) where a SSK and a light frigate would pose a real deterent to any likely adversary at a realistic cost and low level of manning.
I’m pleased with the review and hope that now the main weaknesses of no Aircraft carriers and MPAs has been addressed the other parts of the picture will be addressed.
Wow. Not long ago the RN had 12 Type 42s and 16 Type 23s. Being replaced by a fleet exactly half the size. Royal Coast Guard might be more appropriate. The sad, sad decline of Britain…
Lots of talk about pieces of metal that are not going to come on line until the next decade (after another review in 2020 by the way) and no mention on the Real elephant in the room MANPOWER.
400 more matelots is nowhere near enough!
But at least they have not with Pay as was reported!
Manpower manpower manpower thats what the navy needs more than anything at the moment. The crisis has hit many of the engineering branches ME, ME(SM) and WE’s are all currently being propped up by the AE branch. 400 people wont fix that issue.
Its not just about engineers other branches are struggling too!
Are the orders for two more OPV’s about retaining skills or is it necessary do we think to replace the earlier River Class? I thought that we had only recently bought them outright. Other than this it all makes sense to me at a time when local government funding is being thrashed the services seem to have done fairly well, though I do appreciate the comments about manpower, hopefully newer ships will need smaller crews which may help little
Don’t get too excited about those F-35s all lined up in the title of this piece as the raf will demand its ‘share’ of them. In other words nearly all of them! I continue to have my doubts about this aircraft. Whether it is robust enough for shipboard life and its ability to survive in action. I foresee another grounding this time with worrying cracks in parts of the airframe. Probaly those same parts that underwent a weight trimming exorcise(reducing their strength) when the aircraft became too porky.
I agree the time share of F35’s with the RAF is not going to end well. Bereft of decent ground strike aircraft the RAF will make sure the FAA squadron is the only one with F35’s that is regularly deployed to the carriers. It seems the RAF work practices are less strenuous than RN with more down time. I can see comical scenes aboard when the men in light blue ensconced in their control tower aft, lock the doors, turn off the lights and put up a sign saying gone fishing!
We should just stuff nato and increase our spending to 4 per cent of our gpd. If we did this we could more than double all our forces becuase if you build more of a certain weapon it’s cheaper. I know we can no longer build any more type 45s but we could make a lot more type 26s and even equip at least 6 with the Sampson radar and other sensors used on the type 45s to make them just as cable as them. We could also upgrade the type 45s with tomahawk missles and ASW equipment like stingray torps
We who have served in submarines ,know that the R.A.F. Will do everything in it’s Power to Thwart the Navy’s aircraft assets . Don’t let them have the P8
Sorry – but that’s rhubarb. RN has never really operated serious fixed wing anti-sub assets. We who worked on Nimrods… know you’re just worried of getting thrashed again on ex 😛
This thing about building only 8 – Type 26 Frigates, then making up the rest of the replacements for the Type 23 with a new light Frigate, doesn’t have me convinced that this will actually occur.
It all came out of the blue, didn’t it?. Actually, we should be building 16 new Frigates, as that was the true number of the Type 23 class, but in the mid 2000’s the Labour government sold off 3 very new Frigates.
This new light Frigate, if it does happen, i can see it being quite a stripped down, weapons wise warship.
I always thought it was cheaper to build a warship in greater numbers as the unit costs come down. Can’t see how designing a new warship will really save that much money.
I have 2 question 1.I wonder if the new light frigates are just in fact OPVs or a mini Type 26?
2. As a Malaysian who studied in UK( sense of affinity), i must warn that the South China Sea is building up to be the future conflict zone. It may not be strategic to UK but your contribution or lack of it will relate to your relationship to the USA. How do you view this?
The Type 31 ‘light frigate’ will definitely not be an OPV but something of similar size to the current Type 23 (considerably smaller and less capable than Type 26).
UK policy on China is confused. On the one hand Govt is signing trade agreements with the Chinese and anxious for their investment in large infrastructure projects but on the other hand we are committed to 5PA and making defence co-operation agreements with Japan. If it came to a conflict in the SCS, then ultimately the UK would almost certainly heavily back its key ally the US although its military contribution would probably be limited to providing a few reliefs for US forces in other theatres. Both the military and economic global impact of conflict with China are so awful to contemplate that the US and Europe are desperate to avoid it.
