UK Security Needs – Food, Trade and Energy

I have looked at the issue of energy, food and water security a few times and as a companion to the previous piece on strategy I thought a follow up would be useful.

This isn’t an exhaustive list but concentrates on resources, energy, food and trade.

The Conservative party, to their credit, highlighted the issue a number of times pre-election, even though they indulged in a spot of scaremongering. In October 2009 the Shadow Energy Minister, Greg Clark MP, delivered a speech on the issue titled Keeping Britain’s Lights on. For maximum showbiz effect, it started with the lights off and raised the spectre of rolling blackouts. There was also a strong inference that we were at the mercy of the Kremlin, all they had to do was turn off the taps and old ladies in bobble hats would be dropping like flies.

In 2009, in the grip of an extremely cold winter, several large industrial users faced restrictions in supply as domestic users were prioritised. These large users had signed up for interruptible tariffs in return for discount pricing so could not really complain, you pays your money and you take your chances. This however, did not stop the bandwagon jumpers (i.e. press and opposition politicians) seizing upon the issue, evoking the famous phrase ‘keeping the lights on’ yet again.

The Conservative Party’s pre election strategy paper, A Resilient Nation, devoted a paragraph to the issue of energy security, stating;

The danger that the country now faces of a real risk of the lights going out – inadequate power to keep the economy going – was entirely predictable even before Tony Blair spoke and yet his government did virtually nothing.  Taken together, the lack of resilience in the UK’s stretched power generation, strained energy transmission, insecurity of energy supply and lack of emergency storage is nothing short of alarming. Forming a coherent energy policy, joining domestic with overseas factors, security with long term climate change goals and private sector investment with government policies on resilience of systems will be an urgent Conservative priority on entering office and is an example of an approach that can be applied to other essential sectors

In a supporting Annexe, the paper makes it clear that the armed forces will play a part in addressing the issue of energy security

Reflect energy security concerns in the tasking of the Armed Forces. The MoD should have regard to energy security in the tasking of our Armed Forces, for example the Royal Navy in the security of the sea lanes and the safety of maritime traffic

Beyond this rather bland statement about keeping the sea lanes open how realistically can we shape the armed forces to meet our very real energy and material security issues?

What would their role be, what configuration and equipment would be needed, is it actually the job of the military to contribute to energy security?

Starting with the issues…


The UK demand for energy is only ever going to go one way, up. Even if a collection of overly restrictive ‘green’ policies succeeds in driving heavy industry offshore, which it seems is increasingly the case, population growth will drive demand for gas and electricity up.

Energy resilience is perhaps one of the most pressing and important issues the UK faces, certainly more important than the threat from Islamic terrorism.

Whatever your feelings on nuclear, global warming, the oil industry or renewable energy, the fact is, today, the UK is a net energy importer and baring some surprise technological development is likely to remain so. With the future of nuclear being made more uncertain in the aftermath of Fukushima this will create a double impact for the UK.

First, it is likely that demand from Japan for Middle East LNG will increase placing our divertable supply contracts under competitive economic pressure.

Secondly, the issue in Japan (and now Germany)will inevitably delay any build out of UK nucelar generation capacity,

Combined with faster than expected reduction in UK oil and gas extraction, wasted investments in renewables such as wind that have hoovered up all the energy investment funds and other factors point to a pressing energy problem for the UK.

Currently, gas for power generation contributes to both base load and peak loads. Gas is currently sourced from dwindling North Sea fields, pipeline delivered gas from continental Europe (Norway and Russia) and ship delivered Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the USA and Middle East (mostly Qatar)

In 2006 Qatar overtook Indonesia as the world’s largest exporter of LNG and its North Field reserve is the largest in the world with an equivalent capacity of 150 years UK peak demand. The Qatargas II supply chain is a quite staggering project, the South Hook LNG terminal in Milford Haven, 14 new LNG tankers, 30 wells, 2 onshore processing facilities and the supporting infrastructure. It is the largest LNG terminal in Europe and can satisfy 20% of the UK’s demand alone.

The agreement with Qatargas is for a 20 year, non divertable supply. Within the terms of the agreement, supply cannot be diverted elsewhere if they pay more.

Nearby is the Dragon LNG terminal, similar to South Hook although smaller, there are other large terminals on Teesside and the Isle of Grain.

In addition to Qatar, the UK imports LNG from, Kuwait, Algeria and Trinidad.

Major gas pipelines include the Langeled and Vesterled routes from Norway, the IUK pipeline to Belgium and BBL pipeline to the Netherlands. These pipelines link the UK to the wider European gas infrastructure and at the height of the Russian supply crisis even allowed the UK to export gas into Europe.

Unless new and extractable UK reserves are found it is likely that by 2030 the UK will be a total gas importer

Shale gas, underground coal gasification and thorium nuclear generators remain intriguing prospects and may yet reduce our dependence on imported energy but it would seem prudent to base our future medium term plans around imported LNG and pipelines from Europe i.e. Russian/Norwegian gas. In May this year the UK imported more gas in the form og ship delivered LNG than it did via the pipeline(s) from Norway and the extensive investment in terminal capacity means the UK is now a route to Europe.

LNG requires timely distribution because of evaporation, the natural gas is compressed to form a liquid and although modern LNG carriers have onboard boil off regasification plants, a significant volume is still lost (although some of this is used to power the ship, a neat trick)

Transmission, generation and storage capabilities have seen variance in investment but many projects are in the pipeline so to speak and the realisation that renewables are going to have to take a back seat to gas and nuclear generation means that even a government in denial must at some point snap out of their ‘green’ trance and start generating more than hot air and wishful thinking.

The recent outspoken criticism of the Renewable Obligation Certificate and carbon reduction targets from the chairman of Aggreko, the temporary power group, must serve as yet another wakeup call to this delinquent government. Robert Soames went on to say;

“The idea that CCS [carbon capture and storage] is going to be able to contribute significantly to power generation inside of 15 or 20 years is bonkers. People who are not engineers seem to have an unrealistic view of what’s going to be possible”

He also accused politicians of “holding hands and singing Kumbaya to the great green God” but warned the reality is it will be many decades before renewable energy can plug the gap left by traditional sources of power.

Whatever happens with the domestic market it is likely that we will increasingly rely on gas imports, delivered to the UK in LNG tankers or via pipelines from Europe, the security of those supplies must be a high priority for the whole of government.

With three major pipelines and at least 4 large scale LNG terminals in operation it would seem the reception infrastructure is in place. Storage is currently carried out by using mainly natural underground geological features or exhausted gas fields but additional investment in this area should be an obvious means of increasing resilience to supply fluctuation.

Short, medium and long term storage facilities are characterised by the speed of filling and the speed of supply into the grid, a careful blend of all three is needed.

So the UK, with some caveats on storage, has a reasonable gas infrastructure which is actually a testament to those involved, working on despite the attention renewables have obtained recently.

However, just because we have the infrastructure, does not secure supply.

A similar set of complex issues also surrounds oil and refined products, with UK production falling off more rapidly than predicted and the demand for imported products rising.

So it should be clear that the UK faces an uncertain energy future, if current government policies do not address the wishful thinking on renewable energy and start acting in the interests of this country there exists, despite the scaremongering, a real threat to continuity of supply, especially if storage is not addressed and the supplies from the Middle East are disrupted.

Maritime Trade

The UK is most definitely island, a large coastline in excess of 10,000 miles and over 600 ports but despite this, the vast majority of maritime port traffic is concentrated in a very small number, about 50.

The increasing tonnage of UK registered merchant shipping has happened despite a decreasing tonnage of Royal Navy ships and it is because of the Tonnage Tax and Seafarers Earnings Deduction make it tax efficient to register in the UK.

The global shipping insurance industry is largely based in London, Lloyds and many other P&I Clubs contribute a significant amount to the UK economy. Shipping agents and brokers also form a large sector.

We should also not ignore the maritime leisure sector; it is huge and supports many jobs.


The UK was at its highest food self sufficiency since the 19th century in 1980, at the height of industrial food production.

This has steadily declined from 80% to about 60% now.

This increases to nearly 75% for food that can be grown in the UK but this can be misleading because these self sufficiency percentages are calculated as the farm gate value of raw food for production divided by the value of raw food for consumption, it is therefore an economic indicator, not a measure of food security.

The story of our food security is a complex one, whilst we might import over £30 billion per year, in the same period we export just under half that. In terms of diversity, after the UK, the largest suppliers are the Netherlands (6.2%), Spain (5.1%), France (3.5%), Germany (2.7%) and Ireland (2.5%)

The source for individual produce is intriguing; Saudi Arabia supplies a significant quantity of the UK’s tomatoes for example. Africa provides about 14% of the UK’s fruit and vegetables imports, with 47% of that coming from South Africa.

These ratios also fail to take into account the nature of goods imported to actually process the food we grow ourselves, fertiliser, fuel, pesticides, animal feed, food processing equipment and farm machinery for example.

The figures underling all these statistics are also sometimes called into question because they rely on farm surveys and collection techniques that might not always be wholly accurate.

What is obvious though is that as a nation we rely on the global food market, like almost all other industrial countries.

Lots of stats at DEFRA, for those interested and they also publish an excellent summary called the Food Statistics Pocket Book, download here


The first important thing to recognise is that the world trading system is hugely resilient; it has to be to be commercially viable.

Importers and exporters have a vested interest in making sure they can trade, it is this point that is often completely misunderstood by those seeking to scaremonger and generate a reason for continuing investment in security or military solutions.

Commercial organisations invest in resilience, supply diversity and recovery capabilities because it makes economic sense to do so, in many ways, corporates have a more mature view of strategy issues than governments, which are largely based on the political horizon. The non divertable 20 year contracts with Qatar are a great example, the private sector investing $13billion (including £1billion for South Hook at Milford Haven)

However, there are limits to what business can do and these limits are often exceeded at points of concentration; a port, a distribution point or choke point. The physical movement of gas, oil or food relies on port facilities, ships, airports, aircraft and pipelines.

Looking at the nature of UK trade it is clear that the scaremongering about maritime security if often overstated.

Although the vast majority (95%) of imports and exports by volume travel by ship this is much less by value, also, 65-70% of both imports and exports by volume are between the UK and Europe where it might be argued the greatest threat is accident, bad weather and the odd WWII sea mine.

The security threats to shipping in the North Sea are self evidently different than those in the Gulf of Aden.

If we consider the amount of shipping movements between the UK and North America those percentages rise even higher, again, minimal security threats exist against this traffic.

Food imports are also overwhelmingly from Europe, excepting certain types of produce although as noted above, food production relies on imported products including oil and gas powered electricity production.

The threat to the UK therefore, is to a small percentage of shipping that originates outside Europe and North America, about 20% by volume.

The naval lobby, a group that is obviously seeking funding for the Royal Navy is preference to the other services, often exaggerate both the percentages and threats, seeking to confuse the lame minded politicians who take on face value a load of convincing statistics without any understanding of what lies behind them.

It is a fallacy to think that all the UK’s import of gas comes through the Suez Canal and Straits of Hormuz, this is simply not the case, despite that argument or inference constantly popping up. It is equally untrue to suggest that the UK is any more vulnerable to disruption to the global trading system than France, Germany, Norway or Spain. We are linked to the rest of Europe by a network of sea routes, diverse shipping providers and of course the Channel Tunnel which carried about 15 million tonnes of freight cargo last year, in an emergency, all routes could be significantly increased.

However, LNG supplies from Qatar are a particular concern. LNG ships have to transit the Straits of Hormuz, Bab el-Mandab, and the Suez Canal, all potentially hazardous locations. Because of the volatile nature of LNG extended transits via the Cape will result in higher losses and increased cost so these should concern us all.

