To start with, how about a moody picture of aType 23, HMS Westminster, to set the scene
Then ask yourself if this is a proper use of probably the world’s most effective anti-submarine frigate and definitely the world’s most effective anti submarine helicopter.
Hold that thought!
As with many future programmes, there is a steady drip drip of information, snippets here and there but not really a great deal of solid information. This should be expected, the project is pre main gate and the final design will not be known for some time. I do have a sneaky suspicion that the information is deliberately released in small tantalising pieces to sustain the online ‘marketing buzz’ rather than to inform any serious debate and have long since stopped commenting on every new blurry video or vague interview, will leave that for others.
Discussion on the previous F35 post veered off into Type 26 territory and whilst in general, I quite like thread creep; it seems about right to do a post on the Type 26.
Start from the Beginning
The beginning of the conversation should start with a look at future risks, tasks and high level means of meeting those tasks and addressing those risks.
The Royal Navy has a requirement for major surface combatants in order to contribute to the national security requirement. Now of course, we might have a discussion about what the armed forces as a whole need to do, how they can address UK strategic objectives and indeed, what those strategic objectives are but that is for another discussion.
Are those strategic needs best met by a cross Saudi Arabia gas pipeline, shale gas exploitation in Blackpool or sending a powerful RN task force to the Gulf of whatever it is called these days are interesting conversations, but for the purpose of this post, lets simply assume that we need a broad set of military capabilities and that includes fighty ships.
We have the Type 45 Destroyers which primarily address the area air defence requirement and the Type 23 might be reasonably characterised as being focussed on addresses the threat from under the water and on it.
Many acknowledge that the Type 23 (and not forgetting her crew) is the most potent ASW system anywhere in the world so why change a winning mix?
One thing I do find rather frustrating in these discussions is how one sided they can become, many proponents of a ‘stronger navy’ are quick to relegate the Challenger tank to the TA and slash their number despite them being of continued and demonstrable utility in recent operations, or condemning the Tornado as being a Cold War anachronism despite it being used in every conflict to great effect since the end of the Cold War yet holding the Royal Navy at their pre-eminent Cold War position in the world of anti-submarine warfare is taken as a given.
One might suggest that given the Royal Navy has not faced a credible submarine threat (the Santa Fe doesn’t count) for many decades is an indication about the utility of such capabilities. We have devoted vast sums on the anti-submarine mission but if ones asks if continuing to do so is wise, they look at you as if you have just farted in the presence of Her Majesty whilst malleting a baby seal cub.
[Edit: Jonesy (in comments) made a good point about the Argentine Navy San Luis submarine being a credible threat, fair one, as they say]
We must therefore ask with the same level of rigour that they direct at Tornados and Challengers of the Type 23 and ultimately, the Type 26.
What threat would a Type 26 act against?
On this subject I think we need to think not so much about threats today but potential threats over the next twenty to thirty years. We all understand how a small number of Royal Navy submarines effectively neutered the entire Argentine surface fleet in 1982, submarines have a hugely disproportionate effect, in short, are the most effective sea denial weapon in existence.
Given our defence posture is generally of an expeditionary nature, or fighting in other people’s back yards so we don’t have to do so in our own, we need to consider access denial, or enemy forces stopping us going to where we want to.
Mines, submarines and anti-ship missiles launched from land or the near shore are the most effective means of denying access. We already have an effective MCM capability and to counter anti-ship missiles we have a range of offensive and defensive options so submarines should be considered equally.
One thing is certain, the technology of submarines, especially propulsion, is advancing rapidly and this advancing technology is proliferating equally as rapidly so the threat is both real today and increasingly real tomorrow.
Modern SSK’s have extremely low thermal, magnetic and acoustic signatures, using fuel cells and high capacity batteries reduces vibration to almost zero, slow speed propellers that turn at less than 20 revolutions per minute, small size, extremely precise manoeuvrability that allows them to exploit sea bottom topography and even shipwrecks to hide amongst and hull shaping and coatings to reduce sonar returns makes them one of the most difficult threats to counter.
I am not actually sure of the threat of modern submarines and the impact of modern technology is truly appreciated by many.
So if the submarine is a serious threat, and it is, then we need to be serious about countering it.
A secondary, but not by much, role for the Type 26 is surface/land attack and in some missions will be its primary role and might be fulfilled in a hostile environment.
Quite simply, the Type 23 Frigates are approaching the end of their planned service life but could we extend their life would be my first question.
We see life extension programmes across many defence equipments and we are poorer than a church mouse who has just taken out a payday loan.
We also have many other pulls on the finite defence Pound.
If this is not feasible then fair enough, there may be many engineering, stability, spares availability and operating cost reasons why it makes sense to procure new ships with the latest components and automation systems that reduce manning
We have of course contracted with BAE to carry out the initial design studies for Type 26 so this question of extended the Type 23’s seems moot, but hey, why not?
With the caveat that we don’t actually know what the final design will look like, there are many that accuse the Type 26 of pouring old wine into new bottles, very little innovation and no imagination
Given that we are migrating most of the combat relevant systems from the Type 23, the Type 26 will not be a step change in operating capabilities like the Type 45 was compared to the Type 42, it is an opinion that is easy to find sympathy with.
My opinion on this, as you might anticipate, is that taking this low risk approach makes a lot of sense.
If the MoD is to regain financial credibility and start delivering on what it promises, reducing risk and adopting an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach seems wholly sensible and if the new wine bottle has growth room and low maintenance costs even better.
