UK defence issues and the odd container or two

An Alternative Solution to Offshore Patrol – Privatise It

A guest post from John Gough

A recurring theme on this blog and others has been the ongoing pressure that the RN faces due to the tasks the Government asks it to respond to and the number and availability of platforms to do so. I have followed this debate with interest and in response to a tweet, TD invited me to write this article to expand my thoughts on this issue.

One of the problems is that all of us bring our prejudices, likes and dislikes to the debate and this influences our views. I am sure I am not the only person who quite likes the idea of battleship grey warships, bristling with missiles and guns, bearing down on any and every threat around the world with a ruddy great white ensign flying in the breeze. Of course why the RN is busy doing this I still want those carrier and amphibious fleets sitting ready and waiting and able to take on the most sophisticated enemy in the world. However I am well aware of the financial and political limitations to building and maintaining my perfect fantasy fleet…it just isn’t going to happen, so you have to start thinking about how do you actually achieve what you want to do with the limited resources you have, and that actually involves questioning what you want to do in the first place.

A few years ago I was at the Sunderland Airshow where the RN demonstrated what they got up to in the Gulf. It started with a few pretend bad guys in a speedboat; a Merlin flew overhead and issued a warning. In the scenario they were fired on so returned to the nearby T23 frigate that launched two Ribs with a RM boarding party. Simultaneously (in the scenario) a Sea King was despatched and the marines on board this, along with the ones on the Ribs, apprehended the bad guys whilst the T23 kept station. All good fun but I remember at the time thinking that it meant we would need to have an amphibious/support ship (for the Sea King) as well as a T23 in the area; surely there was a better way of dealing with pirates?

It does not seem to make sense to have very expensive assets chasing down pirates in speed boats and with this in mind I was attracted to the idea of a two tier fleet, one part optimised for high end warfare and one part for lower end operations. I am not going to go into the size and composition of the high end fleet in any detail except to state that I think it will be broadly right to meet our high end needs for the next decade or so. Firstly, there is no clear and present existential state to state threat to the UK or its overseas territories (and I include certain islands here also). Secondly, the geo political threat is or has already moved away from Europe, and the best contribution the UK can offer would be a fully worked up and functional Carrier and Amphibious battle group (even better would be two), and TLAM equipped SSNs. This means our wars in the future for the next decade or so will be wars of choice, interventions of one form or another, strategic raiding or the like if you prefer.

The key point I want to make is that the high end fleet, Carriers, Amphibs, Destroyers, Frigates and support vessels: should be treated as a single resource, is sufficient for current planning assumptions and therefore any additional capability does not necessarily need to complement it in a high end conflict.

This moves us on to the lower end capability which takes the form of guardship/support type roles as well as anti piracy and of course the MCM role I haven’t mentioned at all. It seems eminently logical to me to try and add onto, or widen the capabilities of the MCM fleet through a class of ships (the old C3 ship, now MHPC) that by utilising a common ship and modular weapons fits can fulfil a wider role than just MCM. However the capability is at least a decade away so it doesn’t solve the problem now although it may fit as a longer term solution to the guardship type role, and coupled with forward deployment and crew exchanges (as the MCM force in the Gulf already does) could be a good way of extending support into the future with our defence partners.

More of an issue now is the anti piracy type role which is the purpose of this article. There has been a debate on TD whether we should trade T26 for OPVs to allow us to do more of the anti piracy type stuff by having more platforms. The risk is that the Treasury will see an OPV as a replacement for a T26 and you will end up with too few high end platforms meaning you will have weakened your high capability so much that it will not be effective. It seems to me that the key problem is we keep asking our Navy to do things but we never stop to ask whether we should, or if they are funded for this role and actually is it a role for the Navy at all?

At the moment pirates operate from East Africa hijacking ships, our response is that only government actors can respond to this. Navies around the world divert ships, planes and personnel to deal with this issue and have some success, but why did this become a problem in the first place requiring the use of our armed forces?

