SDSR – Analysis #05 (Royal Navy)

Type 26

I am going to cover aircraft carriers and their aircraft in a separate post so this one covers just the surface and sub-surface fleet as described by the 2010 SDSR. Future Force 2020 will provide;

  • nuclear Continuous At Sea Deterrence
  • maritime defence of the UK and its South Atlantic Overseas Territories
  • an enduring presence within priority regions of the world to contribute to conventional deterrence and containment
  • powerful intervention capabilities from our surface and submarine fleets
  • the ability to land forces from the sea by helicopter and over-the-beach with protective vehicles and supplies from specialist ships
  • the ability to command the UK and allied naval forces at up to Task Force level

No real change from existing arrangements and the following content on naval forces (excluding aircraft carriers) amounts to the grand total of 526 words. The SDSR simply describes capabilities we will have; building mostly on what the Royal Navy already has or planned and details the force reductions.

  • Confirmation of the seventh Astute SSN
  • A surface fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers
  • Confirmation of the Type 26 frigate after 2020 but no numbers
  • 3 Commando Brigade able to land and sustain a group of 1,800 personnel
  • Wildcat and Merlin helicopters aligned to the overall force size
  • 6 RORO ferries, the existing Points class
  • Maritime ISTAR based on network-enabled warships, helicopters and submarines
  • Streamlined Naval regional structure
  • 14 Mine Countermeasures vessels
  • A global oceanographic survey capability and ice patrol ship
  • RFA scaled to the surface fleet
  • HMS Ark Royal decommissioned immediately
  • Reduce by 4 the number of frigates
  • Place at extended readiness a landing and command ship (Albion class)
  • Either HMS Ocean or HMS Illustrious to be decommissioned
  • One Bay class LPD(A) decommissioned

This is self evidently light on detail, as much of the SDSR is and many blanks remain to be filled in.

Confirmation of the seventh Astute is great news; SSN’s are an extremely flexible and powerful capability, providing aspects of sea denial, special forces support and extensive ISR. The decision is in all likelihood driven by the need to retain submarine skills, painful and expensive memories of the development of Astute show how these need to be retained. The Astute class has had a rather unlucky start but once it starts coming into service proper it will provide the UK with a seriously powerful capability.

A surface fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers means that it is likely that the existing Type 22’s will be decommissioned without replacement. The Type 22’s are relatively old but have excellent flag and ISR capabilities but they are manpower and maintenance intensive. As Type 45’s come on stream the existing Type 42’s will also be decommissioned, these have been more or less out of service for some time anyway and seldom deployed in recent years. The end result will be 6 Type 45’s and 13 Type 23’s although there might be a dip in numbers of Type 23’s before Type 26 comes into service, depending on the Type 26 project.

Type 23
Name Out-of-service date
HMS Argyll 2023
HMS Lancaster 2024
HMS Iron Duke 2025
HMS Monmouth 2026
HMS Montrose 2027
HMS Westminster 2028
HMS Northumberland 2029
HMS Richmond 2030
HMS Somerset 2031
HMS Sutherland 2033
HMS Kent 2034
HMS Portland 2035
HMS St. Albans 2036

It also seems unlikely that Sonar 2087 will be fitted to any more Type 23’s than planned and no mention was made of any upgrades to existing capabilities, Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) for example.

After 2020 Type 26 will be introduced to replace Type 23’s but there is no indication of final numbers. It seems unlikely that they will be on a like for like basis and the future of the two-tier Future Surface Combatant programme is uncertain. The reduction in the frigate and escort numbers is far from ideal but in reality, it is what the Royal Navy has been operating with for some time and is better than expected.

The reduction of amphibious ships, one of the Albion class and one Bay Class (likely Largs Bay) is again in line with a reduction in overall amphibious but these are tremendously versatile ships and are a real loss. The reduction Royal Navy manpower of 5,000 personnel will also include the Royal Marines so a shrinkage in the overall force strength seems inevitable and is reflected in the reduction in shipping capacity.

The SDSR states that the Royal Marines/Royal Navy/Royal Fleet Auxiliary will be able to land and sustain a force of 1,800. The combined embarked personnel capacity of 3 Bay, Ocean/Illustrious and a single Albion class is in excess of 2,200 so the shipping capacity is sufficient but the loss of cargo, vehicle lane capacity and landing craft will make any landing a slower affair.

The RFA will be scaled back and there is no mention of the MARS programme to replace some of the ageing RFA tankers but the Points class RORO ferry PFI will be retained. It has been reported that the likely RFA cuts will be Largs Bay, Bayleaf and Fort George. The loss of Fort George will be particularly hard felt as they are large and versatile (Fort Victoria Class) but the fuel only role of the Leaf class, moving fuel between overseas locations has largely been taken over by civilian contractors. Fort George has been busy recently, drug busting, aviation training and all manner of other tasks.

No change to Merlin and Wildcat means that the RN will actually be quite well quipped in the frigate and anti-submarine helicopter department although with the loss of Nimrod MRA4 some of the upgraded Merlin’s may need to be permanently based onshore.

The future fleet of 14 Mine Countermeasures vessels is a reduction of 2 from current strength and the SDSR states ‘global oceanographic survey capability’ not ship/s so the future composition of the survey fleet is uncertain. This capability could be contracted out or configured as a modular capability aboard other vessels.

Either Ocean or Illustrious will be decommissioned pending a short review. This is a significant loss of capability, especially if Ocean goes.

The Royal Navy’s non-carrier outcome from the SDSR mirrors that of the whole document, a few cuts here and there, a general reduction in capacity, a vague notion of jam tomorrow, a worrying lack of detail but maybe not as bad as feared.

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