The second question would be what can be reused from the Type 45 and CVF design and build process.
The idea of a Batch 2 Type 45 sans Sea Viper does have some appeal, maximising commonality and reducing design and operating costs across the RN surface fleet as a whole but I think the time to grasp this opportunity has passed and many make the point that the design of the Type 45 is sub optimal for the ASW mission, so much so that cost and commonality benefits would be outweighed by operational compromise.
An ASW optimised Type 45 Batch 2 might actually end up being a new design anyway so we should concentrate on optimising the Type 26 for the mission, not shoehorning that mission into an unsuitable design. We could still take advantage of many of the sub systems in Type 45 and I would expect this to be the norm in any case. If, for example, accommodation or internal communications systems are not common between the two designs then we should be asking why bloody not.
Many benefits accrue from this type of sub system commonality; even having the same deep fat fryers (chips, for the use of) saves money across the fleet maintenance budget.
The final issue to address before we get to the slide rule is to ask that eternally unanswerable question, multi role or specialised?
Although by definition, all modern warships are multi role it has been Royal Navy practice to flex designs towards specialism.
One argument says that in an age of reducing hull numbers we simply cannot afford to have specialists and a single batch of multi role ‘universal escorts’ should be our goal but there is a competing argument that says the exact opposite, instead, we must leverage our technology advantages to the maximum and make each class of ship the very best they can be at their primary role, this means divergent design and specifications.
The Type 45 is a good example of the latter, at the expense of ASW and surface attack they are single mindedly focussed on AAW.
Driving the desire for multi role vessels is the simple fact that for the majority of their time, those primary roles will remain largely unused. The Type 45 might conduct any number of missions for which the Sea Viper and associated systems are totally overkill, thus creating the impression of expensive gold plating. By so called gold plating we pay the penalty in hull numbers and limitations in the ability to deliver the 90% of day to day requirements that are predicated on actually having a hull in any location.
The argument that it is easier for a Type 45 to conduct an anti-piracy mission than it is for an anti-piracy corvette to conduct an area air defence mission is well made but this assumes that we live in a land of unlimited funding.
[Edit: APATS (in comments) corrected this in so much that an anti piracy corvette cannot do the area AAW role at all, not a case of better or worse, another fair point]
It is one of those endless circular arguments but my opinion, for what it is worth, is that it is better to rely on our hard won qualitative advantages even at the expense of lower quantities. This means, in practice, that I would sacrifice quantity for quality to such a degree that it provides a smaller but high end core and enough funding for proper low end capabilities for those 90% of times when we don’t need to hunt submarines or down Mig 29’s.
A two tier fleet in other words with a wide disparity between the two, so no C1 and C2 in old money and no ASW/GP split in the latest Type 26 discussions.
When we actually need it, and one day we will, I want the ASW capabilities of the RN to be tip top, even if that means a lower quantity and accepting the operational and defence planning scale limitations that this results in.
If we look at how a Type 26 might be deployed across a range of standing and contingent commitments it should be obvious that the majority of them will be as singletons and not needing those ASW capabilities or Sea Ceptor. Using the standing tasks to define hull numbers of top end ships seems a poor justification and short sighted.
The top end vessel numbers should be based on realistic operational assumptions where those operations will actually make use of the full breadth of those very expensive capabilities, not on how many times a year we should be using them for smuggling interdiction and disaster relief.
An opposing view is that hull numbers are the most important consideration, capabilities can be sacrificed and the fitted for but not with approach to hoping for future improvements can eventually deliver both quality and quantity.
It is an equally valid approach.
One of my previous suggestions for all three services was the ‘capability plus’ model that sees a wide spectrum of high end capabilities maintained, but crucially at a scale that is appropriate for those high end capabilities and achievable, not the hum drum of day to day ‘less than war’ commitments for which they are gold plated.
It is that well-worn cliché about going to the shops in a Ferrari every day when you only go racing once a decade. I still want the ability to win that race though, but financial reality means I might have to accept trade-offs. So, a small but very hard core surrounded by selected capabilities that provide influence in coalition operations and utility in the most likely kinds of operations we tend to find ourselves in.
The Royal Navy has a unique perspective on what many call gold plating when compared with the proud owners of MEKO’s, FREMM’s etc and that is it has actually learned these lessons the hard way in recent memory, it is this that has driven the uniquely high specification of the Type 45 and should equally drive the same specification of the Type 26 because the likelihood is that the Royal Navy will likely use them in action, and the others won’t.
This may be a harsh viewpoint but still I think valid.
We should therefore have a no compromise attitude to capabilities.
In summary, a top end Type 26 design, optimised for ASW and surface attack, sacrificing numbers if needed in order to fund more numerous but lower end vessels and other capabilities. This lower end, at least for me, does not mean another Type 26 with no Sonar 2087 but a genuinely low end and cheap Ford Transit type vessel, for example, those Black Swan, Venator, SIMSS type concepts we have been discussing.
Therefore, I would like the design of the Type 26 to concentrate laser like on its…
[/BULLSHIT ALERT ON]
War fighting capabilities
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Might have to go outside and have a word with myself now.
And very definitely not how many ISO containers it can carry on its flex deck for humanitarian supplies. (did I really just say that!)
The contract for the Assessment Phase of the Type 26 was for four years at a cost of £127 million. I must admit to having some trouble with the length of time and cost for this, assuming the low ambition and high degree of reuse from the Type 23/45 but if it produces a stable design that enables production to commence at a reasonable cost then who am I to argue!
