By Nicholas Drummond
The award of the Type 31 General Purpose Frigate contract to Babcock has highlighted just how small the Royal Navy has become in recent years. With a fleet of just 19 surface combatants, there is genuine concern about whether the Royal Navy has a credible baseline of ships to counter the range of threats it now faces. Even though the quality of British warships has never been higher, an often used expression has gained currency: “Not even the best designed ship can be in two places at the same time.” Resisting the temptation to play one of the internet’s favourite games, “Fantasy Fleets,” which invariably assumes an unlimited budget, what can realistically be done to increase Royal Navy ship numbers and in a way that is affordable?
02. Aircraft Carriers and Commando Ships
03. AAW Destroyers
04. ASW Frigates
05. GP Frigates
06. Attack Submarines
07. OPVs and MCMVs
01. Introduction – No new ships without more sailors
With a headcount cap of 30,450 the Royal Navy is struggling to crew the ships it already has. Acquiring additional vessels without recruiting more sailors to man them would therefore be pointless. Although the new Type 31 general purpose frigate has a reduced crew requirement versus the current Type 23, a further factor relevant to this discussion is lifestyle. In the past, ships tended to have single crews, but few sailors like spending extended periods at sea away from their families, so the Navy has had to recognise that without offering a better work-family life balance, experienced talent will leave for other jobs that offer better lifestyle benefits. Consequently, the Royal Navy is moving to a new model where each ship will have two crews. Such a system is already in operation with our nuclear missile submarines and is vital to guarantee a Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD). This trend will reduce the availability of personnel to crew additional ships. Current headcount limitations were the result of extreme Government austerity measures following the global financial crisis in 2008. With ongoing Brexit discussions, the financial impact of Britain leaving the EU is still uncertain, assuming we do in fact leave. Regardless, Royal Navy headcount numbers need to set by senior leadership based on what they believe is necessary to fulfil our national security priorities, not by the Treasury based on arbitrary cost targets. If this is true for numbers of sailors the Navy has, it is also relevant to the number of ships it operates.
02. Aircraft Carriers and Commando Ships
Short of World War Three starting, the United Kingdom is extremely unlikely to acquire additional aircraft carriers. When the Queen Elizabeth Class was planned, the Navy elected to have two larger carriers rather than three smaller ones, because two 65,000-tonne ships would better support the need to fly a larger number of daily aircraft sorties than three smaller 40,000-tonne ones. When HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are compared to the US Navy’s 40,000-tonne Wasp Class Amphibious Assault ships, which have significantly less deck space and hangar storage below decks, the decision seems to be a wise one. However, in an ideal world it would be preferable to have at least three of everything as this allows a sustainable deployment cycle with one ship deployed, one working-up to deployment and the third, resting and refitting after a deployment. Limited to two carriers, the Navy will deploy one at a time with the second resting and refitting as well as preparing for its next deployment.
Irrespective of the number of aircraft carriers, “Carrier Strike” remains an essential capability that allows the UK to project power without relying on foreign powers to give us permission to use their airfields when military action is required. Our carriers are essentially mobile airfields that can be positioned wherever needed to secure British interests. In an era where soft power and operations within the grey zone have become vital tools of diplomacy and action below the threshold, being able to deploy a carrier sends a clear message to would-be aggressors simply by their presence. The need to protect the carriers requires escort vessels that provide anti-air and anti-submarine capabilities, which is why destroyer and frigate numbers are so important. Each carrier task force will require two AAW destroyers plus two ASW Frigates, plus an Attack Submarine. When such ships are used for escort duties, they are not available to operate independently to perform other roles.
Within a decade or so, it will become necessary to replace HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, the Navy’s two amphibious assault ships. It seems likely that we will acquire two new and slightly larger 35,000-tonne landing helicopter dock (LHD) vessels similar to Australia’s Canberra Class. With flat tops for helicopter operations and rear well decks for launching and recovering landing craft, such ships will also be capable of handling F-35B STOVL combat aircraft. Again, by acquiring two larger LHDs instead of three the same size as legacy vessels, including the now de-commissioned HMS Ocean, their greater size offers increased flexibility. Two aircraft carriers plus two amphibious assault ships will effectively give us four carrier vessels. This should be more than adequate to support our needs now and in the future.
03. AAW Destroyers
The Royal Navy has only six Daring-Class Type 45 AAW destroyers. Given the importance of air defence for the fleet, this seems an oversight. However, with its SAMSON radar, a single Type 45 ship has the ability to track 1,000 targets the size of a cricket ball simultaneously, which is more than five of the previous Type 42 Class destroyers could do collectively. Admiral Lord West, who was First Sea Lord at the time Type 45 was introduced into service, described it as the most capable destroyer the Royal Navy has ever had and the world’s best air defence ship.
The Type 45’s 48 vertical launch cells for Aster 15 and Aster 30 surface-to-air missiles make it fundamentally superior to its predecessor. Even so, such sophistication comes at a price with Type 45 experiencing more than its fair share of problems, delays and cost overruns. The final Type 45 bill was £6.46 billion, which was £1.5 billion or 29% over budget. Since this happened in 2008, when the global financial crisis was at its peak, hulls 7 and 8 became victims of austerity. To make matters worse, unexpected and ongoing issues with the ships’ WR-21 engines and intercoolers have limited deployments while taking several years to overcome, reducing their availability. Even though a fix has now been developed, the ‘rule of three’ governing sustainable deployment cycles means that six AAW destroyers allows us to routinely deploy only two at a time.
Despite prodigious capabilities, many senior naval officers believe we really ought to have 8 or preferably 10 AAW destroyers. If money wasn’t an issue, it would be hard to disagree with them. In the short-term, it is not be feasible to re-start Type 45 production. When it comes to the next generation, however, the Navy is likely to build its future destroyer using the Type 26 ASW Frigate’s hull. If this saves money, then it might be possible to build 8 or 10 instead of having only 6. We should certainly aim to achieve this.
04. ASW Frigates
The City-Class Type 26 ASW frigate will also be one of the most capable warships the Royal Navy has ever had. Also called the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, many consider it to be a cruiser more than a frigate. Whatever it is, its most important role is to hunt submarines, and to do this it has an acoustically-quietened hull with a bow sonar, towed sonar array and Merlin ASW helicopter. It will additionally have the new 127 mm gun, 48 VLS missile cells to launch Sea Ceptor / CAMM AAW missiles, 24 extended-length Mk 41 VLS cells for whatever anti-ship missile replaces Harpoon, plus Tomahawk land attack missiles and anti-submarine munitions. The Type 26 is much more than an ASW warship. It is so capable across many areas that Canada will acquire 15 and Australia 10.
The UK had originally planned to build 13 Type 26 ASW frigates, but again, higher than expected costs have resulted in the total being cut to just 8. It is anticipated that the first three vessels will cost around £3.7 billion. One of the things that has increased costs is a slow roll-out. Despite the first steel being cut in 2017, the first ship is expected to be launched in late 2021, and won’t become operational until 2027. If more could be built over a shorter time period, it would certainly help to reduce the average price.
Like AAW destroyers, there is a genuine concern that 8 ASW frigates is not be a credible baseline to maintain a global presence with routine patrols in the North Atlantic, the Gulf, the Falkland Islands, the Mediterranean, and East of Suez. This directly led to the Type 31 programme, which will result in a new class of five general purpose warships.
As a defence commentator, my major concern is that the Government did not listen to the Royal Navy when it originally stated its requirements for Type 26, emphasising the threat that submarines would pose in any future conflict. Russia has 58 submarines, including 48 tactical attack boats. China has 59 submarines, including 55 tactical attack boats.
While the low-cost Type 31 GP frigate will enable the Navy to reinforce its effectiveness across maritime security roles, it will not augment its ASW capabilities, unless such equipment can be added. Consequently, there is a strong case to increase Type 26 numbers. It is unrealistic to think we could revert to having 13, but it ought to be possible to buy two more. The cost of building two additional Type 26 ships would be an estimated £2.2 billion, assuming economies of scale as more ships roll down the slipway.
With 10 Type 26 frigates and the same hull used to construct the Type 45 destroyer successor, as has been suggested, this would create a total requirement of 18-20 ships. Assuming one vessel is launched every 18 months, this number would enable Bae Systems to justify building the much desired “Frigate Factory” on the Clyde turning out new ships on a constant basis.
