Thoughts on the Future

Hopefully from the pages above, it should be clear that the UK’s joint amphibious forces are capable and have all the pieces of jigsaw in place, right down to specialist engineering plant, pontoons and floating fuel tanks.

It has a hard won and enviable reputation for excellence.

With CEPP and the carriers, various unmanned developments and new naval gunfire systems on type 26, the future looks good.

But equally, and perhaps more specifically to the amphibious force, there is an obvious problem with funding priorities, slowly reducing mass and a number of fundamental questions about operability in a contemporary operating environment without significant funding increases.

Which brings me to a few thoughts on the future of the Royal Marines and the UK’s wider amphibious/littoral capabilities.

The Contemporary Operating Environment and Tasks

As can be seen from the above, the Royal Marines have many roles beyond the traditional image of amphibious assault.

Deterrent protection and maritime security remain critical roles, Non Combatant Evacuation, SF and SF support, boarding, arctic training and even the RM Band take up personnel resources and yet are difficult to see changed.

As CEPP evolves, it is also easy to envisage an increased demand for personnel and equipment recovery, especially given the likelihood of downed pilots appearing in an orange boilersuited YouTube video.

Which leaves that traditional amphibious landing roles; raids, securing a Sea Port of Disembarkation (SPOD) or similar.

This is the role the UK has just diminished with the changes to 42 Commando, and this is the role that will need significant investment in the next decade or so.

Anyone see a problem?

We also have to realistic about threats and stop ourselves falling into the trap of thinking that the world has not changed since 1982 in the South Atlantic.

Skip forward to 2003 and a planned beach landing was cancelled because of the threat of mines, not actual mines, but the threat of mines. We had no effective and fast means of surf zone mine clearance then, and we still don’t know.

Since 2003, the IED and ATGW treat has grown significantly, as witnessed by Iraq and Syria

How has 3CDO Brigades’ defence against mines, IED’s and ATGW’s evolved since then?

The physical environment is changing rapidly as well.

No more are pristine beaches with the optimal soil conditions, gradients and slopes commonplace. Increasingly, shorelines are being developed, urban sprawl is encroaching on shore environments at an increasingly rapid pace.

Actually getting on to a shore will be increasingly difficult, off it more so.

Climate change will also change shorelines.

The requirement is getting difficult to fulfil without lots more funding.

Can we play the USN/USMC Way?

Seabasing and manoeuvre from the joint seabase to the objective, in force, with sustainment from a seabase in the multi domain battle seems financially unachievable for the UK.

Sorry everyone, it just does.

No, we are not going to buy V-22’s, and no, we are not going to invest in seabasing.

This interesting paper published in 2005 from Major Jack van Baarsel (Royal Netherlands Marine Corps) asked exactly the same, but from a European wide perspective. It is interesting see the difference between the forces described then with what is actually in service now.

Playing the American way seems even further away now than it did then.

What about the European Way?

The European way (including Australia!) is to move away from different classes of amphibious ships where landing craft and helicopters are operated from different platforms (i.e. Ocean and Albion), and the doctrinal approach that drives this, to a one size fits all vessel that is certainly more flexible, but arguably nowhere near as operationally capable.

A little bit of everything in an LHD, as per Mistral and Juan Carlos I, but at a very small scale, and they still have to be in close inshore to be effective.

It will be interesting to see how the Spanish-Italian amphibious battlegroup evolves.

Options

Like many of these articles, the author has to choose whether to propose increasing funding for capability A or B, usually depending on their own biases.

Shopping Spree

It would be quite easy to argue the UK should go on a shopping spree to match the USMC with all sorts of over the horizon multi domain battle high speed connector amphibiosity.

But would that in any way be remotely rooted in reality?

Status Quo

Arguing for the status quo would also be easy.

Between 2031 and 2034, all the Royal Navy and RFA’s amphibious shipping will be out of service.

The status quo is to carry as now with Albion/Bulwark/Bays and accept the Ocean gap until CEPP is fully in service, and then hope all five of those vessels will be replaced with some equivalent [Insert favourite options here]

This is probably more likely than going on a shopping spree but as we have seen, the status quo does not address any of the issues of operating environment

We also have to suspend thinking about costs of Successor, Carrier Strike and the Surface Fleet.

Something Else

Both of the above options are equally valid I suppose, but in the interests of promoting some discussion I thought it would be more interesting to propose something a little more radical.

Radical, does not necessarily mean unachievable, it is not unachievable because I am willing to recognise the need to trade away numbers in return, creating space in the budget, the budget that is likely to be smaller in any case.

A Proposal for ‘Something Else’

This is not a costed proposal, but simply a few ideas, hopefully pragmatic, that puts the UK’s littoral and amphibious force on a more sustainable basis, more aligned with the contemporary political, economic and operating environment.

Proposal 1 – All Environment Rapid Response Brigade

First, this is not a proposal to merge the Royal Marines and Parachute Regiment.

It is however, a proposal that recognises holding 2 and 3 PARA and 40 and 45 CDO at a sustainable readiness cycle is going to be challenging going forward. And, the same for the sub units of 24 Commando RE and 29 Commando RA.

Out of those 4 units (plus CS) I propose to create a single All Environment Rapid Response Brigade from the constituent parts of 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade.

Primarily helicopter borne, some elements would be parachute capable.

Now I can already see people recoiling from the very notion, but to labour the point, am trying to be pragmatic about both 3CDO and 16AAB. Indeed, both 3CDO and 16AAB have many of the same risks, challenges in the contemporary operating environment, and capability gaps.

The new brigade would have three manoeuvre units to enable a more sustainable force readiness cycle to be maintained.

This means that 3CDO would lose at least a CDO and the Combat Support regiments, a subunit and HQ between them.

HQ’s would also be consolidated, as would logistics functions.

The Royal Marines and Army Commando units would therefore take a fairly significant reduction in personnel numbers but out of that, a strong All Environment Rapid Response Brigade, including CS/CSS, on a sustainable readiness cycle would be created.

This would then link with the British Army’s new Strike Brigade concept and new sea/air port development capabilities with posts redistributed in other areas.

Proposal 2 – Personnel Recovery

This is a must, and it is an area that whilst not unique in Europe, is not common. It therefore binds us into operating only with support of the USA.

The UK’s carrier strike has potential to be a cornerstone capability, one that might not look identical to the US Navy, but equally, one that looks similar.

CEPP will have considerable political power.

In short, it needs to be resourced properly, and this means personnel recovery.

The proposal is to form a joint RM/RAF/AAC capability that establishes a Chinook/Merlin helicopter force able to be refuelled in flight by UK aircraft, potentially A400M but more likely C-130.

A defining feature must be its ability to operate from land or sea, with supporting assets from land bases.

Proposal 3 – Littoral Security Group

As populations urbanise and move to coastal cities, the urban and complex littoral is likely to become an area of increasing instability. Threats in the Arctic are also likely to require securing the littoral and defending it against amphibious assault, principally from Russian forces.

This proposal is to expand on the 42 CDO maritime security force, building up raiding, patrolling and security capabilities.

Recognising the huge capability delivered by HMS Albion/Bulwark, the LSG would be based on these vessels, with one of the carriers (of course)

Proposal 4 – Arctic Training and Capability Development

Cold weather operations are likely an increasing likelihood but we cannot afford for this not to be a whole force activity. The existing Royal Marine Arctic training function would be retained and expanded to include capability development for a wider range of capabilities.

Proposal 5 – Transfer Posts to the Royal Navy and RFA

That the Royal Navy is struggling with sustaining the force is no secret, same with the RFA.

By releasing posts as part of Proposal 1, I propose to transfer some to the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary to enable CEPP and surface fleet manning to be established on a sustainable footing.

Proposal 6 – CROWSNEST and HM

The submarine threat is not diminishing, in fact, it is increasing.

Some of the HC.4/4a’s would be converted to enable carriage of the CROWSNEST airborne early warning and control systems. This would relieve pressure on the Merlin HM.2 fleet and allow them to concentrate on their ASW role, especially in high threat scenarios.

Summary

With the RM Band, the fleet security and maritime security/raiding tasks remaining, the essential ethos and integrity of the Royal Marines is retained.

Establishing a joint personnel recovery function, creating a more capable littoral security force from 42 CDO and expanding the Arctic training and development group allows roles that I think are more needed and relevant to the contemporary environment to be generated.

This is at the expense of the joint capability to land and sustain a force over the beach.

Personnel slots would be shifted to both sustain the Royal Navy and RFA, whilst the creation of a joint rapid response brigade, centred on 16AAB, would also be on a sustainable basis.

Many of these proposals will be detailed in future documents/posts.

Much of this group of proposals is people centric, it is about creating capabilities that do not rely on service personnel’s good will and the tolerance of their families.