People might look at other nation’s designs like the SIGMA, MEKO or FREMM for example and wonder why we can’t just buy from them but it is the government’s industrial policy to retain onshore the ability to design and manufacture complex warships with complex weapons.
This means BAE will be designing and building the Type 26 whether anyone likes it or not and because of the advantages of onshore design and build feeding money back into the economy they might not seem as expensive as imagined.
Whether Type 26 will actually find partner nations or overseas customers in such a crowded and well provisioned market is debatable. India and Brazil have been mooted as potential partners rather than simple export customers but instead of the whole ship, I tend to think we should concentrate on the export potential for sub systems like weapons, propulsion, combat management systems, sensors and countermeasures but we will see how the export potential of Type 26 plays out.
We also have the 15 year Terms of Business Agreementwith BAE to consider, the build rate and location might dictate the overall cost, capability and quantity mix.
Once we have decided to build the ships we must look at systems and as usual, a complex mix of requirements and trade-offs will need to be considered.
Propulsion, Hull and Engineering
The ASW mission influences the hull design and means of propulsion, the ability to tow a sonar array and carry out ‘sprint and drift’ with a low acoustic signature is essential to anti-submarine warfare. Whether this will continue to be the preferred tactic or off-board meshed sensors carried on UAV’s will become the preferred option in the future might inform discussion, but in the timescales that the Type 26 design must be finalised i.e. now (or even a few months ago), those traditional concepts will still be relevant.
There are many variations on a theme when it comes to propulsion systems and modern developments provide even greater options, LNG and fuel cells anyone?
The Type 45 design required a significant investment in propulsion and power generation and we would be silly not to leverage that investment, even if the electric propulsion system of the Type 45 is not completely suitable for the Type 26. CODLOG stands for Combined Diesel Electric or Gas, the diesel is used to power an electrical generator with the turbine being used to provide increased levels of power for high speed sprinting. The propellers are then driven by electric motors, themselves powered by the diesels or gas turbines through generators.
The Intercooled and Recuperated (ICR) WR-21 is based on RB-211 and Trent technology and is designed to provide high levels of economy at part loads, in comparison with other turbines which are inefficient at anything less than full load. The cost of the WR-21’s and associated machinery was £84 million for all 6 Type 45’s. Click here for a detailed document on integration details for the WR-21, very interesting reading for people like me who don’t have a clue!
By using the Rolls Royce WR-21 turbine, the same as the Type 45, we can provision a simple extension to the recently signed 6 year £20m support contract that uses the Class Output Management approach, or contracting for availability.
The higher power (36kW instead of 25kW) Rolls Royce MT-30 turbine, based on the Trent, will be used in CVF. If we went for the MT-30 then it would equally make sense to combine the support arrangements with CVF.
Either option provides commonality benefits, very neat.
Rolls Royce are developing a more compact variant of the MT-30 and some reports indicate that this combined with 2 MTU diesels will be the preferred option for Type 26, although the final configuration remains unclear, as much of the Type 26 is.
The South African Navy’s A-200 Meko ships have an interesting propulsion concept called CODAG-WARP, this stands for Combined Diesel and Gas – Water jet And Refined Propeller. A pair of 6,000kW MTU diesel engines drive two controllable pitch propellers through a combining gearbox and should high speed be needed, a GE LM 25000 turbine kicks in and powers a waterjet style propulsor. It is quite a simple system and has a reasonable degree of resilience because any one of the diesel engines can power both props. Other configurations might see each diesel only driving one shaft and therefore eliminating the need for a complex gearbox that combines the output from the two engines, reducing complexity and cost even more. Further enhancements to the propulsor/waterjet design such as injecting compressed gas into the flow might offer significant thrust increases without additional power requirements.
Power cells, hybrid diesel/LNG and high performance batteries are rapidly maturing, driven by the need to reduce fuel consumption in large commercial ships. It might be a step to far for the Type 26 but in an all-electric integrated propulsion set up that has the ability to drive conventional fixed or variable pitch propellers, azipods, waterjets or any combination thereof using either LNG/diesel engines, gas turbines, fuel cells or even batteries makes for an interesting proposition. The noise disadvantages of azipods and waterjets might rule them out of a Type 26 design though, with a conventional pair of fixed pitch propellers offering the best solution and whether operating on batteries or zero vibration fuel cells would offer appreciable external noise reduction over any other power source is again, open for debate.
Many horses for many courses here but the balancing act between economy, straight out performance and acoustic signature should be skewed to combat performance in its primary ASW role.
This is not to say fuel economy is unimportant and there are many ways of reducing fuel use ranging from hull coatings to transom flaps, specifying energy efficient lighting or low power electronic equipment but these should not be allowed to compromise combat capabilities.
One factor that is inescapable is the rising cost of people so any new design should utilise the maximum level of automation to reduce the number of crew, within the bounds of maintaining sensible levels of resilience and workload. Modern systems also have reduced maintenance requirements and this should also both reduce crew numbers and maintenance cost.
Boat deck, mission deck or flex deck, take your pick. This should be a large component of the design, not I hasten to add, so we can carry humanitarian supplies or go all multi-role, but to accommodate future unmanned surface and sub-surface vessels in support of the primary mission.
Whether this is underneath the flight deck or more central on the superstructure is a detailed point but for the intended role, not sure it makes a great deal of difference either way.