05. GP Frigates
With just 8 Type 26 ASW frigates, it was decided to acquire a complementary low-cost general purpose frigate capable of performing maritime security roles. The Type 31 GP frigate was also designed to reduce BAE System’s monopoly of British naval shipbuilding. Babcock’s Arrowhead 140 design has now been selected as the preferred choice. This is a modified version of the Danish Iver Huitfeldt AAW frigate. Armed with 57 mm and 40 mm guns, 24 VLS cells for Sea Ceptor / CAMM and high-end sensors for surveillance and fire control, the Type 31 will be a capable ship. With a unit cost of £250 million, five will cost a total of £1.25 billion, or around the same as a single Type 26.
The simplest and cheapest option to acquire more ships would be to buy five additional Type 31 GP frigates for £1.25 billion. As noted above, many of those calling for more naval ships believe that they are needed for ASW. To make a Type 31 credible in this role it would need a bow-mounted sonar, plus a towed sonar array and an anti-submarine helicopter such as Merlin. Under present plans, Type 31 ships will be “fitted for, but not with” ASW equipment. Adding it is likely to increase the cost per ship to £350 million, adding-up to a total of £1.75 million. This could be an extremely cost-efficient approach, assuming the hull, which is not acoustically-quietened, is up to the job.
Type 31 is noteworthy because it shows that an inexpensive ship can still be a potent one. This is not about using a less expensive hull or reduced building standards. It is about healthy competition that reduces our dependence on a single supplier. Thales’ sensor fit for Type 31 provides an astonishing level of capability for the price. For example, its NS110 (or NS200 GaN) radar is a modular 3D AESA S-Band system that is electronically steerable. Providing fire control for Sea Ceptor as well as general surveillance, it has a range of 110 nautical miles with a 70o elevation and dual-axis multi-beam processing, allowing it to track multiple targets simultaneously. These features make the Thales system complementary if not superior to Bae Systems’ Artisan radar to be fitted to Type 26 ASW Frigates, which operates in the E/ F band and scans mechanically. At 5,800 tonnes, Type 31 is a lot of metal for the money and like Type 26 it will have endurance and survivability.
If further ASW sensors can be added to Type 31 without drastically increasing the price, this would provide a much more affordable ASW capability. However, the Royal Navy’s Merlin HM Mk. 2 helicopter is a key part of the Type 26’s ASW package and with a purchase price of around £50 million each, the cost of additional Merlin airframes for Type 31 would significantly increase the total price of each ship. It is estimated that adding basic ASW sensors plus a helicopter to Type 31 would add £100 million to the price tag. Even so, five extra ASW-capable frigates at £350 million each is still impressively close to the price of a single Type 26 frigate.
Perhaps the best compromise is to increase GP frigate numbers to five and ASW frigates by two for a total of seven extra vessels or 10 of each type. This approach provides extra ships using existing configurations, so avoids additional costs incurred by any design changes.
06. Attack Submarines
The Navy plans to build a total of seven Astute-Class attack submarines (SSN). This design is approximately 30% larger than previous submarines of this type in order to accommodate Rolls-Royce’s PWR2 pressurised water reactor, which was already being used with the current Vanguard-Class of ballistic missile submarines. With an average cost of £1.6 billion per boat, the Navy’s attack submarines are much more expensive than their predecessors. Even if it were possible to build an eighth boat, this would stretch the Navy’s budget considerably.
Another problem with building more Astute boats is that as soon as the seventh, HMS Agincourt, is completed, Bae Systems submarine construction facility at Barrow-in-Furness will begin building the four successor Dreadnought-Class of ballistic missile submarines. By the time these are finished, in the 2030s, the Astute-Class design will be close to 30-years old and we will have started to plan what comes next.
Given recent advances made in Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems and battery technology for diesel submarines (SSK), and with nuclear propulsion increasingly being rejected on grounds of environmental responsibility (e.g. for Australia’s Attack-Class boats), we will need to decide whether we want to stick with nuclear attack submarines or whether we can deliver the desired level of capability via an advanced fuel cell / all-electric boat. It may be possible to develop a more advanced attack submarine at a lower cost, which means we would be able to afford more.
In the short-term, and for the prices of a single Astute, it has been suggested that we could acquire 3-4 SSKs like the German 212 / 214 Class. This has a super-stealthy hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system which allows it to stay submerged for up to 18 days, a record for non-nuclear submarines. While such boats have good open water abilities and would be attractive, the extra cost of sustaining a third submarine type could be prohibitive. For these reasons, we are unlikely to be able to acquire additional attack submarines in the short-term.
07. OPVs and MCMVs
The River-Class Batch 2 offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) provide a constabulary capability in littoral waters. With a total cost of £635 million (£348 million + £287 million) for five vessels, they provide questionable value-for-money since they lack the firepower to perform a blue-water maritime security role, e.g. they would not have been deployable for the recent stand-off against Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. If they were stretched further, fitted with 57 mm and 40 mm guns, anti-ship missiles, and a hangar for a Wildcat helicopter, this would improve them. Such development potentially defines a Batch 3 vessel and would be close to Bae Systems’ Khareef-Class corvette, which formed the basis of the same company’s Type 31 offer. In other words, lengthening and up-gunning a River-Class would be close to building a Type 31 GP frigate, so why not just go with the latter? Until Type 31 arrives, the five River-Class OPVs commissioned for the Navy will fill a gap. Long-term, the next generation of MCMV is likely to supersede them.
The current Hunt-Class mine counter-measures vessels date back to the 1980s and are well overdue for replacement. The same ships also perform patrol duties. So the question that needs to be asked is whether the next MCMV can also be optimised to perform a maritime security role as well as mine-hunting duties? It should be noted that new technologies will allow future mine-clearance to be conducted using unmanned surface vessels operating from a mother ship. BMT displayed a future MCMV concept at DSEI 2019 that showed a potential configuration for a new class of ship. Using unmanned systems would reduce our dependency on degaussed hulls, allowing alternative MCMV designs to be utilised. A new Class of 10 such vessels would create a new class of ships below Type 31, adding considerably to the Royal Navy’s capabilities.
Under current plans, the fleet composition will include 35 surface ships plus 11 submarines as follows:
In the short-term, overall fleet size could be increased by seven ships by acquiring two additional Type 26 ASW frigates plus five additional Type 31 GP frigates. Approximately 1,800 extra personnel would be needed to crew them. The uplift to 42 surface ships would ensure that at least three ASW Frigates and three GP frigates could be deployed at any one time. The fleet would then be comprised of the following ships:
In the long-term, the overall fleet size could be enhanced by increasing numbers of each class where possible, except for MCMVs, which would be reduced by two, due to a more capable and flexible vessel being acquired. Also, developing a non-nuclear attack submarine has the potential to reduce construction and support costs enabling boat numbers to be increased to 10. This would create a fleet of 44 surface ships plus 14 submarines. The future fleet would be comprised of the following ships:
These proposals have tried to be as realistic as possible by being rooted in what is practically achievable and affordable. In essence, the above approach resurrects the Future Surface Combatant model conceived in 2006 with three classes of ship. In fact, it creates four classes with two high-end classes and two low-end classes:
- High-end AAW destroyer
- High-end ASW frigate
- Low-end GP frigate
- Low-end MCM / patrol vessel
Increasing both Type 26 and Type 31 numbers implies an increased budget requirement of around £4-£5 billion over 10 years. Long-term, the equipment plan would only need to expand to cover the cost of two to four extra AAW destroyers. Everything else would be a like-for-like replacement, apart from submarines. If we decided to stick with nuclear boats, then 8 instead of 7 might be the most we could hope for.
The Navy may not like the term “low-end,” but if we want to achieve critical mass, we must accept a 90% solution rather than a 100% solution that depletes limited resources. The Army’s protected mobility fleet reflects the acceptance of a lesser capability than its “high-end” MBTs and IFVs, so that it can deploy more units. Even so, its “low-end” protected mobility vehicles still provide excellent utility. In the same way, Type 31 and a future MCMV will do likewise.
Irrespective of Britain leaving the EU, our long-term growth will be driven by international trade. Protecting trade routes continues to be a vital RN role. Meanwhile, the threats posed by Russia and China require a response that deters potential aggression. China’s recent behaviour, inhibiting passage through international waters in the South China Sea, will see the US Navy become increasingly focused on Asia-Pacific waters. This means that the Royal Navy will need to assume an increased responsibility in the North Atlantic in response to Russia. In a more dangerous and volatile geopolitical environment, with potential adversaries investing in their navies, we must respond by investing in our own.
 Ministry of Defence, UK Armed Forces Quarterly Service Personnel statistics, April 2019
 Ministry of Defence Press Release, Wednesday 1 February 2006, Countess of Wessex launches Royal Navy’s new Warship. https://web.archive.org/web/20070927192412/http://www.gnn.gov.uk/content/detail.asp?NewsAreaID=2&ReleaseID=186251
 Save The Royal Navy, Type 26 article,17 December 2018.