Some have argued that this is a Coast Guard role, that we should beef up/create a US style force better able to do this and allow the RN to concentrate on the high end capability. However I’m not sure how this will help because the money to fund an upgraded UK Coast Guard still comes from the same overall public spending pot, and there is a risk MOD funding will be reduced (because of reduced commitments) to fund the new organisation which now has these commitments, so in effect the RN still end up paying for these ships in one way or another. I am of course ignoring budget re-allocation from say DfID because both the Government and the opposition are in agreement with maintaining this at its current level so once again we must deal with the reality of funding not what we would like.

So a beefing up the UK Coast Guard will not help because the problem is that as long as we want a Government solution, the funding comes from the same source (the taxpayer) and the funding will not increase to the extent we would wish, and if it did wouldn’t we rather spend it on high capability rather than low end?

So in the absence of additional funding or the pirates retiring, how do we get anti-pirate capabilities in sufficient numbers and relevant capability on station?

How about we get Government out of the solution all together and privatise it?

What if a private sector company came along who could raise the funding to provide the ships, aircraft and personnel? What if the companies whose ships were under threat of being hijacked were content to pay a fee for this service, and this service worked, why wouldn’t HMG want to let them get on with it and leave this problem to the ‘market’?

Sounds fanciful, well there actually companies out there who want to do just this.  One, Typhon Sharp wants to deploy a mothership, complete with Ribs manned by ex forces personnel and helicopters. You can watch their promotional video that shows them ‘meeting and greeting’ potential pirates.

See:

http://www.mustard-design.co.uk/3D-Animations/Typhon+Sharp/60

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/piracy/9016188/Typhon-fights-back-against-pirates.html

Other than the fact that there isn’t a White Ensign on the ships is this concept to far different from some of the ideas discussed on TD? HMG could even hire a company like this for UK merchant ships, or if it was a UK flagged company operate some kind of arrangement with the RN, even a reserve status in times of heightened threats.

The benefits of such a company would be that it would release the RN from low level activities and allow them to concentrate resources on the high end capabilities whilst at the same time getting the low end capabilities required deployed quickly to the zones needed and bring additional non governmental funding into the provision of maritime security.

I am sure there are legal issues to overcome about the use of force, but it is reasonable to assume the company would operate within the law as indeed UK forces do so I don’t think this is insurmountable. In terms of handing over a traditional RN responsibility of ‘keeping the seas safe’ to a non RN group, does it really matter and didn’t the RN grow out of such private ships? Is it not just a way of complementing what the RN do?

The problem of insufficient funding to do all the things we want to be able to do as well as no desire amongst western electorates to put money into defence before schools, hospitals and the like, is not going to go away. This can either lead us to despair that we are simply too weak to defend our interests or it can drive us to find new solutions.

Has the time of the private navy come?

 

 

 


 

John Gough

20th January 2013

 

BIO

I studied Economics and Politics at LancasterUniversity, before qualifying as a certified accountant and has worked in industry, fiannce and the public secotr in the UK and overseas. I was the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Barrow and Furness in the 2010 General Election.

 

About The Author

Think Defence contributing author

46 Comments

  1. WiseApe

    Hello John Gough and welcome to TD if this is your first time. An interesting post.

    “I am sure there are legal issues to overcome about the use of force…” – This was my main concern just on reading your headline and I think you rather gloss over it in your post. Any “naughty business” carried out by a private company employed by HMG will rebound in litigation against HMG. The same is true of UK armed forces as well of course but somehow it just seems worse when it’s a bunch of private contractors!

    Employing someone to bash people on the head or even shoot them in said head upsets all sorts of human rights groups and tree huggers in general. Personally I think your idea has traction.

    Edit: ” I was the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Barrow and Furness in the 2010 General Election.” – Confession, they say, is good for the soul.

  2. Wstr

    I’m just getting into ‘Storm and Conquest: The Battle for the Indian Ocean, 1808-10′ so my first reaction should be “yes, lets get in the East India Company and have them operating with, and sometimes in competition with, the RN !”.

