UK defence issues and the odd container or two

Not Fishin

I know I haven’t posted anything for a few days but I have been spending a lot of time researching the next large post on the runway at Port Stanley Airport. I decided I just couldn’t ignore Black Buck so have also been looking at the raids, their context and a few of the myths, claims and misconceptions that surround them.

Am at just under 12,000 words so far, will be complete shortly

Standby

Standby

About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

64 Comments

  1. John Hartley

    12,000 words. You must be in the public sector, or writing a book. Mind you, I still think the RAF needs a 21st century Vulcan. Something that can do global strike. Even if we have them in C-17 numbers.

  2. Red Trousers

    @ JH,

    is that not called TLAM? Im slightly struggling to think of many places in the world we would want to hit that can’t be reached by one of them fired from the nearest bit of blue, and the advantages of them being in-service and not requiring major friendly infrastructure and 75 accompanying aircraft seem attractive. Send two, if the bang is not big enough with only one.

    “Big Daddy” TLAM with double the range and four times the bang might be a development path using essentially the same design and software, fired from a missile ship. Would the ship have to be enormous? I don’t think so.

  3. Simon

    I’m doing a spot of background reading on this subject too… in order to help keep TD on his toes ;-)

    It’s certainly a more interesting series of missions than I originally thought when you look at the cost/benefit and effect. It’s easy to discount them until you put yourself in the enemy’s position and think “Hey, they just dropped 21 bombs on me… several times… at a simlar range to our homeland… and those things can drop a 450kT nuke”.

  4. John Hartley

    Rt
    The target might need something small, say a dual mode Brimstone, or it might need a big 6000 lb bunker buster. TLAM, good as it is, is only one warhead size,plus it cannot loiter over the battlefield.

  5. John Hartley

    RT
    Plus a SSN cannot deploy at 600 mph. If its a major conflict the bombers & SSNs might take it in turns to attack the enemy.

  6. Red Trousers

    JH,

    it would be interesting to see how the argument develops. I’ll not start with a preconception, but merely an instinct that it would be damn bloody difficult to get through the Whitehall system a requirement that can only be answered by a whole new aircraft just in case we want to seriously twat some future enemy on a global basis, particularly as we have managed without for several decades. It all seems a bit Pareto, and in TLAM we’ve probably got already the 80% solution.

    I’m not sure that loitering over the target is going to be in Vulcan 21′s CONOPS. Seems a bit risky for a Kevin.

    I’m pretty sure that an SSN can get itself to just about wherever it needs to be quicker than the Whitehall machine can decide on how to respond to any act of aggression, so the 600 mph self-deployment argument seems moot to me. And don’t forget, you’d still need another 75 aircraft and 5,000 Kevins to also self-deploy at 600 mph to have the full force package for Vulcan 21 to be realistic.

  7. John Hartley

    RT
    Its not one or other, as both are needed for a seemless capability. Say we had 8 SSNs + 8 LRS-B. All of them would be needed to keep constant attack on the enemy. While one is resting/rearming, the other steps in.
    People said we did not need the C-17, but once we got them, few would want us to scrap them.

  8. Red Trousers

    Still not with you JH. I’ll submit for debate that, with the exception of Black Buck, Britain has never “needed” (ie nothing else would do) a long range strike bomber of the sort you describe. Even the Cold War nuclear strike aircraft were bog standard Tornadoes on a one-way mission.

    Of course, TLAM did not exist during the Falklands. If it had, I’m pretty sure Black Buck would have been a matelot operation, because – and all credit to the Kevins, a magnificent feat of planning, precision, logistics, and flying guts – it was as mad as a box of frogs when an SSN could have delivered the same effect through TLAM. Black Buck worked in achieving its’ aims****, but we would not have wanted to rely upon it, far less commit to an enormously expensive procurement just in case we wanted to repeat it.

    **** I expect TD will tell us if it did or not in his essay, but that to me can only be quantified by examine what the Argies made of it, the effect on them, etc.