 Daily Telegraph, Type 26 article, 22 July 2019.
 The Military Balance 2019, IISS, page 198
 The Military Balance 2019, IISS, page 258
 Type 212A AIP submarine.
 Think Defence Article, Type 31 History.
Great article as always.
I still can’t believe the T31 will not have a bow mounted sonar the RN more or less indicated it would need to contribute to ASW picture, it can’t do this without a sonar. Plus Thales uk is part of team 31 one of their main products is sonar systems!
So I am really hoping this not the case! They are general purpose after all and this should include subsurface as well considering the recent straits of Hormuz – Iran has large numbers of small and midget submarines could T31 deploy safely without sonar?
I don’t think adding Merlin costs to the T31 vessels is fair as it wasn’t in t26 costs.
Plus I would really like us to maximise the capabilities of the Wildcat is this regard, flash sonar, aux fuel tanks and a sonobuoys dispenser can’t be that expensive. As I feel there is a case especially in the interim surface weapon period to give the capability for Merlin to employ anti-ship missiles with a blue water focus to balance the wildcats brown water focus. As with ships why are we insisting on gold standard merlin rather than a mix allowing greater numbers. In carrier strike couldn’t wildcats provide inner layer ASW whilst Merlin provides layers further out? As a taskforce approached the coast the 2 helicopters could effectively swap places with the Wildcat optimised for littoral warfare
Also in regards to new MCMVs these offer huge potential to increase presence as well as potentially contribute under protection of larger vessels. However from reading the info on BMT website the vessels (venari 85) still really needs and has a degaussed hull due to the sensitivity of advanced modern mines. So although frigate deployed systems have their potential I think a semi-specialist vessel is still required. Personally I like both the venator 90 minor warfare vessel design and venari 85 design. The former would have slightly more war fighting capabilities for overseas and the later have more auxiliary capabilities both could contribute to a taskforce.
What I think the RN has done really well is to now get itself in a good position to grow the fleet and I for what it is worth I agree with most of your numbers, I still think there is argument for some SSKs as well chiefly for home waters, but also potentially supporting the littoral strike groups and this would free up the SSNs for independent stealthy global deployment. This is also important as the position of at least 1 SSN will now be known as it will inevitability be part of carrier strike.
Other than that considering T31 as an AAW option would be a smart move allowing Babcock to continue to build ships and potentially freeing up funds for more T26 (no reason it still couldn’t have something like the NS200 radar and CAMM ERs to still contribute to AAW?
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I do like the idea of combining the NS200 Radar with Camm ER on the Type31.
This is a cost effective solution to offset the low numbers of T45.
It is not the 100% Gold standard solution but an affordable 90% solution that would be easier to secure funding for.
I hope they plan this in as an upgrade route for the T31 from the start.
In the medium term I expect any official estimate of required surface combatant numbers, together with the balance between ASW, GP and AAW to be determined by Dstl operational analysis which is then modified to take into account affordability and manning constraints. In the longer term I expect there will be a long hard look at ships manpower requirements. These manning needs are getting less, e.g. the QEC carriers have roughly the same manpower needs as the old Invincible class CVS ships. However how far further could one go? THALES have come up with an interesting concept (TX Ship) and one wonders of RN warships might end up with roughly the same number of ‘on watch’ crew as a multiengined aircraft such as P8 but scaled up to say 4 watches per vessel and two or more crews per vessel to increase productivity?
Commenting in a previous article I suggested cutting ASW T26 seven and eight to up-gun and buy more T31 and continuing seven through twelve as T45 replacements with an added anti air suite.
I had revisited the possibility (on STRN) of a bare bones GP T26 in the T31 role stripped of ASW, someone pointed out that you’d actually start by paying to design all of that out. So to clarify, my suggestion therefor is not to design an AAW frigate based on the T26, but to build an AAW capability straight onto an existing ASW T26, dependant on certain basic truths such as how many Mk41 or Sylver can you put on the forecastle and what we’d have to do about radar.
I’m basically saying that with the cost of redesign plus your hull budget (for T45r), is it not simpler to just build straight into the existing ship, the number of specialised ASW hulls would therefor increases to twelve and you could entertain the option of upgrading the earlier ships at midlife refit.
On amphibious capability I’d raised the possibility of T31 being met by something like the Damen Crossover, that way we could tailor and surge a self escorting amphibious force. Our choice of T31 does probably still allow for that, but only to a limited extent.
‘The first thing I’ll need is a carrier and the second thing I’ll need is another in case I lose the first one’.
Two Canberra-esque vessels would probably be preferable on balance, with the carriers nine months on nine months off the LHD’s could alternate in the gaps giving a Carrier and an LHD always ready or near readiness and they would provide some (albeit limited) redundancy.
On simple MCM vessels I must admit to being mystified as to why we think the people who laid the mines won’t be unhappy that we’re taking them away.
I suggested twenty four frigates and destroyers as achievable within budget and I think it’s something of a magic number as well as being the most realistic number one could expect. It allows a CBG or ATG while meeting your other primary commitments, it would allow you to operate both a CBG and an ATG for an out of area operation for a short time without compromising your commitments, but in extremis would allow for a full CBG and a brigade sized amphibious group if we were ever left alone in that position again.
The above combination of capabilities, as well as being practical, earns a seat at almost any table for the foreseeable future; I think there’s a tendency to see that as a birthright.
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I would think the T31 design could lend itself more to a Damen crossover type the hull is the same as the Absalon class well known for flexibility. I’m not sure whether there is a great need for this? Especially under the plans for LSS the RN has lots of auxiliaries to deliver those types of capability. Possibly a case for 1 or 2 maybe 4.
The selection of the Arrowhead as an AAW would not exclude ASW just not quite at the highest end, but remember it meets NATO standards as is, but also can have raft mounted engines and the hull would probably allow more soundproofing. It can also have the same sonar systems and still possibly come in at 50% of T26.
The thing is the AAW ship is likely to spend it’s time next to a carrier which I would be surprised if quiet from ASW perspective. Therefore in my view the T31 design could be developed for AAW allowing the potential extra T26s from the savings to deploy further from the carrier to provide an effective ASW screen. The only potential question mark against it would be if we stuck with Sampson whether it could deal with the weight at the top of the vessel, but this would be a question for T26 design as well. If hull dimensions had to change it would surely be cheaper to enlarge T31 design?
I think it’s more or less stuck on that the LPD replacement will be an LHD and I do think that it would be better and a way to operate an ARG and CSG and really hope this happens.
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At the time I was suggesting that a Crossover type vessel could replace the Albion’s and some RFA vessels as part of a wider T31 purchase, that we should maybe think outside the box and look at a dispersed amphibious capability that would essentially be able to escort itself, but I’m probably of the opinion now that four flat tops would better suit our needs, the Arrowhead has some 80 free berths however, enough for three troops of marines, always useful.
I’m not convinced by LSS as I think it would endanger Albion’s replacements, I would rather it was dealt with as a Point replacement and possibly the Bay’s too.
T26 would seem to be a success story and between us, the Australians and the Canadians they will be in the water for decades to come; my presumption (and hope) is that they will be used as the basis for T45’s replacement, my suggestion is that we don’t over design and its possible use for ASW kind of underpinned my plundering ships 7 & 8, otherwise I have no money for T31. The intention would be to create the capability, not necessarily specific to a CBG, that is to say twelve advanced ASW hulls that could be used to address submarine threats, rather than have the eight (or ten) and some ‘also ran’ and to do it within budget. We set the Middle East ablaze, Putin is acting like Hitler and still the public doesn’t care about defence spending, short of some aquatic threat to cheap city breaks I think it’s fair to say that no more money is coming; we need platforms that can multitask.
Kind regards, Nemo
I broadly agree with your thinking on this, but would say that the Albion’s and potentially the Bays will be replaced by something completely different.
It makes sense to have more smaller ships (Crossover / Absalon) as ultimately we need to spread the risk of our beach heads off a few large ships to a lot of smaller ships. Something that can carry 4 CB90’s and we are in business.
For me its all about a flex deck / mission space and as many missiles as a ship can hold, plus a 5″ / 76mm fully automated gun.
The abalon or Damen Crossovers are almost perfect for the RN’s needs in my opinion, and it does baffle me why the RN does not see it that way also. Perhaps they just want to be a USN in miniature and that is wrong.
The T26 is a perfect example, probably too big for its actual purpose and once it finds a sub it is incapable of attacking it without launching its helicopter. In that case why does it need specialised hull etc…
Our ASW capability should be a large corvette with all the gear to prosecute a submarine hunt, seems to me the T26 is a destroyer in all but name, and whilst there is nothing wrong with that we then need to give it a proper AAW capability and come out and say it is also the T45 replacement.