    However whilst interesting, my uneasiness with the proposal returns when considering the other constabulary roles, especially those enforcing national sovereignty. Piracy is relatively easy to envisage as its often being dealt with by ever changing international coalitions; in open seas or 3rd party waters and for a suitable precedent, well even the UN hires private security guards. But to relinquish the RN from still having to procure & crew an OPV element, you would need to hand-over national tasks like fishery protection. Would you want G4S crawling over your ship (assuming they actually all turn up to work, that is!). If you can learn to stomach it, what about the reaction from the crew of a foreign-flagged vessel?

    There’s an extra legitimacy that comes from being a traditional agent of the state, rather than a contractor on hire, so I’m not sure if privatisation can be sufficiently complete, so to provide the split of ship-types vs tasks envisaged. Apart from wielding that authority once on station, there is also deployment to think of. Most nations have a reluctance to having armed mercenaries transiting their waters. Maybe a hybrid arrangement stands a better chance of ironing the legal creases? e.g. private ships, private crews, private ownership & through-life maintenance but with a small RN (overseas) or Border Agency / Customs(home) boarding party detachment.

  3. Mark

    Gd of you to right a piece for TD and welcome I hope you enjoy and get stuck in

    In my view having the uk sponsored privateers/pirates operating on the high sea stopping people we don’t agree with is not the answer. Suppose this was not uk shipping if the coast of africa but a town in southern England and the local neighbour watch decided the police no longer provided effective cover and as a result armed themselves and would police the law themselves I cant see that being popular why should this be any different.

    The government has a set of requirements is wants covered and outside of defence of uk sovereign territory and protection of its citizens abroad every other task is voluntary. If the navy can’t meet its tasks so ordered with its current or projected ships then in my view its buying the wrong ships the taskings aren’t new and the budget is now well known. This idea that said tasks are for a lessor force or authority is in my view wrong that are what the navy has done for hundred of years and its where they should remain.

  4. Angus McLellan

    I’m having that feeling, the one that you can only say in French. So, are you sure that something like this hasn’t been done before? Private-something? Ah, yes, privateering. Oh.

  5. Phil Darley

    JG welcome to TD…

    Sorry privatisation is con and Shen applied to defence it’s total bollicks…

    Just look at the PFI crap we have signed up to and they don’t involve men at the sharp end.

    This country has to realise that defence comes at a price and we have to prioritise defence too dnxblebghe price to be paid. PFI ‘s snd any other privatisation nonsense is simply that a laud of old cobbler!!!

    Sorry that’s the view of an old fart who has seen snd experienced first hand privatisation snd by and large it’s a con!

  6. Pete Arundel

    Arming private companies is a non-starter – at least as far as a coastguard goes. We don’t even arm the Police!

    The pirate problem is easy to cure, requires no ships and no expenditure by HMG. Just put a small armed contingent on your tanker. Doesn’t matter if they’re private security or a half section of Royal Marines. Like U-boats in WWII it’s pointless roving the seas looking for pirates. They have to come to the merchant ships upon which they prey so that’s where you put your protection. It doesn’t take much to stop a half dozen blokes in a bucking speedboat armed with AKs. The tanker is a better gun platform and it’s security will be firing down into the pirate boat. No contest.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESFFFW0B64I

    If such a thing as a british flagged merchant ship actually exists these days then, perhaps, it would have a right to call on the RN for protection. Having the RN chasing around the Indian Ocean stopping every fishing boat they meet is not a good use of resources. This is down to the shipping companies. If they want to pay for protection from a private company then such companies already exist. If they expect the RN to protect them then better get an owner who’s British and register your ship out of Harwich rather than Liberia. If not, try asking the Liberian Navy to protect you.