If this means recognising a few uncomfortable truths, then so be it.

To labour the point, this is not a series of proposals that is the ideal solution, the ideal solution would not involve robbing Peter to pay Paul, which is what this is, but we do not live in an ideal world.

Do we?

 

 

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Hohum

Hi TD,

There was an MoD study, perhaps earlier than 2010 under the title LPH(R), that looked at the best way of replacing Bulwark, Albion and Ocean (or rather the capability they provided), IIRC the conclusion was that the ideal replacement would be a pair of larger LHDs. I can’t remember the exact timeline of events or even designations but I understand BAE did prepare a 35,000 ton design in addition to the 23,000 ton one they marketed a few years ago.

Mark

I’d go further merging SFSG, marines and paras into 4 units, usually you need a 3 to 1 advantage to overcome an enemy you given our current capability that enemy will need to be small, they therefore should return to there origins the special service battalions from wiki so it may be wrong but

‘In 1940, volunteers were called for from serving British Army soldiers within certain formations still in Britain and men of the disbanding Divisional Independent Companies originally raised from Territorial Army (TA) divisions and who had seen service in the Norwegian Campaign. In November 1940 these army units were organised into a Special Service Brigade under Brigadier J. C. Haydon with five Special Service battalions. By the autumn of 1940 more than 2,000 men had volunteered for commando training, and the Special Service Brigade now consisted of 12 units which were now called commandos. Each commando would number around 450 men, commanded by a lieutenant colonel. They were divided into troops of 75 men and further divided into 15-man sections.

In 1943 the commandos started to move away from smaller raiding operations. They had been formed into brigades of assault infantry to spearhead future Allied landing operations. Of the remaining 20 Commandos, 17 were used in the formation of the four Special Service brigades. The three remaining units No. 12, No. 14 (Arctic) and No. 62 Commandos were left to carry out smaller-scale raids. But by the end of the year these three commandos had all been disbanded, to supply replacements for the other commando units.

The formation of the brigades was:

1st Special Service Brigade with No. 3, No. 4, No. 6 and No.45 (RM) Commandos.
2nd Special Service Brigade with No. 2, No. 9, No. 40 (RM) and No. 43 (RM) Commandos.
3rd Special Service Brigade with No. 1, No. 5, No. 42 (RM) and No. 44 (RM) Commandos.
4th Special Service Brigade with No. 10 (Inter-Allied), No. 41 (RM), No. 46 (RM), No. 47 (RM) and No. 48 (RM) Commandos.”

This new force could conduct the following missions : direct action, national and international emergency crisis response, artic and mountain warfare, airborne & air assault operations, special reconnaissance, intelligence & counter intelligence, combat search and rescue, personnel recovery & hostage rescue, special operations support and counter terrorism.

Our aviation element from merlin force and f35 will also be small, A maximum one off effort will result in no more that 18 f35s at FOC, 12 CHF merlins and 14 asw merlins available to the carrier. This effectively breaks these three forces who’s readiness would be unlikely to return for 18months. I’ll not mention we should of bought 4 Juan Carlos instead of CVF which would of catered for are likely air and littoral need better than what we’ve got because sadly that boat has long sailed and I’ll sound like a famous red trousered contributor who once was here!

Dan

Great to see you/the site active again TD.

Dan

A lot of the manpower issues should be resolved in the 2020’s as the T26’s and T31’s replace the T23’s. Each one requiring some 60-80 fewer crew. This should free up some 600 or more personnel. Likewise, Albion class replacements with enhanced automation, assuming a 1 for 1 replacement, should free up another 60-70 personnel per vessel. In order to replace the Albion’s 1 for 1 the RN need to bring both into service in the 2020’s since it’s easier to justify replacing active ships – hopefully, this will be achievable as the manpower shortages are alleviated.
Since, as TD points out, it would be difficult politically to bring more flat tops into service, why not replace the Albion’s and Bay’s as are currently configured, but with enhanced aviation facilities. If the Bay replacements could contain a hangar for 3 merlin sized airframes, and the Albion replacement 5, this would seem a decent compromise. Considering the uplift in aviation facilities of the RFA SSS once in service (expected to contain hangars for 3 merlin) and that of the QE’s we would still have very considerable amphibious capabilities.

Hello Matey ! Welcome back and thanks for a great, well written article.

I agree with much of what you have proposed. I do think that as per usual HMG and the service chiefs have shown little strategic vision by constantly salami slicing capabilities, instead of picking some particular capabilities to focus on, enhancing them at the expense of others. I do happen to think our amphibious capabilities are one of those areas, and that we could / should be a lead nation within European NATO.

I personally would loose other infantry battalions to enhance a setup similar to the one you propose. I am no fan of 16 AA as it exists, and think the Para’s would in fact be better off as “Army Commandos” – sure they can keep the company strong Parachute battle group role, but the third battalion should be pulled back from SFSG. With 3 CDO and 3 battalions of Para forming 2 CDO brigades, you could have a 1 in 3 rotation into readiness within both brigades, same with the guns and engineers, logistics support etc with the rotation being at squadron / battery level within the regiments concerned. Wouldn’t it be worth loosing 2 or 3 “standard” infantry battalions to keep this capability ? Such “line” infantry can be provided in greater numbers (and often better equipped with say 8 x 8 armoured transport).

Can we fit 2 companies of a Para battalion on the duty carrier for personnel recovery and heliborne assault?
The marines being on the duty LPD, and supporting units on the LSD.

To your points about the threat – well we cannot go up against even a near peer with our forces, but the UK / NL amphibious group, and the Spanish-Italian group, plus the French, plus English, French and Italian carriers ? That is a substantial force, which with appropriate naval forces and land based air could carry out some pretty serious operations in the Med or around Africa for instance. Similarly add our capabilities to those of the USMC / USN team, and again we could achieve quite a lot.

At a lower threat level, we have a force ideal for non-combatant evacuation of European nationals in danger, under threat, and of course as shown by your own study of the Haiti relief effort, amphibious forces are a fantastic soft power enabler in disaster relief scenarios.

I think we really missed a chance by not investing in the 2 “built for Russia” Mistral’s – not to replace Albion and Bulwark, but to replace Ocean, and leave the carrier clear for strike and air defence.

So to put the emphasis on two commando brigades, with supports, generating 1 high readiness battalion each, a deployable HQ, what capabilities might we have to drop to have two amphibious squadrons based around say a Mistral, a Bay Class LSD, something like the Dutch JLOS (HNLMS Karel Doorman) and maybe a grey painted Point class ro-ro in RFA colours and mounting ESM / ECM (and Phalanx?) for self defence ???

Add some Pascat fast landing craft, supported by say 4 of the larger Griffon 8100TD |(as used by the Swedes and many others) plus the UAV’s / USV’s you mention for shallow water MCM, oh and make sure the new frigates actually have a land attack missile (NSM ?) when they enter service.

None of this would break the bank given the UK overall defence budget, but in the current financial constraints it actually would in real terms, so what would we be prepared to give up ? No more main battle tanks ? Let someone else be host nation support for HQ ARRC ? Or shall we just continue chipping away at all capability areas, including this one, where we have a clear and distinct lead over most of our allies ?? I fear we know the answer :-(

HMArmedForcesReview

I will take Proposal 6.

Repulse

Welcome back TD, defence debate has been lacking your informative input.

I agree that a radical rethink is required and am overwhelmingly in favour of the UK creating a “All Terrain” joint Commando Strike force; which can deploy anywhere globally at short notice, keeping the rest of the Army at a lower notice period to deploy at Divisional strength and support Garrison/UN commitments.

Given as you note the UK has a pretty good air lift capability then I’d say a airborne based strike strategy is the best (primarily from a maritime platform but also from the land).

However, I’d add the following:
– The Joint Commando force needs to be more “heavy” than either the Paras or RMs, and should be supplemented by light armour that can be lifted via a Chinook.
– The RMs should have a new “CB90” style amphibious attack / landing craft that could be deployablable from a new class of Multi Role warships. I’d argue that a future minor (MHPC) could be designed to operate 4 such craft with a company of RMs.
– The new class of SSSs should have a vehicle deck linked to a Chinook capable fight deck and also new LCAC dock for quick insertion of supplies over the horizon, and an additional one purchased.
– An additional large aviation support ship is required – I’d argue a 3rd CVF, but at least a large RFA capable of storing / operating Chinooks.

As such, mid 2030s the amphibious force could be based on:
– 3 CVFs
– 4 enlarged SSSs
– 24 Multi Role MHPC
– 4 Ro/Ros

Gunbuster's

Whatever the replacements for the current Amphib force it will be a compromise .
Assuming a LHD is chosen as the future Amphib replacement it would be “ok” at doing some of the current jobs covered by Bulwark, Ocean and Bay Class but not “good” at doing the jobs currently undertaken by dedicated LPD/LPH.