One factor we should expect from a new design is that of signature reduction and/or management. One would imagine a great deal of work will have gone into this aspect of the new design.
Sensors and Systems
Having invested so much money in BAE/QinetiQ ARTISAN Type 997 3D E/F-band radar and other electro optical and ESM systems across the Type 45 and Type 23 it would seem basic common sense to fit them to the Type 26. One might argue the finer points of performance between one radar system or another but the simple fact is, those arguments are moot, click here for a datasheet.
The Thales integrated mast concept is said to provide a number of benefits and I think it would be worthy of serious consideration for the Type 26.
Sonar 2087 is a very high specification Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) fitted to 8 of the Type 23’s. Although it was primarily designed for blue water operation it still has a great deal of utility on the Type 26, despite the increasing trend towards operations in shallower waters.
Detection in shallow waters is a problem because underwater obstacles might prevent the safe deployment of long towed arrays, fresh/sea water mixes, tidal impacts on water conditions, unpredictable and variable salinity/temperature, reflections from the sea bed and underwater obstacles and even concerns about underwater wildlife may limit the use of low frequency devices. Ambient and directional noise from manmade and natural sources also confuses the overall acoustic picture.
Because of the smaller areas involved accurate sea bed surveys and sediment analysis, sometimes called Rapid Environmental Assessments can be used for ASW. This kind of technology and processes are more often used for survey and mine countermeasures but research continues at a pace and one capability may very well utilise another. We might see the kinds of USV’s now routinely used for covert survey and seabed analysis carried aboard a Type 26 in the future. Other promising research avenues include exploiting so called ‘non-cooperative’ sound sources of opportunity, other ships that just happen to be in the area for example. The returns from these can be passively received into the detection and analysis software, cunning eh.
To cover the shallow water detection requirement active dipping sonars from a Merlin helicopter and hull mounted high frequency sonars seem to be the way to go for the short term although the subject is a fiendishly complex one, real science.
In the future, these higher frequency systems may be operated from unmanned surface vessels or even helicopter type UAV’s with sensor information relayed back to the Type 26 or an airborne Merlin.
The hull mounted Type 2050 sonar on the Type 23’s has a long and complex history but the base product is now part of the Thales UMS 4110 family and utilises much of the processing and display console systems as the CAPTAS 4 or 2087.
There is also potential for small unmanned aircraft able to use thermal, radar or even engine particulate detectors to contribute to the ASW mission and I will cover these in the aviation section, later.
The same Increment F COBLU CESMsystem as installed on the Type 45 would be another desirable equipment fit and the same, or modernised, broad range of communications, electronics and data link equipment as fitted to the Type 45/23 including the recently announced UAT upgrade.
DNA(2) combat management system as fitted to the Type 23’s, yet again, seems an obvious candidate for a simple transfer as long as it can make use of modern, adapted off the shelf, computing equipment.
Most of the sensors on Type 26 will therefore be from existing programmes, either direct transfer of equipment from the Type 23’s or more of the same from other vessels.
There may be opportunities for modest incremental upgrades and a technology refresh, making greater use of modern computing systems for example, but in general, a sensible and evolutionary approach, building upon investments already made.
Countermeasures are not often discussed but are advancing all the time.
There are many military off the shelf systems from Rheinmetall and Terma. The most common is the SeaGnat decoy system which uses what might be described as a mortar to fire a range of IR, Chaff and Active Decoy rounds to confuse and seduce incoming missiles.
Chemring manufacture the NATO Standard Chaff round but also produce a newer range of slightly larger rounds including IRand RFrounds. To support increasingly larger decoy payloads they have also created an oversize round that still uses the 130mm form factor called the Large Payload Carrier.
Type 23 frigates also use the BAe SIRENso again, a straight transfer might be the most appropriate solution.
Instead of using the traditional fixed tube launchers Chemring have recently developed the Centurion trainable launcher that can carry 12 130mm rounds.
The Airborne Systems IDS300 inflatable RF decoy as fitted to Type 45 Destroyers could also be fitted.
Short range protection against torpedoes could be provided by the Ultra Sonar S2170 Sea Sentor Surface Ship Torpedo Defence System that comprises an acoustic passive towed array, towed acoustic countermeasure, single-drum winch, processing cabinet, display consoles, 2 expendable acoustic device launchers and 16 expendable acoustic devices.
It is an impressive system and in already service with the Royal Navy.
Close in Weapons
Beyond the manually aimed automatic weapons a modest upgrade path might include deck mounted remotely aimed medium calibre weapons like the MSI 30mm systems currently fitted to many RN vessels.
MSI Defence has also developed the Seahawk SIGMA, a remote controlled system that mounts a 30mm ATK Bushmaster cannon and a 7 cell launcher for the Thales Lightweight Multirole Missile. It is a compact, relatively low cost mount, already in service (in its basic form without missiles) with the Royal Navy and appropriate in terms of firepower.
Although the effectiveness of the Phalanx CIWS has been called into question, as part of a layered air defence system, combined with countermeasures and the Sea Ceptor it should hopefully provide sufficient protection and easily transferred from the vessels going out of service. It also has an upgrade path to SeaRAM and even future directed energy weapons, using the same basic, non deck penetrating mount.
The latest video snippets on Type 26 show them mounted between the Sea Ceptor missiles and main gun and on the roof of the hangar.
