John Dunbar argues a re-branded Royal Navy Home Fleet would be understood both politically and publicly and would provide a much stronger basis to argue for the necessary resources to bolster protection of UK waters and economic interests.
Throughout history, the role of the home fleet has evolved in response to the political and military context. During the Napoleonic wars, the Home fleet blockaded the French Navy and provided a counterpoint to their Fleet In Being – in two world wars the Home fleet fulfilled the same role against the German high Sea Fleet and the Italian Navy, as well as managing active operations throughout the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. This is not a proposal rooted in nostalgia for the multiple fleets of our imperial past, rather a suggestion that appropriate assets be put under a more recognisable umbrella for UK maritime security.
Today, British Maritime Doctrine currently splits the warships and capabilities of the Royal Navy into three key elements. The Committed Force encompasses any Royal Navy assets allocated to meet core security and deployment commitments; The Responsive force, capable of responding to the full range of threats or eventualities for which the British Military should be prepared, and which for the navy includes a Rapid Reaction Task Force and a brigade of Royal Marines; and the Adaptive Force incorporating those elements winding down from or working up for deployment or in refit.
All very logical in and of itself. However, reductions in the surface fleet mean that in reality, most ships are either in the Committed or Adaptive Force, with precious little in the way of responsive resources available once standing commitments have been met. The Navy has done exceptionally well to adapt to plug gaps by clever deploying of surface escorts and with RFA and survey ships utilised in full to ensure that the UK continues to play an active and valued role in Europe and East of Suez.
Unfortunately, the inherent deficits in the size of the surface fleet have been made more apparent by the relatively swift shift in the geopolitical order. Russian Submarine activity increased significantly in UK waters, most noticeably off the North West coast of Scotland. The now permanent militarisation of the Eastern Mediterranean means the UK can expect a much higher level of Russian Naval traffic as ships and submarines transit to and fro between Russia’s Baltic, northern and Mediterranean fleets.
Growing Russian naval activity means the RN, already stretched by overseas deployments, now faces increasing demands to be more present in UK waters
Whether there is genuine Russian intent to hunt down the British Nuclear Deterrent or to threaten the UK more directly, remains unknown, but failing to address these threats in a proportionate and effective manner makes the UK a hostage to fortune – history tells us that appeasement rarely works in the favour of the appeaser.
The Navy faces many challenges in addressing these issues. Even with the small increase in the long-term defence budget, financial constraints are ever pressing, and any growth in surface escort numbers is unlikely until 2025. Press reaction to all 6 Type 45s being alongside at the same time last summer suggests a PR battle to understand the value of the navy in UK waters also needs to be won, particularly if additional funding is to be provided.
A modern day home fleet
The role of a modern day home fleet will be very different to its antecedents. In the absence of active and open conflict, the UK must observe international law, making maritime transit for other navies through both economic exclusion zones and territorial waters acceptable providing that maritime law is properly observed. Unlike many previous eras, the UK does not face the threat of imminent invasion or attack by a grand fleet.
The UK does remain reliant on overseas trade, and increasingly on undersea pipelines carrying fuel, power and telecommunications between the UK, Europe and the US. Whilst much of the UK’s critical infrastructure, including power generation, is based on the coast or offshore, these are all vulnerable to attack by actors ranging from terrorists to other nation states.
The key objectives for a new Home Fleet could be;
- Establishing a dominant surveillance capability in UK territorial waters and Exclusive Economic zone, both above and below the surface.
- Maintaining a credible capability against surface incursions to deter aggression.
- Maintaining a credible capability to respond to submarine threats to UK infrastructure and the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent.
Focusing on the first objective (surveillance) will enable effective deployment of scarce high-end capabilities to best effect to deliver against the other objectives.
The reintroduction of Maritime Patrol capability through the purchase of the Poseidon P-8 will eventually address the most glaring omissions in UK capability. Unfortunately only 9 Poseidons on order and only 3 of them are expected to be in service by 2020. The RAF is also keen to exploit their overland capabilities in addition to their primary maritime role, so the P-8 fleet will be stretched.
The shortage of surface escorts means that typically a maximum of two frigate or destroyers will be available in UK waters at a given time. UK territorial waters cover around 3,230 Km2 and the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) amounts to nearly 300 million Km2. Clearly far more resources are required to patrol this important space.
