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A Maritime Nation

Nimrod MRA4

I know I often lament the ‘we are an island’ mentality when used as a justification for CVF but we really are an island with a 7,500 odd mile coastline, an international obligation for search and rescue and all manner of offshore energy installations.

Although the strategy of deficit reduction would seem to most people to be entirely sensible one has to question the tactics and most of all the priorities that inform these tactics.

Maritime security is important, the UK depends on port and offshore facilities for much of our energy and trade needs.

This is serious stuff.

The deficit-reduction plan has reduced security around our coastline and dramatically increased risk.

SAR-H, we covered the SAR-H PFI collapse a few days ago, whilst the existing excellent service will continue this lack of coherence and a clear way forward will impact the service in the long term.

Emergency Towing Vessels, arguably one of the most inexplicable decisions the Department of Transport have announced that they will withdraw funding for the four Emergency Towing Vessels that cover UK waters. This was announced as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review last year but less than 2 days after the announcement, one of the vessels, the Anglian Prince was called upon the rescue the grounded HMS Astute.

The Herald is reporting that a report from the MCA highlighting the significant risk of such a move will be ignored in order to save the sum total of £12m per year.

Coastguard Stations Closure, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has launched a consultation exercise for modernising its Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres, this modernisation will see the 18 existing centres reduced to 2. Overall staff numbers would fall from 596 today to 370 over a four year period.

Nimrod, with the withdrawal of Nimrod MR2 and the subsequent cancellation of Nimrod MRA4 the ability to mount long-range SAR coordination, is limited a capability provided by an ad-hoc collection of aircraft including the E3 Sentry and various C130’s, neither of which can in any way offer the level of capability offered by Nimrod.

Taken together, it would seem the current government are quite happy to take serious risks with maritime security and safety, it’s simply not good enough when we see daily announcements about the huge sums allocated to the EU, overseas aid and climate change initiatives.

To put the top hat on these capability reductions the UK has launched another consultation process, this time on how to treat oil spills. In light of the withdrawal of funding for the ETV’s perhaps we are admitting that a spill is inevitable because we can’t prevent it with a spot of emergency towing so let’s skip straight to the spill clean up.

The strategy might be fine but our tactics seem to be from the Colonel Blimp school of planning

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40 Responses

  1. Ah yes, but as long as you can still get gender re-assignment surgery on the National Health for free……

    Actually, link the general gist of this article to your previous one on Narco subs and et voila, surface in any major estuary you would like to pick and detonate your home made nuke / dirty bomb, as we have nothing to stop you :-(

  2. I don’t think the ‘we are an island’ argument has any traction with what passes for British ‘the establishment’, who are for the most part wholly Eurocentric and think in terms of being part of the continent.

    Meanwhile, the EU Navy is working up off Somalia and an EU Coastguard is being discussed in Brussels. So can the running down of key areas of the UK maritime capability really be a coincidence?

  3. Maybe the problem is that if we concentrated our resources on the UK (and our overseas territories) we would not have enough left over to pretend that we are pursuing the “adaptable” posture as set by the NSC.

    It is likely to late, but what we should do is bin the concept of strike carriers, build a new gas turbine powered ASW carrier, and a new LHD, and if we still owe the Carrier Alliance work, get them to build new corvettes. If we need to build more submarines before renewing the deterrent, then maybe we should consider SSK’s.

    We should instigate a formal RFA style militarised coast guard, provide them with UAV’s, OPV’s, rotary and fixed wing assests.

    We should slim down the army, with a large percentage manned by reservists. However I think we should preserve our lift capabilities, as we will still need to be able to reinforce our overseas territories.

    Finally we need to stop thinking about buying F-35, and if we still need more fast jets beyond the Typhoon then we should stick with either stripped down F-16’s without all the whistles and bells or F-50’s, as their job would be air policing, to allow us to use the superior spec Typhoon for other duties. We should also refurbish and deploy ASAP 20 P-3s.

    Only once we have funded a force that can defend the UK and demonstrated that we can do this over at least one budget cycle, should we start to then think about expeditionary capabilities

  4. Although the strategy of deficit reduction would seem to most people to be entirely sensible

    Actually, a lot of foreign economists are looking at the UK’s mad austerity obsession with the same sense of mingled curiosity and alarm that you would get while watching a man attempting to prise open a canister of natural gas with a blowtorch.
    Yes, you’re sort of interested to see what’ll happen, but at the same time you’re glad he’s not doing it anywhere near you.