If space can be found for the lightweight Stingray torpedo great, but not sure of it is necessarily a vital system given the range of other weapons available, looks good for Top Trumps though!
The Type 23’s Sea Wolf missiles will start the upgrade path to Sea Ceptor before the Type 26 build process and Sea Ceptor will also be fitted to Type 26.
A number of silo arrangements are possible, using a Sea Ceptor specific design or quad packing in Sylver silos, multiple versions have appeared in the various marketing videos released so far.
Although using them in Sylver silos might make sense from a commonality perspective this would come down to a straight cost comparison, especially given that on a Type 26, the silos will likely be used exclusively for Sea Ceptor.
The simple dedicated silo arrangement might make more sense.
Surface and Land Attack
Surface and land attack should be the main secondary mission for the Type 26.
The Future Maritime Fires Concept Phase is due to complete in around mid 2012 so no doubt the lessons from Libya will play a large part in informing the study. With the cancelling of the BAe 155mm TMF project the choice of a naval gun has narrowed but there are also missile and UAV delivered systems worthy of consideration.
Julian Lewis (New Forest East, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his policy is on the replacement of existing warship guns by ones of 155mm; and if he will make a statement on his policy, with special reference to (a) the future frigate fleet and (b) Type 45 destroyers.
Peter Luff (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Defence Equipment, Support and Technology), Defence; Mid Worcestershire, Conservative)
No decision on the calibre of the new Maritime Indirect Fire System (the new naval gun) has yet been made. This will be taken when work to consider the available options under the Future Maritime Fires Concept Phase is complete in around mid-2012.
The Maritime Fires Concept, of which the Maritime Indirect Fire System (MIFS) is part, is being delivered in conjunction with the Niteworks Partnership and is expected to be met by a medium calibre gun (MCG). The other part of MFS is the Maritime Indirect Fire Precision Attack (MIFPA) is expected to be delivered using missile systems, potentially Fire Shadow.
Moving away from the 4.5” Mk8 main gun is attractive but it is not an automatic decision, with barrel wear, maintenance costs, commonality with the Type 45 and ammunition stocks for the Mk8 all be considered before looking at the inducements on offer from others.
Naval Gunfire Support has a great deal of utility and used much more often that many of the more esoteric systems, the Falklands, Iraq and Libya being recent outings; it is much cheaper than using air delivered munitions if circumstances permit and can use a graduated force model where a well aimed smoke or illumination round that signals loud and clear the next one will be of the type that goes bang can influence subsequent activity or neutralise threats both on land and at sea.
The existing 115mm/4.5” Mark 8 Mod 1 gun aboard Royal Navy vessels has its origins in the late sixties and has given excellent service but how reliable they are now apparently an open question. The HE Extended Range round uses base bleed to propel the round to a maximum range of 27.5km and the existing illumination nature is also still available. In order to maintain a sustained rate of fire of 16-20 rounds per minute and accommodate the more powerful ammunition types the barrel is 62 calibres long. It has seen extensive service including action off the Falkland Islands (8,000 rounds), Iraq and Libya.
As we know though, there is not a large installed base on which to spread development costs of precision, proximity and IR illumination or smoke natures so the open market seems an obvious place to look, especially given the 155mm TMF concept has now been cancelled.
There are a number of options but probably only two realistic ones, the BAE 5” Mark 45 and the Oto Melara 127mm Compact and Lightweight.
The Mark 45 Mod 4 from BAE, as used by the US Navy, South Korea, Denmark, Australia and others, is a 5”/127mm system with a 62 calibre barrel and is capable of a rate of fire up to 20 rounds per minute.
In 2010 Babcock and Oto Melara signed a Memorandum of Understanding to offer the Light Weight Medium Calibre Gun System to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the Type 26 frigate.
To quote the sales blurb;
The Oto Melara 127/64 LW gun is capable of firing up to 35 rounds per minute. The production turret weighs less than 29 tons and the ‘peppered’ muzzle brake with an aluminium shield keeps cost down, improves maintenance and reduces radar cross-section. The gun uses an advanced ammunition handling system, consisting of four revolving drum magazines holding 56 ready-to-fire rounds of more than four different types, allowing flexibility in ammunition selection and a high rate of sustained fire. It is capable of anti-surface and anti-air defence, and area engagement. The new Vulcano ammunition is capable of precision engagement at ranges previously only achievable by missile systems but at a fraction of the cost.
After many years of very expensive trials the US Extended Range Guided Munition was cancelled, leaving the USN without precision gun launched land attack round but Oto Melara have continued to persevere and have introduced the Vulcano range of munitions.
Vulcano has both an extended range unguided and long range guided nature that is used with the 127mm gun to deliver rounds out to 120km.
The Type 26 doesn’t necessarily need the precision guided ammunition straight away, it would provide a simple upgrade path and despite doubts about the explosive content of guided shells it would still offer a significant upgrade, have the potential to reduce the need (therefore cost) for air delivered precision munitions and allow the Royal Navy to take advantage of a mature user base.
When we discuss missiles for the Type 26 many people automatically assume that it should include Tomahawk and whilst having diversity of launch platform is always ‘a good thing’ it would take up a lot of space and add significant cost as we would need to introduce the US Mk 41 vertical launch silo.
I am not sold on the idea of Tomahawk on Type 26 for that reason.
A post Libya Jane’s Defence Weekly reported on a Royal Navy lessons learned document in which the two major shortcomings were a lack of precision land attack capability and organic unmanned ISR.