Why not resurrect the old Type 82 concept but based on an enhanced Type 26 design? Only one out of 4 planned Type 82 ships, HMS Bristol, was ever built. On commissioning it combined both powerful anti-submarine and area air defence capabilities. The class was designed as escorts for the 2 cancelled CVA01 aircraft carriers. A small number of Type 8X ships could retain the anti-submarine capabilities of Type 26 but also possess the air defence capabilities of a Type 45. The result, hull for hull, would be an expensive beast (a cruiser in all but name) however it might well be cheaper than just buying a greater number of extra Type 26 frigates plus top-up Type 45s, or similar, but importantly reduce any gap in countering submarines or air attack. Moreover once it’s time to replace the 6 Type 45 ships a simplified version of Type 8X might well form the basis of a new Type 4X anti-aircraft destroyer. Key to all this would be relative cost reduction in non-recurring engineering and through-life support by reusing as much puff the existing Type 26 design as possible.
Any thoughts ?
To be honest a small number of Cruisers could be useful for the RN as you say to defend the carrier’s ala T82/Ticonderoga but also to give greater protection and firepower to an ARG as well as an extra C2 asset.
However the UK has always backed away from having overwhelming firepower for some reason why? I don’t know. Whereas the USA has the budget and sees the value of such ships. Also the cost would be extremely high especially based on a BAE design who would still convince ( as I think they would do with a straight T45 replacement) the RN that somehow it’s a whole new class of ship with huge design challenges etc. So costs x billions. So I really can’t see it happening.
At the end of the day BAE workforce are used to high pay and their shareholders are probably used to high returns and you could argue why not T45 and T26 are innovative world leading ships. .
However, I still think they add an additional x% being a monopoly. What will be interesting to see is how much Canada and Australia end up paying per vessel. I personally think that the next big contract should go to Babcock (if all goes well with T31) and they can deliver for less than BAEs x%. .
Once BAE know they have competition even at the high end we can start hopefully see proper competition hopefully not only bringing cost benefits but innovation as well.
Until this happens I don’t think we could afford the designs that you hint at and personally want/ see the value in. The most high end “AAW” destroyer we will get is a slightly modified T26.
I still think T26 is the wrong design to choose as it is designed for high end ASW not AAW so you will pay a premium for a ship that will be near noisey carriers and RFAs. It would in my view be better to adapt A140 and use the savings for more T26 to increase the ASW barrier. As well a purchase more effective sensors and more weapons for AAW.
Of course you will need more sailors but hopefully we will be in a better position then.
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I would question some of your numbers within this article and also would state that any future state should take into account RFA numbers.
In order to increase the RN combat capability the following needs to happen.
The current RN size is broadly :-
Add in RFA vessels and the potential to Change becomes clear
It should also be noted that both fleets have taken significant cuts in the last 10 years and that some form of increase is needed, as per the recommendations of the Strategic defence committee and NSS.
So in order to create more combat ships we need to rationalise the combat fleet and for me the Karel Doorman JLSS of the Dutch Navy is the perfect platform for the RN/RFA to rationalise its support and mothership fleet with a fleet of 9 JLSS replacing the whole non tide RFA fleet + the Albion class.
This releases the crews of the Albion class to move onto new escorts and I would increase the T26 fleet to 13 ships, all with an upgraded AAW radar capability. This is simply adding another 5 ships to the current order and improving the radar on those in build.
With the money saved from not renewing 6 escorts with T26 (£7.2bn) as well as retiring all other non specialist surface classes over time (£3.6bn) It would be possible to order 13 T31’s (£5.2bn) and potentially 25 Corvettes (£2.5bn) similar to the C-Sword 90 and I would consider removing the P class of vessels if this was also needed to fund a corvette fleet. Add in the cost savings from standardising both RN and RFA fleets and introducing a proper drumbeat and it is possible to reduce the cost per ship down further.
I also believe the Sub fleet needs increased to 10 SSN’s.
The cost of all this is £4bn pa every year for 25 years, and is more than doable and provides a drumbeat
We definitely need more people, especially in the RN where an additional 6k personnel are required in order to provide the required harmonisation and make the RN and employer of choice.
Apologies for the length of response – the articledeserves a full answer
My fleet would be similar to your proposal but I would merge the T45/T26 requirements into a single class by adding AAW to T26 and have assumed an MCM fleet will be deployed via the Atlas suite from a T31 or new JLSS class.
13 x C1 Global Combat ship T26 (ASW/AAW) – £1.2bn each
13 x C2 Global Mission Ship T31 – £400m each
25 x C3 Multi Mission Ship T82 – £100m each
So this would give us a 43 ship major surface fleet when the carriers are added in, with the Albion’s being replaced in the RFA fleet by an Aegir version of the Karel Doorman.
2.5 ships per year Provides the drumbeat for the RN/RFA and 0.5 ships per year for Subs.
All of this will also need 100 smaller vessels per year to make work as well (as the RN has circa 2500 small vessels of all types).
It’s a major rebalance of assets but one I believe we should go with, as it standardises platforms which will reduce maintenance costs, puts in place a drumbeat that removes Lifex costs, and most importantly provides our sailors with the equipment they deserve. Fully funded and fully fitted from the day they are in service.
A great article as ever.
Where to begin. Let’s start with ASW and the threat posed by potential enemies with large numbers of SSN. We would not be engaging such an enemy on our own but within a NATO article 5 context with European and US Navy. So our low individual numbers of ASW platforms has to be seen in the context of overall NATO capabilities. Still, the Bubble Heads will always tell you that the best “anti-boat system is a boat” ; in other words the best platform to hunt and kill an SSN is another SSN. Despite having been both a “Skimmer” (surface fleet) and a “WAFU” (Fleet Air Arm) and never a smelly stinky submariner, I bow to their wisdom on this, and would suggest an 8th Astute is a better investment in ASW capability than 2 more T26. As to the growth and future expense of such platforms, I think the A class replacement will have to be a smaller, joint venture with the French Navy.
If we stick to 8 x T26 and add an 8th Astute, what else can we do to increase ASW capacity? The first thing that comes to mind is to increase the number of Merlin’s available. Of the original purchase of 44 Merlin HM1, the original plan was to upgrade only 30 to HM2. I believe this was increased to 38 – BUT – some of these have to carry the modular AEW kit to provide AEW cover from the carrier. According to Wikipedia, out of 25 Merlin’s in the ‘ready fleet’ – some 14 would be allocated to the carrier for ASW and AEW roles. This leaves 11. If we can generate 2 xT45 out of 6, say 4 x T26 out 8, that is another 6 – leaving 5 to fly from RFA’s or T31. So the Merlin increases the ASW capability of any platform it flies from, and I believe there is potential for the T26 to use it’s mission bay to carry a second one. The Wildcat is not an ASW asset for the RN, and I would not push it into that role by adding a lightweight dipping sonar. It is a torpedo carrier, which is still a useful capability when vectored onto target by other assets.
So I am going to go down a route which might be too expensive, and controversial, but would simultaneously improve our air defence capabilities and our ASW – introduce a variant of the V22 into service as the AEW asset for our carriers. While it is certainly not a cheap platform, we would not need a large buy to provide a high flying, longer endurance AEW platform, that we really need to allow our F35’s to do a decent job of the fleet air defence role (even better would be handful more configured as air to air refuelling tankers). With a V22 flying the AEW role, then the Merlin’s that would be allocated to this role, could be deployed from T31’s or other platforms enhancing their ASW capabilities. The FY2015 fly-away unit price of a V22 is $72 million, approx 58 million GBP. With the aim of a single T31 coming in around 250 million GBP, then we get 4 V22’s for the price of a T31, which does not seem a great bargain, except if we are going to have carriers the size of ours, we should lever them to the max, so 3 x T31 or 12 AEW V22’s ? I have left the AEW kit out of these figures, as it is being purchased for the 8 Merlin’s anyway.
A modest increase in T31’s to 8 would give us 6 x T45, 8 x T26 and 8 x T31. Further investment in Unmanned Surface Vehicles and Unmanned Sub-Surface Vehicles will increase the utility of these existing platforms. It does not solve the “a single ship can only be in one place at one time” problem, but the retention of B1 Rivers for “home fleet” use, and the upgrading of the B2 Rivers for forward deployment would potentially make more hulls available. The B2’s are often considered poor value for money, although they are constructed to much higher standards for things like damage control and redundancy, so perhaps 3 additional (for a total of 8) up-gunned hulls would help. However, to gain the greatest utility from these hulls they need investment in the deploy-able off-board sensors, be they ASW USV’s, mine hunting USSV’s or UAV’s like the S100 Camcopter or the Skeldar.