Having aviation facilities onboard eats into your Lane meterage available for vehicles. Oceans vehicle deck is pityfully small and only has very light vehicles in it. The requirement to have aviation crew onboard eats into the troop accom. Then you need space for spares and aircraft support infrastucture. The requirement to arm up aviation units also limits the amount of Embarked Landing Force munitions you can carry.

Not having aviation onboard means you have the lane meterage, heavy vehicle capability and the munitions storage facilities but you are reliant on LCVP and LCU to sustain the troops ashore and using those craft for supply runs is not a quick and easy evolution. Once you get stores to the beach you still have to lug it to the point inland where it is needed. Helos are quicker and can deliver to your door but the payload is limited.

LPD’s have large desalination plants onboard (Hollywood showers all round 24/7). However you need to be a good 15 miles off shore to run the plants anywhere near efficiency. From experience, running Desal plants close to shore ( Bangladesh) results in broken plants, clogged filters and unuseable water. To make water and get it ashore is going to be a long slog for Aviation or AGRM boat drivers from 15 miles out.

LPD’s can carry raiding craft from 539 Assault Group and they have proven to be very good ar what they do supporting troops up inland waterways and providing mobile fire platforms. (Not content with 50 Cals the RMs wanted the ships force protection miniguns instead to put even more fire down on a target…Royals are never happy unless they have overwhelming fire superiority) Having 539 craft launchable from a Dock is a big advantage and enhances force protection.

Command and Control requires a big dedicated ops room, onboard accom for the command crew and a lot of upperdeck space for the resultant comms fits and aerials Most of the upper deck aft of the bridge on an LPD is comms gear. Sat Comms are good for taking back to Northwood but you need HF Loops, HF Whips and VHF to talk to the people in vehicles ashore and that equipment need lots of space to avoid mutual interference issues with other ships systems.

Manpower on a LPD is pretty short as is. I doubt any of the savings touted below could be realised. Amphibiosity (Great Word!) is manpower intensive. The AGRM bring there own people with them but the ships crew still need to assist in moving stores, berthing LCs , preparing food whilst 300 Royals are onboard and thats before you actually have to fight the ship and manage damage control requirments.

Finally if you do go big, say a 35,000 Ton LHD, as a replacement Amphib, where is it going to live? Assuming you get 2 or 3 units then squeezing them into Amphib Alley at Weston Mill in Guz would be a nightmare. Getting the current LPD and LPH in and out is “emotional” to say the least for the CO and Navs and thats with the help of the Port Pilot and his tugs. 3 units that big would need to look for a new home. As the Guz based subs move north to Faslane the berths currently in use would come available so that may be an answer but it would require an awful lot of new infrastructure.

JohnHartley

So the junkie returns for his latest fix! That’s Johnspeak for” nice to see you back”.
On subject, I do not see why, if there was proper forward planning, buying a pair of Juan Carlos/Canberra class assault carriers in time for the retirement of the existing ambhips , could not be done.
We cannot afford to buy everything at once, but if it was spread out in affordable lumps, it could be done. By that, I mean the whole procurement budget, T26, T31, P-8, F-35, etc, but it does mean making a plan & sticking to it. Moving something to the right, to solve some short term problem, leads to an unaffordable bulge, later on.
While playing fantasy fleet, I would say that any future ambhib, should have a hull hardened for light ice, so it can venture into Polar regions, & the deck/lifts/hangars should be designed with V-22/CH-53K in mind. Ideally, the FAA would get a few, but more likely, we could cross operate with allies.

@gunbusters

Good points all on the LPD versus LPH type ships. One thing to remember, is that if we went to a Mistral or Juan Carlos type LHD unlike the other users of such vessels, we have 3 LSD’s in the Bay Class, and the Point Class ro-ro’s – France, Italy and Spain have no equivalents. Add in the two Dutch LPD, and JSS and we have a far a mount of “lane meters” for vehicles, davits for landing craft etc as well as the aviation capability.

Mark

I would strongly suspect the LPds will go without replacement there osd is in the wrong time frame with significant demands on the budget.

We aren’t charging up a beach anytime soon and certainly not putting tanks over a beach. It is perhaps worth remembering that both operation pallister and the al faw operation were conducted without UK LPDs as part of the fleet. There is almost zero chance of a larger uk landing operation than those operations.

When we stop pretending we are a mini US navy we may see a more realistic future.

Gunbuster's

@Mark

I agree we are not going to hit a beach anytime soon. However the LPD gives you a lot of other options in this ever changing world.

Just some of the other tasks conducted by LPDs are
Humanitarian Evac
Humanitarian SAR ( Libya)
Force Protection Sea Basing (Olympics Weymouth)
Command and Control- They have far and away the best Command rooms of any unit in the fleet.
Anti Piracy- AUCs in the dock give you a long reach and plenty of fire power.
Carriage of Royals heavier wheeled equipment and have a means to deliver it. You cannot fit an Oshkosh or a MAN truck under a helo.
ASW Co-ordinator- Yes I know they dont have a sonar or a MATCH helo but Bulwark did conduct a few ASWEXs and MATCH attacks . We also found a Sub with the Sonar 2170 SSTD…but thats another story…

DavidNiven

Just a few thoughts I’d like to throw out for you all to consider.

It’s been obvious for many years that we are not in the full fat amphibious operations ala USMC and I don’t think it is something we should aspire to be either, so the usual calls for the UK armed forces to be rearranged into a carbon copy of the USMC should be resisted.

We do however need to seriously think about we want to do and how we can do it with the resources available. Calling and shouting for more money will not wash and neither can the continual inter service rivalry (including the Armies internal rivalries) be allowed to keep it’s strangle hold.

As far as I can see from TD’s large back catalogue of the subject we have all the pieces required to keep and maintain a decent amphibious capability for our size and budget that can operate alongside any of our allies and in some respects surpass them.
So firstly I am in agreement with TD and combining the capabilities of the RM and Paras into a brigade that can conduct raids, support special forces and respond quickly to a crisis. I would however question the set up in terms of current equipment and what would be required to fulfill this mission.

If the brigade is only required to stand up battle groups for the above task do they require 105mm? Are mortars, Exactor and ISTAR of better value? The same question of the utility of the Viking vehicle? Would something such as the General Dynamics flyer better fit the mission profile for both the airborne and amphibious element along with CB90’s? Can the CS and CSS units be reduced or reallocated to other specialist areas that better fit the formation? Would arming Wildcat in the light gunship role be more sustainable for the force, over Apache?

If this type of brigade is stood up I would like to see the entry opened up to the entire Infantry and its members actively encouraged attempting the course on top of the usual recruitment from the civilian sector.

It should be a requirement made upon the army to supply the mass for an amphibious operation at a greater scale. There are a dearth light units within the army to provide the necessary manpower for such an undertaking, and with current equipment a strategically mobile brigade mounted on Foxhound, Jackal and the RM’s Vikings could be established pretty quickly with responsibilities of supporting airmobile and amphibious ops and providing units for Norway (anyone remember AMF(L)?)

Or should the RM and Paras become wholly absorbed into the special forces and the amphibious and airmobile roles handed to a new AMF(L) unit?

Another thought is to amalgamate the Type 31 requirement with the replacement of Albion and Bulwark with our own take on a more fighty Bay class (modular to its boot straps of course ;-)). After reading @Gunbusters comments could this be a cost effective way of increasing our surface fleet numbers with a fleet very flexible vessels which can be used for a number of mission sets over and above amphibious operations?

If we consider that the current requirement is for a battle group at readiness would these types of vessels be worthwhile considering?Especially if they can provide NGS and precision strike in support of raids.

Mark

Gunbuster

Don’t disagree with the utility of having a dock we should of built LHDs instead of cvfs but the RN went and spent the budget and then some on carrier strike, when one of their current lpds are laid up for 6 years at time due to budget and manpower issues any replacement will be fighting for funds with successor, type 26 a Supposed type 31 not to mention more f35s for said carrier strike there isn’t gonna be much support for another major capital ship program. The governments priorities are carrier strike and CASD not lpds and marines.

As for the command and control on the lpd interesting you say that I raised that very point here recently and was told by a serving sailor that the command and control capabilities on the new carriers are better and more appropriate to future naval needs than what you get on the LPDs.

Pacman27

I agree with most of your options TD but think there is an option 7.

I would like to see a 5 brigade (3220 per Brigade) RM Commando Division (16,100 strong), This would be the high readiness division of UK forces and would have 4 rotating brigades and a HQ brigade.

The Para’s will become an integrated part of an enlarged SFG (4500 personnel) that going forward will preclude a direct entry route in preferenceto to development path for “all arms” into the SAS/SBS which would merge into a single force.