It quoted Colonel Pierson RM, the Deputy Director of NATO Operations in Libya;
It was evident that the Libya campaign showed the need for precision fires, [perhaps the Lockheed Martin] Guided Multiple Rocket Launch System (GMLRS), from the sea base, deep into enemy littoral territory.
He added that there was a requirement on RN Warships for;
Unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), such as the brilliant live feed, full motion video provided by [Boeing] Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle
More on this last one later.
Complimenting a large calibre main gun could be the Harpoon missiles transferred from the Type 23’s or even a purchase of the Naval Strike Missile from Kongsberg. This will also be integrated onto the F35 so commonality benefits could be realised if we chose to purchase it for the F35’s, unlikely, but it is an option.
With a 150km range the NSM weighs 400Kg with a 125kg warhead and can attack a mix of land and surface targets. This would also have the added benefit of being integrated onto the F35 for commonality all round. The Stand Off Land Attack Missile, based on the Harpoon is another option.
Another system that is likely to be a shoe in is the Team Complex Weapons Fire Shadow that is a difficult system to characterise, half missile and half UAV it is called a loitering munition.
I tend to think that Fireshadow makes a lot more sense in a maritime environment than it does on land.
If we really want to spend a fortune the CVS401 Perseus concept missile from MBDA will also provide plenty of options, potentially replacing Storm Shadow, cue an enormous bun fight between the RAF and RN.
The latest video from BAE seems to have deleted the Harpoon missile fit from previous incarnations but if a simple empty space for future missile armament like that found on the Absalon be incorporated into the Type 26 design it would provide a simple means of improving the attack capability of the Type 26.
If we do end up upgrading to the 127mm gun from Oto Melara we have the potential for precision engagement out to 70km with a potential to extend that to 120km although sacrificing explosive content. The Fire Shadow again provides a measure of precision engagement out to about 150km at a low cost and the NSM to the same range but with different utility for different targets and a higher cost.
It could be argued that this is enough and integration of either the NSM or FireShadow would not present insurmountable problems because they are both compact and relatively lightweight.
I still like the concept of a maritime version of GMLRS/ATACMS as mentioned by Col Pierson RM, above, for precision fire out to 300km with a large payload but this seems a remote possibility and we wouldn’t want to be pissing on Storm Shadow/CVF/JCA’s chips now would we?
A maritime MRLS/GMLRS is not a new concept, the US Navy initiated a study into something similar called the Precision Over the horizon Land Attack Rocket (POLAR) that used the MRLS rocket as its base, although the motor was nearly a third larger. This was cancelled in favour of the Land Attack Standard Missile that was also itself, subsequently cancelled.
300km, or 160nm circles are below, just as a random illustration of range, don’t read too much into the centre of the circles, they are just examples.
What was that about 90% of the world’s population living within 10 miles of the coast again?
A single podded launcher able to launch 70/150/300km precision land attack weapons would offer a genuine step change in capabilities and although I tend to avoid predicting development costs, it would not seem to be hugely expensive because they would be in lightweight sealed canisters, reuse completely existing rockets with only the engineering challenges of moderate stabilisation and exhaust management issues to resolve.
There may be simple design rather than engineering answers to some of these or simply accepting compromises. Instead of reloading at sea, accept that it is an alongside task, instead of expensively making everything corrosion resistant, design in semi protected components and accept a higher frequency of replacement and instead of creating a complex exhaust gas management system or replacing the propellant design the system so that it can only be fired at right angles to the axis of the ship thus facilitating exhaust management.
What is certain is that a naval GMLRS would be invaluable, potent, have some degree of commonality with land forces and be relatively low cost.
What is even more intriguing is that should we be able to integrate a GMLRS launcher aboard an RN vessel open up the possibility of using the same launcher for the 300km BROACH warhead variant, ATACMS, 1 per pod.
IMI also make the 150km EXTRA rocket that fits two to a G/MLRS pod or the 180km DELILAH.
Standing 25km offshore (with that indefinite poise thing) a ship launched ATACMS would be able to attack targets up to 275km inshore.
The pictures below (I think) are of the Chinese Navy and Romanian Navy having a dabble with the concept.
If I could choose one development item for the Type 26, this would be it.
Not going to happen though, is it?
Over the horizon targeting does not necessarily have to be organic to the ship although that would be extremely useful, will cover it in the next section.
If the design could accommodate a hangar for two Merlin’s that should be a no brainer, of course, a compromise design for a Wildcat and Merlin or a Wildcat and couple of unmanned aircraft might be equally flexible but all things being equal, the larger the hangar the better.
Helicopters and UAV’s provide the full range of utility, ISR and offensive capabilities.
Merlin HM2 will be the normal embarked helicopter but Wildcat or other types might be carried as needed.
Retaining the Type 45’s ability to accommodate a Chinook on the flight deck should be retained.
Merlin HM2 is an incredibly powerful system and perfectly suited to the ASW mission but it might be equally sensible not to carry any at all and use the space for Wildcat, retaining flexibility is the key.
Stingray lightweight torpedoes and the Lightweight Multirole Missile plus automatic weapons complete the armament for the Type 26
A few different configurations have been shown for the LMM on Wildcat, either 5 or 7 tube launchers.
The ability to extend the sensor reach beyond the horizon is of obvious benefit and usually this would be carried out by a frigate or destroyers helicopter but when there is a threat from surface fire, helicopters become more difficult to deploy so many solutions exists for deploying sensors (and sometimes weapons) using unmanned systems.