And whilst the best way to kill or track a submarine is with another submarine, the UK’s fleet of 7 nuclear attack submarines is insufficient in size – with one SSN deployed to protect the Navy’s new aircraft carriers, one east of Suez and a third protecting the continuous at sea deterrent, there is precious little availability to monitor the movements of other sub-surface threats.
Short term fixes
There are no zero-cost solutions to close these capability gaps, but there are a number of ways that capability could be improved relatively quickly, and sustained over the next decade.
The Navy has 12 Merlin HM1 helicopters in dry store – these are capable anti-submarine platforms and could be reactivated to provide a significant boost to maritime surveillance of UK waters without the need to be upgraded to HM2 standards (though this would be desirable).
Working in consort with the new Batch 2 River Class OPV’s (which can support helicopter operations for short durations at distance from shore) and alongside Poseidon MPA from 2020 onwards, a dedicated UK based Merlin HM1 squadron would significantly narrow existing shortfalls in surveillance, anti-shipping and anti-submarine capability. In an ideal world and if manpower could be found, these would be based on HMS Ocean which would remain in service until 2030 as the flagship of the Home Fleet and as an anti-submarine / helicopter assault ship. This would also improve the availability of Merlin throughout the fleet which may prove particularly important given the need for airborne early warning and anti-submarine protection of the new carriers as they come into service in 2018.
To close remaining gaps in persistent surveillance capability, Batch 1 River OPV’s should be retained in service and utilised as platforms for unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles, and with a view to being used as platforms for future investment in unmanned underwater surveillance vehicles for which they are ideally suited as mother ships in UK waters. Exploring the use of containerised towed array sonars may prove the quickest way to support the work of the limited number of Type 23 frigates available in UK waters in improving detection of submarines.
As well a fixing the glaring lack of RN anti-ship missiles, in the medium term, serious consideration needs to be given to reintroducing maritime strike missiles into the RAF inventory on fast jets as well as on Poseidon. The pragmatic choice would be to equip (Poseidon, Typhoon and Type 23 / 45) with a new purchase of Harpoon Block II, rather than investing large sums in alternative systems that will probably be replaced by FCASW within a decade of coming into service.
Perhaps the most important decisions relate to the protection of the UK’s underwater infrastructure. Investment in unmanned underwater surveillance technology should become a priority. There is also a clear and sound case to be made for the development of a fleet of between six and nine Diesel Electric / AIP submarines to provide enhanced surveillance and deterrence and to provide enhanced protection of the UK’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent.
Utilising existing assets and investing in emerging technologies could deliver significant improvements to UK maritime security. This would involve retaining Batch 1 OPV’s and HMS Ocean in service, reactivating the remaining mothballed Merlin Helicopters and investing in unmanned technologies in the short to medium term. Sensible but urgent decisions are also needed on a replacement anti-shipping missile between 2018 and 2020.
Additional money will still be required to deliver these capability improvements but at only a fraction of the cost of ideal alternatives (i.e. more frigates, submarines and dedicated Maritime Patrol Aircraft already being in service). The concept of the Home Fleet is one which is easy to understand both politically and publicly and would provide a much stronger basis to argue for necessary resources to bolster protection of UK waters and economic interests. It would also send a clear and important message to other nations of the UK’s intention to defend its national interest.
Main Image: Fleet Ready Escort, HMS St Albans shadows Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov through the English Channel, 25th January 2017. © Crown copyright
- Migrant boats crossing the Channel demands a measured response (Save the Royal Navy)
- The Royal Navy and the growing importance of securing UK home waters (Save the Royal Navy, 2012)
A few Corvette squadrons with Helicopters manned by regular that can go home weekends and reserve that can be trained at sea and cover weekends. Hunt in packs when needed.
Torpedo/gun boat squadrons would have use also even in reserve.
To me it’s a grave concern that there appears to be so little coordinated defence of the UK’s outlying area’s. It would be sensible in the present circumstances to have a Guardship and an a/s Helicopter based in Gibraltar. It is a fact that as a Maritime nation that the RAF stop playing petty politics with the RN and either surrender the Maritime entirely to the Fleet Air arm or effectively put themselves under RN control in that environment.