I agree that we cannot keep up with the US – but would question why should we. Given that we are different I would like to see that reflected in our deployment model. As such I would like us to move to a distributed amphibious cabpability provided through a number of flexible assets all of which have an amphibious assault capability built in. The primary provider of assault assets for me would be via a large volume of Absalon like frigates (or similar – say 13) that are able to deploy a company (180 -220 personnel) via CB90’s and helicopter.

This creates the volume and flexibility required for an effective asymmetric threat and would be backed up by a number of Karel Doorman like Joint support ships kitted out with the latest USMC Ship to Shore Connectors (hovercraft) supplying heavy equipment as well as being capable of dealing with 2 chinooks or 6 merlins (with Hanger space as well) and hospital facilities.

As with the falklands the following assumes that a significant proportion of the fleet is diverted to this tasking, I have placed the Total expect volume of each asset in brackets. It should also be noted that the total fleet is 75 major (30m+) vessels, but that this is supported by high volumes of enablers (such as Atlas Arcims, CB90, UAV’s etc)

Proposed distributed fleet

2 QE class carriers (2) providing air cover to fleet – laden with F35b’s and Osprey.
4-8 Joint Support ships (9) with mix of chinook and merlins (up to 36 merlins) + 4 Ship to Shore connectors on each vessel.
12 T86 Absalon style commando support ship (13) – each with 8 CB90’s onboard + 360 Marines + 32 strike length VLS + 2 Merlins
6 T26/45 Escorts (13) for fleet protection, with additional CB90’s, Strike VLS, Mervin’s, and Atlas Arcims MHVC as necessary.
6 T31 Escort (13) for fleet protection
4-8 Tide Class FFT (8) with Hospital facilities with 2 Merlins each.
4 RV’s (4) sitting in the carrier group with loads as required

Note: Subs would be attached as needed.

I would also like to see all our infantry and commandos to have access to large volumes of Polaris 4×4 vehicles with a GPMG or Mortar (or both) and loads of ammo on them, to help with supressing fire and fast manoeuvre – at 10k each I am thinking the UK should purchase 10k of these for our infantry battalions not just commando.

Perhaps this is a bit too radical, but I would be very happy to have this configuration of ships at my disposal. The RN would lose all Bays, Ocean, Arguss, Albion & Bulwark, all OPV’s and Minehunters as well as all current RFA replenishment vessels, but would gain more frigates that are able to deploy unmanned systems and/or commando units as required. It does mean we purchase high volumes of smaller assets such as CB90’s (circa 150) but that for me is a price worth paying.

Like the USMC this really means all elements of our armed forces are working as one, and given the relative sizes of both forces I think it is time to come under a single command structure that would see significant savings in CnC and logistics costs being consolidated into a single combat support group providing support to all arms as one. We should also follow the doctrine that all force assets are in support of ground/embarked forces and assign assets accordingly (taking into account standing tasks).

Great article – you have been missed

Wishful Thinker

Replace 3 Bays with 6 (4 min) Absalon Class Combat / Flexible Support Ship (http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/absalon/) or more if used instead of type 31 to reduce amount of different types, type 45 Anti Air, Type 26 ASW then these to provide long range endurance patrols (MCM mothership, NAPS, SAPS )

@Pacman27 at 171230A April 2017

Dude what have you been drinking ?

I applaud your “out of the box” thinking actually, but how does your “Absalon like” ship manage to carry so many CB90’s ? It may as well be a Bay with a well deck, and a big gun on the front. Also the Karel Doorman does not have a well deck either, so how is it carrying, launching and recovering the hovercraft ?

Damen have a 5500 tonne so called “cross over” design – but even that only manages a back end ramp capable of launch / recovery of LCVP sized craft (and therefore a CB90), it might be the nearest thing you could get to what your thinking off with current existing designs ? http://products.damen.com/en/ranges/crossover/crossover-131a

Either way, I think your being way to radical for any of the current crop of Admiral’s and potentially too expensive ?

Pacman27

Hi Jed PC

It is true that I like a drink or 10, but actually this isn’t as far fetched as it sounds as the absalon carries 2 SB90E’s (similar to CB90) as standard + 2 Rhibs and is designed for 200 marines and up to 56 vehicles or 7 MBT’s (Wikipedia) in its 900m2 flex deck. The key here would be having an internal track/crane system that would deliver the CB90’s to the stern (possibly 2 side by side) but I believe the RN and top British designers can sort this out and who knows perhaps this becomes our vessels USP in the export market.

Just think if we did this whilst keeping the Absalons attack capability that includes MK41 strike and I think we have a great asset that can strike offshore or deliver a company of marines to a landing zone by CB90’s and its 2 helicopters. Or it can be a frigate, mini hospital or a command centre operating Atlas Arcims for MHVC. The Karel Doorman can do this on a much larger scale but has significant fuel and solid stores replenishment capability added to it helcopter facilities for 6 Marlins or 2 Chinooks.

I accept that this is radical but I think that is what is needed, as we cant keep on trying to replicate the US – its simply unaffordable for us to attempt it anymore, I think if the carriers are loaded with aircraft to near capacity (48) and the staffing levels and automation are successful then this is a game changer for the RN and would vindicate the decision to go for carriers instead of the excellent Mistral class (another favourite of mine), but given we are committed to these carriers I think that we need to get as many multi functional escorts as possible and retire as many of the specialist assets as possible.

The Karel Doorman is interesting as I dont think hovercraft need a well dock to operate but they do need some form of steel beach (or similar) to transition them onto the sea which I think they already have or could be built with, these would be needed to get heavy equipment to shore and is in line with USMC thinking. Perhaps the Karen Doormans become the main amphib asset and the Absalons stick to 2-4 CB90’s but certainly worth consideration, dont you think.

To be clear I am not saying build an absalon or Karel Doorman per se, what I am saying is that we should look at these very closely with a view to improving them to our requirements, if we can do this I think we are onto a winner.

here’s a pic of HDMS Absalon putting it SB90 into the water.
comment image

Pacman27

@JedPC

I think the Damen is pretty good (imho) and could hold 8 CB90s (some of the pictures show 2 landing craft and 3 CB90’s and a load of Vehicles, so I think we could do with something like this but need to limit to 200 marines.

This looks like a great product actually and would fill a gap. Great spot.

Wishful Thinker

Karel Doorman is I think to big (maybe to replace current LPD’s?) prefer the Absolm Class for the added firepower, with 16 SSM’s, up to 36 SeaCeptor, torpedo’s and 5″ gun for NGS would be able to act as escort for LPD’s (and a QE class in LHA mode) freeing up type 45/26 to protect the QE in strike role offshore.
Would need to enlarge the current size so can carry a RM company with vehicles plus ship company and aircrew, current ones are troops or equip not both.

Mark

Don’t how difficult it would be or how much deck you would lose but instead of new Karel dormans or crossovers, could we not get a hanger on the albions and the bays to support 2 merlins and covert them to special operations support ships for want of a better term.

Essentially they become your type 31 presence ships.

Pacman27

@wishful thinker.

I think we do need a mix of both karel Doorman and Absalon/Crossover style ships, as a key element of this strategy is that we have ships capable of being used in a day to day role (warfare or MHVC for the absalon/crossover and solid stores for the K. Doorman) whilst being able to support amphibious assault if required, but have no problem with having a fleet of Absalons at our disposal.

In this configuration the absolons go in close with the Doormans in the carrier group and loaded with heavy equipment. This in effect replicates the USMC but without the need for dedicated ships. The downside is we are making compromises on our whole fleet, but I think this is worth consideration and lets face it we are compromising our fleet already.

A single K Doorman or even an Absalon could provide the whole MHVC fleet for the gulf using the new unmanned mine countermeasures system, It seems to me that a mix of K Doormans (9) and Tides (9) could provide both day to day support of RN activities and a sea basing platforms, but this is at the cost of all other current assets. Other benefits are standardisation of parts, engines etc that will save money down the line I suspect. This is an increase in the RFA, but I have assumed that this is inevitable given that the 4 Tides are replacements for retired assets and an increase is needed to support the higher volume of frigates I would have in place of the MHVC and OPV fleets.

I do like the absalons as they provide significant firepower including Mk41 strike and are a good solid ship, we could do the reverse of the danish and use our T26 hull and add another floor to get our own version of this (the absalon and Peter Willmoes are 80% same platform with absalon sitting higher due to flex deck).

@Mark, as with all things it will take ages to sort all this out and the Bays will be end of life before we get anything new, in the interim they are a great asset and should just be left as they are. A single carrier will be able to provide all the airlift and defence we need (if we can fill them) and is almost certain to be deployed in a real scenario. For me its not worth spending the money on current kit, lets start ordering new at a consistent drumbeat.