Straits of Hormuz; About 15 million barrels of oil per day flow through the Straits of Hormuz, and its 2 mile wide shipping channel, between Iran and Oman. Volume through the Straits has declined in recent years as pipeline build outs continue but it is still the world’s most vital chokepoint. On average 13 tankers per day pass through the straits on their Eastbound route, with a corresponding empty traffic going the other way. It should be noted that more than 75% of export traffic through the Straits is destined for Asian markets. If the Straits were closed the existing pipeline routes would have to cope but these already carry a significant volume. The East West Pipeline pair from the East of Saudi Arabia to Yanbu on the Red Sea is rated at just under 5 million barrels of oil per day and 0.3 million barrels per day of liquid gas. The Habshan-Fujairah pipeline is about to commission and this will transport oil from Abu Dhabi to another of the seven emirates of the UAE, Fujairah, on the East shores of the Strait. At about 1.5 million barrels per day capacity this will provide a greater level of security for the oil trading nations on the South coast of the Persian Gulf. With Iraq returning to some semblance of normality it is quite possible that existing and new pipelines would see greater utilisation, especially through Turkey. As can be seen from the map below a network of gas pipelines also exist in the area although there would need to be significant investment in compression and storage facilities if Qatar LNG were to be transported in this manner.

Oil and Gas Pipelines in the Middle East
Oil and Gas Pipelines and other Infrastructure in the Middle East


Bab el-Mandab; The Bab el-Mandab is a chokepoint between the horn of Africa and the Middle East, and a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. It is located between Yemen, Djibouti, and Eritrea, and connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Most exports from the Persian Gulf that transit the Suez Canal and SUMED pipeline also pass through the Bab el-Mandab. About 1.8 million barrels per day of oil is moved through the area on its way to Suez and the SUMED pipeline, most destined for the USA and Europe. If it were effectively closed it would place greater pressure on the Saudi East West pipeline. As piracy in the area continues to rise, security is an increasing concern. Because there are currently no effective diversion routes for LNG products close of the Bab el-Mandab would result in LNG tankers having to go around Africa.

Bab al Mandab
Bab al Mandab


Suez Canal; The Suez Canal is accompanied by the SUMED pipeline which runs parallel to it. It connects the Red Sea and Gulf of Suez in the Eastern Mediterranean with a length of nearly 120 miles. LNG represents about 11% of tonnage and 5% of ships but this is growing especially for Belgian, Italian and UK bound traffic. Because the canal cannot handle the very largest tankers they unload their liquid cargo which is then transited by the 2.3 million barrel per day SUMED pipeline and loaded again at the other end. Closure of the Suez canal and/or SUMED pipeline would require a 6,000 mile, 15 day diversion. This extra journey time would reduce throughput by tying up a finite number of tankers and ultimately drive up costs.

Royal Navy Suez Canal
Royal Navy Suez Canal


When looking at realistic threats to these three vital chokepoints it is important to consider that the UK is not alone in having a strategic interest.

Traffic is two way and concerns not only the consumer countries but also those producing the oil, gas or other products.

If there were a disruption to any one or all three, the UK would not stand alone in efforts to resolve the situation.

There is also a difference between vulnerability to disruption and likelihood of it happening.

If Suez were closed, commercial shipping would simply go around the long way, yes this would add time and cost but in what circumstances would this happen anyway.

Who is going to block the canal and who is going to keep it blocked?

About 1,500 vessels per month pass through the Suez and provide Egypt with in excess of $5 billion foreign currency revenue per year. Along with energy and tourism it is the largest source of income for the country so any political party that decides to deny itself the two largest revenue sources, for tourism would surely follow any any disruption to the Suez, plus the likely suspension of foreign inward development investment is not likely to last long as it finds itself unable to pay its own people.

A more credible scenario is that of terrorism, either attacking the fabric of the canal or ships in transit.

As mentioned above, it is not in Egypt’s interests to allow canal traffic to be reduced and if shipping owners thought there a realistic threats they would carry the additional risk until it became more economic to re-route, at which point Egypt would have to do something. A scuttled or sunk ship at certain points would be a serious impediment to traffic but due to the vast size of the canal it is actually not that vulnerable to sustained denial with such pin prick attacks. Unless multiple attacks succeeded it is not likely that any damage would be enduring. That said, the threat of maritime terrorism remains credible and an attack would cause oil price fluctuations if not the closure of the canal.

The Bab el-Mandab is a different prospect, Yemen remains a fragile state and unlike Egypt, has no skin in the game when it comes to revenues from the area. Although it is a much larger geographic area and therefore harder to deny it would be feasible to create the conditions where commercial shipping owners decide the long way around is the preferred option, although I am sure Egypt, having just lost all its SUMED and Suez Canal revenue might have something to say about the matter. Disruption would not be allowed to continue indefinitely.

The Straits of Hormuz is an intriguing prospect because the most likely suspect, Iran that is, getting up to mischief bymaking threats or actually carrying out real interdiction of shipping would be playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship.

Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia would all be drawn into any conflict, as would the Western nations in support, China might even get its sleeves rolled up because 75% of traffic through the straits is Eastbound and given that much of Iran’s foreign income generation activity also relies on the Straits any action would necessarily have to be short term.

Because of their economic mismanagement Iran has to import food and even petroleum products, they rely on a small number of refineries and in reality, if they attempted to shut the Straits they would suffer a very serious reprisal and any disruption would be over in 2 weeks, move along here, nothing to see, oh, except the Iranian economy in tatters.

It would not be sensible for Iran to carry out its sabre rattling threats because in reality the sabre rattling occurs in front of a mirror.

Logic does not always come into it though so we should never discount the actions of Iran, they remain a threat (hence pipeline building)

A much more likely threat is that to individual Gulf nations and facilities but again, this risks a wider conflagration and ignores the continuing efforts of everyone in the region to negate the strategic importance of the Straits by busily building pipelines. In fact, with sufficient investment in pipelines it is possible that the most vulnerable nation to blocking the Straits of Hormuz would be Iran itself.

Perhaps we should threaten them with closing the Straits!

Non Military Solutions

The sooner the UK government realises that the ‘power projection’ is not necessarily always the best solution for UK security the better.

The problem is that despite the best intentions and fine words of this government, when it comes to budgets its business as usual.

It might come as a surprise to read this on a defence blog and military capabilities are about much more than securing energy supplies and fresh strawberries, but we should also consider the wide angle.

With oil prices so high, oil fields in UK waters that were once considered uneconomic to exploit will now become viable. It is certainly in the national interest to use public funding to increase exploration and technology development because oil should be considered a strategic concern. Perhaps the recent Scottish political climate is clouding the investment issue, if devolution leads to independence then which nation would reap the benefits of ‘British’ investment.

Why are we not investing public money in exploration around the Falkland Islands?

There is little doubt that the UK has not used its North Sea windfall wisely, with what is left and the prospects of more fields, the nation needs to take a longer term view and realise the market is not always the answer.

Greater cooperative investment in infrastructure in the Gulf region should also not be ruled out, especially in conjunction with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Oman, our traditional and historic allies in the region.

Security around our ports and pipelines should be increased but this is a civil matter, apart from specialist capabilities like mine countermeasures. Our police are now armed and high competent, is there any reason why an armed coastal security force, scaled and equipped for the most likely threats of terrorism and smuggling, is not possible?

The South Hook LNG terminal cost just under a billion pounds, or about the same cost as money wasted on FRES and associated projects (with nothing to show for it) so far, less than half the cost of delaying CVF the first time or one twentieth of the cost of our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq so far.

Puts things into perspective doesn’t it.

Military Solutions

Despite my belief that non military spending should be prioritised over military spending or at least food and energy security not used as all encompassing arguments for yet more military expenditure, there is an absolute need for military capabilities to integrate into the resilience and security matrix.

It is in the national interest to do so.

If we accept that sometimes military solutions are the answer to an unpleasant question we need to indulge in a spot of critical thinking, how best to apply our military and diplomatic levers to ensure continuity of supply into the medium and long term of these most essential of resources.

It is at this point that thoughts of matter maritime comes into the picture, it is hard not to think that a naval solution is the answer because, well, we are talking about ships after all but all three services must be considered equally.

Being dispassionate, given a finite budget and some radical joined up thinking/doing, investing in expeditionary military forces does not provide a good return on investment when considering energy and food security.

Investing in these things does not protect shipping against the most likely threats because their high cost means few numbers and only limited effectiveness but we cannot ignore the security aspects of maritime trade and it is here where the all three services have to properly justify themselves.

Personally, I think our greatest contribution to the collective security in the area and thus by definition, a significant contribution to energy security at home, should be in developing local capacity and capabilities, training and working in local security partnerships for example.

This goes against the ‘strong navy’ mindset, where a strong navy is defined by expeditionary strike and amphibious capabilities. An alternative vision of a strong navy might see a different structure, better suited to preventing conflict than applying force after intelligence and diplomacy failures.

Currently we have the forward basing of a number of Royal Navy mines countermeasures vessels, as I have mentioned before, this is a capability area in which the UK excels.

This is exactly what I am talking about, we are already doing it albeit at a small scale, I want a greater priority given to this kind of activity

Given the interests of the producer nations is to make sure that they can continue to make money out of the oil, gas and shipping traffic it is hard to envisage a scenario where host nation support would be anything but forthcoming with open arms.

The justification for an expeditionary force, usually maritime and centred on CVF is more often than not preceded with a collection statistics about imported goods, history, the maritime industry, energy, and food security. These are usually impressive; 95% of our imported good comes by sea, without food imports we would be starving within 90 days, thousands of jobs relaying on the maritime industry and other equally convincing statements that immediately make you think, isn’t it obvious, we need a strong navy.

The deep and fundamental flaw with this argument though is that it fails to make a link between the ‘we are a maritime nation’ position on the left and the strong navy on the right.

There is a void in the middle; advocates just assume that everyone ‘gets it’

There is no doubt in my mind that the UK is a maritime nation, there is no doubt in my mind that an effective and relevant Royal Navy can make a key contribution to UK security and interests but I start from a sceptical position when it comes to making a causal link between this protective role and the expeditionary strike role as personified by CVF.

The other fundamental problem is, no one ever questions the underlying statistics and as we know, statistics can tell you anything.

I know I get a hammering for being anti Navy, as if they are some sort of religion but this could not be further from the truth, just because I don’t agree with the prevailing priorities and aspirations of CVF advocates does not all of a sudden make me anti navy.

The first and obvious source of information for how a Royal Navy can protect the British way of life is of course the Royal Navy website. Some time ago they published a very well written report on the important of maritime trade (click here to read in full)

The campaigning group Save the Royal Navy also looks at this subject in its 2009 article, 10 Reasons Why

The Phoenix Think Tank looks at the issues here

This is where things get interesting because a strong Royal Navy can be defined in many ways.

On the one hand, we have the Royal Navy’s vision of a force centred on 2 strike carriers, surrounded by a surface combatant force, a number of submarines and associated logistic and secondary capabilities.

But I fail to see how this force as constituted in the real world, not the fantasy world, actually contributes to real world modern security threats.

The Royal Navy suffers particularly from what I call ‘tradition drag’ because of its historic pre-eminence in the world naval rankings but this is 2011 and the UK no longer dominates world trade. This constant reference to the Royal Navy’s position in the world is incredibly damaging and snuffs out any constructive debate of what it should look like.

If we are too concerned with ‘measuring up’ to other powers as some abstract concept we take our eyes off what is actually needed.

There is a lot of talk about being a first rank naval power but frankly, being rank 1 or 7 is irrelevant and shows the level of debate.

What is important is that the Royal Navy and other services are relevant to the needs of UK defence and security, rank has nothing whatsoever to do with it.