    The Emergency Towing Vessels decision seems incomprehensible, as you say, and SAR-H definitely needs sorting out. Not getting into the MRA4 debate again though.

    The threat of maritime terrorism seems pretty non-existent, though, to be honest. Don’t think we should let it skew spending decisions.

  5. Tubby,
    Is this another fantasy fleet idea,build another ASW carrier when the last ones soon morphed into mini carriers and carried out both jobs which CVF will be able to do and do better.
    T26 or rather the ‘global frigate’ as they now like to call it in the ASW mode will be far more usefull than any corvette especially in modular form.
    Revert to building SSK’s,well that is all well and good except for a couple of things.
    It was decided after the Upholders that we would have a completely nuclear submarine force hence they were sold off.
    We will therefore have to regain the skills in building them,much the same as we have had to do with the Astute class which was so shambolic we had to ask the ‘Electric Boat Company’ to show us how to continue.
    You are therefore suggesting we go through that again as the gap to Trident replacement would once again involve us losing nuclear build skills.
    As far as F35 is concerned you seem to be talking soley about the RAF in which case I agree,on the condition they get their full compliment of typhoons,to suggest ‘stripped down’ F16’s can only be another retrograde step.
    No again to refurbished P-3’s, this will not happen anyway but would be a mistake. I have said ever since MRA4 was mooted for the scrap yard that give or take a few years and we will be in the market for Poseidon,I wouldn’t even be surprised if low level talks are not even now going on behind closed doors with the US.
    Finaly,once we lose any expeditionary capability we will not get it back unless there is a full blown conflict and then it will be to late.

  6. Our political elite is in “see no evil” mode.
    The riots in Greece,Thailand, Egypt, Tunisia, etc should be a warning.
    The fallout from the credit crunch could lead to trouble circa 2015-20.
    Money spent on foreign aid, EU contributions, pointless layers of non jobs, should be spent on UK defence, infrastructure & industry.
    My fantasy fleet base on “Options for change” & the 1997 SDR.
    2 large QE carriers.
    2 Small carriers.
    30 cruisers/destroyers/frigates.
    5 Corvettes
    4 SSBN
    8 SSN
    3 SSK ( Is Barrow building part of the new Spanish S-80? if so licence build 3 of those).
    Plus 2 experimental X-Bow RFA tanker/supply Rover replacements.
    Oh & use aid money to buy Brahmos for RN T45.

  7. Electric Boat is an interesting company. Once I had a conversation with the gentlemen who was responsible for managing the launch tubes on the Vanguards. He didn’t have a counter part at EB, he had at least 4! He looked after the hatch, the tube, the flooding system etc. EB had a senior man for each system.

  8. @ JH

    For economic and operational reasons submarines are best built in 4s. So I will give you some extra wonga for another SSK.

  9. @ Mike2

    It is not really a fantasy fleet, it is attempt to try to develop a force that is optimised for defence and has gaps in capability closed with the least cost. For me the moment they changed from STOL carrier to CATOBAR carrier I failed to see the point of the carriers.

    I think there is likely a reason why no-one else plans to operate a CATOBAR carrier the same way as we will end up doing so with roughly the same number of F-35C’s on board as there are helicopters, with the tendency to have more helicopters than fighters. I have read that the USN assumes that helicopters interfere with CATOBAR operations. On top of this we are unlikely to be able to afford anywhere enough F-35C’s to get the most from the carriers, and we will only be able to do so by sacrificing escorts. It may be you are right that we need more than a small ASW carrier but I do not think you are right about need a CATOBAR carrier, and the move to CATOBAR carrier has likely put FAA out of the fast jet business forever.

    With regard to SSK’s I thought the problem was a combination of a lack of nuclear engineers and a lack of engineers experienced in designing an constructing submarines. We are not going to get any more Astute’s and I bet good money there will be a break between Astute programme and the replacement for Vanguard, all I am suggesting is that it is cheaper to build SSK’s than nothing and have to rebuild all your skills rather than the nuclear engineering skills.

    Personally I think that Poseidon will be to late, coastal command will be gone along with their skills and Kinloss closed with the loss of its specialist signal processing equipment. Besides P-3 would be good enough for defence role, we only need Poseidon if we are doing overland ISTAR.

    Finally I want the RAF to get all their Typhoons, but I wonder given the the fact that we need more than 5 squadrons of Typhoons if a second cheaper fighter design could not be procured in addition to the Typhoons.