At the end of the day the absalon is a great ship with many great attributes and would benefit the RN in a large number of roles, inc Amphib Assault, I also think it would enable all 6 proposals made by TD if need be.

Gunbuster's

Mark

Command and control on a Strike Carrier is a lot different than what is required on an Amphib LPD.
The OPS ROOM “fighting the ship” area of an LPD consits of an EW set and may be 6 displays for the ships radar and data link systems. Thats it.
The remainder of the ops room is given over to computer networked consoles for commanding forces ashore and the Massive projection screens that can display the “Big Picture ” ashore. There are probably upwards of 30 consoles for that plus the other 2 command rooms on other decks that have probabley 15 consoles between them.

Although I am unfamiliar with the QE class( That may change it it comes out to where I am when it enters service and does the obligitory grand tour) I am guessing its not dissimilar to a T45 Ops room. So great for fighting a ship and talking to Zoomies as they fly around but not so good for controlling a land battle and talking to Percy or Royal in a landrover.

Gunbuster's

Heres one to throw the cat amongst the pidgeons …a US shipbuilder proposal to replace Tico Cruisers with LPD hulls…
See LPDs are good!

http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/naval-exhibitions/2017/sea-air-space-2017-show-daily-news/5114-hii-s-lpd-based-future-surface-combatant-concept-could-replace-ticonderoga-class-cruisers.html

Pacman27

@gunbusters

I suspect these will be circa £1bn a piece, instead of the £500m cost of an absalon or £300m cost of a Korean built Aeigr design Karen Doorman, I think we should concentrate on a distributed force and asset flexibility, this new US ship will be too expensive. Btw the Germans and Dutch have signed an agreement to share the Karen Doorman, given we have a joint marine force with the Dutch this seems like a missed opportunity for us.

Mark

Gunbuster

As I said I had heard that the lpds command capabilities set them apart from whatever else we had and were better to support the land sea air battle, but as i say the response that the carriers capabilities in this area were better for the future was from a serving `RN officer as below.

“The Ops rooms on albion and Bulwark have a ships section, a STOM section and another section for embarked staff which is very rarely used as staff do not want a lot un processed tactical display data, an SF SIO and a reasonably large planning room on 01 deck which suffers a bit from lack of IT. The carrier has far better Flag and staff planning rooms which is what is actually required.”

JohnHartley

gunbusters. The San Antonio LPD are great ships, but cost $1.5 to $2bn each. Turning them into cruisers with large advanced radar, rail gun & all those missiles, is likely to double the price. So $3 to $4bn, maybe more for the first one. Even Trump may find that expensive.

Not a Boffin

You Absalon fanboys are aware that the VLS is the Mk56 – capable of ESSM size weapons only – rather than the much larger Mk 41 strike I assume?

Karel Doorman – as opposed to this Karen bird some of you are wittering about – ain’t a solid stores ship in the RN sense either. But you’ve been told this a number of times and prefer to ignore it. Oh well…

Can’t quite work out why there ought to be any political issues with a “flattop” to replace the LPD/LPH capability down the line either. Once people have relearned what CS is all about – as opposed to endless whinging about the size of QEC – it won’t be an issue.

What will be an issue is the amount of budget being eaten by the sundodging fraternity – of both persuasions.

Pacman27

@NAB

We are aware it is Karel Doorman, my spellchecker changes when sending.

1. It is OK that the VLS is not Strike as this is a proposal for a multi purpose platform with amphibious capabilities. It is therefore similar to a T23/T45 at present but with a built in control/mothership/ amphibious capability.
2. Strike can be provided by the T45/T26’s that will be protecting the carrier group offshore.
3. I would argue that the Doorman class is a solid stores ship as it holds Fuel, oils and solid stores.

As I have stated on the forum a couple of times, I am not stating buy a doorman or absalon per se, but actually given we need to compromise on our fleet somewhere to get a balance between what we want and what we can afford I think these types of hybrid platform should be considered as replacements for the current amphibious and RFA replenishment fleet.

It’s ok to disagree – but can you tell me what would happen if an absalon came up against a T23 – as last time I looked our ships aren’t capable of sinking another comparable vessel. The Huitfeldt class (a derivative of the Absalon) does have mk41 strike VLS and I think we should look at reverse engineering the T26 to have our own version of these 2 excellent vessels.

Ultimately the Danes have 5 new ships that are actually really, really good (but not too fancy) and did it at a great price point. UK has spent 20 years planning T26. If that makes me a fan then I am ok with that.

The Other Chris

Maersk effectively took a loss on the RDN vessels for the Folketinget deliberately. Figures usually reported are what the Danish Taxpayer paid on what was effectively a de facto fixed price arrangement, they are *not* the *actual program cost*.

The UK does not have a patriotic genius shipyard-owning philanthropic billionaire willing to take a hit in the wallet for romantic reasons.

StanFlex program costs and near-immediate refits such as the SMART-L updates also must be taken into account. These are not included in the commonly banded around figures as the RDN reports these separately.

Denmark runs programs differently, is in a different situation and has different requirements to the UK. These differences need to be taken into account when comparing apples to oranges.

Not a Boffin

Should an Absalon come up against a T23, I imagine they’d exchange friendly signals and possibly conduct a Passex. Or are you suggesting we have a fight? Should that occur right now, the result of the exchange would depend on relative ASuW, ASMD and EW procedures, which we won’t be discussing on here. Suffice to say it’s 8 Harpoons apiece vs the relative targeting and defensive capabilities of the two ships. Or did you think GWS60 had been retired already?

As you’ve been told before, the difference between something like Karel Doorman, which is designed to support small surface ships and provide a sealift capability and a real solid stores ship as required to support carrier strike is substantial. Things like internal cargo handling, explosive safety and soforth are not just a matter of changing one or two things. It is a complete redesign.

It is undeniably true that the UK has been planning T26 for 20 years. That is less of reflection on the T26 itself than the construct of the MoD and its expertise (or lack thereof), the decision-making process involved and the corporate behaviour of BAES. You should also note that your interweb prices for Absalon / Huitfeldt are somewhat removed from the reality – and that’s before you compare apples with apples in capability terms.

Have you ever actually set foot on one of HM war canoes?

Pacman27

@The other Chris.

I accept your observations on cost, but again want to state that the article posted by TD was to document the amphibious capability of the RN and propose some alternatives. We have a load of sunken costs in the T26 and I assume the hull form is great, so why not add another deck and make an amphibious platform version that can slowly replace our amphib assets and deliver maximum value from the investment in the T26 hull.

The alternative option I have provided is one whereby we have a more distributed amphib force working from multi role platforms that have defined primary and secondary uses instead of having dedicated vessels that are mothballed, built in low volumes and cost a fortune to run and are too few and costly to place in danger.

Taking costs aside for the minute – the Danes made some sensible choices in design and build that mean their vessels may not be state of the art, but they are damn good ships and ones I would be proud of having.

There are a number of compromises to be made in the future fleet and for me the UK needs more escorts to support the carriers which are now our primary surface assets. I am often accused of creating fantasy fleets, but would counter that I am pragmatically trying to resolve squaring the circle between what the UK wants to achieve, with the amount of resources it is willling to commit. This is another case of that, the Karel Doormans may not be dedicated SSS, but they are not meant to be, and can the absalon do the job of the proposed T31 and then some, I think so.

We require a paradigm shift away from being a mini US military to being a more adaptable future force based around a) our standing commitments and b) our expeditionary requirements and I believe the RN needs a capital expenditure budget of £3bn pa to achieve this.

I believe the UK can build an absalon style vessel for £500m each and a Karel Doorman style vessel for £250m each but to achieve this we need to purchase in volume otherwise we are looking at 50% + uplift in price, this is another driver for the platform standardisation I am proposing – we need scale as well as capability in each vessel type to drive value from the design process and avoid the cost escalation seen in the T45 as a result of scale back.

Pacman27

@NAB

I have been aboard a ship and am ex military (although that should be irrelevant actually)

I think you are missing the point here, my point is look around see what is out there and create new types of ship that can deliver a capability for us. ( we did invent many of the platforms currently in use after all).

Or would you like us to keep on building OPV’s the RN doesn’t want or need.

Do you disagree that we could use an escort style ship to deliver a company of Royal Marines (say 180) via CB90’s to a beach
Do you disagree that a multi role SSS ship could be used as a helicopter carrier and/or mothership by delivering heavy equipment via a hovercraft similar to the USMC ship to shore connector.

Let’s move away from the actual ship types if that offends you, as I have said a number of times I assume British designers can resolved most of these issues and we do need to compromise on these vessels in order to fund our high end vessels in the volume we require.