We shouldn’t care whether the Royal Navy is ranked 1st or 71st as long as it is relevant to the national need and the same goes equally for the other two services.

Yes, we are an island

Yes, the UK maritime industry is huge

Yes, the vast majority of trade sails rather than fly’s

Yes, the UK must not become ‘sea blind’

Yes, we are an island!

But all three services have to make credible and convincing cases for every last pound note, because if we are talking about real security and resilience, there are many more cost effective means of spending the public’s hard earned cash.

If there were a large scale security threat around those three choke points mentioned above it would be a global issue and the obvious argument is that the UK would have to contribute its fair share to any coalition force involved but by investing a greater relative share of our national budget into developing local security, diplomacy, obtaining timely intelligence and influence in the area we might not get to that point.

There is also a strong argument for investing funds that might have been earmarked for military capabilities in energy and food resilience, given that energy and food are fundamentally important to the prosperity and survival of the United Kingdom.

Do we invest in continual maintenance or foot the repair bill?

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May 29, 2011 7:06 pm

I have never ever been convinced of CVF as a strike asset for me its value is as a sea control asset. But I don’t think Their Lordships see it that way. I have said several times here I don’t think the UK will spend the next 50 years chasing Third World tribes around remote mountain ranges. We will be facing crises about resources and we will need first rates assets to match the first rates assets of our “competitors.”

Rather quaintly I think the navy’s job is sinking ships (with a bit of nuclear strategic warfare as a side line.) The UK is one of the few nations with ownership of a competent SSN force. We don’t need them now (just as really we don’t need 3 QRA squadrons now) but it is a capability we need to maintain (as are the 3 QRA squadrons.) We need Astute 8 – 12 as one for one replacements for the S & T boats. And I would go further and say I would rather have 8 long range AIP SSKs than T26.

I think if CVF had been cancelled we would still have had only 6 Darings and 7 Astutes.

May 29, 2011 7:49 pm


That was a rather interesting and thought provoking piece. I am however not sure why you lumped CVF in with it. In my mind CVF is there for a very different conflict than that of protecting trade and shipping lanes. CVF is to allow secure independent oversea expeditionary warfare an almost unique asset in Europe.

What were looking at here is the C3, frigate requirement and I believe the small patrol boats that operate around the UK. Both programs are funded so I fail to see why its an either or. I would through in MPA if we had any!

Its like saying we need to have a garrison in cyprus falklands and uk for security requirements but to pay for it well scrap all the challenger tanks..

My concern with energy security is that of the countries we buy from. Most of our natural allies in the mid east are not the most stable in the world (there people do not like the west as were seen as propping up there dictators) what if something in one of those countries develops that stops that country from producing and refining oil or gas eg regime overthrown or its invaded by a neighbour.

Rupert Fiennes
Rupert Fiennes
May 29, 2011 8:06 pm

I agree with x; CVF’s most important function is sea control, starting with air defence. It’s considerably cheaper in this than the usual RAF solution of fleets of fighters and tankers based in improbable locations

May 29, 2011 8:08 pm

The cheap escort is a myth and probably isn’t needed anyway. During WW2 what saved shipping was the convoy system because it denuded the ocean of targets. 9 out of 10 convoys never ever saw a U-boat; though that is not belittle the panic or fear felt by sailors because of false contacts. ASW only became effective when a good number of high end frigates/corvettes became available (working in groups) and air cover was increased.

May 29, 2011 8:30 pm

Does this mean that just about everyone is agreed that Type 26 is a waste of cash?

May 29, 2011 8:41 pm

Ah, thought it had been a while before we have another anti CVF rant on Think Defence!

Energy security is a good reason for a strong navy but not CVF, indeed as Mark says ‘CVF is to allow secure independent overseas expeditionary warfare’.

It’s a bit like the argument we shouldn’t have a deterrent because it doesn’t deter terrorists.

I’d add that CVF is also useful in allowing the UK to have a capability that is attractive to potential allies which ties in nicely with a piece you wrote recently.

TD says
‘investing in a so called strong Royal Navy with aircraft carriers, frigates, submarines and destroyers does not provide a good return on investment.’

If you want your Navy to exercise sea control wherever you want it does. What you are in effect doing is wanting to make the Navy a one trick pony when most other nations with large trading economies are looking at ways of enhancing sea control.

May 29, 2011 8:43 pm

Paying BAE £126million to redesign the wheel is a waste. We should just buy the FREMM design and build them here (eek!!) Or my current favourite idea build a variant of Iver Huitfeldt/Absalon hybrid (engines from the former, weapons from the latter) which is simpler and cheaper design (though I doubt that would translate into numbers.) Yes 1 Daring (with SONAR) to 3 A/IH Hybrids seems a good idea. That is if we can have 6 more Darings.. :) ;)

May 29, 2011 8:46 pm

Andy said “If you want your Navy to exercise sea control wherever you want it does. What you are in effect doing is wanting to make the Navy a one trick pony when most other nations with large trading economies are looking at ways of enhancing sea control.”

Say again station. Message garbled. Over.

May 29, 2011 8:53 pm

Sorry x, airwaves are a bit dodgy.

TD was making the point a Navy with CVF, Destroyers, Frigates & Subs was not a good return on taxpayers money.

I was trying to make (badly) the point that if all you wanted was for your navy to protect trade then it wasn’t but if you want it to exercise sea control it most certainly was!

And that is the thinking of all emerging economic powers as well.

May 29, 2011 9:04 pm

@ Andy

Thanks matey.

May 29, 2011 9:06 pm

I’m sticking to my Type 45 guns (fitted for, but not with, firing pins).

Scrap Type 25. Enhance the Type 45 design. Save some money on production efficiency. Magaritas all round.

May 29, 2011 9:20 pm

chris its too late to make production saving on type 45. Its production is effectively over all ships now launched and fitting out people who initially manufactured it are now on other things. Type 26 has the benefit of needing less crew and a long production run with several countries coming on board and promises to be cheaper (i know i know).

Fremm costs nearly as much as type 45 its a nice ship but somewhat out of our price range.

May 29, 2011 9:32 pm

@ Mark

It is only out of our price range because “we”,well HMG, choose it to be… (Only jokin’!)

Um. Debatable though whether it would be cheaper to build FREMM or re-engineer T45.

And I said I am rather taken with Danish CODADs at the moment…..

Jan Guest
Jan Guest
May 29, 2011 9:41 pm

‘I think if CVF had been cancelled we would still have had only 6 Darings and 7 Astutes.’

I think this is the real reason why the Navy is fighting so hard for the carriers. In their minds they have ‘given up’ lots of subs and surface combatants in the hope of jam tomorrow in the form of ‘real carriers’. In reality they would have lost them anyway due to defence kit inflation and budget squezing. The carriers were just a more effective dummy to complaints about cuts because of their size!

In reality all three services are the same – they fight for the ‘sexy’ kit because it is a great recruiting tool. In the RAF it’s fast jets and in the Army fast armour. Recruiting is what perpetuates the organisation and all bureaucracies exist to self-perpetuate in the end. I’m sure similar stuff goes on in other areas of public service – surgery getting more money and attention than cleaning or food in hospitals for example.

I think carriers certainly have their uses, the main one being the ability to manoeuvre an air group in very flexible ways, but it is clear we can’t afford an air group which in anyway justifies the size of carrier we have bought. They don’t do much for energy security, TD is right there and even in areas where we can’t effectively work at building local capability, we need quantity not quality. OPVs and MCMVs will do just as well with the terrorists and pirates as full blown AAW Destroyers. The flexible FPV TD posited in the Navy series would be adaptable to both roles and therefore could be available in enough numbers to regularly patrol trouble spots keeping the situation suppressed rather than responding when everything has already kicked off. I agree with x that we were wrong to completely abandon SSKs particularly given the export opportunities. The Darings are too few and too one dimensional though to give up on T26 altogether, they were an epic cock up IMO as anything that large and expensive should be armed to the teeth not ‘fitted for but not with’.

May 29, 2011 10:08 pm

Um. In all my years involved in sea cadets I never ever knew one to go on to join the navy for the sexy kit. To learn a trade. Yes. Perhaps because they didn’t like the idea of camping with a rifle and digging holes as a job. And perhaps some of them did swallow too many of the tall tales told by ex-matelots. But sexy kit? No.

May 29, 2011 11:56 pm

@ Mark

At least BAE has a very good idea of how to build and put together Type 45’s. The 26 is a drawing on a computer at this stage and like all such projects a lot of money will be spent on the first 2 or 3 ships figuring out what the best way is to put them together. That is money that could be saved, along with a hefty chunk of R&D work that will be needed to bring the 26 into service.

I can see multiple avenues to go with Type 45;

– The current version,
– A version with gun removed to make extra space for a large land attack cruise missile bay,
– A version with same as above,but also with extra luanch tubes in place of the hangar,
– A version minus the missile bay (Huh!!) to make room for maybe a surgery or extra cargo forward. A ship that is essentially tailored for more low intensity work,
– An ASW specific version,

In other words, a Type 45 derived fleet of surface vessels. I hear Type 26 might be offered with a diesel engine choice, so that would probably be worth the investment still, but I fail to see the need to spend billions developing a new class to do jobs that could just as easily be done by Type 45.

Now specialist very low intensity craft I can live with, but not another all new “destroyer/frigate”

May 30, 2011 1:51 am

TD – excellent piece diving into what are, or should be important constituent elements of the nations “grand strategy” not just military strategy.

It’s a shame you managed to spoil it by coming off as anti-Navy even when your trying to be pro-Maritime ! Although I heartily agree, CVF does not have much to do with sea control, or SLOC protection (or interdiction) that is more to do with the HMG focus on the CVF as a power projection tool. A carrier as simple ship is a highly versatile platform, as to whether it has a role in protecting trade all depends on what we fly off of it.

However we digress, how is it you make “strong Navy” sound like the worst kind of curse you could ever use in front of your mother ?

If we have an extremely expensive long term Army garrison and RAF presence in Oman (not that they want it) how is that a more cost effective solution to securing the Straits of Hormuz than having an RN with effective vessels ?

Don’t forget the RN is at an all time low. 8 x Darings instead of 6, 8 SW focused “C1″ type ships and 8 x General Purpose frigates for a total of 24 ‘ships of the line” would be a “strong Navy” at this moment in time, although when I joined the RN in 83 I would have laughed my tits off at such numbers !

By the way, having spent my entire 10 year RN career in the gulf, we have had excellent relationships with the UAE, Oman, and Kuwait since the early 80’s – so as to partnerships and forward basing, well I hardly think we do it on a small scale. I have spent more time in Dubai on a Pompey based MCMV than I did in Pompey. Likewise I know the Omani naval dockyard of Mina Rahsut as well as I know Rosyth……

So, as you know I am a proponent of carrier air power, but I am not wed to CVF, and would happily seem them go to return to a 28 to 30 major surface vessel fleet, but actually when it comes down to energy security, just invest the entire defence budget for the next five years in developing a mass-manufacturable Liquid Fuel Thorium Reactor (LFTR), patented up the jacksie, and then flog our expertise to the whole world ! We would be doing every one a favor never mind securing our own energy sources :-)

May 30, 2011 1:59 am

x, Chris B. et al

We seem to discuss fleet structure ad naseum, on every thread possible – not complaining mind you.

However, I know x was around when we published these, but not sure if Chris B or others ever found them and read them:

Sea Power 101:

An Absalon derivative ‘C2′ or “Global Cruiser’ for the RN:

TD – a bit of help – I could have sworn that you also published a paper I did on a T45 derivative as the ‘C1’ or ASW focused surface combatant, but searching I can’t find it !