  7. Gloomy Northern Boy

    If we need a US style Coastguard we need it; if we need it more than other items in the Defence Budget, we make the necessary adjustments; if we need it less than other items in that budget but more than activities in another budget we make the adjustments there…a Coastguard is not a Navy, nor an alternative for one…and since the Defence of the Realm is the first priority of Government and it is just about at rock bottom and there is endless grief across the oceans of the world that affect the cost of trade and hence our standard of living but are not wars…maybe, just maybe we need to revisit the idea that “there is no more money” on this particular item.

  8. Chuck Hill

    Why should contracted services cost less? Assuming you are getting the same service, almost always better to buy than lease. The contractor has to make a profit so it should cost more. The difference is that the contractor finds it much easier to avoid nice to have add ons.

  9. Waddi

    Across the oilfields of the North Sea rigs have to contract for emergency response and rescue, this is one of bigger firms, Craig Shipping, that offer this service. As you can a very large fleet more than capable of providing Coastguard type activities. Ships with daughter rescue boats that could easily be converted to carry RIBS. These firms will build to contract as well, give them a revenue stream they will build a ship to do it. If you go their home page can watch their latest vessel being launched.

    http://www.craig-group.com/Our_Fleet.html?sect=ERRVD

  10. x

    @ Chuck

    It is the British disease, contracting out (and privatising if nationalised) is always, always cheaper.

  11. Chuck Hill

    If you contract out for each function it may look cheap, but a “coast guard” can do multiple functions, fisheries one day, immigrant interdiction another, SAR another, disaster relief, training an African navy/coast guard, national defense the next, all without writing a new contract. Just for example during Hurricane Katrina, the Coast Guard rescued 30,000 people.

    By law, the US Coast Guard has 11 missions:

    Ports, waterways, and coastal security
    Drug interdiction
    Aids to navigation
    Search and rescue
    Living marine resources
    Marine safety
    Defense readiness
    Migrant interdiction
    Marine environmental protection
    Ice operations
    Other law enforcement

    (listed in order of percentage of operating expenses)

  12. Swimming Trunks

    The hype:
    http://www.forbes.com/2008/10/23/blackwater-pirates-somalia-biz-logistics-cx_wp_1023blackwater.html

    The reality:
    http://blog.usni.org/2010/01/04/blackwaters-pirate-fighting-navy-has-sunk

    However, I have for sometime been looking at the increase in “security contractors” and view it as a case of what old is new again. Equipped with modern small arms, COTS equipment like NVG and GPS, and carried by Toyota pick ups or small containerships we could end up with a new age of the mercenary. There are legal challenges for NGO’s using force but making them (temporary) part of your armed forces could get around that.

    Lack of access to advanced weaponry (atgm, manpads, etc) hold back their roles to roles such as security, etc, at the moment but if the client were to “lend” them… Why employ lots of footsloggers all the time when you can hire them only when needed. You just concentrate on a core of specialists and advanced weapons like Kings and Republics of old had body guards and cannon?

  13. Gloomy Northern Boy

    @ST – somebody more expert will no doubt advise, but my impression is that contractors get paid a shed-load more than squaddies…and carry vastly greater reputational risk. Also when routinely used in big numbers they used to change sides very readily…

  14. Jonesy

    Must admit I have never understood the concept of standing up a UK coastguard in the US model. Duplication of support infrastructure and distinct career/training paths for CG people seems massively counterproductive.

    If we want to make our Offshore Patrol Vessels into more Oceanic Capable Patrol Vessels…roled into the MHPC solution the unintended consequence, noted by X on the OPV thread, may be that we need a number of Inshore Patrol Vessels to address local waters issues…inshore survey, coastal/harbour MCM w/Remus&SeaFox, fisheries patrol, SAR etc.

    There’s no shortage of circa 50m designs, good for ops to SS5, that tip in at £10-15mn a throw top end. Maybe you lose one MHPC hull and bring in 8-10 IPVs. Good hulls to give junior officers basic seamanship experience on and, ones with tasks that distinctly belong within a military, as opposed to paramilitary, remit. The redefinition of the patrol tasking into oceanic and inshore taskings could be hugely useful to the future RN’s training system…cant see what the value would be in splitting that off from the mob?.