Pathetic! 3 Carriers, 2 helicopter carrier ships, 4 assualt ships Albion, 4 Bay type ships, 20 Destroyers and 30 Frigates as top line ships. then the Corvettes and sloops, mine hunter/sweepers, coastal/border etc… That is what this Country deserves and needs, along with all RFA’s built in this Country which would help to create a more effecient shipbuilding sector (for warships and commercail) and grow this sector if those in power were intelligent, dynamic and forward thinking enough!!!!!! If not, we do not deserve a Royal Navy and even any Merchant Navy and should not be involved with the sea!!!
I agree with some of your comments Darren. I have learned today that the Russian Navy is steaming towards us for a massive show of strength, on our very own doorstep.!! It will be interesting to see how this materialises.
I am MN and ex RN, my family were all engine room branch (both RN and MN) in the battle of the Atlantic my grandfather was down below at Jutland. Like it or not we are and we allways will be involved with the sea, Its in our blood. I understand your frustration, its up to all and every one of us to make our case heard. Hopefully somebody will listen!
better off replacing ocean with illustrious buying back the 72 harriers that went to the u.s for 180 million (the cost of two f35’s get lancaster back to sea, not rotting in pompey harbour arm bulwark and albion properly retitle themlanding class cruisers, bin the f35b maybe drag bristol into dry dock and rebuild her from the inside out to type 45 specs.make opv’s proper warships with a ram 116 system, sonar and asroc simples!
why do wecomplain about just 7 subs when we’ve got (19) ‘laid up ‘ at rosyth and devonport, 3 trafalgars, thewhole swiftsure class, some already tomahawk capable.
Please sign and share my petition – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/175058 – The original text – I had to shorten it – A petition to the House of Commons – That Parliament debate the following -“That, due to its short sighted, incompetent, dangerous, even traitorous defence policy this house has no confidence in the government”.
The first duty of any government is the defence of the realm and its people – something this government blatantly neglects to do.
The U.K.’ woefully low escort fleet could shrink even further reports the Commons Defence Select Committee.
Sir John Parker reports that “Old ships are retained in service well beyond their sell by date with all the attendant high costs of so doing. This vicious cycle is depleting the RN fleet and unnecessarily costing the tax payer. It has to be broken”.
What does the government do in response? Nothing.
The principle defence of our ships from enemy vessels, Harpoon is to be de-commissioned before a replacement is available, just as Nimrod, the Harriers and the aircraft carriers were de-commissioned before replacements were available. The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Phillip Jones has written “For most of my 38-year career, the story of the Royal Navy has been one of gradual, managed contraction. Now at long last we have an opportunity to reverse this trend”. This is not the same as the implementation of an action plan, only an aspiration, wishful thinking. He has not even announced that the first of the Type 45 destroyers has entered refit to rectify its defects. Most of Britain’s trade is carried by sea. We need a fleet capable of defending it and undertake our other world-wide responsibilities.
The army has been deliberately shrunken to the size of a militia. Service personnel have, despicably, been made redundant days or even hours before individuals would have qualified for the pensions to which they would otherwise have been entitled.
The Royal Air Force has too few fast jets and no maritime reconnaissance capability, with replacements for some time in the future.
The Army Reserve is considerably below the vastly optimistic strength we had been led to expect.
There is a thread that runs through these repeated failures and short comings, i.e., the completely incompetent lack of spending priorities.
Our defence spending and much else can be funded by an immediate succession from the European Union, thus saving billions each year. This will immediately allow the United Kingdom to reach trade agreements across the entire globe. Foreign aid should be abolished and replaced with a policy of “Trade not Aid” and funds for disaster relief taking its place. At present foreign aid goes to countries that do not need it. All too often foreign aid funds corruption and certainly does not reach the people for whom it was intended to benefit. Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. The deportation of foreign offenders will save millions of pounds each year, leading also to greater security within our prisons and the attendant cost savings, HS2 is nothing better than a vanity project. Scrapping it will save millions and preserve the environment. Conversely, the electrification of the railways will reap huge benefits in terms of the cost of railway operations and the environment. The scandal of health tourism with NHS trusts incompetent failures to recover the cost of the treatment of foreign nationals continues. All these examples illustrate the totally shameless policy of the government by its failure to attend to its duty and properly fund the armed services when the necessary funds can be found and that no excuses and meaningless platitudes are acceptable.
The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with the power of veto. We should be able to “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. This, because of the governments shameless, even traitorous policies, we cannot do.
As a result of these policies this house has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government and it must go, those members who vote otherwise should likewise go.