May 30, 2011 2:10 am

Chris B:


“I can see multiple avenues to go with Type 45;”

May I address each of your ideas in turn ……

– A version with gun removed to make extra space for a large land attack cruise missile bay,

No need for this. The design has space (and weight margin) for additional VLS cells (specifically the longer ‘land attack’ version of the Sylver) between the rear most row of the current system, and the front of the superstructure.

– A version with same as above,but also with extra luanch tubes in place of the hangar,

Bah, modern warship with no hanger is hardly a flexible asset. With extra tubes up front, and probably weight and space margin to bung some Harpoon type canisters or CAMM cells elsewere, is this really necessary ? We can’t afford an “arsenal ship” all our vessels must be as flexible as possible.

– A version minus the missile bay (Huh!!) to make room for maybe a surgery or extra cargo forward. A ship that is essentially tailored for more low intensity work,

No need for this either. The T45 is very large inside, with a considerable space margin. There is more accommodation than needed. It may require a ‘redesign’ of that internal space to get your required large sick, operating theatre etc, but is this kind of work not better performed by a different class of vessel ?

– An ASW specific version,

Absolutely with you on this one. Lever the sunk costs and build expertise. Change the fan tail and area under the aft flight deck to fit the 2087 towed array. Widen the after superstructure for a double hanger (for 2 x Merlin) removing the large 3D air surveillance radar. Fit STWS tubes if necessary. Expand boat bays for 2 x additional 11m RHIB based USV with dipping sonar for persistent littoral ASW ops. I am not sure you need to change the front end at all, but to keep the costs down you can go with Artisan as the radar, and CAMM as the SAM.

May 30, 2011 2:23 am

Ah ha – found it – TD roled my T45 as C1 type ideas into his own post, so I am not showing as the author :-)

However, our joint ideas and my design drawing are in this article:

May 30, 2011 2:33 am

I’ll get reading and get back to you in a bit. But first one request.

Can we please stop calling it the littoral. You mean “Coastal”.

May 30, 2011 2:59 am

Chris- the “litoral” includes inland waterways, estuary’s, deltas, it is “bigger” than coastal !

However, I will stop using it, if you and x agree that the days of the Battle of the Atlantic are behind us and stop calling RN surface ships “escorts” :-)

May 30, 2011 3:40 am

A: Energy self sufficiency should be the goal of every country, as such the UK should be looking at moving to a majority nuclear based baseline generation capacity supplemented by all manner of renewables, including, though not limited to, landfill gas/waste to energy/biomass plants, wind, wave/tide (which could be installed within existing offshore windfarms) and hydro-electric (including additional pumped storage for the wind farms). To continue to rely on imported fuels is folly, and leaves us open not only to the whims of the supplier nations, but also the volatile international markets.

B: Food production within the mainland UK should be encouraged to be sufficient to supply all needs. While their will always be food which will need to be imported, these should be considered a luxury. Projects such as Thanet earth should be encouraged. A unilateral ban on dumping dead fish should be introduced (if the EU fail to come up with the goods) and methods should be pursued to reduce the amount of food waste, both at the point of harvest, the point of sale and in the home.

C: The Military should not be needed to keep up fed and warm, protecting imports is spending money to watch money flow out of the country, the Royal Navy should only be required to protect our exports and other maritime trade which occurs under the UK flag, i.e. spending money to make money. To this end the RN will be required to have a role policing the sea lanes, and while the CVF is not the ideal vessel for this (a 2 helicopter escort, deployed in pairs would be better) it does afford us a big stick which can be waved in the direction of a possible threat to our interests should the need arise.

D: Submarines have no role in high seas merchant security, SSNs and SSKs byt their very nature are a purely offensive tool, used to deter or destroy the vessels of other navies or to enforce blockades against maritime shipping, they cannot be used to prevent attacks on UK flagged shipping, except those being conducted by large surface vessels or other submarines, to attempt to utilise an SSN to deter say pirates in a RHIB of small converted fishing boats is not an effective use of military equipment.

May 30, 2011 4:22 am

Right, all done.

@ Jed (sort of)

— Gunless LAM platform. The Type-45 does indeed have room built in for these, but only 16 or so. I’m thinking of a version without the gun that can then double or maybe triple that number.

Also, I was led to believe (have to stop saying that) that the extra VLS cells for any LAM would go between the current lot and the gun. This was mentioned somewhere, buggered if I can find it now, in a report about the 155mm gun.

— The Arsenal ship. As you said, this kind of ship wouldn’t be particularly flexible, but then it isn’t supposed to be. I would only imagine two, maybe 3 of these being built. They would come in bloody handy for a situation like Libya. Imagine that first day strike capability?

But I might trade away the arsenal ship if you’ll let me have plenty of the gunless LAM vessels.

— The ASW vessel. Yep, towed array, with you. Not sure about the double hangar. Any change to the super structure costs cash and the hangar-bridge is all one section so I’m led to believe (bugger it).

— The one with the Surgery. No, not an episode of “Friends”. I’m just thinking that at some point we have to roll up our sleeves and build a more numerous vessel for less strenuous/high intensity tasks. I’m thinking it could be Type 45 based.

So axe the Sampson and the VLS, find some other cost savings, keep the gun, and then deck the thing out for a mixture of low level security/mercy/disaster response style missions.

All of the above fitted with CIWIS, and all but the last cheap one fitted with 2x quad Harpoons they should already have.

May 30, 2011 4:30 am

@ Jed.

They escort Carriers, thus escorts! ;)

“the “litoral” includes inland waterways, estuary’s, deltas,” – rivers in other words. So coastal ships and river boats/brown water navy ;)

@ Grey

Feeling Blue?

Anyway, “protecting imports is spending money to watch money flow out of the country”. Not necessarily. Those imports can be anything from steel and wood used to make things, to consumer electronics that help fuel our economy (TV’s in pubs for example)

Also, exports and imports are often linked, the whole “we’ll give you this, you give us that” type thing.

Imports are more than just money going out. If we didn’t need those things, we wouldn’t be importing them.

Like, the LNG that TD was talking about. Oh, and oil.

Imagine what would happen if all that was cut off.

May 30, 2011 7:27 am

Another gross misunderstanding of Seapower and maritime security alongside the flexibility of a firm use of defence assets on food ad energy

Head over to the Phoenix thinktank readers!

May 30, 2011 8:09 am

With recent events in North Africa, I wondering if the straights of Gibraltar and the straights around Malta could become new choke points…

Completely on board with the ‘high end core’ argument for RN. Scrap the T26 and build a second batch of ASW T45, and upgrade the whole lot to have the bells and whistles you would expect from GP vessels. T26 will be built in too few numbers to make any impact on what we are discussing here. We need a larger number of light (cheap) patrol frigates and JSS ships.

May 30, 2011 9:51 am

A pertinent and well constructed analysis.

May 30, 2011 10:08 am

What has history to say about this? The Roman Empire in its latest years invested a lot in hiring “allied” tribes and training them to fight to defend the empire’s borders and strategic areas. The Roman army was filled up with generals and officers from German tribes and other populations. The Empire’s legions were expensive, and they were scaled down. Allies and “federatus” tribes had to make up for the shortfall.

The result was that thousands of men, once trained by the romans, fled back to their countries and taught their populations in the roman way of fighting war, that for centuries had made Rome invincible. And then they turned against Rome.
Arminio, officer of Rome but german of birth, is most known for betraying Rome (after years of sterling service that made him trusted and appreciated)and defeating the empire’s army in Teutoburgo, slaughtering 55.000 roman soldiers.
Adrianopoli saw the destruction of 8 legions. Whole. And the death of the Emperor himself, i believe it was Valeriano, but the name might be wrong.
The romans had long been outnumbered. Now they had lost their edge in tactics, strategy and kit.
In the end, the Empire fell.

Today we train the afghans (not that we could do otherwise at this point, but…) and lots of them defect (most certainly to the talibans) and some others fire on their trainers. Some britons did made it back in body bags for this kind of event, and at least an italian soldier, my compatriot, also met that end.

We talk about the Gulf. I believe that, if we take a look at the countries of the Middle East, we’ll see that they are actually growing stronger and stronger, economically and militarily, both more trained and more equipped with every year that passes. They buy fighters, stealth missile boats, submarines, even C17 cargo planes, Patriot missile batteries, etc. With western help and supplies.

Does this REALLY improve OUR security? Or is it the building phase of tomorrow’s really nasty crisis? Are we training the tribes that tomorrow will give us trouble, like Rome once did?

If the US tomorrow morning were to listen to some and retreat their “not needed” aircraft carriers from the Gulf, we’d live in a very different world in no time.

The UK is the next country after the US in the security job. The impact of a reduction in presence would be very significant.

I’m sorry, but i continue to fail seeing the benefits and great successes of help, training, aid money and everything. It sure isn’t working with Pakistan. Bahrain is also an embarrassing case, with the repression of the civilians protesting in the streets and everything.

Somalia is the top example. If we could “build” Somalia into a nation and “help it so they do not need to go pirates anymore”, wouldn’t it be nice…?
Unfortunately, that is the red-glowing example of soft power failure that no one admits.
Does the World Food Programme and all the other UN initiatives change anything in Somalia?
Is there any chance to send them liasoning teams to train “government forces” (if they exist at all) into controlling their own damn country, without having the “trainers” captured, kidnapped or killed? Doubt it.

When i’ll see Aid money and a small force of trainers and support personnel enter Somalia and fix it and put an end to piracy, i’ll believe into the possibilities of this.
Because let’s be crystal clear: forward basing the Army in places such as Kenya has only ended up in incidents with the locals and legal calls on Britain to pay money to them, like the 4.5 millions the UK had to pay in 2002 for the issue of unexploded training ordnance and related incidents.
For now i only see Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and Bahrain, and it shrieks of FAILURE so loud to make me deaf.

As to the Air Force, good luck building stability in the world with a training exercise of two weeks in India.

We can close our eyes all we want, but it is the navy that lives its life, in peace and war, forward deployed.

Can Britain survive a Gulf crisis without carriers? Yes, so long as the US fix that themselves.

Can Britain be the nation it used and wishes to be without carrier? No.
Should Britain invest in it?
At 7 billions for the ships and 10 billions for 150 F35s? YES. Hell, yes. It still is at least 3 billions short of the ridiculous amount of money that went into Typhoon, that much as i love it, is simply and inexorably strategically 10000 times harder to justify that the aircraft carriers, with all what a proper flat top makes possible.

I’m cynical, i know. But certain strategies just kind of remind me of Homer Simpson’s slogan “Can’t someone else do it for me?”, and i fear they’d work just as well as that slogan did for him.

May 30, 2011 10:52 am

RE: “the “litoral” includes inland waterways, estuary’s, deltas, it is “bigger” than coastal !”
– it also includes the immediate coastal land area, up to 100 km (depending on the topography)
– so take the 127 mm OTO with Volcano rounds and you can reach out and touch all of it (from a stand-off distance re: normal land artillery or ATGWs)
– rivers and large estuaries need special solutions (USN is expanding their Riverine Command)

paul g
May 30, 2011 10:56 am

@PTT fan, bore off!!

May 30, 2011 12:03 pm

@ Jed

I use the term “escort” as a catch all term for frigates, destroyers, large corvettes, and sloops.

Naval classifications have changed over the years. And change today from navy to navy.

Take the term cruiser. Today that means a very large conventional (one with guns, missiles) ship. In the days of the old sailing navy any ship detached from the fleet, irrespective of size, was called a cruiser.

We have to use terms every body recognises.

May 30, 2011 12:08 pm


For what it’s worth we clearly see the defence environment the same way by and large.

Without picking on Nelly and Dumbo, AGAIN.

(But it’s such an easy target… I can give it up any time I like…. No it’s allright I’m clean now doc.. Oh alright I did have a bit of rant yesterday. but only for 5 minutes, in the privacy of my own room.)