I don’t agree there would be no threat to the UK by enemy Special Forces in run up or the event of actual hostilities. I would imagine the Radar chain would be knocked out before anything else.
As is pointed out elsewhere the RAF has no interest in the Maritime. It allowed the scrapping of ‘Coastal Command’ and all antiship strike. 617 should be a FAA asset as should the P8’s.
This is not an anti RAF rant it is a serious concern being voiced.
A suggestion to invoke some debate around presence v capability
-T31 cancelled, with development savings reinvested into remaining fleet.
-X2 gp t23 retired as new x5 opv are introduced. Retain all current river opvs utilising manning secured from dd/ff fleet reducing to 17.
-Harpoon from t23s cross decked to x2 remaining t45 and next generation harpoon integrated from t31 cancellation savings.
-11 fully equppied asw t26 ordered, increased from 8. Expense covered from the budgeted plan for 5 t31. Importantly mk41 dropped from t26 to reduce cost.
-mk41 dropped from t26, but instead fitted to t45, tommahawk fitted to all 6 t45)
Deployed as such:
Windies: batch 2 opv (permanent benefit, less strain on rfa)
Falklands: clyde (status quo)
Gib: batch 2 opv (positive news story for RN)
Eastern med: batch 2 opv (positive for RN, commitment to EU security)
Indian ocean/east africa: batch 2 opv (constant presence, good news for RN)
Fisheries: x1 batch 2 opv and x3 batch 1 (good news for RN, increased presence UK waters, guardship for deterrent, lilly pad for merlin?)
CASD: t23/t26 asw
Baltic: t23/t26 asw (commitment to EU security, could be pulled back to uk waters if russian subs suspected to be in area)
East of suez: t23/t26 asw (perhaps occasional deployment to s atlantic)
17 ship (first rate aaw/asw) fleet should be able to generate at least 1 more escort to deploy with carrier. Most likely to deploy to gulf to support anglo american interests, pull in t23/26 from east of suez, existing t45 and then whatever escorted carrier to region forms the carrier group (invite US/french/allied escort to support as we have done) = complete battle group.
Savings from cancelling t31, removal of mk41 from t26 to support an investment in mk41 for type 45’s, then this would reduce the requirement for astutes/trafalgars east of suez as stand by tlan capability as t45 could fulfil this role.
-t45 fully rounded escort with all having sea viper, harpoon and land attack capability, particularly useful in fres role too.
– x17 RN units with ashm, verse projected zero (or current 17)
– x13 RN units with tlan capability
– astute/trafalgar x2 can be deployed constantly to GIUK gap/CASD/Artic presence to deter Russians in conjunction with t23/26 casd deployment.
-in time from x7 sub fleet, a third sub worked up to deploy with carrier group (effectively max peacetime effort) say 5/6 month deployment to gulf.
Yes this would mean a reduced first rate fleet, but would enable a genuine global presence with ships deployed to taskings that suit.
Sorry but I think this article needs a big dose of REALITY. THE RN neither has the procurement budget or the man power to buy and operate between 6 and 9 AIP/Diesel Electric Submarines. It does not have the man power let alone resources to refit HMS Ocean. Most of her crew are going over to the new Aircraft Carriers, where are you going to rustle up the over 1,5000 new Sailors you are going to need to man this home fleet ?
The only part that makes sense is
1. Do not throw away 4 perfectly good Mk1/Mk1.5 River Patrol boats. The 3 Original Tyne/Severn & Mersey vessels should form as part of UK Home Waters (ie within distance of the UK to be supported by Helicopter and fixed Wing Aircraft form Land) fleet. Experimental work on using UAV’s to provide improved Radar, observational support and in the long term weapons delivery.
2. The Batch 2 Ships Forth/Medway & Trent plus Tamar & Spey should in the first instance operate a dedicated fleet of small helicopter (Wasp Size) and that should be replaced with the UAV outlined in point 1 in due coarse.
3. HME Clyde should continue to undertake the sterling work in the South Atlantic.
4. That gives you a squadron of 9 ships that at the moment are at sea for 300 days of the year. It would relieve the UK Guard Ship requirement from the escort fleet and at times the Batch 2 ships can also do the Caribbean, call in at Gibraltar etc. The cost of operating these ships is minimal.