On the subject of two crews per ship, as far as I know, that only applies to forward deployed vessels, not all ships in the surface fleet – apparently we cannot man every ship we have right now, so we certainly cannot provide 2 crews per ship. Perhaps we should join the US Navy programme for a “Large Unmanned Surface Vessel” ? https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/navy-ships/a28712589/large-unmanned-surface-vehicle/
Doesn’t look like Radakin’s a fan I’m afraid.
The case for the RN acquiring the V-MV-22 Osprey is compelling. A fleet of 8-12 MV-22s would offer excellent utility on the carriers. They could perform AEW&C, AAR, SAR, Utility and Logistics roles very well. Acquisition costs would be £750 million or the same price as three Type 31s. I heard two years ago that the RN was indeed trying to buy MV-22 and as recently as this year MV-22s have been spotted undergoing UK trials. While MV-22 would free-up Merlins for ASW, it isn’t clear whether we can afford them.
I agree that acquiring more submarines is a priority. For the reasons I state in the article, we just don’t have the manufacturing capacity to produce more subs at Barrow at this time. The other thing is cost. By deciding to fit the same reactor as the Vanguard SSBNs, we made the Astutes, much bigger, much more expensive and much more difficult to support than their predecessors. Building more is unaffordable. An alternative is to acquire the German Type 212 / 214/ 212A Class. These are excellent submarines. meanwhile fuel cell / AIP technology plus battery capacities are improving every year. With a cost of £500 million each, 4 or 5 SSKs could be a better investment than another five Type 31s – something definitely worth thinking about. However, there is the cost of of supporting three different submarine types. I would definitely want to consider an AIP submarine next time.
While I like the idea of more nations buying the V-22, does the UK need its specific capabilities or just the capabilities of a tilt-rotor in general? If the later, then it might be better to wait and see if the V-280 gets the green light from the Army. That is of course assuming the UK can afford to wait. If it can’t then maybe a buy just large enough to keep the V-22 line running pending the outcome and then divide the buys appropriately between V-22s and Valors. In my mind the V-22 would replace the Pumas and Merlin HC3s and take over some of the Chinooks roles. The Valor would replace the Wildcats, Gazelles, and Merlin HC4s.
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Dowcett, the UK can always afford to wait, well that is to say we can’t afford to not wait, but we also like to spend money waiting… not to say we’re indecisive.
$3.5bn pending on 16 Chinooks, how many V-280 is that if we wait a little?
No idea how much a V-280 would cost. Was not saying the Chinooks need to be replaced…. unless of course you want to replace them with King Stallions (but that’s a whole other conversation), as you still need them for the heavy lift/cargo missions. I saw the V-22 taking over the SF support role that I believe your Chinooks currently have. I see the V-22/V-280 pairing similar to how we (USMC) paired CH-46s and UH-1s. I understand there are fiscal constraints, we have them too here, and one can’t get everything that is wanted. I was just trying to ponder what the most efficient thing to do might be if UK decided that it needed tilt-rotors sooner rather than later, if at all.
Dowcett, I was just pushing my own agenda tbh, lol.
I’d like the question asked before we spend a lot of money on a small number of airframes, do we actually need to lift anything that weighs more than five tons that often and would getting better efficiencies with a single airframe across all three services and increased range and speed be worth the loss?
Nicholas is probably in a better position to tell us but I think V-280 is aimed at the 30 -40 million mark, so you could replace every Chinook and Puma the RAF has (support costs not withstanding) and that purchase would dovetail with Merlin replacement in the 2030’s.
At the moment I just dont see us going AIP for extra hulls. Sure we used to run a lot more SSN and a handful of SSK at the same time, but that was a long time ago. I personally would push out the SSBN built to fit another SSN in; but then I am a bit odd, as I would scrap the deterrent in order to fund conventional forces.
Very interesting post and discussion. I would like to bring another perspective to the discussion- what is the minimum number of ships that the RN needs for its current commitments? I will focus on destroyers and frigates. According to this list (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmdfence/221/22113.htm) the following deployments currently require T23 and T45 ships. In the future, these will of course be done by the T45s, T26s, and T31s:
– Atlantic Patrol Tasking South
– SNMG 1 & 2
– Fleet Ready Escort (FRE)
– Towed Array Patrol Ship (TAPS)
So let’s say that this is the level of ambition. How many ships are needed to satisfy this? For permanent deployments, the best rule of thumb afaik is that for one ship permanently deployed, one needs 2 more, one preparing to deploy, one refitting. For tasks where one needs a deployable ship (but not a permanently deployed one), half that might work. (Note: With a multi-crew system, these numbers might get lower, but not much. The German Navy will use the multi-crew system on their new F125 type frigates and assumes that they need 2.5 ships to permanently deploy one).
My understanding is that FRE, TAPS and the Carrier group will be „permanently deployable“ rather than „permanently deployed“, so I assume a rotation factor of 1.5 for them, and 3 for the SNMGs, ATP South, and the East of Suez deployment.
So where does this leave the RN?
Carrier Strike Group: Assuming the escorts will consist of two T45 and two T26 each, a permanently deployable CSG would require three T45s and three T26s
FRE: 1 ship at readiness=> requires 1.5 (T45, T26, maybe T31)
TAPS: 1 ship at readiness => requires 1.5 (T26 or an ASW version of the T31)
Atlantic Patrol South: 1 ship permanently deployed => requires 3 ships (probably T31)
SNMG 1 &2: 1 ship each permanently deployed => 6 ships. ideally T26 or T45, potentially T31, especially in ASW version
Gulf: 1 ship permanently deployed => 3 ships (probably T45 or T26)
So in total, at the bare minimum, one would arrive at 21 destroyers and frigates. Having six T45s, eight T26s and five T31 would fall short by two ships, and the gap would increase to five if one thinks of FRE and TAPS as tasks that require a permanently deployed ship rather than a deployable one. At the same time, it seems to me that the gap could be made up by acquiring more T31, especially if one considers a version with improved ASW capabilities.
Your article raises some interesting issues and I commend you for it.
As Jedpc mentions above we simply don’t have enough ASW helicopters to equip a carrier and T26 frigates. The HM1 Merlins in storage should be brought out and upgraded to HM2 standard, this would give the fleet an additional 10 Merlins. The problem would be if the Delivery Team chose those aircraft because they had some major defects or other. The Wildcat has the capability to be turned into an light ASW platform so this is something the RN should be looking at. It would be cheaper than buying additional Merlins.
The current Westlanct19 is going very well with the aircraft trials. The recent day and night landing to qualify the V22 has raised some interesting comments, especially from the Navy themselves. The V22 can give the Navy a lot of options from AEW, aerial refuelling and carrier on-board deliveries. Admittedly the Chinook could carry a F35 engine internally, but it will take a long time to get there, it can’t do AEW or aerial refuelling. But more importantly having a V22 would free up the Merlins to concentrate on their primary role of sub-hunting. The other cheaper option would be to jump in bed with the USMC and buy the V247 Vigilent. This unmanned tilt-rotor is going to be used by them as an AEW and communications platform, with the additional roles of surveillance and close air support. Though its probably to small for use as tanker aircraft.
The T31, I believe is too small to be a replacement for the T45. The next AAW ship will need substantially more anti-air missiles than the current T45’s 48. It will at a minimum need to be in the 9000 ton class and thus require a length over 150m. The ship will likely have a dedicated anti-ballistic missile requirement. These missiles will need to be big and require the strike length vertical launch cells which take up a lot of deck space (vertical). The main issue though, would be the electrical power requirement. It will be envisaged that the 50KW Dragonfire prototype will then lead to a 100KW laser to be used for CIWS. To fully protect the ship at least two of these will be needed. However, a laser with this amount of power will need 10 times the input power to supply it, so you’re looking at something like 2MW for the lasers alone. Then there’s the radar, like the T45 its best to have two separate radars operating on two different frequency bands. This better helps detect stealthy targets, but also makes jamming more difficult. It also lends the ship some redundancy if one of the radar fails or requires maintenance. However, to power these long range radars requires copious amounts of power. For example the Arleigh Burkes AEGIS SPY1,with its four flat panels, can only transmit at very long range only one panel at a time, due to the amount of power each panel requires. The T45’s current two diesels provide 2MW each, these are being replaced by three MTU engines producing 3MW each, as the two diesels don’t have enough capacity. This is to power the ship in its current configuration and to make sure there’s enough reserve if the gas turbines fail. It will also allow a margin of electrical demand growth, but possibly still not enough. The T26 will use one MT30 gas turbine and four of the same MTU diesel generators. The MT30 is based on the RR Trent 1000 core and one engine can replace the two WR21 engines of the T45. This ship is only operating one Artisan radar and not two radars like the T45. So the trend is more power not less, so perhaps the next ship will require two MT30s and four diesels. This is the reason why the ship will need to be big, probably larger than the both the current T45 and T26.