Simon

Scrap Ocean, Albion, Bulwark and Argus
Retain Bays usually operated by RFA
Add hangar for 2 x Merlin HC
Add modular hospital (drive in)
Add modular port enhancement facilites (not sure how)

Don’t do opposed over-the-beach
Use single LCU for heavy resupply

Merge 3Cdo with British Army
Merge 16AAB with British Army
Support cross-pollination
Extract true elite from the mix
Deploy on Bays/A400M
Hand Bays over to RN crew in austere times

Replace Bays with six smaller LSTs that will generally never be used as LSTs but will be tank ferries

Not a Boffin

“I have been aboard a ship and am ex military (although that should be irrelevant actually). I think you are missing the point here, my point is look around see what is out there and create new types of ship that can deliver a capability for us.”

The problem here is that you airily suggest stuff with feasibility and cost estimates plucked from your imagination – as opposed to any real background knowledge. Take this one – “We have a load of sunken costs in the T26 and I assume the hull form is great, so why not add another deck and make an amphibious platform version”. Just. Add. Another. Deck. What could possibly be easier in a design that is already marginal in some respects. It demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what “the hullform” actually means. It would be easier to start from scratch.

In terms of your specifics –

“Do you disagree that we could use an escort style ship to deliver a company of Royal Marines (say 180) via CB90’s to a beach” It depends entirely what you expect them to do when they get there. What are they to accomplish? Against what OPFOR? How long will that require? How mobile do they have to be? Way back when in the late 90s, I was involved in looking at what was required to host a modest RM force on what was FSC. We also talked to DSF and got their wishlist – a wishlist incidentally that many blame for the size of T26 and “They” didn’t want anything like a Coy group of 180 blokes. Have you any idea how big a CB90 is? How much it weighs? What the impact of that is on handling? Local strength? Stowage volume? How many do we need to reliably move your Coy group ashore? That’s before we’ve found berthing space for the blokes, rec spaces etc. How long are they aboard? You can’t just cram-stow them.

“Do you disagree that a multi role SSS ship could be used as a helicopter carrier and/or mothership by delivering heavy equipment via a hovercraft similar to the USMC ship to shore connector.” In this case yes. The primary role of the FSS is to feed the QEC. That has a specific effect on its internal layout and more importantly its topside configuration – which precludes extensive flightdeck arrangements. Internally, any sort of heavy equipment vehicle deck is going to compromise its primary role of stores and munitions for the QEC. If you really must do that sort of thing, use a Bay or even one of the US MSC Prepo ships. But it can’t and won’t be in place of the FSS role.

Which ship did you actually go aboard and for what purpose? SOTV? Famil? Or actual deployment?

Pacman27

NAB

I am not saying this is easy, but am surprised at the level of feeling you are displaying here.

We do need to change – that is a fact, as prompted by TD’s return article. Can we look around and see what we can change I think so.

I just disagree with you on this and would be happy for Absalons and Doormans to be part of the RN. But likewise I would also like these to be based on the British centric Aegir and T26 hulls.

FYI – Absalon has 2 CB90’s (SB’s) as standard and room to store more.

I guess you just dont like change….

Logi

@Pacman27

I hate being so curt, but I’d wind your neck in. This isn’t a debate you’re going to win especially when you’re being told by those who know better.

Not a Boffin

“I am not saying this is easy, but am surprised at the level of feeling you are displaying here.

We do need to change – that is a fact, as prompted by TD’s return article. Can we look around and see what we can change I think so.

I just disagree with you on this and would be happy for Absalons and Doormans to be part of the RN. But likewise I would also like these to be based on the British centric Aegir and T26 hulls.

FYI – Absalon has 2 CB90’s (SB’s) as standard and room to store more.

I guess you just dont like change….”

What I don’t like is uninformed wishful thinking based on misinterpretation of interweb “facts”, masquerading as rational argument. Blithely suggesting that one can just “add another deck” to the T26 hullform and magically produce some sort of amphib is a prime example.

Yes Absalon can carry a couple of CB90. So what? That gives you an assault wave of 40 blokes, assuming both work when you need them and assuming there is sufficient room in the hull to support your 180 blokes and multiple CB90s at the same time, which – having been aboard Esbjern Snare a few years ago – I very much doubt.

Any time you want to defend your expertise on this, go right ahead.

MRAR

Considering the increasingly joint nature of defence spending/operations is there room to pair up with another nation, the Netherlands or France perhaps, to develop a cost effective LPD/LPH replacement that could be purchased jointly and perhaps built in multiple countries to spread around the investment.
If budgets continue the way they are is it possible we may see mixed NATO crews on ships operated and paid for jointly by NATO member states. That way no one nation has to invest the entire capital into designing and buying a vessel or scrabble to find sufficient crew.

Pacman27

TD agreed and I will bow out of this discussion now

The only thing I will say is that the Absalon, Damen Crossover, Iver Huitfeld and Doorman classes actually exist and do something or another of what I have explained. It is therefore factual.

Thanks for the article and welcome back

Repulse

@NaB: “Can’t quite work out why there ought to be any political issues with a “flattop” to replace the LPD/LPH capability down the line either. Once people have relearned what CS is all about – as opposed to endless whinging about the size of QEC – it won’t be an issue.”

So would you support a third flat-top and move away from the LPDs? If Ocean was in a better state, do you think that the Government would keep it?

DavidNiven

‘I hate being so curt, but I’d wind your neck in. This isn’t a debate you’re going to win especially when you’re being told by those who know better.’

Why should he wind his neck in, in what way were the comments offensive? Pacman is debating a concept he has offered for consideration, this is what this site is all about.

It also a site where the experts should be pointing out why such concepts may be a non starter rather than delving into the minutia to try and score expertise points.

don

If the funds were available then consideration could be given to having two Juan Carlos l and four Bay type ships . HMS Ocean, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark being replaced by two Jan Carlos l and one Bay type ship. This hopefully should give roughly similar amphibiosity capacity with more flat deck and aviation space, also the Juan Carlos l could serve as a forward operating base not only for helicopters but perhaps a couple of F35b. Consideration for the Bay type ships should include what hangar facilities best meets the RN needs – fixed hangar, telescopic hangar or temporary hangar shelter as currently used. Also if the new Bays had the new RN combat management system and the Terma Scantar 2D radar it would improve their usefulness and growth potential. Currently The Bays have being used in other roles eg mother ship to MCMV so perhaps this should be kept in mind during design stage to allow for the potential for minor modifications to facilitate any secondary role.

However funds probably will not allow for the proposal above. As alternative a new amphibious fleet could be proposed to replace HMS Ocean, HMS Bulwark, HMS Albion, and the 3 Bays. Taking on board the Ship Building Strategy a fleet of seven ships of the one design being built to do this . They would have a slightly larger capacity than the current Bays and the improvements mentioned above for the Bays. Two of the class i would make further modifications to, so they would be biased towards the aviation role to carry as large a helicopter force as possible with the supporting aviation facilities, flight deck space and hangar accommodation for that force. Needless to say, they all would have to be built to civilian standards and kept as cheap as chips.

wf

@TD: I’m afraid I don’t see the point of proposal 1, for two reasons.

– It doesn’t solve the problem: what happens if we need an amphibious force and 3PARA is at readiness? And we will effectively end up losing both our parachute (such as it is!) and amphibious corporate knowledge if the highest level of operation for either is Bn level.

– It utterly avoids the necessity of identifying what the major source of capital and operational costs are for amphibious and parachute capabilities: specialist amphibious shipping and vertical lift. The RAF isn’t going to cut the transport force if the Para’s were disbanded tomorrow, but there would be very little point of having the Marines without LPD’s and LSD’s. In turn, large numbers of support and transport helicopters are an embarrassment to 16 Air Assault, since there is no way the RAF could sustain them by air.

Moving on from here, we can stabilise the costs and refocus the Commando and Parachute capabilities into something sustainable.

– “Full fat” amphibious capability means large scale helicopter assault. Forget it: we will have to make do with the 12 HC4’s we are likely to have available for that at any one time, which is basically a good company group. They can only launch from CVF, so no specialist “one off” LPH’s (and the carriers will have to be relatively close in too). Instead, we should concentrate on landing by sea, assuming we never launch an assault from more than a few km offshore. Buying PASCAT now, we can speed up the offload relatively cheaply, without requiring lots of expensive helicopters. Long term, don’t bother replacing the LSD’s, just buy LPD’s using LCAC and stand up an RE/RLC harbour construction unit onboard. Let the lane metres come from the Points and STUFT.

– The Marines have a very high level of overhead. We really cannot afford a second Army, so integrate them into the Army. Just like the Para’s, they will retain their own ethos, but they can share Army facilities and admin, as well as a career path for their officers that’s vastly expanded and in the long run puts their influence at the very top.

– 16 AA loses most of it’s helicopters and slims down to a parachute only operation

These options allow is to retain significant capabilities, and reduction in costs allows us to retain 42 Commando and stand up a new 1 Para. Problems solved.