More seriously I am a big believer in a ‘Strong navy’.

I think the problem is the definition of ‘strength’.

As this is about strategy, we should be asking what is it we want the navy to do?

In this day and age my answer; (and I am not so egotisticle as to believe it is the only valid one), Is that it exists to promote and protect the UK’s economic interrests and where possible it’s citizens accros the world, and play it’s part in protecting the borders and soveriengty of the uk from likely threats.

There really is on this site;(and this is going to stirr up a storm) a huge thick seam of post colonial imperialistic almost subconciously racist, bullshit about Uk’s status and the rest of the world!

If I may expand on TD’s point (and if it’s not his point then it should be)!

If real trouble kicks off in the streights of Hormuz or the Horn of africa or even in south east Asia. Modern Global economic reality means Vital supplies will be rerouted, the worlds navies,(including the real big boys)which are a lot closer than us, US India, China, Japan, South Korea etc will step In because the boot will be on their necks as much as ours. They have ships, capable crews, and kit to do the job, as good as ours in many cases. And I suspect would be a lot less bothered about rules of engagement.

What won’t under any realistic circmstance happen, will be the cry of “Save us oh great Royal Navy with your mighty ships of the great white queen accross the seas” Whereapon we will despatch our Mighty carrier (with it’s 12 aircraft, (oh god don’t get me started), to ‘sort out Johny Foreigner’ Like it was 1900 all over again.

I know I exagerate for the sake of making the point (can’t spell hyperbolie), but many of the comments on this site and the arguments about maritime power seem stuck in a time warp. And are obsessed about restoring the RN staus to some point in the past without ever asking if that is necessary for the UK defence, or even if it were, is it possible.

That is without dealing with the potential fighting power of our potential enemies.

The old

‘Whatever happens
we have got
the Maxim Gun
and they have not’

Apogie of Imperial power is long gone. Some of the people we might be trying to strong arm can now shoot back.

A recognition we are a trading powere and that we shoudl concentrate on that and have a Navy that does the same, would go along way to help defend this country.

May 30, 2011 12:09 pm

Tin hat on climbing into fox hole “INCOMING”!!

May 30, 2011 12:15 pm

@ Jed re fantasy fleets

One apologises for this too. My personality type means I find it difficult to come settled judgements. In extremis this even means at times I ignore new information because I can’t cope.

May 30, 2011 12:18 pm


Perhaps the money spent on Nellie and Dumbo could have been better spent on Nuclear reactors to give us a measure of imported Fossil fuel free energy independance?

Richard W
Richard W
May 30, 2011 12:24 pm

It is interesting to drill into what the circumstances of the Red Sea and Persian Gulf infer for military operations.

If your concern is terrorism then really there isn’t a military solution. If a terrorist intends sinking a ship or crashing an air craft in a sensitive place, then once such an operation is underway there isn’t really anything that would prevent it. Fighting terrorism is better done at the conceptual stage by the intelligence services.

Obviously there is extensive piracy out of Somalia already, but I haven’t noticed Britain or anywhere else being deprived of essential imports or trade because of it. Therefore, on the evidence it would seem that foreign piracy, while unwelcome, is not a strategic concern and wouldn’t rate too high on the list of the MoDs priorities.

That is not to say you wouldn’t want to do something about it if you could, but the pirates success so far isn’t because they have better resources. Rather it is because the western navies involved (RN included) are not designed for that sort of task. Having a highend warship with a highend ASW helicopter chasing up and down the coast of Somalia on the off chance of seeing a pirate raid in action is just consuming the expensive operating hours on the ship and helicopter without a great deal to show for it. If the MoD wants to get into playing beat cop it should look at smaller/faster but more numerous boats for the navy and use land based aircraft for ISTAR and air support.

However, if Iran or any other nation decides to exert control of the region then it is an act of war that would prove the Admirals right – the carrier with the shiny aircraft and T45s would become very useful until land based alternatives could be put in place.

May 30, 2011 12:52 pm


The Germans have just pulled the plug on their nuclear programme…..

May 30, 2011 12:57 pm


And many commentators believe that represents an opportunity for UK PLC

A lot of heavy industry uses huge ammounts of power. If we can offer lots of RELITIVLY cheap nuclear power we might find industry investent flowing our way. German Nuclear technologists may flow to UK in serch of gainfull employment

The politics in Germany are so anti nuclear, it is purely a political move.

May 30, 2011 1:42 pm

IXION, you say

‘I know I exagerate for the sake of making the point (can’t spell hyperbolie), but many of the comments on this site and the arguments about maritime power seem stuck in a time warp. And are obsessed about restoring the RN staus to some point in the past without ever asking if that is necessary for the UK defence, or even if it were, is it possible.’

Rather condescending. Also suggests the majority of world powers with interests in sea control are out of touch too.


‘If we listen to the usual suspects, unless we have 12 carriers and 200 frigates the nation, when three Iranians fart, will starve within 2 days and freeze to death within 3’

More condescending rubbish TD. If we can’t debate CVF or more pertinently some form of air power at sea without labelling every one in favour of it as some kind of bathtub admiral playing with his toy boats then I give up.

May 30, 2011 1:59 pm

“a significant contribution to energy security at home, should be in developing local capacity and capabilities, training and working in local security partnerships for example. This goes against the ‘strong navy’ mindset, based around CVF”

No logical connection between the two statements.

You can do all of the wonderful things described to boost resource security by the non-military means suggested………….. but doing so is by no means going against maritime/raiding expeditionary setup.

All it argues against is ANY kind of military response to resource security, which is to say land sea or air rather than any at all.

Naval-raiding is damned marvellous because it is an excellent method for projecting expeditionary military force, not because it has a sideline in protecting the import of sun-ripened tomatoes from the ME.

If you want to argue that resource-security would be better served by a placing a greater emphasis on non-military measures then fine, but please explain to me how this justifies axing carriers/phibs rather than brigades, because the parallel sounds faintly absurd from here!

It is accepted that Britain will remain an interventionist power, regardless of method.

It is accepted that we must maintain resource-security, and that non-military means rock.

The two are largely divorced except where there might be some complementarity.

However, the fact that there might be less complementarity than some lunatics claim between naval assets and resource-security does not negate that some does indeed exist, nor that naval-raiding is a very useful expeditionary posture.

This of course requires acceptance that limited funds mean we can no longer be a broad-spectrum Great Power, and thus a choice is necessary, but that is not something the capability-plus ‘doctrine’ has really accepted……..

May 30, 2011 2:03 pm

IMO it is all about the submarines.
The carriers will be very vulnerable against the best opponents, worried about against medium opponents, and most people will know roughly where they are.
Our subs are about as good as it gets, and very hard to find. Would Argentina risk an invasion fleet against our subs, would they risk their mainland infrastructure against TLAM?
Serious research cash should be put into sub launched remote vehicles- a disposable recce TLAM could be a useful emergency asset (and show of potential force), how about mission bays for remote small subs/RIBs that could take on patrol boats (and launch SAMs against MPA aircraft looking for the subs)??

May 30, 2011 2:31 pm

@ Chris M

Yes submarines are one of our strengths. We need to preserve the capability.

@ All

I don’t mind high end ESCORTS chasing pirates or drug runners; it is on the job training. Try to think of T23 or T45 in the India Ocean chasing pirates as being forward deployed. Ships have a utility factor lets use that to our advantage. Better than sat in Pompey or Guzz. We can’t afford two navies.

May 30, 2011 3:33 pm

TD – here here ! Well said sir – we dont agree on everything (anything ?) but we engage in debate.

Sharky’s “article” was copied from his personal blog to the PTT site – the PTT site does not allow commenting and Sharky (or his minions) have deleted my comments on the posting, not once, but twice !!

So bottom line, PTT I accuse you of being a troll, feck off !

May 30, 2011 3:40 pm

TD – you did indeed not suggest garrisoning Oman – I was extrapolating from your comments about “forward presence” or “forward basing” to make a point; obviously I did not do it very well.

So I will try again: for my entire full time RN career I was “forward based” mostly in Dubai, sometimes in Oman, occasionally in Fujairah (UAE)- it’s not new.

x – because you SHOUTED the word ESCORTS I will take the bait …… :-)

A modern warship, and the RN has evolved the classifications to the point were Destroyer = AAW focused and Frigate = ASW focused, and you flippin’ well know this, can act independently, can provide protection to a high value unit as part of a task group (which might fit a very loose definition of ‘escorting it’ ) or can provide a ‘close escort’ as a Sea Wolf armed ship acting as “goal keeper” for a CVS for example. The term ‘escort’ as applied to surface vessels was originated in WWII by the USN to describe small, cheap, and not very fast vessels which could escort convoys (the British Destroyer Escort or BFE of lend lease, which became the DDE in USN use).

I have escorted tankers through the Straits of Hormuz on a Leander and a T42 – it does not make the use the of the term ‘escort’ a suitable one to classify modern warships – so Yah boo sucks to you matey :-)

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 30, 2011 4:06 pm

I’ve been wondering… what if we take the idea of the leviathan and sysadmin and divide them amongst us and the US? Should we configure our forces for the protection and enforcement of International law, rules, freedom of movement etc., while the US gets to unleash a can of whoop ass when needed? For example the Royal Navy focuses on sea-control, asw escort, forward security presence, etc., leaving the large scale power projection to the USN/USMC? We may retain a mini-leviathan force to give our admin some teeth but essentially we and the US adopt mutually supportive strategies?

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
May 30, 2011 4:29 pm

How about an abbreviation instead?

TOPIPS. – Temporary Or Permanent Protection/Influence Ship.

(i was going to add my tuppence worth, but it’s been preempted, wish i could type faster)

May 30, 2011 4:55 pm


Iraq and Iran did shoot at each other tankers loaded with fuel already once. Yet it was in their interest not to. They also were dumb enough to drop mines and shoot on tankers with other flags other than theirs, and they had to be stopped and bombed by the US, losing men and ships in the process.
Was it stupid on their part? endlessly.
Did they do it all the same? Yes.

Other than optimism in the wisdom of men, which often ends up proving misplaced, what kind of guarantee do we have about that not happening again, maybe between different players, but certainly with more modern weaponry and with much more firepower than back then, since they have all beefed their force up?
If we have had a proof of something in the latest months, is that shit happens. Fast and unexpected.
We might also argue that the point in which the gulf states “take care of their interests” has long been passed. They are engaged in an arms race, mainly the block Saudi Arabia, Oman and UAE against Iran.

I’m also all in favor of exporting weapons to our “allies”, especially since yes, either we make money from it, or Russia and China do in our place. (And their anti-ship missiles and mines are scarier than ours by far, besides…) What i totally am not going to agree with is that we should do so while making our very own armed forces incapable to play the same game, because that is self-destruction.

If we train people abroad and sell them Patriots and simultaneously we re-role on Tucano with machine guns for air support and cheap, happy merchant ships with a 30 mm gun, we build the basis of the next disaster.
And with “we” i mean the whole of Europe, beware. It is not just a UK problem… even though in the UK it is getting very bad, very fast, at least looking from the outside.

There seems to be a crusade to chop capabilities off the armed forces in there.

As to “The reason I pick on CVF and JCA is because despite the sunk costs, it is still within our reach to snap out of and change direction” i can only comment that a strategic error does not fix another one, it just makes it worse. And leaving the fleet without expeditionary air power or without amphibs are simply the two worst strategic error than can be possibly made. Other than being a line of thought that clashes with what the rest of the world thinks.