Today we have basically an under armed corvette doing fishery protection and constabulary duties. We have a mixed fleet of mine countermeasure vessels that does both mine hunting as well as constabulary duties. To my mind, both requirements need to be combined. With the advance of technology, do we still need a glass fibre hulled boat? I would say we don’t, as unmanned sea vehicles can now do the dangerous part of the job by scouting ahead of the ship and searching for the mines. They can also do the mine destruction part. So what we require is a mothership for harbouring and maintaining the USVs. The Batch 2 rivers are slightly bigger and heavier than their WW2 frigate forbears. But don’t have anything like their armament. The Batch 2 hull gives you a lot to play with. This hull should be used as basis for the next MCMV, but acting as a mothership. However, a ship should be able to defend itself, gone are the days when a single 30mm was judged as being adequate. Any ship that intentional needs to go into harms way, need the ability to defend itself let alone take the fight to the enemy. A MCMV is a specialist strategic asset that is required to ensure sea lanes are kept open. Therefore, it is a prime target, I am not suggesting that it be made into a mini T31. But having a means to deter a swarm attack requires more than just one small calibre gun. The DS30 with the Martlet missile is a very useful combination. If the Martelts could be mixed with a couple of Starstreaks this would give the ship some deterence. But for a ship this useful and important, I’m suggesting the BAe/Bofors 57mm gun as the best multi-role solution for both AAW and surface effects. A combination of a 57mm and two DS30 mounts would significantly upgrade the ship’s capabilities. If the Batch 2s could be given a small hangar so they can be equipped with the Schiebel style UAV this would also add to the ship’s capability.
So the fantasy fleet part so far I agree with the Albion and Bulwark would be best replaced by a LHD in the Canberra style that has a hangar, well deck and a vehicle deck. The flat deck improves helicopter operations by increasing turnaround times. As you’ve mentioned, it could also be used by the F35Bs So the carriers and two LHD are a given. I think it is too late to restart the T45 program. The next AAW destroyer will need more power, so perhaps a scaled up T26 hull could be used. The main reason for the larger size is number of expected missile cells, but also the number of power sets required.
There should be an increase in the T31 hulls. The Arrowhead gives us a modular mission bay, this will allow for ASW modules. This ship design is supposed to be quiet but not in the same league as the T23 let alone the T26; so would a tail work when its being lugged around by a relatively noisy ship? The best option would be by operating a number of unmanned undersea vehicles like Kongsberg Remus controlled by a T31 mothership. This would allow the T31 to operate as the goal keeper in a task group, whilst the T26 would operate on the fringes hunting subs. Due to the T31’s larger hull it will be easily upgraded in the future and become perhaps more capable with additional weapons.
The subs is the big problem. The Astutes are the undisputed champions in sub-hunting. But they are only constructed in one place and with the Dreadnaught build coming, the production line will be closed. The modern SSK has proven itself a worthy contender, the Swedes have shown this, when getting inside a US CBG screen and doing practice shots on the carrier. The issue being 4 would not be enough. Using the rule of 3, having only 4 would mean 1.33 SSK would only be available, a minimum of 6 would be a better option. By having two crews, it would allow perhaps 3 boats being available at any one time.
Excellent points, but a couple of observations/questions.
The V-247 is possibly much, much more; Bell have it operating behind F35 as a magazine, performing AEW, ISTAR, logistics, with its loiter time you could also see it in ASW roles performing mundane searches or providing support to marines ashore. It’s good to watch USMC because they’re known to be a thrifty operation..
Why is carrier resupply always measured in F35 engines? It’s a big ship, take some engines rather than making it a logistical yardstick.
MCM must indeed be a prime target, so why not go large and give them the ability to fight that mission?
The Royal Navy have been shy so far in adopting VLS, they could have added to T26 for a relatively inconsequential sum, what makes you sure they’ll go big this time?
Has the RN been shy about adopting VLS because they don’t like them or because they don’t have missiles for them? The only VLS missiles that I know of in the RN inventory are Sea Ceptor and Tomahawk so I would think the reason is more the later than the former. Please correct me if my knowledge is inaccurate. Navies have seen the value of VLS systems, as such almost all naval missiles in development or developed recently have VLS versions so to me it makes sense for the RN to as you said, “go big” with VLS in this and future designs.
Hi Mate, I think the Navy will go slightly larger for MCM vessels, this will be due to the requirement of using multiple under sea vehicles (USV) to conduct mine searching and destruction. By having a larger vessel means the ship could have a mission bay. I’m not talking on the same scale as a T31 or T26. But one where the maintenance of the USVs can be done under cover. Using a similar process of launching and recovering that the T26 uses. This is one of the reasons why I think the Batch 2 hull would be useful. It has the volume to incorporate a mission bay as well as a small flight deck.
The current mix of 18 Sandown and Hunt class mine hunters and sweepers should be combined into one vessel type. with the use of USVs a ship could easily do both roles. By using USVs the ship will have a safer stand-off range, so a plastic hull wouldn’t be required. They are also expected to do constabulary duties, so why not combine them with the role of the River class as an OPV.
For the amount of slagging off the Batch 2s get, I actually like the hull. The current fit out is severely lacking, but it could be so much more. I do think when the MCMs get replaced we won’t be getting the current 18, probably less. But if the Batch 2 hull was used as the basis, perhaps delivery could be quicker (doubt it though!).
The USMC will be getting the V247 this side of 2025. However, one of its other features is like the V22, the main wing and rotors fold. One of the aircraft’s requirements was so that it could operate from one of their destroyers. Therefore, it had to be capable of being housed in the ship’s hangar. Perhaps, this is the answer to anti-ship hypersonic missiles, as a V247 with a suitable radar would give a lone ship the over the horizon warning. But could also if say allow a ship to engage the missile beyond the horizon.
I suppose the question of carrier resupply is always on what stores are already held. I would expect the ship to hold a couple of spare engines etc. But there will come a time when another engine is required. The only aircraft we have currently that can lift one to the carrier is the Chinook. The Chinook for all its advantages is limited for ship use due its inability to fold the blades. yes it can go downstairs with the blades still fitted. But it will take up significant space when it does. The Chinook really does need folding blades to make it more carrier friendly. The V22 does this, but it can also do other things that the Chinook cannot, such as aerial refuelling the F35s. Admittedly it can’t carry as much as a Chinook.
Dowcett, the T45 has 48 Sylver cells for its Aster 15 and 30, which is reasonably respectable versus our peers but the navy seems reluctant to embrace say Mk 41 as a one size fits all problem solver.
There’s probably some sort of self fulfilling prophecy at work in that you don’t buy the missiles because you don’t have the cells and vice versa, I think we’re kind of treading historical water.
We’ve got the sub launched Tomahawk, which is its own sealed unit for torpedo tube launch, not the VLS version.
T26 will have 24 Mk 41 and as I mention above existing destroyers have 48 Sylver. so what are the chances the Royal Navy will go full Arleigh Burke?
Hi Davey, my position is get the T31 to do MCM because then you can argue for more T31. If T31 can do MCM but MCM can’t do GP, then in a smaller Navy the logical choice should be T31. The Arrowhead’s not ideal given the size of the boat bays, but a batch 2 might provide some solutions.
On going large for MCM I believe this is the way to go. Also I think they should also have a Maritime security role as well perhaps a few Camm missiles ,a 57mm gun and 30mm guns to defend themselves and a Wildcat hangar . The Arrowhead 140 is to large I feel as a starting point for this and the Batch 2 Rivers as a starting point maybe just slightly on the small side. However the Leander Type31 design could be a good starting point for a future MCM vessel.
You say …
“The (River) Batch 2 hull gives you a lot to play with. This hull should be used as basis for the next MCMV, but acting as a mothership. …………… If the Batch 2s could be given a small hangar so they can be equipped with the Schiebel style UAV this would also add to the ship’s capability.”
One observation I’d make here is that you’re pretty much describing a BMT Venari 85 as already mentioned further up the comments by Simon Mugford although admittedly we have no real data on seakeeping, range, speed, crew complement etc [ If anyone from BMT is reading this I would love to know that info ].