  15. Gloomy Northern Boy

    @Jonesy – I would be happy to see the Coastguard function as a part of the RN – provided the MoD got the money to pay for it without losing out on high end warships; my starting point was the belief that other Departments (DfID, Home Office, HMRC, BOTS and others) should contribute considerably to establishing and maintaining it, even if the RN ran it on their behalf.

  16. Observer

    Privately owned security forces are an interesting solution to the pirate problem, but it is the only problem that solves. It is more of a solution to a single temporary problem, the upsurge in piracy due to the lawlesness in Somalia, and not a lasting organizational role.

    In contrast, effective control of your own territory involves not only pirate hunting, but also crime control (which private security does not address, they hunt pirates, not illegal immigrants), SAR, and spot checks on permits and licences, one that an umbrella government organization, either the RN or the Coast Guard, would cover totally instead of one company per job. There is also the “jointness” advantage in government organizations, MPA can hand over to RAF if they spot a lost MiG wandering around in UK territory, or the RN if some poor Russian carrier got lost heading home, but will a private contractor even bother? (Not my job, wot’s a MiG etc) This is even assuming that the private contractor has MPA to offer.

    I’m a supporter of the idea of a seperate Coast Guard, though probably not like the one Chuck is used to, the US is a unique country by nature of its large area, long coast lines and seperation of two areas of operations by a huge land mass. Smaller countries can afford shorter legged, less costly ships other than Coast Guard cruisers.

    Where I’m from (Singapore), we do use the Navy/Coast Guard split, and the difference in numbers and ship capabilities are striking. The Coast Guard does not have a single ship with a weapon greater than 25mm and most of the ships have a 3-5 man crew. More boghammer than FAC to be honest. Numbers? ~130. The Navy carries all the heavy stuff like missiles and 76mm guns/torps/decoys etc and are more for longer term/longer duration deployments, but they give less area presence at ~30 ships.

    To be the police, you don’t have to carry machine guns and rocket launchers. You just have to be everywhere.

  17. Jonesy

    @GNB

    HMRC already runs a small fleet of IPV/Cutters through UKBA so its not likely they’ll be shaken down for anything and trying to arm-twist the others leaves the force vulnerable to the ‘reprioritisation’ of funding from those agencies at a later date…with potentially miserable results for the operational efficiency of the fleet. Better the funding be clearer and more dependable for all involved.

    To cover all ‘minor war’ taskings, local and oceanic, wouldnt necessarily require significantly impacting on the warfighting fleet. This on the proviso, of course, that MHPC is setup properly i.e 12-14 Thetis/Holland sized MRV’s…with a fully-kitted Holland-class tipping in round the £100mn mark thats not an unattainable target. In a sense you’d split the MHPC programme into two tiers not by tasking, but, by size…similar to the way we used to split the sub force into Fleet/Patrol units.

    An IPV fleet of 9 or 10 Damen 50m SeaAxe’s, as one example, is going to be had, in upfront acquisition costs, for something like the cost of a single Holland class OCPV!. So maybe you trade the 13th FFG for a pair of additional OCPV’s and the IPV flotilla. Suddenly you are looking at 18 DD/FF, 14-16 OCPV and 8-10 IPV’s without meaningful funding increases required and the loss of just a single FF hull from current.

  18. Aussie Johnno

    Outsourcing was my game in the ADF before I retired. When it came in it was grasped by Australian politicians as a solution to many problems and as a way to ‘free up resources for the sharp end’. Indeed I had the joy of siting across the table from companies like ‘Serco’ for the best part of a decade and a half.

    The simple comment is that you could outsource just about any military function, however the more ‘military’ the function the greater was the risk of doing so and the smaller was the financial reward. Indeed, the more military the task the more likely it was to actually involve a cost not a saving.

    It would be a reasonable prospect for a contractor to provide the vessels but it may or maynot be cheaper than the government doing it. The basic theory here is that a government will pay for the hardware out of taxes, a contractor will pay for it out of a bank loan. That has been screwed a bit by deficit spending but, the general rule is that unless you are truely going to hell, government sourced money is always cheaper than private money. Quite often contractors hardware is cheaper only because it is simpler and ultimately less capable.