The Other Chris

An academic aside: The historical Esbern Snare was the brother of Absalon :)

Simon

If we were going to try and maintain a brigade marine capability then perhaps six 20,000 tonne LSD/LPD are the ticket.

2 LCU abreast means we don’t need ro-ro and can still fit in a USMC LCAC
2 LCVP on davits
2 spots (might even squeeze three)
2 UH and 1 AH in hangar
1/2 commando (~360 troops)

In this case we don’t really lose anything other than the command room which would have to move to the carrier or T45.

Can’t see it getting funded though… unless they can somehow become the T31 littoral assault ships.

Mark

Simon

There in lies the rub either by design that those in charge don’t really want to admit to or, by the cold hard reality of budget and our ego writing cheques are bodies can’t cash, we choose carrier strike in its purest form over brigade amphibious operations. There was paths of comprise we could of followed but we choose not to.

Going fwd tds proposals around 2,3 and 4 could be a credible and realistic proposal, as the threat of assymetric warfare channelled thru displaced people’s grows ever greater with a sophistication once only seen at state level but at very low scale.

Mick

Realistically the RN will no longer have the capability to defend 2 task groups in a medium threat environment due to a lack of escorts. Therefore the carrier (which they will need to support a landing) will need to be under the same defensive umbrella as the amphibious vessels. Not many spare vessels to defend resupply vessels either.

But maybe that doesn’t matter because RM won’t be able to put a Bde ashore (being reduced to 2 Bns).

Of course 16 Air Aslt Bde only has 2 battalions as well.

So realistically the size of the force the UK could deploy for a rapid intervention scenario is at most a battalion sized force made up of RM & Paras (ie 1 Bn in total (not the previous 2).

Simon

Mark,

Agreed. By having both carriers I doubt amphibiosity is affordable in anything other than a cursory way.

I can’t see us ever landing heavy equipment over a hostile shore again, but I can see tanks rolling off the back of a ship into a port. I can also see a need to put large numbers of well equiped (and supported) troops ashore which makes me wonder if three Bays are better than two Albions?

Depends what the UK wants to be.

PS: The “T31 littoral assault ship” I refer to is probably TD’s “ship that is not a frigate” :-)

Hohum

Ocean’s demise is dues to her manpower being required for the QE class combined with the ability of that class to undertake her aviation role. Her disappearance has nothing to do with the politics of “flattops”, whatever that actually is.

Prior to 2010 (the process may have ended before that) there were studies under the LPH(R) then LPH-RC that looked first at a straight replacement for Ocean and later a combined Ocean, Albion, Bulwark replacement- this resulted in concepts for big ships. Obviously this is now dead but the RN still has, through the three remaining Bay class ships as well as Albion and Bulwark, a substantial amphibious capability with OSDs in the the early 2030s. There is a general acceptance that as built these remaining ships should have had enhanced aviation facilities compared to what they do have. It seems absurd to believe that whatever current thinking is going on with regard to their replacement that 2-4 LHDs (which I cant help but notice BAE is still marketing) isn’t part of that calculus. Especially given the general international trend to larger aviation capable amphibious ships with increasing better radar and C2 fits.

I would add. The UK amphibious force may have decline in some respects from its heyday in the late 1990s early 2000s but it still has a depth far beyond that present in the sort of countries who might be interested in an Absalon.

Repulse

@Simon: “I can’t see us ever landing heavy equipment over a hostile shore again, but I can see tanks rolling off the back of a ship into a port. I can also see a need to put large numbers of well equiped (and supported) troops ashore which makes me wonder if three Bays are better than two Albions?”

Amen – this has been the reality for a long while. The RFAs (and Points) should be scaled to deliver an Army Strike brigade, the RMs should be focused on smaller assault level (via helicopters or Frigates). Let’s stop pretending.

Wishful Thinker

Think an ‘Absalon’ type ship would be the best design for the 5 type 31’s to stay on patrol for extended periods inc being mcm mothership, the modular weapons means could be bought without the expensive missiles fitted to all but capability would be there

Repulse

@Hohum: “I would add. The UK amphibious force may have decline in some respects from its heyday in the late 1990s early 2000s but it still has a depth far beyond that present in the sort of countries who might be interested in an Absalon.”

I would agree with this and also add that the capability (when combined with the 2 CVFs) is a damn sight better than the MN 3 LHD approach that some people would suggest. The problem isn’t the platforms it’s what is available to go around them (escorts) and what goes in them (RMs) that’s problem. Assuming no significant new funds are coming soon, what’s the point in trying to set your navy up for something that it has no hope to achieve.

Mark
Hohum

The RN needs the grand total of about one MCM mothership (two at most) and its something that can be relatively easily adapted from existing platforms. It would be an utter waste to try and shoehorn yet another role into the slow-motion car crash that is the Type 31.

JohnHartley

May 2008 Warships IFR had an item on the Dutch Royal Schelde Enforcer 13000. Basically a stealthy Bay class with a forward gun , 40 to 76mm. Scalable from 11000 to 17000 tons.

Simon

Mark,

Or an armed one of these…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RFA_Sir_Galahad_(1987)

…similar size to your San Giusto as it happens. Both of which I think are of more utility than an Absalon.

Owl

Oh, TD’s alive again. Joy.

Coming from a slightly different system, might I suggest that some leeway is also possible in possible LCU/LCP selection? The current LCUs are evolutions of the old Higgins boats which put emphasis on cargo carrying efficiency, endurance and fuel economy in a war on a global scale. When I had the fortune/misfortune of boarding our FCUs (Fast Craft-Utility) long ago in the past, I never really appreciated their differences from the normal LCUs as well as the differences in the concept of how they were used. It was only a much older and hopefully wiser me that finally appreciated how unique the FCUs were.

For those not familiar with the FCUs, think of them as LCUs with endurance and some carrying capacity sacrificed for speed. A lot of speed. At 25 knots, FCUs can catch up to ships sailing at cruising speed. This allowed it to be used as a stores transfer boat when they were used in CTF-151 as well as VBSS craft for some slower ships. Of course, the faster speed also means faster amphibious landings in their original role, less time for me to be seasick.

Of course, there are tradeoffs, anyone that tells you something has no down side, check his pockets.

For one, unlike the 14 day endurance of the LCU, the FCU only has a 14hr fuel supply. US LCUs can self deploy over huge distances to field numbers much more than the davits or well docks on LPD/LHD/LHAs can fill. On the contrary, we use FCUs like you would carrier aircraft, they sortie to the beach/ship, then return for refueling. This limits their numbers to what well docks and davits can hold. This might be a problem if you had to put 10,000 men on a beach at once, but with the decline in Marine numbers, I would say that the 6-10 FCU/LCUs a single landing ship can carry are more than enough for current needs.

The other point might be more serious, there is a fair bit of loss in capacity with the change from a displacement hull to a planning hull. You can still carry a CR2 for the larger FCUs, but not much else.

To cut a long story short, there might be a case for sacrificing some of the efficiency of the specialized LCU to a more flexible FCU since as ship numbers go down, more and more things have to multi-task to take over the slack, especially since some of the criteria of the LCU seem to be for war on a scale (global) we are not likely to see soon, like days long endurance.

@NaB

Don’t shoot me, I know, hull width, hull length, lane meters, dock dimensions. I was more espousing a change in landing craft design criteria rather than pulling for a specific product. I’ve nothing against some unknown shipyard banging up some aluminum planning hulls with waterjets using the LCU’s dimensions if they can hit 25 knots too. How often does the RN LCUs self deploy without a parent landing ship?

WiseApe

“Oh, TD’s alive again. Joy.” – More comebacks than Frank Sinatra.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7l6AQN1KV0&spfreload=10

Best watched on mute.

Necessary Evil

I think TD is looking too hard for answers to a specific question here, and ignoring a bigger one: if a beach landing cannot be secured, are we certain that an air landing can be? Given that a state of the art SAM system has something like ten times the range of an ATGM, is it easier to defend all the beaches or all the airspace? Since the US has been thinking about a stealth transport for a while, I would say even they aren´t confident in their present capabilities in some scenarios. It seems to me that, regardless of whether we go for a beach or an air landing force, we will only be able to use it under the American aegis against even just near-peer forces. And even if the enemy doesn´t (still) have a S-300, say, are we sure that the threat from MANPADs for an air landing force is less than that from ATGMs and mines for a beach landing force? Yes, they have similar ranges, but the enemy only needs to cover the potential landing areas, which are quite limited in either case: transport planes can only land at landing strips, and helicopters can only threaten a small portion of a country´s territory, for range and vulnerability reasons.