  10. @ Tubby

    I think 4 SSKs would a more sensible buy. In fact I think 8 would be sensible. 1 in home waters; 1 in the Med.

    We could do with that 8th Astute.

  11. @ Mike2,

    Actually I am showing the fact that I spent to much time lurking on PPRUNE military where they refer to squadron at Kinloss as Coastal Command.

  12. I think using old familiar, if defunct, terms is acceptable. I like to call RN Gulf operations the Armilla Patrol even though I believe it is now defunct.

    Similarly with equipment. I see many people use the word Phalanx when they really mean CIWS. But as long as everybody understands the thrust of what is being said we don’t need to be too literal.

    When I read Coastal Command I picture beautiful big seaplanes which makes me happy. :)

  13. @Tubby

    I have to say I’m of exactly the opposite opinion, I could never understand why we wanted to have F35B except that we had got used to STOVL, I know there are reports of lower lifecycle costs but I’ve never believed they included realistic prices for the B version. As we see now, the design is in real trouble and the arrangement of doors etc.. always looked problematic to me, add the low payload and range (given the weight of the separate lift fan) and it never really added up. I think it adds to the Harriers reputation that it was such an integrated design concept.

    F35B is a necessary solution for the US marines (with amphibious assault ships), but that is different spec than the carrier aircraft that we are after, witness obviously the F35C, using CATOBAR always seemed the sensible option once the US had done the basic assessment and chosen to proceed with EMALS.

    Given the (probable)feedback on EMCAT, it was for me, a savy move to change tack when they, (MOD somewhere) did, from a persistently costly and risky combination of F35B (and a STOVL carrier) to an increasingly more (convincingly)costed and less risky F35C and EMCAT. Also we seem to forget that the issue of operational sovereignty has not been solved (Lord Drayson et al), and will be in the hands of the US congress, so anything could happen. At least with a CATOBAR configuration we can use Rafale or Grippen and UAVs and who knows what else (loitering munitions types). With the STOVL configuration our only fall back might have been the STOBAR typhoon- which may not be so bad but would be horribly expensive.

    As to the CVF mix – with so much real estate we will have a genuine excess of riches, on a year by year basis how often do we expect to use a first day of war asset ?( in anger at full strength) if 12 F35C’s can’t most often do the job the whole logic of replacing multiple assault formations with fewer stealthy aircraft fails.

    The most likely scenario I see for CVF is a mix of infrequent domination of poorly contested airspace and follow up intervention of a military/aid nature, at that point, the ability to deliver significant numbers of sea borne Chinooks will be a step change in capability. For me the problem isn’t limited numbers of F35s it’s whether we will have the numbers of Chinooks available that CVF could handle. We also seem to forget the Apache may be part of the mix, ( I’ve seen pictures of sea hawks with a drop tank like configuration, for extended range) and adding such to apaches would make them a useful addition to a maritime air mix.

    Given that type of scenario the problem of F35 and helos active at the same time is reduced.

    As to full on sea based airpower we cannot seriously be lamenting F35 numbers when X47 is starting flight trials and sea avenger is being proposed, by the time the CVF is floated and fitted where will Taranis etc.. be? And with a standard of close to 1000 miles for stand off anti-ship missiles F35 would be out of range in such an encounter in any event, it will be UAVs versus cruise missiles that will decide the initial conflict.

  14. X,
    For goodness sake chill out,why are you so uptight.
    When I made the remark re ‘Coastal Command’ it was meant as a joke as I hadn’t heard those words for ages.
    Everything does not have to be deadly serious,a little light relief now and again is ok I assume.

  15. I was very chilled. Still am. It was more a general observation.

    If it wasn’t I would have said @Mike2 and used lots of rude words………

  16. Will the hanger on the CVF be high enough to hold a Chinook? I gather it isn’t high enough for the CH-53 which some have suggested as another platform to replace the Sea King HC4s.

    I am starting to see the CVF being operated like a USN LHD without the dry dock yet one and a half time the size. primarily a helicopter platform day to day but with the ability to embark a detachment of F-35Cs when required.

  17. @ Lord Jim

    CVF can hold 25 chinnocks…… if they are the sole aircraft embarked. a bit of a squeeze on the lifts I think but part of the planning for quite a while.