    Likewise with manning, using civilians to operate a vessel is viable but, as the risk level increases any savings would rapidly translate into a cost and a liability issue. The next issue is pulling the trigger, are you going to arm civilians? It is one for shipping companies to hire armed guards to counter a demonstrated risk, it is entirely another thing for an armed civilian to act as an agent of government. That almost cerainly requires an armed RN party aboard, a cost which would have to be set against any savings from elsewhere.

    I could keep this going for the rest of the afternoon, but I will finish on the generable problem of all contracts. If you give the job to the military they will try and achieve it and do a little bit better. If you outscource to a contractor the very best you can hope for is that they will meet the specification. That means you better get the spec right and have no need to change it, because each correction or addition will cost you money.

    There are two sure ways for a contractor to improve the return on a contract. First is to over bill any changes; second is to only do the visible parts of the task. Skimp in short.

  19. martin

    Given that the shipping industry is largely Greek and the biggest tax dodgers in the world I am not sure if we should really be expending HMG’s precious resources on protecting foreign ships in foreign waters. However there is definitely a commercial angle here. In all likely hood now that people know how much money they can make from piracy the issues of the horn of Africa not to mention the developing problems of the West of Africa are likely to be with us for a very long time. The current system of keeping around 27 warships of the coast of Somalia is not a long term fix for the international community and no one is launching Herrick part 2 in Somalia any time soon. It would seem the convoying of merchant ships is the best solution. However instead of doing this for free why not charge for it. This way the RN could make additional funds. We already have naval assets in the area that could be used when not required to keep Iran in check. We could purchase additional River or Clyde type OPV’s on a PFI basis. The vessels should probably be run by the RFA instead of the RN but with some RN personnel on board to operate weapons.

    One company has already started doing this.

    http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/421071/20130106/piracy-somalia-typhon-glencore.htm

    We may also allow UK registered vessels to travel in our convoys for free to encourage more of them to pay tax in the UK.

    This way we take piracy away from being a threat to the navy and turn it into an asset the can produce additional funds for the RN.

    We may even consider speaking to the Lloyd’s market about paying for patrols in upcoming threat markets such as the West of Africa. It is estimated that additional insurance costs each year just for the areas of the horn of Africa were between $460 million and $3.2 billion which at the upper end is the same as the entire RN annual budget.

  20. martin

    We could even press our four retired Type 22’s and the Castle Class (if they are still kicking around) into service in the interim until we can get additional OPV’s operational.

  21. Observer

    Possible, but “rent-a-warship” is not going to be able to cover the cost of the actual warship + supplies and personel unless the ship is very basic. i.e no helo, no RHIB and boarding party etc. It is possible if there is a dual source, government funding by taxes AND fees.

    Don’t know. There is something basically wrong about a military collecting money that sits badly with me.

    Besides, once convoys start, why bother to pay? Just trail them close by. It’s not as if they can leave you for the pirates, the publicity black eye will kill off the project in a sec. “Navy Abandons Ship To Pirates For Not Paying!!!”. Instant kill for the Navy reputation.

  22. Martin

    @ observer as far as I know RN staff based in DUBAI already arrange convoys and the shipping industry is pissed that there are not enough of them and vessels have to sit around in the gulf waiting. If companies don’t pay for the convoy and are not officially logged on it then they won’t benefit from the reduced insurance premium .

    I agree that it is not cost effective to use frigates for this role but a bay class manned by RFA with maybe an AW109 is cheap as chips. If ship owners are having to pay several billion a year in insurance premiums and Lloyds is having to fork out for lost ships and cargo then there is obviously money to pay for such things.

    Does anyone know if we still have the castles sitting around some where? Pitty we sold those three rivers to brazil for pennies. We could have started next week :-)

  23. Martin

    Should be said as well that HMG already accepts both Visa and Master card for the provision of private Military services . Just look at Brunei.

