To set the scene for this post, our earlier suggestion of cancelling CVF and JCA was nothing short of a brutal cost saving measure. Some may argue that significant costs have already been sunk and contracts signed, to cancel now would not result in any savings. This is simply not the case, yes, there would be a great deal of waste but to continue means even more cost for both the RN and RAF because you can’t have an aircraft carrier with no aircraft. The pressure on the defence equipment budget as a whole will also inevitably mean reductions in capability elsewhere, across all three services, something has to give. It also fails to recognise the reality of the mono culture in UK military shipbuilding, cancelling would need some compensation and tough negotiating combined with a solid commitment to future business but would not be the disaster many paint it as being.
As an attempt at a more balanced fleet the suggestion on Think Defence was a slight increase in the Astute numbers to 8, keeping Type 45 at 6, a small quantity (6) fully specified C1 and a couple of novel C2/C3 concepts from a number of our contributors. Obviously with the loss of maritime fast jet aviation we would be out of the forced entry amphibious game although the combination of UAV’s, FLAADS/CAMM, Attack Helicopter and Type 45 might mitigate some of the loss of capability.
That is not to say that we could not still engage in amphibious operations because not all operations are in the teeth of advanced jet fighters so we should accept a capability reduction and recognise that future operations may have to be conducted in conjunction with allies that can provide the fast jet component.
To bring our FDR Maritime section to a close the next few posts are on amphibious/logistics capabilities and a look at a few innovative concepts.
The Royal Navy currently has 2 Landing Platform Dock (LPD), HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and together with the Landing Platform Helicopter (HMS Ocean) form the forward element of an amphibious operation. Supporting assets are the 4 Bay class Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) and the RFA Point class RORO vessels (although these are not strictly amphibious in the truest sense of the word)
Taken together it is a reasonably sized and capable force although as can be expected, short in some areas.
The Albion class do not go out of service until 2033 and 2034 but HMS Ocean in 2022, acting in the auxiliary LPH role the 2 remaining CVS are also due out of service in 2012 and 2015. No plans have yet been made public for a replacement for HMS Ocean but it is widely thought that the second CVF will act in this role, although one might consider the QE class to be rather large.
If we are to cancel CVF there exists an obvious need to replace HMS Ocean.
There is an ongoing debate about the utility of specialist LPH and LPD versus the general purpose LHD. Many of the newer types of vessels coming into service with other navies seem to favour the general purpose LHD route with enhanced aviation and well decks; it is probably fair to say though that these are coming into service with navies that have smaller amphibious fleets than the RN so their vessels have to be jack of all trades. However, the RN is shrinking and these vessels will be operating alone more often than not so the flexibility offered by a LHD may well be worth accepting the inherent compromises.
With the inexorable rise in vehicle weight and volume as evidenced by the likes of FRES and PPV the specialist LPH becomes increasingly unable to support anything other than a light force. This light force would still be considered a Royal Marines area but even the Royal Marines have been subject to the weight trend. The Viking and Jackal being cases in point, both cannot be lifted by anything other than Chinook. This fact won’t change because there is a well deck, obviously, but the well deck means that a single vessel can support a more rounded and capable force alone, without the support of a Bay or Albion. The UK needs to get more out of its force so whilst the compromises imposed by having jack of all trades vessels are recognised, they are worth accepting.
The Spanish and Australian Navies have ordered similar designs in their Juan Carlos and Canberra class; at approximately 27,000 tonnes the Navantia BPE design is much larger than the Illustrious class and HMS Ocean. The design is inherently flexible and could operate F35B’s or helicopters; with hangar space for 12 aircraft, accommodation for over a 1000 troops, a well deck slightly larger than the Albion class, extensive hospital and command facilities. The design flexibility allows it to be used as an aircraft carrier although without the ability to generate sustained sortie rates or for an extended period.
If we were to replace to replace Ocean and the CVS class with a pair of these then the through life costs savings would be considerable, especially in crewing. As funds permit it might even be possible to obtain a third or fourth and operate them as a compact carrier with 6-8 F35B’s per ship, much less that the CVF of course but at least the RN could retain some fast jet aviation capability.
At a reported cost of less than 500 million Euros they would also seem excellent value for money.
The Bay class have proven to be exceedingly useful and versatile, they are relatively new so their replacement is somewhat out of scope for this post, perhaps more of the same would be useful.
Although strictly not an RFA asset the Point class, operating under a 25 year PFI, provide an excellent capability. Based on the Flensburger 2700 RORO design it has 2,700 vehicle lane metres, 10,000nm range and two access ramps. A total of 6 vessels are available for use, 4 manufactured at Flensburger and 2 at Harland and Wolff. Interestingly the project was completed 20 months ahead of schedule, the last of the class, Anvil Point, being launched in 2003.
Although the PFI concept seems to offer capability at a greater cost than outright purchase this one does show how they can be effectively operated, with little fuss or drama. The commercial charter market has seen significant shifts in the last couple of decades with the greater prevalence of the large and usually highly utilised pure car pure truck carrier, which cannot carry explosive cargoes because they do not have open decks (IMO regulations) so when the armed forces need vehicle and container shipping capacity the commercial market is less likely to be able to find suitable vessels.
As a part of this project only of 4 out of the 6 ships are used for the strategic joint rapid reaction force (JRRF) on a daily basis. The last two are chartered out on the commercial market but obviously available for MoD use when demand dictates. The Danish military have a similar concept (ARK), except they have a number of vessels on permanent charter.
The benefit of the UK approach is that the design can be dictated, for example the Point class have twin screws, rudders and bow thrusters which provide extreme manoeuvrability, have a shallow draught and reinforced and extended loading ramps for loading and unloading in a wide variety of locations. The double and strengthened hull increases build costs but given the monetary and operational value of likely cargoes mean this is a wise investment; something of note for those that seem to think that commercial off the shelf is always the answer.
As with the Bay class, their replacement is many years away.