Maybe they are all wrong… but generally, when on the street you see all other cars going the other direction and honking at you, you are the one going down the wrong lane.
Everyone wants REACH and expedionary capability, as generally during a trouble you need to bring capacity in from all three services, to hit from the air, from the sea, from under the sea and on land.
A navy of cheap sloops is great for presence and to hamper pirates and drug-smugglers, but can do little to none for all the other scenarios. And without carrier air power and amphibs, chances are that troops won’t go in either, and planes neither.

Remember the Falklands? Army said “without air cover, there’s no going”.
RAF said “we can’t do it”
Navy said “carriers sold, but still in the UK. We can still do it.”

That’s where the whole point is.

May 30, 2011 5:33 pm

Well said Gab.

TD, it isn’t the different opinion that rankles it is the constant sniping at people who believe in reach and expeditionary capability for the RN as though they have two heads and trying to turn the map pink again!

May 30, 2011 5:51 pm


How much real real ‘reach’ do you think we have/ can afford.

I have posted (and been lambasted for doing so) the coment before that even if we got Nellie and Dumbo with 36 F35’s each with 2 t45 and 3 or 4 t26 then when we got east of suez: –

How long could we keep them there?
How many sorte’s could we do?
How many missiles could they launch?
How long could the machinery stand the deployment?
To what strategic end would we be sending them?

We simply do not have the clout anymore to throw our weight arround in some areas of the world. The logistics alone would defeat us it would equal at least the effort involved in the Falklands.

I’ve been called condecending in another post, maybe I am; but some of the posters on this site REALY need to wake up and ‘smell the capital technological and educational flows’, as well as the coffee. We are not a world power anymore, and it does not matter how many times you say it to yourself, how many of your mates down the pub or on other blogs tell stories and slap one another on the back; The British Empire is over, no one gives a flying F*ck what we think.

We are not strong enough militarily; (nor are we likely to be for decades if not centuries) to be able travel the world playing gunboat diplomat to anyone with a real armed forces, wealth and mates at the UN.

So Iraq/Iran decide to have another crack at a war; (after all they have only been in a state of near constant warfare for 6000 years and I don’t suppose they will get over it any time soon). Or some other state there kicks off.


There are countries there stuffed with lots of the best kit money can buy, and people willing to die using it, and crucialy it’s their back yard.

If the ballon really goes up with a hot shooting war between the major player in the gulf we emphatically will not be able to deploy enough assets of any kind, Naval, Air or land, to be a major player and precisely what would we do when we got there? I suppose we could bomb all that lovely oil infrastructure we want protected…

May 30, 2011 6:03 pm


Had not read you post when I posted mine.

I am all for ‘reach and capability’ but remember this is the blog where someone came up with ‘Colonial Sloop’ as the serious name for a particular type of proposed warship….

Maybe does not apply to all but there are plenty out there with pink watercolours at the ready, dreaming of wearing snappy uniforms and sipping pink gin in the Raffles hotel…

And on a much more serious note failing to reallise the genuine weaknesses in our own strategic, and some tactical postions, and the lack of available cash to truly support our headline programs.

We got caught out in Iraq and in Afghan writing checks with our mouths we could not cash. That only cost us: –

A few hundred dead soldiers
At least 2 humiliating retreats.
The good millitary opinon of our most important Ally
Our world wide military reputaion for competency in anti insurgent warfare.
The good will of a big chunk of the UN (with some of whom we trade and it was in our direct interrests to stay on the right side of).

Sooner or later we are really going to get our arses handed to us.

May 30, 2011 6:19 pm

@ Jed


I will let you off only because you had to endure sea time in a 42. ;-)

May 30, 2011 6:33 pm

Out of interest if we sunk £6 billion into Type 26 instead of carriers, and had ended up with 20 frigates (which would obviously resulted in us selling off existing frigates), how much would the 54% increase in frigate numbers really help British defence needs? This may sound like a stupid question, but it is more about what value is the alternatives to CVF when the choices are 2 carriers and 6 T45 and 13 T26 or no carriers but a fleet of 6 T45 and 20 T26’s (because we know that if we turned the CVF’s into frigates there would be no future frigate purchase)? Also bear in mind that we will still spend at least another £6 billion on fast jets regardless of having the CVF’s as the RAF want a Tornado replacement. It seems to me that despite the piss poor planning by the MoD and the political interference the carriers are a reasonable capability for us to possess.

Personally not especially pro-carrier, and had we gone with a STOL carrier then the RAF’s desire for a new fighter in the shape of the F-35B would have worked for the betterment of the RN and our defence interests, with the change to Cat and Trap IMO a big mistake. Saying that I am not sure that funnelling the work into frigates would have paid off for the RN either (especially as at the point in the SDSR where they could have cancelled one or both carriers and then worked with carrier alliance for new frigates to fill their work books as per the “unbreakable” contract, all that they had worked up was something along the lines of the Omani corvette’s).

John Hartley
John Hartley
May 30, 2011 6:36 pm

Crikey, not on the site for a couple of days while doing an assignment & look at all these posts.
TD, Good article on food/energy security ruined by anti CVF rant. I know you deny it, but have you read your own article?
Methane recovery from cattle farms/composting schemes/sewage works, could easily supply 15% of our gas needs. Even the coalition knows that. Whether they will turn words into action though…..
Fukushima was a 1970 nuclear station that should have been shut years ago. All the newer Japanese nuclear stations survived. So a couple of advanced PWRs for now , followed by High Temp Gas Reactors(mixed Uranium/Thorium fuel) & ALMR fast reactors to “eat” nuclear waste while generating electricity. Shame we are not going back to the Moon, as Helium 3 mined from there might make fusion reactors viable.
Based on a set up with a sugar beet processing plant, I wonder if a clean coal power station, could have its CO2 & waste warm water piped into huge industrial greenhouses. Plants thrive on CO2 & turn it back into oxygen. No need to import fruit & salad crops.
Oh & a little bit of aid for Britain i.e. the cheap scheme to bring water from Kielder reservoir South by using existing rivers & canals. Could be used to irrigate crops in Lincolnshire.

May 30, 2011 6:36 pm


the world still listen a lot to the british even if the “empire is over”.
But soon enough no one will listen to the UK for real if you continue to drive them away and cry over the lost empire and your inability to do anything.

Italy never had a real empire, nor it is as internationally active and respected and engaged as the UK, yet it pursues the capability to act at long range, investing in amphibs and the aircraft carrier Cavour, if only to hang from the tail of the top league of international powers and to have a voice in NATO.

As to more technical demands, exercises such as Cougar, and regular deployments east of suez, in the gulf, and all the way down to the Falklands speak by themselves about the reach the UK stills has. As to the carrier, a CVF fully loaded will deliver 396 strike sorties, each with employment of ordnance (at least two bombs per plane) before needing to take on board aviation fuel and weapons. Which is more than the strikes delivered so far over Libya since Ellamy started. (a lot of mission flown, but we are still south of 300 weapons effectively fired)

Even now, the reach of the UK is such that, was it necessary, it could land the Royal Marines into Libya tomorrow morning even if the landing was opposed. And could do it further away. The reach is there, and is unmatched by any, other than the US, at the moment.

I hate this “we are doomed” and “the empire is long gone” mentality. Crying does not conclude anything.
Either the UK drops out of international affairs, and then the armed forces cease to matter at all, or does things.

And since i see people horrified of the idea of “European Army”, claiming indipendence while crying that the Uk can only do something as part of a coalition and should just stop caring, the option that remains at that point is:

Ask the US to become the 51th state.

Or stop crying out meaningless moans about lost empires. Arguing the need for armed forces properly kitten for today’s needs has nothing at all to share with the empire.

If anything, carriers were somehow less indispensable back when the empire existed and the RAF had planes and airbases everywhere from Aden to Palestine to Japan.

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
May 30, 2011 6:38 pm

‘Give a military man a problem and he will give you a military solution’, or words to that effect.

I think Grey made a very valid point in his point on energy security, the main priority is self sufficiency or at least an EU joint effort. If we spend our billions in tax on alternative fuel production, rather than on advanced weaponry then that in itself forces a reduction in the risk for conflict as it takes the oil producing nation out of the equation. Excuse me a moment while I hug a tree. The US Navy has recently flown an F-18 on 50/50 bio-fuel and fuels from algae looks promising, although I’m sure someone will post a comment of the down sides of this.

Phil Darley
May 30, 2011 6:43 pm

All this criticism if the T45 being a AAW “one trick pony” really winds mr up. At the start if the T45 the various websites and articles that were around at the time were full of talk that they were designed to be multirole! There was much talk about a wide range of weapons including land attack weapons. What the fcuk happened?

Why did they end up with only 48 silos and in one location? Surely they should have had two sets of 64 or even 96 silos that could be used for paams or tlam/scalp-n, not to mention anti-ship missiles and ciws and inner-layer defence missiles. Surely the existing 48 silos could be increased to 64/96 and what about the gap between the two radar masts! Loads of room for extra missiles there. I would like ti see a 30mm ciws (goalkeeper) in front if the bridge and on the helicopter hanger, in addition to the
Two on the sides. All four fitted with at least 7LMMs. I would swap the aster 15s for quad CAMM when available.

That would give the Navy one hell if a ship. And more than 6 should be built to realise the full investment of the type. Even if that means a lower spec (nonSampson) version!

May 30, 2011 6:50 pm

For some reason, the silos fitted were the smaller type and unable to fit SS/Scalp N.

May 30, 2011 7:05 pm


There is a positive element to this.

We can deploy our forces and our cash to a lot more use FOR OUR DEFENCE.

Forward based Forward presence opperations – patrol ships/ squadrons/millitary assistance, coupled with good intelligence gathering.

Ships designed to deal with everything from: –
Eratically crewed coasters
through piracy
drug smuggling
and on up to mumbai style attacks,
as well as Mine warfare,
Able to supply deployment for groups of underwater knife fighter,
lebanon /Libya style get our people home opperations
Support UK trade and deplomacy

All done by ships we can afford to put up in enough numbers to have a permanant presence in these areas.

To ask a stalinist question how many battalions of armour and large scale naval task groups can Italy deploy outside the Med? When is it getting it’s big fixed wing carrier?

It also does not mea that we do not keep a high end fleet for some real fighting. But it does come with a recognition that our existence better be on the line before we start.

May 30, 2011 7:11 pm

Ixion – I don’t think all of us who comment here long for a return to empire ! I have constantly tried to lay the strategic “blame” at the door of successive HMG’s of all parties who can’t give up the “world power” crap. I would be happy with no seat on UNSC, a well equipped coast guard, a big TA just in case, and enough Typhoon for QRA – but apparently non of our politicians would be happy with this, and to the point of TD’s article, such reduced (realistic ?) armed forces would be able to accomplish very little in the way of energy, food or other security.

The world is what the world is, and withdrawing within our island is not an optimal solution.

x – ROFL’d at the one ! 3D mess on a 42 is way, way preferable to the JR’s mess on an Hunt class :-)

May 30, 2011 7:14 pm

Gabby said “i can only comment that a strategic error does not fix another one, it just makes it worse. And leaving the fleet without expeditionary air power or without amphibs are simply the two worst strategic error than can be possibly made. Other than being a line of thought that clashes with what the rest of the world thinks. ”

Well said that man. I was a bit naughty recently when I said here the RAF with two wars on the go only had 30 planes dropping ordnance. (10 Tornadoes in A-stan, 10 Tornadoes above Libya, and 10 Eurofighter too.) I was being deliberately provocative because I was getting a bit tired of all the “fantasy carrier air group of 36 JSF” talk I was seeing about the web. Even if CVF did go to see with just 12 F35 it would be as third as much offensive air power as a whole RAF is deploying now. Gabby is right. Mistakes in the past are no excuse for not making correct decisions now. TD is right in that the international arena is complex with many diverse actors with many agendas. And he is right in that many relationships between these actors are ones of either co-operation or inter-dependency. Any mechanism that allows a state some independence of action is worth having.