  9. Mark

    You could only get a manned aircraft bomber thru as a replacement for trident. In so much as its easier to have the manned bomber do roles other than nuclear strike than it is an ssbn.

  10. Gloomy Northern Boy

    The strongest arguments seem to be in favour of more Astute Class SSNs with a goodly supply of TLAMs (and successor missiles); are tube launched Drones with a loitering capability possible now or any time soon?

    Handy really as we are still building Astutes, and could usefully contribute to our military/industrial policy by keeping the line open producing extra hulls until ready to start on the successor to the Vanguards…on which, perhaps we could distribute the Nukes across more subs and give the CASD some conventional capacity…

    Mind you, just watching something about Bomber Command on the History Channel, so I might be keen on rebuilding them by midnight!

  11. John Hartley

    F-35B makes no sense for the RAF. So just buy 36 for the FAA (to start with). For the price of 12 F-35B we could buy at least 2 LRS-B, which could actually reach the enemy.
    There are many missions we had to sit out of since 1982 as our planes lacked the range(the early bombing missions in Afghanistan, former Yugoslavia when we could not get permission from the Italians, our pitiful threats to Iran when we have no means of carrying them out).
    There are 500,000 non-jobs taken on by Gordon Brown. Sack them & there IS money for defence (& infrastructure).

  12. Gloomy Northern Boy

    @JH – Not sure, but I think you might find the chap who keeps saying “THERE IS NO MORE MONEY!” on another thread somewhere.

    Just a thought.

  13. John Hartley

    GNB
    For the same price as 48 F-35B, you could have 36 F-35B and 3 LRS-B.
    Means the RN can fill one carrier & the RAF can guarantee Black Buck style missions against a distant enemy.

  14. Simon

    John Hartley,

    Can you provide an example situation where a Black Buck style air-raid might be of use that cannot be accomplished by carrier strike or TLAM from SSN or T45 (assuming a few extra tubes)?

  15. Simon

    …I agree with Mark that LRS-B is only likely to get through if you do it in place of Trident… however, it is also possible that it could be pushed through in place of CVF and F35B… just need a few loitering air-defence assets from somewhere!

  16. Simon

    Just one more thing…

    The idea of a long-range bomber also has merit in the fact that the platform (long-range) should also provide high-endurance which would suit ISTAR ops. So say, 6 x B-2 type aircraft operating in the first wave as surprise tactical bombing and then being used to loiter above the theater of operations to provide intel might have been sensible if we hadn’t already purchased Sentry.

  17. wf

    @Simon: that sounds like a job for a Global Hawk, not a manned platform. Given the distances, I can’t see how long range bombing can compete with sea launched TLAM or carrier air. The latter can make far more trips back and forth over the distance in the same time, as well as being easier to mass in effect.

  18. tweckyspat

    Gutted

    I thought it might be the next epsiode in the mexeflote story….

    …not some Kevin-ology never likely to be repeated

  19. John Hartley

    Simon
    You love making your demands! See my earlier post. If a coalition forms against Iran or N Korea, what can the UK do. Not much more than harsh words from William Hague. Long range means you are not beholding to host nation support (re Italy over former Yugoslavia in the 90s).
    If we have one carrier with 36 F-35B + 3 RAF LRS-B + a TLAM SSN, then we have a collective big stick.

  20. Simon

    wf,

    Ahh, yes, of course, there’s Global Hawk.

    John Hartley,

    Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be demanding, I just couldn’t think of a situation that actually requires long-range bombing.

    If we were part of a coalition against Iran or North Korea there would be plenty of time to move assets into the relevant area. Apart from the high-speed response of LRS-B I don’t see the point, the sortie rate is just too low to have any bearing (something the Black Buck raids seemed to demonstrate after airstrip craters were fixed in 24-hours).