In terms of flexibility the Venari 85 could potentially be even better than River B2. It has a very large aft working deck behind and below the flight deck so doesn’t interfere with flight operations and already has a UAV hangar fully integrated into the design. It also has what I assume must be a significant mission space underneath the flight deck with direct access to both the sides of the ship and the aft working deck. It has designed-in weapons stations forward centreline and port and starboard so could easily handle a 57mm + twin 40mm fit for instance and it also has provision for decoy launchers. Plus, looking even at the existing Venari 85, there seems to be a fair amount of deck space between the main gun and the bridge. One has no way of knowing what is below that deck so a stretch would probably be required to get the below-deck space but with even just a 3m stretch (still smaller than a 90.5m River Batch 2 assuming a Verari 85 is actually 85m long) it could accommodate at least a couple of 3 cell stand-alone ExLS launchers, perhaps FFBNW, to give some Sea Ceptor and maybe in future VLS Spear 3 capability. In fact given that a single Stanflex module is 3.0m x 3.5m you could even Stanflex them. A Stanflex module could almost certainly host at least 3 x 3-cell ExLS and access to that area behind the gun is open and easy (at deck level with clear side access) for a shore side Stanflex swap in/out.
There has been much talk of T31 reducing the load on higher-end escorts but for policing roles even without ExLS a Venari 85 or 90 with embarked Schiebel S-100 style UAV to increase surveillance reach would be more than up to the task of drug/piracy/human-trafficking policing roles, in fact it would be bordering on formidable when viewed against most of what it would come up against in those roles and with Stanflex I would suggest fully up to even the tanker escort tasks recently required in the Gulf.
I do think that too little attention and ambition is given to exploiting the opportunities we will have when we get to Hunt & Sandown replacement. With 6 Hunt Class & 7 Sandown still in active RN service (I think) plus 2 Echo class which with Verani’s signature reduction capabilities is also a potential role BMT promotes for Venari that’s quite a few vessels/classes that next time around could be made far more capable in their secondary roles. Echo and/or Enterprise have been pushed into other roles too on occasion so, like the Hunts and Sandowns, could be candidates for evolution to something like Venari when they get older not to mention batch 1 Rivers (inc Clyde).
The kicker is that the BMT design is just that, a design with some tank testing but frustratingly little data about speed, range, crew complement and most critically cost (how much does the signature reduction add to the cost?). In hindsight I really wish that the River Batch 2s could have been something like a Venari 85 or 90 to start with(*) so that we could be heading towards a single class of vessel to cover River, Hunt, Sandown and Echo class roles. The savings in logistics costs for a single class vs 6 classes now (counting River as 3 classes if one includes Clyde as a class of one) plus economies of scale in the build gained by keeping a Venari (or similar) production line running over many years for over 20 vessels (9 River, 6 Hunt, 7 Sandown & 2 Echo = 24 vessels) might have made a single class of say 25 or maybe even more affordable within what is expected to be spent over the next 15 years on replacing those assets especially if one were to be able to re-write history and factor in the money already spent on River B2.
(*) I do accept that the absence of data on Venari costs, sea state capabilities etc could scupper my ideas but I would like to see something like the above at least being explored even if ultimately it turns out to be impractical.
Despite looking jealously at the armament it similarly sized Russian corvettes, I’m actually quite a fan of the River B2s. Their size makes an asset of flexibility rather than weaponry. Although not an advocate of some of the up-gunning suggested, I think it makes sense for the forward weapon to be a 57 mm (only putting it on a par with US coastguard cutters). I’d then rear mount the existing 30 mm with adjoined Martlet / Starstreak launcher. If it is inevitable that rogue fishery vessels, drug and human traffickers start using explosive-laden drones, this is an appropriate weapon load-out. Add to that a section of Marines and it is spot-on mission appropriate.
I think a huge uplift to River B2s could be had from investing in some container-based drone technology. I believe that the B2s are actually designed to take something like 8 standard ISO containers – 6 on the flight deck and 1 either side of the crane (aft of the port & starboard RIBs. I’ve seen a render of the intended loading somewhere. Ignoring the 6 on the flight deck it’s the ones either side of the crane, that do not encroach on the flight deck but whose doors could open directly onto it, that are interesting.
Something like a Schiebel S-100 can operate out of a 20’ IOS container and I suspect have enough working space around it to also be maintainable within the container. The S-100 has even been demonstrated with two Martlet although I’m sceptical that 2 x Martlet plus an adequate sensor & designator package could all be carried while maintaining decent endurance. Even unarmed with a decent sensor package though it could massively increase the surveillance capabilities of the River B2s for anti-piracy & anti-smuggling. Plus, being containerised it becomes a flexible capability for Bays, Army and I’m sure other places too.
We need to up our game on medium-sized drones
Julian, totally agree with containerised UAS solutions but have given no thought to sensor or weapons load out.
Another thing I would like to see is all vessels, right down to the Archer class, be data linked (16 or 22, I’m not an expert so don’t know which would be most appropriate) and given an ESM fit. The intent being to have no gaps in information soak up or dissemination. It would also be a hilarious middle-finger to the Russians if for part of a one of their vessel’s transit past U.K. waters it was shadowed by an Archer… but still posed a SIGINT threat to them.
You do realise that Iver huiltfeldts T31 parent design carry more missiles than T45 (this not even considering quad packing sea ceptor in the mk41) it also generates 2 x the power it needs 32mw. So has more than enough excess power for energy weapons. Other than the Sampson requirement it is a capable AAW & has demonstrated the ability to perform ABM mission
if a new AAW ship is to be large as you say, and that’s plausible, then bite the bullet and build a 12,000 – 15,000 through deck cruiser with a tall radar and minimum 96 silos down the starboard side.
The hangar can carry all sorts of helos and emergency F35s.
Such a platform could be adapted to various roles. This is the benefit of both the T31 and River 2s, their platforms are quite large for the money.
Nothing sends a message quite like easily sinking your enemies only serviceable aircraft carrier.
The short term uplift with 5 extra T31 and 2 extra T26 is quite ambitious and I not sure that it is achievable.
If the funds were available for this you would have to examine if this is the best use of these funds and are there more urgent requirements or a better way of delivering similar outcomes that the extra T26/T31 would achieve.
On T26 it may be realistic to aim for 1 extra ship perhaps achieved by ordering two further batches of three ships.
For T31 a second batch of 3 would be more achievable.
More ships would be great but you need the crews for them. Getting the crews for 4 extra ships in the short term will be challenging enough even with reduced crewing requirements.
If you had the funds for the other 3 ships instead of spending it on more ships I would suggest these funds be used to buy capabilities for your exsisting ships such as Captas, Firescout/Camcopter type UAVs for Rivers/T31, 5 inch gun for T31, increase the available Merlin fleet, datalink for Wildcat, dipping sonar for Wildcat. These are just a few examples and there is probably many more. Doing this could deliver similar effects as more T31/T26 by increasing the utility of the Rivers and increasing ASW assessts.
In the longer term submarine numbers need to increase.
Osprey would be a brillant addition but funding is the issue here. However in the meantime Arrowhead 140 could lilypad a Chinook for a refueling stop enroute to the carrier if needed.
V-280 Valor target price is US$ 40-50 million a copy. It has a payload capacity of 4,000 kg. It is a superb aircraft while Sikorksky’s rival SB-1 has been much slower off the mark. Potentially, the UK could purchase the V-280 to replace Merlin, Puma, and Wildcat. If we do, we could make it the standard ASW machine on Type 45, Type 26 and Type 31. With large twin blades it will be more stable in the hover than Merlin, especially when dipping sonar. V-280 won’t replace Chinook, because it can’t carry 10 tonnes. For this reason, I fully expect to see an upgraded V-22 Osprey. Its larger payload could enable it to be Chinook substitute, although I think it’s a question of having both not one or the other. The UK was thinking about getting the Block 2 version of Chinook, but then the US Army cancelled it, The RAF had budget to buy more Chinooks to replace older ones. It could probably afford to acquire up to a dozen.
Thank you for your thoughts.
I read you, I don’t mean that in the American sense (though I do), I mean I read your work and you’ve also raised V280 as an Apache replacement, can you imagine how efficient the model would be if JHC ran a central maintenance and attrition pool for a single type across all three services, what will we lift between four and ten tons that we won’t miss or that can’t be replicated?
The difference in speed and range is staggering, over the horizon operations for 3 CDO BDE would match USMC and 5 BDE pretty much gets Western Europe to play with.
My personal opinion, replacing Wildcat with V247 and everything else with V280 would change everything.
UK request for Chinook was current as of October 2018, I would guess that the money is still circling somewhere… pun unintended.