  18. @RW

    Of course going CATOBAR changes the composition of possible CVF air groups as it is a lot harder to surge F-35C as you need to make around 5 landing and take off’s in a variety of conditions to carrier re-qualify, while with the F-35B you could land on the carrier even in poor weather with minimal additional training – hence the beauty of going for a STOL carrier.

    This is why I like STOL carrier, as it allows for real “purpleness” between the RAF and FAA, while going for a CATOBAR carrier may well improve our options and it certainly allows for a “better” aircraft. However I cannot see the RAF wanting to or agreeing to be at sea for more than a few weeks a year, and given the high costs of carrier qualifying I suspect that what ever number of F-35C’s the FAA gets will be the only aircraft to operate from the QE, and that our ability to surge will require about 3 – 6 months notice to allow for training of the RAF pilots.

    On top of this, the generally doctrinal belief that helicopters interfere with CATOBAR operations so you will have great difficulty operating a CATOBAR carrier like a STOL carrier which can tailor it’s air group between fixed wing and rotary wing easily.

    Still you have to wonder if it Liam Fox has played a blinder, first he announces a switch to CATOBAR then says in planning round 11 we cannot afford to do a major re-design for CATOBAR but that’s okay as LM has said the F-35C can operate from a STOBAR carrier with a reduced payload, and it relatively cheap just to add arrestor gear. Then when (and if) India buys the Typhoon and develops it to fill their requirement for 20t naval fighter, we join the programme and get Naval Typhoon while stringing LM along.

  19. @ Tubby – Totally agree abut the STOL/CATOBAR decision but not about “playing a blinder”. I hope I’m wrong about that…

  20. @Gareth Jones,

    I was referring the fact that if Liam Fox had suggested a STOBAR carrier with Naval Typhoon’s he would have been lampooned, now in theory he could go for a STOBAR carrier and Naval Typhoon and make the decision look reasonable.

    I still think Naval Typhoon is quite high risk, but then I still think that a new version of the Harrier is the way to go, it certainly a better fit for USMC to operate off their LHD’s and IMO stealth is of little use in CAS where your main threats are laser guided or IR based SHORAD and MANPADS, and AAA guns.

  21. @Tubby – Totally agree. The openings there, will LF go through it? Agree about the harrier, hope someone is working on a plan B up-grade; if not for us, then for other Harrier users.

    The possibility of a joint project with India over the Seaphoon is small but it would help having a dedicated fighter for fleet defence and winning air superiority and it would match the current governments stated aim to increase contacts with the BRIC countries.
    Again, we will see.

  22. I wholly agree that the issues surrounding UK domestic maritime security need to be formally addressed in the imminent future, and quite probably there is demand for a government White Paper to bring together the various nuances and overlapping interests between MCA, Royal Navy, HM Revenue and Customs, Marine and Fisheries Agencies and even Oil and Gas providers in the North Sea and environs (to name but a few). At present (as ever) we seem to have invested a great deal of energy in funding a rather bizarre collection of disparate, relatively toothless organisations operating with little cohesion or overarching strategy (no other country does this). Amidst this, and the cancellation of programmes mentioned above we should see the deletion of the Nimrod programme (outrageous waste of capital that it was) as the epicentre of a public and governmental aversion to grapple with not just the fundamentals of British maritime security, but where our principal sources of income and prosperity spring from.
    I will not suggest that we meet the demands of others who comment above with creation of a new much larger maritime force whilst simultaneously slimming the army or clipping Air Force wings. The future for the UK’s maritime capabilities lies in intelligent, incisive analysis of the art of the possible. Long term maintenance of security in UK waters demands the following:
    1. A squadron of advanced maritime patrol aircraft, for sub hunting, SSBN protection, surface search, electronic intelligence gathering, with a residual high end ASuW/ASW capability. The application has a great deal to recommend it overseas against pirates and narco-traffickers/
    2. Sufficient ‘teeth’ either for the RN, MCA or similar agency to coalesce maritime law enforcement, SAR, patrol and rig protection with adequate numbers of corvette sized craft. Capable of heliborne support to SF ops.
    3. A decent, publicly owned, heliborne SAR capability. I promise you the next time we have a ferry disaster, rig fire or similar the government will have hell to pay on this one.
    On the subject of carriers, we are all too well aware of the expenditure problems faced by the nation, and the long shadow cast over the military by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The appetite for construction, much less use, of a high-end expeditionary warfighting capability will simply not be there during the years leading up to withdrawal and beyond. In the context of this, the Royal Navy must fight tooth and nail to prevent the gradual slide away from acquisition of deployable multi-role assets of a significant size, and the government must realise that frigates and destroyers (in spite of what the recent cost of T45 might indicate) are supporting actors, not leading role players. We can all foresee that when T45 does not export well ($1 billion is tad expensive for a ship),T23 is replaced by around 8-10 T26 (fairly realistic given recent trends), Astute proves too complex (which it is), and the Industrial Base dies a slow, lingering death, we shall be forced to buy ever cheaper ‘off the shelf’ products for our ‘Maritime Self Defence Force’ or whatever it will be called in 2030.
    Large platforms are crucial to redress this. Big hulls, sizeable storage, plenty of flexibility – I do like the Spanish solution of a composite Strategic Projection Vessel (Juan Carlos class), and an absolute steal at E360 million. Construction of just three of these will breathe new life into a tired and creaking Navy and give the UK an affordable, suitably scaled, global presence. Interoperability (now there’s a good word) with RAF and, wait for it, even Army air assets (whatever happened to marinised Apache?) is a no-brainer. These immensely expensive CVF types with exorbitant aircraft costs, to say nothing of long term maintenance and running costs (the things haven’t even been built and are already massively over budget) is slowly killing the Navy’s case and if it goes badly wrong the corporate blame will last well into the next few decades. Stop trying to be America. Remember – the art of the possible.