By retaining both these types of forces, we force the enemy to defend in depth: if they focus on air defense, we can come by sea; if they focus on repelling a beach landing, we can strike inland. In this way, we are an asset to any coalition effort, save either an air or sea landing against Russia or China, which we shouldn´t even be contemplating anyway, for both military and political reasons.

I think keeping the beach landing force relevant would take less investment than may be imagined: for instance, BMT are offering what looks like a cheap knock-off of the PADSCAT: if we bought Venator at the same time, perhaps we could get a discount. This would allow over-the-horizon operations, such as those the US envisage (as far as I´m aware, their CONOPS for a landing-in-force calls for a landing from just over-the-horizon, since the amphibious vehicles do not have the range for anything further out). The crucial difference would be that only the US could contemplate an opposed landing, as has been for the case for decades. With regards to the cuts, I think we should just get the army to assign a battalion of the Rifles (or whoever, the Rifles would just be to preserve knowledge) to 3 Commando Brigade, just as happened previously, and just as the Army has done with 16AAB and the Gurkhas. This battalion would be earmarked for an air landing in full brigade operation, reducing the need to train in beach landing techniques. This wouldn´t be compromise, since we wouldn´t have the landing craft to land them anyway, whereas we should have the helicopters to land at least the fighting elements of one battalion.

With regard to the ATGM threat, surely this is what we have the SBS for? They land by SDS, scope out the beach and its defences and report back. If the enemy are present in small numbers, a seaborne or airborne force of say, an SBSs squadron or two is sent in to secure the beach, using either helicopters (Ospreys if we could afford them) or Rigid Raiders (CV90s if we could afford them). If the beach is heavily defended, we look elsewhere, either at other beaches or at an air landing.

Owl

@NE

Actually, undefended beaches are more the norm than the exception. Games and media give the false impression of some all seeing Argus watching every single beach and defences stacked up to the rafters in every building but the reality is more likely to be no one there or some old man with a pair of binoculars and a dog. Depending on the country, trying to guard every inch of the coastline can be a futile or ruinously expensive endeavour. Most countries can’t even get radar coverage over their whole country, only prioritizing the critical approaches, hence things like airplanes going missing (e.g MH370). So to keep a long story short, yes, undefended entry is possible and even common. This is unfortunately balanced by the fact that most undefended locations are undefended because there really isn’t anything of value to take over.

The ‘ATGM threat’ is even less of a problem. Most people look at the stats of the equipment and go ‘woo!! scary!!’ but once you step back a bit to see the larger picture, the ‘threat’ fades into insignificance. An infantry company will at most have only one ATGM platoon of 4-6 launchers. Those are very specialized equipment not for general issue and most commanders save them like a miser saves coins for use against tanks. This is about 1 launcher for 40 men (old Soviet Motorised Rifles were 1:50 IIRC), they are very, very sparse on the ground. Not to say meeting one will not ruin your day but to encounter one, you are either very lucky or very unlucky.

Most amphibious naysayers tend to attribute godlike powers to potential enemies. The reality is that they are human like us and they can’t be everywhere at once, much less have some form of ESP that lets them detect you in a place that they have no presence in. You can go in. It’s what happens after that which is the problem. Can you hold the beachhead against increasing enemy pressure as they react to the intrusion? Can you continually reinforce to build up critical mass for a breakout? Can you resupply what your army needs to survive in hostile territory? These are more important questions than ‘Can you go in?’

Simon

The “godlike powers” that the enemy might have are things like MPA.

That takes away your ability to surprise.

The best you can then do is SBS insertion from SSN and long-range stealth strike sorties from 200nm. You remove their IADS and insert a company by air. This provides the critical mass needed to cleanse the landing area of dug in troops with ATGM and MANPADS.

Now you can get the amphibs in and offload whilst your air power interdicts the enemy movements.

Owl

Simon, yes that is one possible complication but when there is a problem, there is usually a solution and the irony in this case is the solution being very low tech.

Land at night. The EO systems of MPA have a reduced efficiency in the dark. It seriously increases the chances of slipping through, has the potential to catch the enemy napping literally and you’re left with a full day of daylight to sort out your landing admin and stores.

This is also why there is a tradition of a dawn stand to.

Mark

We really do need to stop thinking we’re the US navy! We’re not deploying a uk amphib force against anything more than a serria leone style opposition it’s to small, a battalion of light troops or even 2 won’t be able to manoeuvre against a remotely peer.

Best we can hope they secure a port or provide a flank screen for a larger force moving across land. This would be a coalition operation that we support in niche areas.

We really should be moving to a raiding commando force in the true sense of the word able to strike targets of interest covertly and at range not beach assault troops.

Necessary Evil

@Owl

I wasn´t trying to give the impression that beaches are usually defended, but rather that the risks involved in a beach landing may be no higher than an air landing.

I think TD was closer to the optimal solution when he suggested that the UK develop the capacity to land large amounts of supplies without securing a port. Perhaps he no longer regards this as financially feasible (although it seems to me that the costs could largely be deferred until such a capacity seemed necessary, like with the purchase of the ro-ros before the Iraq War), or perhaps he was merely suggesting another option for argument´s sake.

Necessary Evil

Ah, I see they were already being built before the Iraq War started. Well, it seems to me that, given the kind of protracted build up required for the sort of operation where we would need such a capability (see post below), we should be able to buy what we need during the build up, especially as TD has pointed out that the UK has decent industrial capacity in this area.

Owl

NE, in that case, we might be on the same page with regards to the importance of landing logistics over the ‘glory’ of charging up defended beaches.

I once supported the concept of the old LSTs, landing on a beach and unloading stores directly but some time after that, someone mentioned to me that only 4%? of the beaches in the world were suitable for such a usage which pretty much put paid to that idea.

Mark is also correct in that a proper ‘Concept of Operations’ is necessary to make sure 1-that the amphibious forces are used in the correct way to prevent overreach or misuse and 2-that they know their specific role and train/equip/prepare properly for it.

I can only speak for my own country when giving an example of ConOps but our amphibious forces, despite the opinion of some experts, are not meant for the reoccupation of any outlying islands (primarily because of the utter uselessness of those particular bits of real estate) but are actually meant to break defence lines from behind.

If you looked at a map of Malaya, you would see that the region is but a single ‘finger’ of land flanked on both sides by sea. This makes it child’s play to throw up defence lines across any part of the ‘finger’ to block any hostile force heading up or down the peninsula. To break through these lines, the best method would be an assault from the rear to breach the line before linking up with the main force pushing up. They don’t call it ‘amphibious landing’ but it is classed as a ‘coastal hook’, a holdover from the land based mindset of our early armed forces since it is seen as a ‘hook’ or ‘flanking’ attack from the main land based forces. This role does require them to be fairly heavily armed yet light enough not to compromise their amphibious role and their equipment reflects that, with ATGM armed light strike vehicles and air mobile 155mm. Basically high firepower on unarmoured frames.

This also means you don’t expect them to hold anything, their job is to break through and get back to the main force ASAP, doing as much damage possible on the way back.

So, in short, that is the concept of operations for Singapore’s amphibious forces. With the old M-113s being retired and vehicle weight creep going up, my crystal ball reading is that the next generation of our landing ships, the ‘Joint Multi Mission Ship’ would come with larger ‘LCUs’ to handle heavier vehicles but without a change in the overall concept of how to do things.

What do you see the Royal Marines doing? Raids? Initial entry? Assault? What do you think is the best Concept of Operations for the Royal Marine and how would you train and equip them for the role?

Simon

I still support the old LSTs because most of the time they will be doing humanitarian work or simply moving things from port to port.

If the LST is so designed as to be able to accomodate a single LCU then we’re able to undertake limited operations on more that just a handful of beaches.

If the LST is so designed as to be able to accomodate a single LCAC then we can land over even more shores… assuming we have, or can borrow, an LCAC :-)

I see this as something between the old Round Table class and the newer Bay class ships.

Generally however, even in war these would not be considered assault ships. They would be supply/logistics ships and would only be used for assault in dire circumstances.

Our assault capability would be more akin to Mark’s suggestion: raids. Either by RHIB or by copter. Generally small scale and short lived. However, having a 70,000 tonne carrier means we could insert 1/2 a commando in a single wave if required, with support from AH and FJ. This therefore provides the contingency and cover necessary do risky raids.

So there we have it: the UK naval marine assault capability becomes “Risky Raiders”.

Michael Taylor

Enjoyed your paper very much and agree with all that was written, for me we invest in an amphibious capabilities. and have a proper amphibious force or do not have one at all.
HMS Ocean going out of service with nothing to take over is crazy, it seems the MOD will have to relearn the tough lessons all over again and that means the real price will be in blood.

JohnHartley

Janes is reporting that the number of AAC Apache being upgraded, is only 38, not 50. Does not leave any room for losses in a real shooting war.

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