    So, given that long-range bombing only gives you a very rapid, but low rate of delivery and unsustainable response we’re only really likely to need it when our own (or a very close ally’s) land is attacked and we need to be a annoying “wasp” whilst we move the heavier assets into position… something I don’t think we need if we maintain an SSN/GMD in the mid Atlantic and mid Indian Oceans.

  21. ArmChairCivvy

    Simon & wf,

    Your words have been heard… The manned bomber will operate with an unmanned loitering asset, both LO. Still unclear whether the latte!r will be the payload of some of the bombers, or launched from a carrier group closer by than the strip required by the bomber

    Now, what might the latter be? The much derided prototype that is carrier tested and mid-air refuellable… But can’t carry more than two bombs?

    Both ready for 2018? Not quite, but for the early 20′s. Never underestimate the Black Ops, in the budget headings, rather than some computer games

  22. ArmChairCivvy

    And the mission? After initial recce, get refuelled and go and do damage assessment, while we fly back to Hawaii for a pee (and a refuel, incl. Ordnance)

  23. Peter

    @ John Hartley.
    I was interested in your comment that F-35B makes no sense for the RAF. In light of the fact that the Royal Air Force has based it’s plans for it’s next generation of combat aircraft on the multi-role F35, I would be interested to know your reasons for making such a sweeping and fundamental assertion, and why you believe that the air staff and long term defence planners are wrong in choosing F35 for future RAF land and sea based air combat operations?
    Perhaps you are right, – but I think you need to a bit more specific than just saying that “it makes no sense”.
    The RAF appears to believe that F-35 will provide RAF with top class
    land-based and sea-based expeditionary air power,and able to conduct deep strike missions operating either from land bases, or from the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers.

  24. x

    You guys and your medium long range bomber and deep strike jokes.

    You don’t ‘arf make me laff! :)

    Come on be serious now. ;)

  25. Simon

    I’ve designed our next gen stealth bomber…

    4000nm radius of operation but requires Mark to build something that weighs in at only 1/4 of it’s max takeoff weight. I think this is just about achievable nowadays? I’ve gone for a 8t gross t/o weight and 2t of payload which is interesting because me thinks this might be Taranis ;-)

    Trouble is if it needs to abort the bombing run it will only get halfway home so needs another one of these to help it back, which is fortunate because one would be on its way by then anyway.

    To be honest if Taranis can be built (structurally this is a challenge) and we build enough of them (~200) we can ditch the need for F35, CVF and the SSNs.

  26. x

    Stop it! I can’t take no more. :)

    For the price of one off the shelf B2 we could buy more TLAM than we have ever fired many times over.

    We should ask the Ruskies for some TU-95. Now that is a plane. We could TLAM BA from Cornwall with one of those……

  27. wf

    As we’re refighting the FI, perhaps we could look anew at the requirement for NGS? Obviously, post 82 it was obvious it was essential, but in the last 5 years the advent of GMLRS and the like has vastly reduced the need for tube artillery. Small missiles and cannon can handle smaller surface threats, with larger missiles doing the large.

    Might we be better off expanding the VLS silos forward on T45/26 and using some of them for quad packed GMLRS?

    @NaB

  28. WiseApe

    “If we have one carrier with 36 F-35B + 3 RAF LRS-B + a TLAM SSN, then we have a collective big stick.” – Don’t really see the need for all three branches of your stick (see what I did there); also, if we’re part of a coalition against NK or Iran, I can’t see much value in 3 (with probably only one serviceable at any one time) long range bombers. Uncle Sam more likely to ask us to keep out of the way, I think.

    If you want to get back into the LRB game do a proper job of it. Minimum 12 airframes? At about $500million a pop that means scrap one or two of: SSBN, SSN, CVF. Worth it? I think not.

    Anyway, curious to see how TD is going to flannel the bulk of his 12000 words on a runway. Which doesn’t even move. At all. :-)

  29. Mark

    You can have trident, you can even have the f35 any variant and carrier strike, you can even have tlam (which needs something big and expensive to fire from) but I’d give that all up if you could give me just 16 of these.