It is depressing to think that the Royal Navy has been so slow to unmanned party, the reasons are of course largely financial but despite testing a number of systems like the Insitu Scan Eagle several years ago nothing has been introduced into service.
One might assume that an unmanned air vehicle operating from a ship must be vertical take-off and landing, like a helicopter, but that is not necessarily the case although the emerging VTUAS requirement would seem to dictate a vertical take-off and landing solution. The initial target date seems to be around the 2020 to 2024 mark, incredible given the range of low cost off the shelf solutions available and obvious need now.
The debate seems to be whether to opt for something that is just used for ISR or a system that offers a greater payload for weapons or even stores.
Greater payload generally means shorter endurance and range so there is a balance to be struck. Whilst carriage of larger payloads may be useful, to match the endurance of the smaller ISR systems would mean multiple vehicles, increasing cost and of course, most ships are not overflowing with space and the Type 26 will be no exception
A few options from the sweet shop;
Similar to Skeldar, the Camcopter S-100 from Scheibel has an hour longer endurance than Skeldar at 6 hours and can carry a range of sensor and communication payloads weighing 34kg in total. An external fuel tank can also be fitted to extend endurance to 10 hours.
It has also been shown armed with a single Lightweight Multirole Missile from Thales.
Gizmag wrote a good article last year on the Camcopter in which they describe the cost of a two air vehicle system complete with control station, payload, ground equipment, logistics package and training to be in the order of $2m.
The Camcopter is in service with the UAE, being introduced into German naval service, has been demonstrated from a French Gowind class offshore patrol vessel and Libya also ordered 4 systems in 2009, wonder where they are now!
Click here to read the brochure which includes an interesting picture of the Camcopter being used to drop leaflets.
The Saab Skeldar V-200 is the latest version of the Skeldar rotary wing UAV in both land and maritime variants. Although having a much shorter endurance than the ScanEagle the advantages of VTOL and hover in flight are obvious.
Saab have also demonstrated the Skeldar operating from a CB90 which highlights an interesting combination of smaller patrol craft operating at distance from the host vessel and extending their ISTAR reach even further.
The maritime version has a 40kg payload, an endurance of 5 to 7 hours and uses a diesel engine, important for ship safety reasons.
The Skeldar has an interesting ISO Container system that houses the air vehicle, all maintenance equipment and spares and can be configured to have a roof mounted landing and take off platform so the whole system can be easily hosted aboard a variety of vessels and transferred just as easily.
The Northrop Grumman MQ-8B is a mature vertical take off and landing unmanned system with a long development background and proven deployment credentials with US forces. Developed from the Schweizer 333 it is a much larger aircraft than the Camcopter or Skeldar as shown by a comparison of payloads, for short missions the Firescout can lift over 300kg. Normal endurance is between 5 and 8 hours.
One was lost over Libya though.
Its stub wings also allow the carriage of a variety of missiles such as Hellfire or guided 70mm rockets.
Click here for brochures.
Although still a rotary winged UAV the Boeing Hummingbird is very different from the others and arguably, much more cutting edge. Its unique propulsion system allows the rotor speed to be varied and this provides advantages in altitude and endurance, where it can operate at 15,000 feet for in excess of 20 hours carrying a payload of up to 130kg.
The Hummingbird was tested with the FOliage penetrating REconnaissance, Surveillance, Tracking and Engagement Radar (FORESTER) system, click here for an in depth article, although it had a few problems in Belize
This ambitious programme will create a 1.8 Gigapixel camera system able to cover a 40 km2 area at 15 frames per second from an A160 Hummingbird or Reaper UAV. To process this enormous data volume it will use an airborne processing system to deliver up to 65 windows that users can zoom into or out of on demand. The software makes the difference; its advanced target recognition algorithms provide movement detection and target tracking.
Other payloads might include the ubiquitous EO sensor pod, SAR or multiples of the same.
It is ARGUS that has been in the news recently with a planned deployment to Afghanistan very soon.
If one compares the Hummingbird with the Fire Scout, the former can fly higher and longer but carry less.
Boeing Insitu Scan Eagle
The ScanEagle has an interesting history, initially introduced in 2001 to assist tuna fishing fleets it has evolved into a mature, low cost, flexible and highly effective family of vehicles and payloads. A few months ago it notched up its half million flying hours milestone.
In Libya the Scan Eagle demonstrated its capabilities and after, Insitu released a press release
“What happened over that period of time, no one expected,” says ScanEagle Detachment Officer in Charge Lt. Nick Townsend. “ScanEagle was locating contacts of interest that no one else could find. After the dust settled, ScanEagle was credited with locating a host of contacts of interest due to its ability to capture superior image quality and to operate covertly at relatively low altitudes.” Captured imagery was delivered from the ship to the task force via secure networked channels provided by the Secure Video Injection system from The Boeing Company, Insitu’s parent company. The UAV-provided, near-real-time video helped enable quick, tactical decisions.
The video below demonstrates just how compact and easy to use the launch and recovery equipment is, incidentally shot from the same USS Mahon that operated the Scan Eagle in Libya.
To reinforce just how compact the Scan Eagle launch mechanism the image below shows one being launched from US Navy Mark V Special Warfare boat.
To see the full specs, loads of video and images click here to go to the Insitu website.
ScanEagle can be upgraded to NightEagle specification only a few hours.