When it comes to Apache, the jury is out until we’ve seen hard evidence of how it performs in a contested air space and against ground targets in a GBAD dominated environment. The attack helicopter concept may be found wanting. Or, possibly a light propeller aircraft carrying the same amount of ordnance could prove to be an equally effective asset at a quarter of the price. But, as I say, the jury is out until we see how survivable Helicopter Gunships are. I am also reminded that A-10s in GWW1 were pulled back as they just didn’t have the speed to avoid taking damage. In any event, I expect helicopters to continue to mount light cannons, ATGMs and rockets; but will a dedicated attack variant of V-280 be worth the extra money? Hmmmm.
It’s tempting to say that V280 could also be that light aircraft upon occasion.
I suspect that futuristic dashboard could slave a couple of V247, one of the reasons I love of the pairing, the mothership could sit well back with spear while the robots do the dirty work.
Unfortunately I think your barking up the wrong tree here Nicholas:
“With large twin blades it will be more stable in the hover than Merlin, especially when dipping sonar.”
The “rotors” of a tilt rotor are a compromise between helicopter mode efficiency and fast, forward, wing borne flight. A V280 may get to its patrol area faster than a Merlin, but it will be far less efficient moving in and out of the dip , plus it carries less pay load in the first place. So I can see V280 fitting many roles, but I am pretty sure it would be sub-optimal for ASW.
This is not what Bell tells me. Flight testing has shown extraordinary low speed precision and stability when the blades are in the vertical mode. It may be because the blades have variable pitch. When I spoke to Bell at AUSA 2018, they told me that a nasalised version of the V-280 was a priority and that it will be fully capable. Having said that, I wonder whether V-280 will utilise sonar buoys dropped into the ocean rather than a dipping sonar. Alternatively, it could have a re-usable Unmanned Submersible Vehicle with a sonar which it drops and recovers.
If the current mine warfare vessels are due for renewal, the government’s objective remains to reduce dependence on BAE, and remote systems have evolved/will evolve to the point that degaussed hulls are no longer essential, then why not begin planning for a such a class based on the Type 31 hull?
They could operate as motherships, and with a good gun and a limited but potent array of CAMM (fewer tubes surely) and a couple of tubes ready for a few anti-ship missiles and ASROC, they could also fulfil a range of patrol, maritime presence and engagement roles safely and independently.
Since they can also accommodate helicopters and ribs, they would offer enormous flexibility, and the cost savings would be significant. And the ability to lay smart mines via helicopter at a range of a few hundred kilometres would cause a lot of adversary navy brass to break into a sweat whenever these vessels were on deployment.
Not just Russia in the North Atlantic, but likely China subs also via the developing northern route – unless the USA and other eastern allies feel confident of containing PRC.
It seems to me that USA , Australia, Japan have more interest in China than us. We have allies. We do not police the world. We would I hope support Australia if push came to shove, and a carrier with 36 F35s would help them. But I do not see it as the other way around.
How can other navies afford to equip their navies with vessels that cost far less the RN ones. And seems to have equal punch. And navies hold on to their ships for longer so the debate about HMS Ocean is one ship that should not have been sold and of course the Invincible class terrible decisions by politicians with short sightedness Tom
Not being a RN expert but a keen interest in the RN is it possible to suggest that the RFA be expanded greatly with new Fort or Rover style RFA’s being built at a much reduced rate and yet capable of providing security as well as supply by equipping them with missile, gun and CWS with marine capability as well as helidrone and helicopter (ASW ). Such ships could be built more rapidly at UK shipyards on Tyne, Belfast, Liverpool, as examples and in larger numbers with fewer personnel through automated systems
I’m going to be controversial and say surface ship numbers are just about optimal for the budget available and the tasks currently envisaged (all bets are off if Existential Crisis 4 goes live).
As there is a move to permanent forward basing (of non-escorts) and double-crewing, there will be a move away from ‘rule of 3s’ to more ‘one in, one out’ trg and maintenance; much like how the OPV in BFSAI operates. That is 24 / 7 / 365 presence, just not necessarily put to sea. For this to work, I think we need one more T31 than currently planned, for a total of 6x, combined with the 22x OPV / MCM mix. With containerised MCM (and lesser extent, towed array sonars), a future fleet of 24x combined OPV / MCM ships should be an aspiration. This is only an uplift of 3x hulls total.
As this comes to pass, I’d hope that T45s where never used in anything other than the CSG or amphib group. And the same applies to the T26s, with the exception of towed array duties in U.K. waters. Despite their successes, these ships picking up £3 mil of coke every few weeks isn’t a good return on investment. If this were the case, the ‘rule of 3s’ could still apply. Maintaining this has the added advantage of the third that are at home port in the work-up phase being available to escalate home-waters ops as necessary (or home water, N Atlantic, Baltic exercises). Saying that, this is still bear-bones number of escorts…but manageable.
For the above I’m assuming a (‘sovereign’) CSG /amphib group consisting of: 1x flagship, 2x T45, 2x T26, 1x SSN, 2x MCM, 2x RFA + any forward based T31 in the vicinity as applicable / necessary.
Similarly, I’d hope that QNLZ and Albion ships (fingers crossed for 2x 25k tonne LHDs as Albion replacements in 2035+) will be used on a constant rotation basis; what I like to call ‘Continuous At Sea Deterrence (Conventional)’ – this would give 4 ships to be used exactly like the bombers.
The main thing that actually concerns me is weapons fit. While SeaCeptor is a great addition, I’ve not had anyone explain to me the reason behind the space inefficiency of its specific VLS. LM Mk41 VLS are ubiquitous, cheap, take up about the same volume (less with some of the SHORAD-specific derivatives), as flexible as you like and 4x more space efficient (based on a unit being approximately same plan dimensions as SeaCeptor VLS, but having the ability to quad-pack). To my mind they should be the core of any future escort, licence manufactured in this country by LM U.K. This would further the potency of the T26, allow the T31 to be truly multi role (as per the Danish IH) and give options for T45 replacement.
The gun mix across the fleet also needs rationalising, but that could be a whole other article.
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I forgot to add to the above, that my assertion of numbers being sufficient is based on all of the ships having the space to become ‘motherships’ to unmanned air, surface and sub-surface craft to compliment all of there capabilities, put more hulls in the water, and cover more of an AOR at once. Although using this method, a serious growth in hull numbers using unmanned tech will have to wait until reduced cost and reliability is a known quantity. The counter-argument to this, of course, is that the ‘mothership’ concept is still a single point of failure – one hypersonic weapon away from having one burning hull with numerous immobile hulls floating around it.
Mass Production makes things cheaper, outsource the hulls but save the classified hardware and internals inhouse.
Been playing fantasy fleets for a little while, (partly due to a politics essay); came up with this. Can someone please ridicule me on how unrealistic this is and what the actual price of my suggested expansion would come to!
(£/year) (10-year plan)
—Additional 136 F35s (£2.4 Billion) (£24 Billion)
(current: 48 F35B) (Propose: 96 F35B, 88 F35A in total)
—12 V-22 (AEW, Carrier duties, Aerial refuelling (to extend F35b shorter range)) (£0.075 Billion) (£0.75 Billion)
—10 extra merlins for T31, T26, QE (£0.05 Billion) (£0.5 Billion)
—4 additional T26 (£0.4 Billion) (£4 Billion)
—Upgrading T31 for ASW and 30mm guns (excl. extra merlins) (£0.025 Billion) (£0.25 Billion)
—2 type 45b (£0.28 Billion) (£2.8 Billion)
Submarines (available by scrapping our deterrent and subsequently dreadnought class subs – yes, I know that’s controversial):
—6 SSK (£0.3 Billion) (£3 Billion)
—Additional Astute-class (£0.16 Billion) (£1.6 Billion)
—400 new MBT (£0.19 Billion) (1.9 Billion)
—24 additional AH-64E (£0.12 Billion) (£1.2 Billion)
—Cybersecurity/warfare (£0.2 Billion) (£2 Billion)
—Recruitment drive (£0.3 Billion) (£3 Billion)
—Infrastructure/support (£0.3 Billion) (£3 Billion)
(reward fewer contracts to BAE to bring down their monopoly but enough for them to invest in ‘frigate factory’)
Increased military spending: £4.8 Billion/year (£48 Billion over 10 years)
Savings from scrapping trident: £2 Billion/year (£20 Billion over 10 years)
MoD: £1 Billion/year (£10 Billion over 10 years)
govt cost: £1.8 Billion/year (£18 Billion over 10 years)
I doubt any of these costs are realistic so I’d greatly appreciate it if someone who was more knowledgeable on this subject could correct it to the best of their ability.