    ****warning ISO containers were harmed in the making of this film***

    Simon

    1/4 would be certainly pushing the boundary I’d be happen at 1/3

  30. Gloomy Northern Boy

    @Mark – you realise you have done the one thing that gets you banned from this site?

    One squadron of these would be pretty cool, but are there cheaper ways to do that job?

  31. John Hartley

    How do you attempt deep strike missions with an aircraft with a 450 mile(tops) strike radius?
    A token long range strike capability is better than no capability.
    The RAF only wants F-35B to stop the FAA getting them, after all if the RAF wants short range strike, the Gripen does the job for a lot less money.

  32. WiseApe

    I’m a bit surprised those SA-6s didn’t return fire. But oh hang on, that’s a STEALTH bomber flying straight and level directly overhead.

  33. Peter

    @ John Hartley.
    re your question as to how you attempt deep strike missions with an aircraft with a 450 strike radius.
    -By using, if required, air to air refuelling; or by operating from an aircraft carrier, if that is appropriate to the situtation, or by operating from a landbase within range of the target.
    In any event, “deep strike” does not automatically imply long range. – it suggests as ability to strike deep into the enemy territory; which could mean attacking a critical target 250 miles – for example- behind enemy lines, or, for example, 1000 miles from the home base with A/A refuelling
    It is absurd to think that all strike aircraft have to have a 10,000 mile range.
    The RAF has clearly stated that F-35 will operate from land bases or carriers, as suits the situation.

  34. Jonesy

    @John Hartley

    You sling two Storm Shadow under the wings and precision hard target strike at 600nm give or take a few. Realistically we have, and will going forward, very limited organic ISTAR to be hitting non fixed or time-critical targets at that kind of range anyway. If its just clobbering fixed targets TLAM is a good option as well. Not like we have no options for reaching out and touching where necessary!

  35. Red Trousers

    X,

    cue many Joint College of Knowledge discussions.

    Deep is doctrinally a state of mind and to do with the enemy’s CofG, and not a geographical distance. But there’s thousands who get that confused, to the extent that it is almost pointless in arguing.

  36. John Hartley

    If the RAF get the F-35B, it will be a very rare day that they are on a carrier. Probably a 65,000 ton carrier with no more than 4 F-35B on board most of the time.

  37. Red Trousers

    Are we all agreed?

    That LRS-B is an answer to a question no one is asking, and if anyone did, we’ve got TLAM already which works for all but really obscure scenarios?

    And that LRS-B is going to be eye-poppingly expensive, and still need 75 nanny aircraft around it to do a job that no one is asking to be done, and 5,000 Kevins, and all of them self-deploy with all of the combined speed of the Whitehall decision making machine and a VC-10? As GNB observes, there is not too much spare cash. Possibly we can recycle some from the DFID budget, but even so, that will only pay for a small study from QinetiQ.

    And that no one really wants to look into the ISTAR assets needed to help LRS-B do its’ job (which no one is asking for), because that is sort of nationally embarrassing?

  38. Simon

    RT,

    I’m still of the opinion that any long range bomber should also be an ISTAR asset and vice versa.

    This also includes our MPA capability. Shame that we never think further than the ends of our noses otherwise we’d be able to afford a dozen B2 like recon/strike platforms.

    My point here is that we DO need MPA and ISTAR so could have also got long range strike from the same platform if we’d had put our minds to it.

  39. John Hartley

    No we are not agreed.
    Next unpleasantness, the short legged stuff will gather dust, as the Kevins look at their shoelaces while explaining their shiny toys cannot reach the enemy.

  40. Red Trousers

    Simon,

    not sure, as I think you are entering into “jack of all trades” territory, the whole being sub-optimal for any single mission.

    Thinking about the characteristics of any of the 3 to be a “perfect platform”, they seem mutually compatible only up to a limited point. After that, they rapidly get incompatible.