5. The 12 Mk1 Merlins is an absolute no brainer and again if the damn things can fly and operate don’t spend millions on upgrades, but assign them to the home fleet so they are not stolen by desperate commanders trying to fill gaps in Aircraft Carrier requirements.
6. Develop add on anti-ship, asw sensors and missiles to fit on River Classes in self contained pods. Every other navy in the world fits 2,000 ton plus size ships with this equipment, its only the RN who only stick a 30mm gun on them. It is easily doable.
7. Equip both P8’s, Rivers, T26 and T45’s with an anti-ship missile system as a UOR.
That’s it. We have no more budget and the more urgent requirements are Mk41 Strike Cells for T26 to provide some form of ASROC capability and Land Attack Capability. The T45 must have its propulsion problems solved and have CIC and Mk41 cells installed. We need the T31’s to provide tier one war fighting unsupported long range shipping numbers. The 7 points above are possible to be delivered within existing budget and manpower or with a slight increase. Asking for multiple submarines, planes and ships are not going to fly. Money is king.
“Develop add on anti-ship, asw sensors and missiles to fit on River Classes in self contained pods. Every other navy in the world fits 2,000 ton plus size ships with this equipment,”
“Equip both P8’s, Rivers, T26 and T45’s with an anti-ship missile system as a UOR.”
There is absolutely no money for these things. This is straying dangerously into fantasy fleet territory.
Other than that, reasonable comment.
Another couple of advantages of a home fleet are an active reserve that can be deployed at short notice, as well as offering a more balanced lifestyle for personnel, who can be expected to have 2 home fleet deployments and 1 longer term “international’ deployment in a 2 or 3 year cycle. This will certainly put less pressure on those with families on constant 9 month tours.
Additionally with the carriers there is scope to create 2 Carrier Battle Groups and 3 separate escort squadrons.
A key to this added capability will be a rebalancing away from dedicated assets such as minesweepers and OPV’s and instead having escorts that can deploy unmanned assets as necessary deployed instead.
Hello, I think some of these discussion points are excellent; I am a believer of ‘quantity’ of platforms (‘platforms being the ‘term-on-the-street’ of just about anything that floats, is airborne, has weels/tracks and of course anything in between), so regarding the R.N. post WWII the mine was seen as one of the big threats, whether tethered or free-floating, so our response then was to build over 100 of the ‘Ton’ class CMS which in addition to the existing 40-odd ‘ocean-going’ M.S.-Algerine class and plus; all those IMS – ‘Ham’ class gave us a pretty formidable mine countermeasures fleet/task-force, true the ships were not advanced with Sensors,etc and did not really have much by way of armament and just about no ASW kit, however to return to my point, MIne warfare is rearing it’s head again and coupled with the Soviet intrusions into the Baltic and and North sea,etc, these ships have a part to play, i believe we should return to that ‘model’ and increase the R.N. with this type of 2020 vessel, brought up-to-date, many of these CMS were Reserve manned and formed the base for R.N. Reserves and sea-training locations in coastal areas, teh ‘Ton’ class were lightly armed and were not good sea-ships, however they performed excellent work in Conflicts in the Cyprus, Suez because they were a Prescence and could ‘project’ political will and backed-up by larger vessels based in Malta,etc, so even though lightly armed and, could/did intervene against suspected gun-runners around Cyprus, and so on. The CMS brought right up to date would provide a cost-effective ‘Littoral’ force and speed of build/mainteneance, here, perhaps is the bedrock of an R.N. recruiting shop, enlarge and grow the bases for R.N. Reserve again and provide a place and ship where recruits could get there exposure to the R.N. and basic training, sea-time and track to the ‘big-navy’ taking responsibility for their ships, learning about, marine engines, weapons, sensors, navigation, and so on, and the big-picture is we increase the R.N. (increase size of R.N.) ‘covereage’ of all our estuaries, coast-lines and show ourselves in the larger sea-areas, wotcha think? and, think about this, build, refit these CMS/IMS on the ‘big-rivers’ adjacent to colleges, manufacturers (who make engines), float the boat with locally recruited men/girls to join their ships, go down-stream to the sea and there you are, local pride and back-home for week-ends, as they do in Nissan, the first car you build will be your own! Also, up-gun these ships for bigger-bangs and ASW?