Look at the situation in Libya; I am not interested in the rights or wrongs of intervention. For our experiment we will believe that HMG is sincere in its intervention.

If France wasn’t leading the charge where would leave that UK? We couldn’t do much at all.

What if Italy wasn’t onboard? What about the costs flying from Southern France? Remember the Italians (apart from Genghis Gabby!) weren’t too keen at the start of play. Remember the restrictions placed on ops’ during the Balkans operations….

Don’t forget that Cyprus don’t want offensive operations launched from the SBAs. Don’t want to upset their neighbours to the north.

What if the Italians got a bit touchy about UN1973? The French have really been pushing the interpretation of UN1973, but they aren’t hindered by host nation difficulties are they? Why? Because they are flying from their carrier.

May 30, 2011 7:22 pm


I am not sure as envisaged our current future set up buys any more capability over and above Td’s proposals which offer many things the current set up does not.

May 30, 2011 7:27 pm

If the Italians hadn’t been on board we wouldn’t even be attempting it and I think the french wouldn’t have bothered either. They seemed pretty keen to get us onboard.

I don’t think the Cyprus gov in itself is much of an issue, the protest was noted and duely ignored.

May 30, 2011 7:54 pm

Topman said “For some reason, the silos fitted were the smaller type and unable to fit SS/Scalp N.”

Don’t go there! :)

I am collecting theories on this one,

1) It is because Their Lordships wanted to save as much as they can for CVF.

2) The bod responsible for deep strike at the MoD wears a light blue suit; they have lots of StormShadows don’t you know.

3) BAE designed the ship, so a major cock-up is to be expected.

4) Any combination of the above. :)


Think about it this way how many crises do we have on the go at any time. Normally about one. So if all we have is one well equipped mini-CBG to go does it matter? Even if there were two we could only do one……

As for replenishment well again this is matter of choices made by HMG. The FSTA cost per annum would buy 2 fleet tankers each year, cover the cost of operating them for a year, and would go a good way to filling them with fuel.

May 30, 2011 7:56 pm

Topman unless things have changed the UK only use the Cyprus fields for support flights not offensive ops.

As I said I was using it as an example. I didn’t want to discuss the particulars of the situation.

May 30, 2011 7:59 pm

You’ve missed one, err we forgot to ask for the right one ;)
I’m thinking chinook type contracts here.

May 30, 2011 8:00 pm

@ x

Fair enough.

May 30, 2011 8:01 pm

@ Topman


paul g
May 30, 2011 8:03 pm

hartley, mate if you’ve got a clean driving licence, might be a job going for you in westminister!!!

May 30, 2011 8:06 pm

It is getting a bit like Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch: Amongst the many reasons why T45 doesn’t have SCALP…….

John Hartley
John Hartley
May 30, 2011 8:16 pm

Paul G
thanks, I probably made sense as I was not ranting about defence for once. Won’t let it happen again.

May 30, 2011 8:31 pm


Sorry, I don’t understand. At 5.51 your posting that the empire is over no one gives a flying …., you also asking if the gulf melts down “so what ?”.

The at 7.05pm you state:

“Forward based Forward presence opperations – patrol ships/ squadrons/millitary assistance, coupled with good intelligence gathering.”

But if no one gives frak for the empire, and you (we) don’t care what happens in the gulf (for example) then why do we need forward based presence ?

As to your last comment: “I am not sure as envisaged our current future set up buys any more capability over and above Td’s proposals which offer many things the current set up does not.”

Which proposals ? The 4000 tonne C3 based on a civvy OSV ?? I totally agree with it, but it no more needs to be ‘forward based’ than any other ship, if we fund the RFA properly.

I am confused – sorry….. :-(

May 30, 2011 8:45 pm

Type 45 has space to got up from 48 to 64 cells, and fit either Sylver A70 or MK41 Strike Lenght cells.
Currently it is fitted with the A50 (5 meters deep) while Sylver A70 and Mk41 Strike Lenght is 7 meters.

Please note that A70 came late and was not available when decisions were made. The Royal Navy did indeed want to put Tomahawk into the destroyers, but they were on the Sylver/Aster boat.
Either trying to integrate Aster into MK41 launch cells (COST, both economical and political), or fit two different type of cells (Sylver + MK41) (COST and commonality/logistics issues).

Later Sylver A70 came online, and now is proven and available.
But either we add a whole new, more expensive and less capable cruise missile (Scalp Navale, 950 million euro for 300 missiles, the french are MAD) or we finance integration of Tomahawk into the Sylver A70.

All these options require bloody money. And that simply isn’t there.

There might be advantages, perhaps. But only if: :

A – the government scraps the carriers, kills the UK’s shipbuilding once and for all, makes Scotland angry enough to start a “war” for breaking away from the Uk for real, loses billions for nothing like with Nimrod AND THEN buys ships for the navy, busting other money. Can you see it happening?
I’d laugh if it wasn’t an apocalypse scenario.

B – Forward Basing, training and aid money begin to work. Because so far, it does not, no matter how good the concept sounds.

C – there is no such thing as “good intelligence”, but there’s intelligence effort. At times it gets things right, at times it screws epically, and it will always do, no matter how much funding it gets, because as someone very effectively put it:

“the intelligence personnel tries to understand what’s going on in people’s minds, and that very same people themselves often do not know what they are thinking and planning.”

D – wonder what the intelligence alone will do, without military might to intervene where the intelligence calls for it. Underwater knifefighters, the say it the funny way, are awesome but they are no gods, and can’t do things alone.
That’s in the movies.

As to the cheap, merry everything-doing ship, that is the planned MCM, Hydrographic Patrol Capability for replacing Hunt and Sandown. The old C3, as many still call it.

But a navy of sole C3s won’t go so far.

And ultimately, the main question: would the navy pay to put in the water all these ships (how many?) and crews, and foot the bill?

May 30, 2011 8:49 pm


Probably my fault trying to work and pontificate at the same time.

I am not against the application of force to achieve UK aims provided we are clear about what we are doing/trying to do.

The real threats against UK are currently by and large, non state actors external terror and failed and rouge states that have weak millitaries internal terror, and organised crime.
Many of these have strong connections/ interests abroad etc.

The more intellegence we can get from abroad the better. Likewise If we can ve seen as positive force offering non interventionist help to friendly peoples with Coast guard security, disaster relief, etc we will strike at the roots of the problems.

Likewise these bases would be just that bases from which outfits like the british council can openly push british interest / Oxfam etc can operate safely and bee seen to do so. Libya stile rescue missions can be based etc.

Forward basing is about building for the future economic cooperations of equals rather than trying to push people arround on the basis we are world power and have the right to stick our nose in where we choose.

May 30, 2011 8:57 pm

@ Gabby

Yes. Like I said Their Lordships didn’t want to spend money; I was going the other way though Aster into Mk41.

Amongst the many weapons T45 cannot fire….. :)

Gabby do you know who Monty Python are?

May 30, 2011 9:19 pm


In November 2004, the then First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West told a Parliamentary Defence Select Committee hearing that he would still have liked to see the Type 45’s fitted with a cruise missile capability but conceded there was no money available in the equipment budget for a Tactical Tomahawk type of weapon. “There is no money; it will have to fight its way and see where it gets.” He said.

Not so much they didn’t want, but they could not. Where would they pull the money out of…? Note that CVF was ordered only in 2008. Even wanting to, back then they could not “bite” into CVF money or make delays to pay for something else. Trying to say that CVF killed the cruise missile capability of the Type 45 is absurd.

And I fear i don’t know Monty Python, X, sorry. I’ll make a search. Google is everyone’s friend, after all.

May 30, 2011 9:20 pm

Phew! As soon as I read these comments I find myself four or five comments behind so I’ll hold my nose and just jump in.

On the subject of escorts could we not just call them, you know, escorts? Like most of us do anyway?

If not then I suggest;

Klippers for

Training &


Anyway. On the subject of Navies and command of the sea and empires and all that;

— Carriers do whatever the aircraft on them do. If they’re loaded with strike aircraft then they offer you strike capability. If loaded with helicopters then they launch assaults and hunt subs. If loaded with fighters that can carry ASuW missiles then they can effect sea control.

The carrier itself does nothing. It’s a ship with a hangar and a flight deck. It’s what you put on it that defines its role.

— Ahh the colonial days! Remember Napoleon? Yes we beat him (twice), but largely because he was fighting on two fronts (twice). Even in those days we used allies to our advantage.

In fact our history is repleat with examples of partnerships, sometimes with single nations and sometimes with groups. It’s generally referred to as “the way the world works”.

The question becomes then;

a) who brings the most to the party and thus gets to make the decisions?
b) What you bring to the table decides who you can make alliances with.

We ally with the US, as does almost anybody, because they bring lots to the table. To lead/form an alliance, you have to have something to offer the other side, therefore the mere concept of “fleets in being”, be they fleets of ships, planes or tanks have a value.

— The people that say we can’t influence world events need a kick up the arse. We and the French are doing just that in Libya. Not particularly well I’ll grant you, but we are currently exercising the power to alter the future course of a nations history, its government etc.

We intervened in Sierra Leone. It’s not a major thing, but we did it none the less. People must remember that there is a difference between having the ability to influence events and taking a cack handed approach to it.

Just because you did something badly once doesn’t mean you lack the capability to ever do it.

— Aid money, forward deployment of forces, all that touchy, feely influence stuff does indeed work.

Without it, can you imagine countries like Saudi Arabia allowing the US to use its soil to launch air attacks on a fellow muslim nation?

Would other nations in the region have let us use their airfields as bases for Gulf 1 and 2?

Would Pakistan otherwise allow us overflight rights to get into Afghan?

Soft power works and has proven itself. You just have to do it properly.

May 30, 2011 9:23 pm


Dont recognise the apocolyptic scenario.

For one thing of wwe think of CS as supersized Rig supply vessel, well about the only thing we still build commercially is ig supply vessels.

We can build as many as we can afford….

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 30, 2011 9:24 pm

Ixion said:”Forward based Forward presence opperations – patrol ships/ squadrons/millitary assistance, coupled with good intelligence gathering.

Ships designed to deal with everything from: –
Eratically crewed coasters
through piracy
drug smuggling
and on up to mumbai style attacks,
as well as Mine warfare,
Able to supply deployment for groups of underwater knife fighter,
lebanon /Libya style get our people home opperations
Support UK trade and deplomacy

All done by ships we can afford to put up in enough numbers to have a permanant presence in these areas.”

I was reminded of an idea I had for a true sea control RN; take the tonnage from the CVF’s and combine with the command and control of the proposed C1, and you get 9-12 CVS similar to the Italian Garibaldi class. 4-6 could be enhanced to be Task group command ships, 4-6 could carry ASAC and full Harrier AV-8B squadrons for air-defence, etc. Individually each ship is not as potentially powerful as a CVF but you get up to six for one meaning they can up to six places rather than one and they can be grouped together for mutual support. Combine with the 6 T-45’s and you have the nucleus of six very flexible Task groups.

May 30, 2011 9:39 pm

Unfortunately Cavour costed 1.5 billion euro, and got just a fraction of her Command and Control suite fitted, is only fitted-for-but-not-with 76 mm guns, and was the F35B to fail there will be nothing to fly off her.
And it takes 451 men to run it (sole-ship crew, without air group and without anything else, which gives you a scale of CVF’s good design as it only takes 690 men despite being so much bigger), so believe me you can’t build a fleet out of that.

May 30, 2011 9:41 pm

@ Gabby

Glad somebody has got a hold on the time line.

@ Chris B said “The carrier itself does nothing.”