  24. Observer

    Brunei’s a historical case and less of putting in forces but rather failing to withdraw them from the area.

    Regarding the Gulf of Aden, that also begs the question of why should the UK foot the total effort of keeping peace in the region when it is a global effect? Should it not be a global effort? And won’t local forces like the Saudi Navy and UAE be much better in keeping peace in that region considering that they do not have to stretch supply lines as far?

    The “private navy” is good PR, but it is actually a red herring. They have a single ship. Task Force 151(?) has ~20 vessels +/-. How much more effect can 21 ships have as opposed to 20? Or even worse, the withdrawal of 151 from the area, leaving that one ship to do patrolling?

    Good PR, not so good practical.

  25. Waddi

    There are precedents in the RN, HMS Protector is leased under contract as were the Rivers. In theory any ship (OSVs in particular) with a Lynx, Marines etc. is capable of doing anti-piracy it is the people that make it a warship not necessarily the vessel.

  26. Martin

    @ observer

    I agree it should be a joint effort. It shows the generally poor quality of global navies when maintains 20 + vessels is a struggle but I would also maintain the shipping industry haas gotten too use to flags of convenience and needs to start paying tax if it expects protection charging convoy fees may be a way to do this especially if done on an international level with fees being passed to governments who committ vessels to the area. I also agre that the Saudis and others need to step up to the plate more as its their traffic that is being affected.

  27. Not a Boffin

    People need to stop obsessing about bl00dy pirates. As Obs points out half a page above, this is a temporary upsurge in a particular area. Two relatively recent effects have gone a fair ways to reducing this :

    1. TF151 – which btw is a true combined TF
    2. Extensive use of armed PSCs aboard merchant vessels

    All this nonsense about hi/lo fleets and £1Bn pound destroyers taking on RPG-armed pirates is a red herring. The RN forces within easy steaming distance of the gulf are NOT there primarily to counter pirates. They are being used for that tasking as it is convenient to contribute while keeping the ships in area. A classic “presence” mission.

    Martin – the Castles went to Bangladesh some years ago. We still have all our “RIvers” (not the old deep team minesweepers). Our T22s are “gutted” and would not be the right option in anycase.

  28. martin

    @ NAB

    I agree with what you say and TF 151 is an amazing achievement that shows what can be achieved when the full international community gets of its arse. I think its a real testament to the UK and RN the instrumental role they have played in its formation. However is it still going to be there in 10 or 20 years because the piracy threat will be there for a very very long time I think.

  29. Observer

    martin, the “threat” has almost been neutralised. People get into the game for easy money. Now that there is a chance of getting shot, it’s no longer such a lure. There isn’t a threat there worth talking about any more.

  30. Challenger

    Aren’t shipping companies increasingly spending money on hiring or building up their own private security forces instead of relying on military protection?

    Despite the obvious concerns over the safety of trade and it’s impact on global economics I do think it’s worthy to question whether sovereign forces should be contributing to effectively a policeman role in international waters.

    Perhaps the eventual future is one of commercial security teams doing the actual ground work whilst nations like the UK provide surveillance and intelligence assets to assist them?

  31. mickp

    @ Challenger

    I think that is the way forward; unless the pirates progress beyond small arms and RPGs then I think its a fair cost for the shipping firms of doing business and onboard security teams will put off most threats. Sure we can deploy their in rotation with other nationals when we’ve got spare ships. As I have said elsewhere its a decent real life training environment, better than training in UK coastal waters but I think Naval forces should be primarily for surveillance and warnnig trather than chasing every small boat. Doesn’t need a frigate, a Clyde type vessel could do it and be attached to our other Gulf presence

  32. IXION

    NAB

    The West coast of Africa pirate thing is getting people very hot under the collar. Put pirates have never gone away and have been there forever, for example the Malacca straights have I believe never been free of them.

    However Private armies are not a good idea. Quality control is going to be very hard to manage.