Using some of those spare Merlin HM1’s for Crowsnest (with a minimal upgrade) would be a better idea as this would free up a few of the more up-to date HM2’s from the role which could then be focused on helping to track Russian submarines off the North West coast instead.
Fully agree on the logic of keeping the batch 1 River’s in service and forward basing some of the batch 2’s as guard-ships, specifically in the West Indies and Mediterranean, with 1 or 2 helping to beef up the presence in home waters. Modest improvements on the newer models such as Seahawk Simga mounts to give them a rudimentary anti-surface missile capability, telescopic hangars for small helo’s and UAV’s and maybe further down the line some Sea Ceptor (cold launched from their own canisters) would be welcome.
At the very least HMS Clyde needs to be retained alongside the newer ones for a total of 6 OPV’s (apparently at the moment the plan is to scrap her as well to be replaced by the new HMS Forth) with the 3 older River’s transferred to the border force to help increase it’s pitiful presence.
The idea of using Ocean is an interesting one, but i’d rather transfer her to the RFA with a minimal refit and lean crew to use her as an aviation training ship, allowing Argus to focus on the hospital/humanitarian response role and providing a rudimentary helicopter assault role still in an emergency.
All of these ideas could significantly up the Royal Navy’s presence and effectiveness for relatively small investments in money and manpower. Obviously though in the long-term it needs a lot more investment. At least 3 more P8 Poseidon’s are already being advocated in some defence circles, the T26 program has to meet expectations and the T31 really needs to deliver a reasonably costed but useful anti-submarine vessel.
Well if it’s fantasy fleet time…
1. Eliminate bureaucraticly expensive procument system. Stop waste on competitions and decision timelines like FRES and the F35-B/C Saga. Rationallise weapons (e.g. NSM instead of Tomahawk, Harpoon, Storm Shadow and the Future Long Range Effects program) and vehicles (e.g. Foxhound instead of Fuchs, Ridgback, Foxhound, Jackal, Husky, Panther and Bushmaster).
2. If it flies above the sea supporting the RN then its FAA. If it flies above land supporting the Army its AAC. So eliminate RAF and have recruitment drive and rank shake up for a 100 ship RN & bigger Army with no crewless ships or empty battallions or 1,600 spare Lt Col’s.
3. Build 12 Astutes (£0.8bn each). Do not build x4 Dreadnaughts (£31bn) but instead replace Trident with a cut down version (3x100kt and 4,000km) to fit in last 4 Astutes.
4. Add Astute reactors and CATOBAR kit to the QEs and operate F35C and V22. Use LPDs with tented hangars and Merlins instead of £12bn overseas aid budget.
5. Build over 32 years 16 large RFA’s of just one configurable design in the UK and recycle them here too. Same for 32 ships using T45 hulls (12 Escort, 12 Mothership LPD, 8 Survey/Support). Also same for 12 Rivers and 24 DS4207 Cutters. Also have about 100 CB90s.
6. Fix propulsion on T45 ships and use 2 Wilcats. In escort ships have 127mm gun, quad packed VLS Meteors, SM3, 35mm CIWS and 21″ Tubes + 2087. In the LPD version have 127mm gun, quad packed CAMMs, NSM, 35mm CIWS and 4 CB90s. In the Rivers have 35mm CIWS, LMM, 1x11m RHIB, UAVs and 21″ Tubes when shadowing ships near UK.
Couldn’t agree more Tim
not gonna happen, but couldn’t agree more
The UK armed forces is comparable to the USMC (with its allocated ships even more so)
The USMC has auditable accounts and is highly cost effective and has much better equipment than the UK military – its airforce and ground force has more capability than our which is embarrassing.
I say lets go to a single force
I almost totally agree that we should focus our forces on the the USMC but add in retaining a modest Heavy Army for Euro intervention and ceremonial duties and have USMC plus because we should fully integrate the RAF into said UKMC/RN. The money save would be considerable and the flexible mindset shift of immense value in any present and future scenario. In Every conflict since 1939 the UK has actually or needed to operate in this way.