    What do you want?

    LRS-B: Stealth, endurance, reasonable payload, lots of good comms onboard for final targeting, terrain following radar.

    MPA: Range, sensors that work low and high, payload, ability to conduct action (ie dropping life rafts or torpedoes), onboard C2, platform agility, flies in the weather.

    ISTAR: Massive endurance, some stealth, sensors optimised for resolution with platform stability, big bandwidth comms, flies above the weather.

    Put all of that lot together and you’ve got a stealthy C-130 with modular payloads and extra big fuel tanks. Not in itself a bad package to have on the shelf – in fact it could be quite attractive, but it is hardly a master of all 3 roles. And then there is the training: a crew well drilled in MPA is hardly going to be able to fly a long range strike mission, nor plan a stealthy ISTAR info grabbing mission.

  41. Red Trousers

    JH,

    don’t Kevins have velcro on their shoes? Am not entirely convinced they are ready for the complexities of shoe laces (and certainly could not explain why a gentleman only ever wears leather laces, and not polyester ones).

  42. Red Trousers

    GNB,

    Leather laces have all sorts of other uses, beyond combat indicators as to Kevins present. I even made Mrs RT an emergency repair to her bra once with a lace, but then we looked a right odd pair as we returned to Murmuri in Barcelona from a night out, she clutching her front (she did not trust my emergency trussing, and I have a lot of boy scout badges for knots) and me with one proper shoe as a slip-on.

    You can’t do that with polyester laces, in particular because Mrs RT breaks out in hives or something if the chemical touches her skin (Mrs RT is nothing if not high maintenance, but she is worth it), and because I refuse to have the substance in the house, so it is generally unavailable.

  43. Red Trousers

    Wearing less ties these days. Benefits of being in your late 40s. Lessening need to impress. People either listen, or if they wonder about a lack of a tie, are not worth bothering about, and probably don’t have a budget that I am interested in.

    I do however have a new pair of red trousers. Proper moleskins, from a Welsh dye-ery (sp?), and hand cut for me by Mrs RT’s niece, newly graduated from the London College of Fashion. Had to wear them in a bath to shrink them to fit before final alterations. Quite Gucci, I must say. I’m going to wear them into the office with a five button double breasted blazer, as we have a new ex-Kevin working for us who was a Tornado F3 Nav, calling everyone “mate”, and who will wilt under the splendour.

    He nailed up his educational chitties in frames on the wall on his first day. I only looked at the first, but honestly, Somerset College of Arts and Technology, instead of a proper qualification? It’s the sort of chitty I’d not want to advertise.

    Going to be fun.

  44. Gloomy Northern Boy

    @ RT – favouring a three button tan tweed jacket with a light check myself, normally worn with blue moleskins…matches one check; oddly red would match the other, but I am much too fat for that…

    This is much more agreeable than trading bad temper with @IXION & Observer elsewhere on the site…

  45. Red Trousers

    GNB,

    RT aside for high days and holidays, a man needs several shades of mustard trews in the wardrobe. Couple of pairs of ratcatchers in cord for walked up pigeon and work around the grounds. Keep the London clothes and shirting in the flat, and an emergency suit at home. “Simples”, as the meerkats say.

    However,

    I capitulated on Mrs RT demands to knock through from our room to BR 6 to convert an entire child’s bedroom into her walk-in wardrobe. Honestly, it’s like the Tardis in there, and we still had to buy several hanging rails from B&Q for the overflow stuff, and there’s shoes stacked up in boxes that I’ve never seen her wearing.

  46. Observer

    ” Honestly, it’s like the Tardis in there”

    Bigger than it seems from the outside? Or a walk through it is like taking a time machine? :)

    And as for the LRS-B is there even anything concrete about that project yet or is it still vapourware? Prompt Global Strike is vapourware in a different sense though, their test bed blew up.