The Scan Eagle is a mature system and has many optional extras and a full range of sensors and supporting payloads in addition to mission planning and image analysis tools. It really is an off the shelf system.
Scan Eagle has a bigger brother, the Integrator can carry a larger payload yet still use the same launch and recovery method. The Integrator has been selected by the USN and USMC to fulfil the Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (STUAS) requirement.
One of the strengths of the Scan Eagle and Integrator is the modular payload bay that has had many systems already integrated; electro optical, infra red and synthetic aperture radar as imaging payloads for example. Other useful payloads include communications relays of various types and an intelligent ships AIS interrogator that matches a received AIS signal with imagery to confirm the identity of a ship.
The 24 hour endurance is certainly impressive but limited to certain sensor payloads.
Click here for a brochure.
Two payloads that will be of particular interest in the ASW role are the Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) and diesel engine particulate detector.
Using these in combination with the hull and helicopter based systems would seem to cover all the bases for deep and shallow water ASW.
Gazelle and SW4
These are interesting not only because they are conversions of existing manned helicopters (like many of these rotary UAV’s) but because of their UK connection, which makes them likely contenders for any RN programme.
Northrop Grumman and QinetiQ proposed an unmanned Gazelle and described their solution as ‘short term and low cost’
The unmanned Gazelle would use the control systems of the Northrop MQ-8B Firescout which does kind of beg the question why not just buy the much more mature Firescout in the first place.
Using the Gazelle as a platform makes sense – it’s a proven system with low support and operating costs.
Speaking at DSEi 2011, Qinetiq’s assistant technical director of avionics, Jeremy Howitt, said;
Qinetiq would be responsible for programme management and integration activities under the proposal, which would also include flight test activities from the West Wales UAV Centre at Aberporth. Unmanning an aircraft is the relatively easy part. The difficult part is providing the multiple levels of redundancy and failure management required that allows you to deliver military effect. We could do an initial demonstration within 12 months, and within the order of £10 million
12 months and ten million quid for a demonstrator, mmm
Given that Gazelle is due out of service soon and the maturity of competing systems it is hard to see the advantages of reinventing the wheel.
At around the same time Agusta Westland (now owners of the Polish helicopter manufacturer PZL-Swidnick) announced a possible conversion of their SW-4 light helicopter.
The first unmanned flight is scheduled for ‘this year’
Both these were aiming for an endurance of 8 hours depending on the payload weight.
The Type 23 is probably at the end the growth curve so it is good to see the emerging conceptual Type 26 designs having growth provision. It is not just about empty space but ensuring power systems can accommodate extra load, using blown fibre, making sure computing systems can exploit improvements in commercial advances and many other factors.
Within the lifespan of the Type 26 we may well see the emergence of off board unmanned air, surface and sub-surface vehicles that use mesh network technology, creating an all seeing mosaic from multiple micro sensors. Merlin might be used to control a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles, each carrying half a dozen sonobouys and an engine particulate detector.
Type 26 must be in a position to exploit these emerging technologies.
Growth potential might actually be the single most compelling argument for Type 26.
Numbers and Wider Context
This is the golden question.
Given my arguments above for a ‘hard as woodpecker lips’ central core that is only used for the full on fighty stuff I would settle for reduced numbers as long as a few things happened.
First, a fundamental re-appraisal of the RN’s standing tasks, how they are provisioned and a realisation that you can’t get two pints out of an egg cup. A reduced in number and reduced in length (for Type 26 and Type 45) deployments will equally reduce separated service times and aid retention whilst still providing opportunities for career progression and variety on other platforms. I do not want more pressure on RN personnel, I don’t find longer harmony guidelines something to brag about and when the you know what hits the fan I want RN personnel equipped with the very best and at the peak of their training efficiency, however infrequently it might happen.
Second, we really do invest in quality on a continual basis and that includes high intensity, realistic training at a scale and in groups of vessels that provides maximum benefit against the primary role, fighting and winning. This means a singleton deployment of a Type 26 on tasks such as anti-piracy, as useful as they are for defence diplomacy and training and a variety of other things, would be the exception. When a Type 26 deploys, it should generally go mob handed with other vessels and fully tooled up in the expectations that things will cut up rough. That means no anti piracy, smuggling or humanitarian assistance missions as a means of justifying numbers, these are for others nations and other RN/RFA ships.
Third, in accepting sacrifices in numbers there must be a pay-off in terms of provisioning other capabilities such as UAV’s, investment in ASW research and development and the creation of a second tier fleet of Black Swans, Venators or SIMSS, more investment in MCM and amphibious ship to shore capabilities that can do the majority of so called ‘peace time taskings’ and address capability shortfalls that seem to be continually identified in lesson learned document after lesson learned document.
Much like my thoughts on needing fewer fast jets and more ISR/SH/AT, this is in the same vein, it is not a smash and grab on ones services budget to assist another, simply a re-appraisal of how best that same budget can be used. Type 26 is not just a like for like replacement and should not be thought of thus, despite what the those crusty old Admirals and Think Tanks would have you believe, muttering about Nelsons heart and the want of frigates, we need to think a little more seriously about things these days because we don’t have the cash to do otherwise.
Now I accept that this is unlikely to happen and hey, it’s only the internet but I thought I would be a little bit provocative because the sensible posts don’t seem to attract much discussion
We want eight and we won’t wait, how about 6 Type 26 instead?
Has anyone spit out their cornflakes yet?