  23. The fact is the UK does not have a proper defence strategy and therefore cannot prioritise its procurement appropriately.

    I like the idea of splitting defence of the homeland (including dependencies) from offensive expeditionary capability. This way it would be properly funded and would get the kit it deserves. A costal command based around light frigates, patrol vessels, SAR helicopters and maritime search aircraft (even a few SSKs) makes sense but is always overlooked when compared to “sexier” capabilities which make us look a big player on the global scene. However, we are a rich country and should be able to afford both a strong homeland defence and a reasonable world presence.

    I like the Juan Carlos class, but think that 3 newer Ocean class ships would be much better for the RN/RM in addition to the 2 CVFs of course. This would give a serious offensive capability. The Juan Carlos is a cheap man’s carrier (just like the Invincible class were) and we would be risking people’s lives by putting them in harm’s way without proper air cover – the Falklands should tell us this. The problem with the CVF is not the design / principle, but politics (underfunding and poor management) which has caused delays and has led to a balloon in costs, so much so that we are not getting value for money. Who’s to say building Juan Carlos’s would not be the same. Also, regardless of the ship you still need to buy the aircraft which is a significant cost; at least the CVF gives more options on which aircraft you buy.

    In my opinion you either spend the money to get the right kit, or you stay at home.

  24. Sorry if this is off topic but could someone answer me a question please.
    I have just been reading the launch details in regards to HMAS Canberra,Australia’s new LHD.
    I states that it will be fitted out in Australia after being carried there on the semi-submersible Blue Marlin.
    Having just looked at the details for Blue Marlin the give the cargo length as 178.2 mtrs,as Canberra’s given length is 230 mtrs how is this going to work.
    Even if they put it across the carrying vessel at an angle surely this would entail far too much of an overhang to be seaworthy (or not?)

  25. @ Repulse

    Instead of 3 Juan Carlos class I would sooner by 3x 30000 Enforcer LHD from schelde, more like Ocean than Juan Carlos. Each enforcer 30000 costs roughly the same as one Juan Carlos and would in my opinion also make better replacement for Albion and Bulwark than the Juan Carlos class.

  26. Hi all,

    I agree with Repulse and Mintcake, but having read FRME’s piece my on-going nag that nobody seems to be qualified to do proper questioning about these matters in Parliament could be solved:
    FRME for MP!

  27. The Juan Carlo’s are LHDs not carriers. The USN/USMC LHD do without ski-jumps to maximize landing spots. And because of their size the USMC AV8 can get away without an “assisted” take off. The Spanish navy must have decided that they needed the ski-jump.

    Ocean has been busy all her life, has proved that the UK needs a LPH, and has proved to be excellent value for money. But she is slow, has limited troop lift, and has no dock.

    IMHO the Juan Carlos are better a ship.

  28. A Portsmouth news paper saying that the FAA would fly a new MPA – biased rumor only I suspect. Do we really think RAF would give up a major fixed wing capability to the FAA after just successfully killing carrier aviation?

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