Remember what I said about the relationship between the frigate and the helicopter? Well the same goes for the carrier and her air group. Without the carrier the air-group can’t go anywhere. Using the sea (a global common) avoids inconvenient problems like host nation problems, closed air space etc. It is ops on the carrier that controls the “air war.” etc. etc.

May 30, 2011 9:50 pm

The carrier is shaped by her airgroup of course, but the ship in turn shapes what can and cannot fly from it, and particularly in terms of jets, it is decisive, as what you can do will depend on:

-Catapults or STOVL/STOBAR
-deck design, parking space, provvision of lifts to move aircrafts and stores up and down. A wrong deck design ruins a carrier performance.
-internal arrangements. How much fuel does it carry? How many weapons? How is the workshop space? How tall/big is the hangar? you need to fold helicopters to bring them down and fit them in, can you keep them open…?

In CVF’s hangar, to give an idea, you can park Chinooks (notoriously do not have folding blades) and even UNFOLDED MV-22 Ospreys. The hangar is high and wide enough that the F35 can be stored and serviced in all parts of the hangar.
And the lift is big enough to move two F35s at a time, or a chinook.

On Ocean/Invincibles etc, Chinook must stay on deck, unless you want to remove the rotor blades each time you have to put it on the elevator.
On CVF this will not be the case.

And so along.

May 30, 2011 9:59 pm

I don’t think I was being clear enough.

What I meant was when people say “Carriers are a sea control asset” etc, the Carrier doesn’t intrinsicly do anything other than sail around.

A carrier with nothing but 30 Chinooks on board is not a sea control asset. It’s a very large LPH.

Perhaps a better explanation would be that the aircraft carried determine the role of the Carrier.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 30, 2011 10:10 pm

@ Gabriele – I was suggesting something like a modern Garibaldi, not a Cavour.

May 30, 2011 10:14 pm

@ Chris B re sail round

But, but manoeuvre is the primary weapon of all military formations. :)

RN mantra: float, move, fight.

May 30, 2011 10:25 pm

@ x

You’re arguments grow weak old man! Soon you will feel the power of the Super Strategic Regional Bomber!


May 30, 2011 10:39 pm

Oh dear! The B in Chris B really does stand for Biggles. :) ;)

May 30, 2011 10:44 pm

@ Admin – “Why is it whenever I make the odd joke in a largely serious article I get picked up for being hysterical, for fcuks sake fellas, the bit about Iranians farting was just a joke”

Apologies admin, i am sometimes accused of lacking a sense of humour, with good cause it would appear.

May 30, 2011 11:51 pm

I liked the bit about the Iranians farting.

I see where TD is coming from in that regard. There is a tendency for people to over inflate various weaknesses in order to justify certain strengths.

What makes that all the more odd is that often they’re trying to promote something that would promote itself if they just left it alone and put the Hyperbole back in the box, like Carriers for example.

May 31, 2011 8:28 am

You try going against an enemy with an air force, even one with nothing special, just like Argentina’s own was back in 1982. Do it without air cover, and then tell me how it ends.

Then you’ll have seen why you need carrier air.

You need to tell me how you will go anywhere without sea mobility. Are you going to start deploying soldiers and vehicles 3 years before the start of an operation in order to move them in by air with 22 A400M, chartered flights and 7 C17?

About carrier wing. The carrier wing will be available if it is made available. It probably won’t because you don’t want it to be available, but giving the planes to the RAF so it can make them land-based assets and remember about the flat top only at the next Libya event. Stupidity is not a justification.

As to the RFA being unable to sustain CVF in a mission, sorry, but i don’t see it this way. Fort Victoria and Wave Ruler would be enough to keep the carrier and its stike wing going for at least two cycles. At sail, the carrier is equipped for one cycle, which is a full amount of 396 strike sorties, which can be flown in 5 days (don’t think it’ll ever happen, it is a very, very extreme war scenario if you need all those strikes in so little time, it is a Korea-style sortie rate), or over a month or more.
There’s at least 1200 strike sorties you can sustain.
As to escorts, again, i don’t see the problem. How many escorts do you think you want to give the carrier? 300?
If the carrier is heading into a high threat environment, inexorably that will mean we are talking about the nations’s “big thing” of the moment, and most of the armed forces will be involved.
2 Type 45 and a couple of frigates plus an Astute SSN scouting ahead are more than enough escort. Does this mean that the standing tasks of the navy won’t be met? Yes, it does, but this is normal when there’s a war going on.

I might ask you if the UK is able to sustain the same kind of operation from foreign land bases in “high-risk” scenario. As it, a scenario in which the enemy fires back, attempts to destroy the base, and chases the convoys of trucks driving from Marham across Europe down to Gioia del Colle, for example.
I suspect the answer is no. With Rapier having a ceiling of 5000 meters, unless someone provides a decent SAM coverage, there’s no way it can work.

And i’m not asking for 10% of GDP to go on defence, as 2.5% would be more than enough to met Force 2020, and we can’t be fooled into believing this can’t be done. It could be done right now if there was the will to. The UK has lived for years with a 3% + of GDP going on defence, without any catastrophic failure of any of the other government departments.

May 31, 2011 9:27 am

@ Gabrielle.

To be fair to TD he didn’t talk about not moving things by sea (sea mobility), rather questioned how essential carrier based airpower is to that movement.

Take the Iraq war (both). Most of our kit was moved by sea, but it had no need for carrier based air escort.

May 31, 2011 11:30 am

This “Strike Role” thingy is a ridiculous argument, men. The aircraft like F35 can strike with a hand and defend with the other, depending on what mission is at hand and what weapon they are carrying. The “STRIKE” was added to the carrier by the Navy, as it was the only way to make the government happy, and because the universal truth is that in any war, there will be far more surface targets to STRIKE than air targets to DOWN.
May i remind everyone that the Navy had Sea Harriers which made for a wonderful Sea Control and Fleet Defence asset at sea, but that it was killed because the thing of the moment were strike missions?

Let’s not fool ourselves. Had the Navy said “we want jet fighters to protect ships at sea” their request would have been ignored.

This does not mean that CVF cannot control the sea. Words do not a carrier make.

As to operation Corporate, numbers do not answer to all needs.
Fearless and Intrepid can hold a candle to Albion and Bulwark. And the hold Sir ships are boats with a ramp compared with the Bay class LSD(A), and STUFT vessels could still be called in. There’s still many ships in the merchant navy. The only thing i can agree upon is that RFA needs ships. Soon. It has withered away too much. But this is not a reason to cry and throw away all the rest too.

“Type 45, allies and political realism trumps fantasy scenarios and harking back to the glory days, sorry”

This just does not feel right. Especially when you then talk about “medium bombers” and missions abroad. You are trying to argue for a Britain that acts as a world power and is present everywhere while going to war without the most essential toolkits.

It just can’t work, TD. It might have sense if you begin your reviews with:

“Ok, we are not interested in being a world player anymore. We will focus on our isolationism.”

And at that point, though, you will perhaps realize that you’ll still end up wanting ships, and not soldiers. A big army on an island is kind of useless.

May 31, 2011 12:19 pm

If Gabs living in the past TD, you might want to contact the MoD & NSC and get them to change the SDSR so the UK no longer requires the tools for expeditionary warfare.

paul g
May 31, 2011 12:33 pm

Interestingly (also moving away from potential fisticuffs) oxfam has said food prices will rise by 20% in the next few years, watch the man on the street stop shruging his/her shoulders and get vocal when eating becomes an expensive hobby. electric cars will charging somehow (good luck on that germany).
basically no matter who is saying what on here it’s gonna get messy real soon!!!

May 31, 2011 12:58 pm

So what kind of carrier air cover do you think the UK needs TD?

May 31, 2011 2:38 pm

you assume that just because I want a change of emphasis and a re adjustment of budgets I want to scrap everything and become the armed revolutionary wing of OXFAM.

An Oxfam-driven foreign policy would be incredibly expeditionary – you can’t fight famine by just sitting at home, after all. I’d imagine lots and lots of RFAs, LHDs, LHAs, C-17s, C-130s, that kind of thing; you’d want the ability to turn up quickly offshore anywhere in the world and start unloading kilotonnes of food and medical supplies. In containers, naturally…

May 31, 2011 3:03 pm

TD, i might be stuck in the past, but you are stuck in a depressing future. It might not appear like that, but now the world is largely shaped by what the US and the UK say and do.
There is definitely no guarantee that a world shaped by someone else would be better and more welcoming. Quite the opposite, i fear.

But at least now i know we talk about two very different Britains, and this explains a lot of our differences. Not all, but a good part.

May 31, 2011 3:56 pm


‘the world is largely shaped by what the US and the UK say and do’.

Not the world I live in, The US maybe, just, in certain areas, But UK no, not since Suez.


Exactly why, My (and I suppose) TD’s, future is far from non intervention driven. But on a more as an invited guest rather than as a trespasser.

May 31, 2011 4:15 pm

It makes no sense. Who the hell would “invite” as guest troops from another country?
And when/if they ever did, you’d go with civilian ships and use a port, not storm a beach. That IS NOT power projection, nor is it a work for the armed forces.
I do not think you have very clear ideas.

May 31, 2011 4:26 pm

TD & Ixions world seems to revolve around a lot of soft power, which of course it should. But soft power is no power if not backed by hard power.

I’d also refute the allegation anyone promoting ‘strategic raiding’ is an imperial wannabe interventionist.

May 31, 2011 4:53 pm

“I’d also refute the allegation anyone promoting ‘strategic raiding’ is an imperial wannabe interventionist.”

I should think not too!

May 31, 2011 4:56 pm


Where I part company from TD (perhaps) Is I still see a need for that but you have to be very carefull about what you mean by ‘strategic raiding’

We wiull stoill need to be ‘Hard’ where we can, and shoudl be hard as nails. What we have to do is stoip trying to look hard when we aint.

When all we are is a ‘Fur coat and no knickers bully’ wannabe.

May 31, 2011 5:00 pm


We got invited to save Kuwait,

we got invited (and much Kudoss), from saving Siera leon.

We got invited to do the Armila patrol.

We are currently invited to take part in anti priracy operations in western Indian Ocean.

We are invited to take part in anti drug smugling in Caribean.

We are invited into Bruni.

All succesfull opperations

We weren’t invited to gulf too or Afgahn ……

May 31, 2011 5:48 pm

Ixion, 3 of those tasks are Standing Navy Tasks, one is a British Garrison in Brunei that acts as Far East Ready Infantry Battalion reserve and only Kuwait was a (big) coalition ops that involved lots of hard military power, both on land and in the air and on the sea. Ships were sunk, missiles were shot at the UK ships, and Gloucester downed them.

Armilla patrol is not done on “invitation”, nor is anti-piracy patrols. They are done because it is interest of the UK. Armilla patrol births from that very one 1980 tanker war between Iraq and Iran that i mentioned earlier and that was played down, indeed.

Sierra Leone was a quite sizeable intervention with lots of ships involved, Harriers and Sea harriers, the SAS and 1 PARA, RFA Fort George, Chatham, Argyll, Ocean, Illustrious and all that, but there was no “invite”. It began as a non-combatant but definitely military extraction of british civilians from a country in chaos and culminated in a very military special operation that cost the life of a british soldier (Barrass).

Kuwait, according to the earlier assumptions that have been made here, is a mission in which “the UK did not made any difference” and that “the US could have done on their own” and all that.

Now you bring it out as example? You end up in contradiction with your own points.

If these are the examples of what you plan to do, you’ll need frigates, soldiers, amphibs, carrier air, fighter jets and tanks.
The same things that you’ve been playing down all the time.

See now why i say that certain strategic thinking is deeply flawed?

May 31, 2011 6:30 pm

Sorry Gabriele, but you’re wrong; Sierra Leone was done with the consent of the SL government, therefore it counts as an “invited” operation.