    Mark, love the B-2, with 2 caveats. 1) Damn maintanance and 2) having to overfly a target before dropping the warload.

    If I was asked to design a new long range bomber, I’d probably come up with a mix of the old Valkyrie bomber and the F-14/AIM 54 project. A stratospheric bomber firing a long range missile designed for stratospheric use. With luck, the missile range will keeps the bugger out of SAM range hopefully. Best thing about this? Mostly old tech that’s been done before, even have a museam piece for reference. Should keep costs down. And stop sniggering.

  47. Simon

    RT,

    Jack of all trades are all we can afford and have been for decades now.

    MPA is just a jumbo with sensors and weapons.
    ISTAR is just a jumbo with sensors.
    B-52 is just a jumbo with lots of bombs.

    They’re all jumbos!

    Stealth them up and they’re all big versions of F35.

  48. John Hartley

    RT
    I hang my head in shame. I did think more likely “slip ons” just after I hit the submit button.

  49. IXION

    GNB

    I thought we were getting on famously:D

    Perhaps we should start a new heading on TD.

    RT’s fashion tips-

    I’ll go first with a question.

    For the Grouse moor do you recomend Norfolk jacket and matching plus 4′s?

  50. Swimming Trunks

    Simon says “MPA is just a jumbo with sensors and weapons.
    ISTAR is just a jumbo with sensors.
    B-52 is just a jumbo with lots of bombs.

    They’re all jumbos!

    Stealth them up and they’re all big versions of F35.”

    Apart from the stealth bit it sounds like we’re talking about something like the Transport bomber concept.

    http://www.fas.org/man/eprint/benson.htm

    http://www.g2mil.com/bm747.htm

    http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2012/09/the-airbus-a400m-atlas-part-3-a-multi-purpose-platform/

    Chris B’s article on “Regional Bomber”

    http://defencewithac.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-regional-bomber-concept.html

    and if you want stealth as well…

    http://defensetech.org/2012/01/19/northrops-stealthy-cargo-plane/

  51. Gloomy Northern Boy

    @IXION “I thought we were getting on famously”

    No you didn’t – you were intending to wind me up – which you achieved to a modest degree, and to my regret.

    Won’t happen again.

    Happy trails in Switzerland by Sea.

  52. mike

    George;

    “Always thought we should have purchased some unused Blackjack airframes from the Ukraine…”

    Russia bought them up pretty quickly after the split-up; far too valuable an airframe.

    Imagine if Scotland did the same as most of the sov union did when it broke up? Scotland owning the SSN/BN force and we having to buy them back!

    JH & RT; Some of the comments here are worthy of the tin hat award, but x has it secured, ask him for it :P
    jk ;D
    Seriously, some of the comments here – especially B2′s and “Kevins”…

    Tomahawks would be the modern day equivalent to the black buck. Pretty blindingly obvious, as obvious as to why the F-35 should be a purple asset. It would be interesting to see how capable the Argentine offshore/inshore patrol is (MPA and ASW). Its not as decrepit as the rest of their military.

  53. IXION

    GNB
    Not trying to wind you up.

    Using a chunk of irony, or poking a bit of fun at an argument, in order to make a point, is perfectly valid.

    Don’t be so touchy We disagree with one another over the Defence of this country. we disagree about how. Surely that is what forums are for isn’t it?

    seriously we should be able to argue without getting upset, or taking it personally.

    Switzerland by the sea, Wealthy stable with coastline – yea I could live with that.

  54. mattymc

    Im sure that the USAF have got a few old B-52′s knocking about that we could buy for not too much. As they would hardly ever be used the maintainance costs shouldnt be too high, plus for flight training we just send guys over to learn with the yanks! Its not as though we havent got the infrastructure, we can base them out of fairford quite easily!

  55. Simon

    Swimming Trunks,

    Northrop’s Stealthy Cargo Plane

    Very, very, very much my point. Thank you. It’s just a B2 platform used for something else… ish.

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