It looks like more Government/ MOD delay and obfuscation is something to look forward to for 2017.
1. HMS QE will now have a slip showing! The planned sea trials have slipped and are now starting later than intended and arrival in Portsmouth delayed till summer.
2. Report on Naval Ship Building is proving a hard pill for the Government to produce let alone swallow and is now due in ‘Spring’. How long is a Government Spring?
3. HMS Smoke and Mirrors AKA Type 26 will probably not now be ordered and started until 31/12/17 or possibly delayed till 1/4/18.
4.Tide class tankers of which sightings are rare and unconfirmed will probably be delayed coming into service. And why not? surely it’s best they wait in the wings for HMS QE to complete sea trials. Besides who needs 4 when 3 will do?
5. In future all Government/ MOD News is strictly Provisional until Proved Fake!
HMS Ocean as the flagship of the Home Fleet and as an anti-submarine / helicopter assault ship. That one of the most poor suggestions I have seen in a long while.
We have a Royal Navy struggling to maintain availability with the assets it already in service, we have a Royal Navy with too few aircraft, we have a Royal Navy with no anti-shipping cruise missile, and then this suggestion pops up. In no way is is acceptable to waste precious resources building a home fleet, never mind maintaining a massive platform like HMS ocean, when there as so many capability gaps that compromise the core capabilities of our Royal Navy. This is a silly folly that should never be considered seriously.
If we want too boost the security of our waters, double the P8 purchase, and double the Protector purchase applying them both to local patrols, as well as investing in anti-shipping cruise missile, and upgrading more Merlin.
Instead of faffing around for the next decade before deciding on whatever BAE want at a price BAE want, just buy 8 x Gowind 2500s.
£2bn….. a relative pittance, and they will be delivered years before any of these will be,
Just get on with it.
Better keep those Batch 1 River class OPV’s the EU parliament just says they are keeping our Fisheries! If anyone in the MOD is listening; Selling them should be an indictable offence.
yes, i would like to join the discussion as a fervent supporter of everything ‘Royal Navy’ coming from an R.N. family; Father, Uncles and other’s my Father was No.1. Adamant – 3rd Submarine Squadron, Gareloch, also, C.O. Malcolm ‘fighting’ Cod wars! other ‘old’ ships inc, Constance (Korea), 104 Flottila CMS in Malta, Shavington, etc. Now, this subject is essential, relevant and overdue as a measure to retain ships that still have a ‘life’, I remember ‘Home’ fleet, ‘Reserve’ fleet’ trots of ships in Pompey Harbour, Leviathan, several cruisers, yes; and Vanguard, many of the ‘Loch/Bay’ Frigates, ‘C’ class destroyers, Battle; before and after conversion to Fleet Radar pickets, it all goes back to the central argument, do not scrap, keep and re-use as the day WILL arise when an ‘Ocean’ , Bulwark, Intrepid, IS NEEDED and therefore available, and of course i still spill tears (as do many others) over the senseless Ark Royal, ‘Lusty’ not to mention our wonderful Harriers – still in a bloody (sorry!) desert, yes, fleets; of course, we had ‘trots’ of ships in lochs in Scotland…. full of ships, and what about all those frigates of sixties, era-WITH TOWED ARRAY FITTED, LEANDERS – JOB NOW? OF COURSE! WHY SCRAP, DARINGS, ‘big-cat’ Whitby, Rothsea, etc, etc, so do we initiate a Reserve, Home, etc fleet? of course it is not Rocket Science, wish, Jackie Fisher and David Beatty were alive…
Frankly, there are plenty of ex-mil living along our coastlines who would readily volunteer to man RHIB’s and larger vessels in order to relay surface information to the authorities, military or police, as necessary, Coastal night patrols are a distinct capability, supporting overhead UAV operations, creating a deterent at minimal cost for inshore waters, is another readily available opportunity, not grasped by the present government. Indeed, along the south coast, locals are well familiar with the occurence of immigrants and the appearance of a security notice on the genuine level of activities, nor the fact that their boat fuel capacity tends to be only a few litres, which therefore suggests unknown personnel are crossing by alternative means, and not solely by small rubber craft.