    I Know some of the people who have gone out there, and the phrase:- would not trust them with a sharpened guava half, comes to mind. Just because you were a soldier once it does not mean you were a good one. Some ex doormen I know are now out there, and are 5 stone ahead of fighting weight, and certainly have not handled weapons in 10 years,

    BTW they are contrary to shit loads of international agreements and treaties about mercenaries.

  33. WiseApe

    “There is something basically wrong about a military collecting money that sits badly with me. ” – Isn’t this the original purpose for armed forces?

    “Our T22s are “gutted”” – As am I. :-(

    It’s just taken me an hour and three quarters to complete a 25 minute drive. And I’ve got man-flu. I’m going to have another look at that Argentine destroyer to cheer myself up.

  34. All Politicians are the Same

    Some anti piracy background.

    TF 151 is a good example of what can be achieved out with traditional alliances. it is what i like to describe as the “rest of the world select”.

    Interestingly it is the only one run from the region, being ran from Bahrain. It currently has an Ozzie, US, Italian and South Korean contribution.

    The other 2 task forces in the area are both run from Northwood.

    HQ MARCOM runs TF 508 which is the NATO contribution and has an Italian Flagship with contributions from the Danish and Turks.

    TF 465 is the EU Naval force and is also run from Northwood (different building).
    It has a Spanish Flagship with contributions from the Germans, French and Belgians.

    So the RN currently has no vessels in either direct or associated support to any of the anti piracy Task Forces. the helo on Surcouf (TF 465) is however an 815 Squadron Lynx.

    As well as these Task forces the Russians tend to keep an AOR and FF/DD in the area, currently units from their Pacific Fleet. The Chinese normally have 2 or 3 FF/DD supported by an AOR and the Indians maintain a presence as do the Pakistanis occasionally and the Iranians. All of these countries run escorted convoys.

    The 3 “Western” Task Forces split the region into 3 AORs. Somali Basin, Gulf of Aden and the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor. Due to the distances involved and lack of ports etc it is often easier for Ships to be tasked by the relevant coordinator for their geographical area than their TF Command Staff. Sow whilst tasking is contained within relevant TF DIMS the coordination occurs between the staffs.

  35. IXION

    Observer

    The Gurkha re a mercenary corp, As are the French and Spanish foreign legions. all are clearly defined as such by international treaty. Everyone ignores it, because of their age,traditions, and a certain degree of grandfather rights. But mercenaries they are.

    Whilst on a history kick, the last privateers known, of were, British merchant sea men who were put on Q Ships in 1939-40. Some of the ships crews were inadvertently not signed up to the relevant RN articles and thus sailed as private citizens to engage the queens enemy in combat (as opposed to some of the Dunkirk little ships owners who had no combat role.

    However

    BP’s/Exons private armies of:-

    ‘Hasbeens, neverwere’s, think they want to be, wannabies, and guys who have been beating up drunks outside pubs for 20 years, and don’t forget that guy who sits in the pub, telling everyone how they were the 2nd guy on the balcony at the Iranian Embassy siege.

    Are another matter and most sane govts will stay away form anything like a standing private army/navy/airforce.

  36. John Hartley

    I doubt other countries would be happy with British “mercenaries” boarding their ships. However, self defence is recognised in the UN charter, so why not allow UK flagged/owned/manned ships to have those weapons still legal in the UK? (12 bore shotguns, bolt action hunting rifles). Trained volunteer crew members could even be signed up as Special Constables, if that aids sensibilities.

  37. Observer

    “most sane govts will stay away form anything like a standing private army/navy/airforce.”

    Which explains the Yanks using Blackwater et al. Everyone knows the Yanks are not exactly sane.

  38. x

    I did quite a bit of reading on companies like Executive Outcomes. They did get results while blue-helmeted infantry from the Third World appear to achieve little. (India and Pakistan being notable exceptions.)

    @ IXION re Spanish foreign legion.

    Is so called because it worked outside Spain and has a different recruiting policy to the French service with a similar name.

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