TYPE 27 – One tier, evolvable and affordable
A guest post from McZ
Since roughly ten years, the RN is struggling to bring up a viable plan to replace the current T22 and T23 classes of surface combatants. Four different projects fielding three workgroups were formed, and while they delivered on analyzing the strategic environment, they failed to translate into actual acquisition. Instead, FSC and predecessors fit well into the wider picture of the emerging funding gap.
To understand the funding gap, we need to know it’s driving mechanism. Armed forces in general, but air arms and navies in particular, have very long planning circles. The US Navy reflects this by their 30 years shipbuilding plan. This means, equipment replacement is planned to fall somewhere in a certain timeframe of a recurring 30-years cycle.
The funding gap is simply the quantity of maligned, delayed or outright-cancelled-but-reinstated requirements, measured in money. The strength of the fleet is the same quantity measured in numbers and quality of equipment. There seem to be three phases: for the first 10 years, the gap be handled with extending service life of equipment, the next 5 years will see lowering numbers, followed after another 5 years by an outright earthquake shaking the whole organization.
This is were we are now.
My proposal to fix it is radical, so please fasten your seatbelts.
BUDGET MAGIC AKA THE GAP
The current RN-plan for the next two decades looks as follows:
- MHPC is a replacement for MIW, survey and patrol vessels
- Type 26 is due to deliver 8 ASW-frigates and 5 GP-frigates to replace T23
- MARS is a plan to replace the logistics force
Bottom line, it is presumed to deliver 8-10 MHPC vessels, 13 T26 frigates, and an unkown, but ever decreasing number of logistics vessels, last count was 5. Costs are yet unknown, but there are rumours that MHPC is a £1.4b programme, that each T26 will cost at least £0.3b and MARS as a whole is tagged £0.8b. This means: 28 vessels spread over five tiers of capability for £6.1b! The thing is: neither is it believable, that BAE can or wants to deliver a major war vessel at £300m each, nor is MARS sealed, nor is anything known about MHPC. My conclusion is: better calc with £8b, or even £9b.
This plan collides with the simple and brutal reality, that we have already overspent the shipbuilding budget. If we count T45, Astute, amphibs, CVF and Vanguard-replacement together, we come to roughly £28.5b. According to NAO-numbers, the 30-years shipbuilding budget is £29.7b (((38b budget – 17% equipment) – 8% cuts) / 3 arms / 2 half of what is sustained shipbuilding = 29,716).
TDs SIMSS concept in this regards is quite right when it points out: we cannot proceed building high-end vessels only. This opens the question, if ANY high-end vessels are affordable and needed.
One notable observation is how high unit prices push the funding gap farther.
Let’s assume that we have relatively constant annular expenditure, but with variing portions for the surface fleet. Then we basically we have three cases:
(a) The SC-budget is on the high point
(b) The SC-budget is on the low-point
(c) something inbetween
When looking @(a), we can assume a 500m vessel would be affordable at this point, as there are £600m in the pot. We would still have to ask, if one vessel is better than two or three, but as long as we are here and we take no spending hollidays, anything’s OK. If we look at (c), we will see a delay, a drop in numbers or a cancellation, because we only have £400m to spend in this year. Still we would get a £200m-light frigate in time and budget, in fact two. Then we finally drop to (b), with only £200m available. The hi-end vessel gets built when Easter and Christmas falls together. Still, we could get a light frigate, and if only in a blank patrol config.
Conclusion: the current program is not hardened against fluctuations in the budget. If they are not hardened, they get messed up and widen the funding gap.
Using a (up to) £200m-vessel, we could adapt very well to any situation. In good and medium years, the balance moves directly to the equipment budget. In poor years, we get a vessel without bells and whistles, but certainly no delay, and therefore no drop in numbers.
Change is required, but the truth is that the MoD lacks the expertise.
The simple fact, that people at TD are constantly making better and more mature yet cheaper proposals and that the guys at ShipBucket do constantly design vessels from existing parts without taking £127m for it, is a thing that I scratched my head since years.
So, how do we fix it?
When I talked to a mission planner of the USAF, he showed me some little piece of software. It was basically some sort of mission planner, which allowed him to provide his fighter jet’s with equipment according to mission, define how many extra fuel he needed a.s.o. The software could work on a cell phone or a tablet computer. A 8-year-old kid could arm that fighter with a week training.
If we look at other sectors, we can make an interesting observation: faced with deficiencies, most of the companies invest in tooling.
These influxes made me think. What if we give the MoD-staff the tools needed to develop a low-threshold basic understanding and skillset for designing and outfitting warships? What is required to make it work?
From the start, it was clear, that any freedom of action needs it’s limitations, because achieving economies of scale were one point that I wanted to incorporate. Clearly having the whole outfit of a vessel being subject to customization is contradicting this goal.
I solved this by defining a set of ‘irreducables’, a common set of equipment which allows even a ‘blank sheet’ to act as a patrol vessel. This equipment can be procured in large batches. Together with other functional requirements I incorparted them into a first outline:
(1) A shallow draught of max. 15ft; this opens around 1,000 harbours around the world to this day unaccessible to our vessels
(2) A blue-water capability up to SS7
(3) A basic kit of ARTISAN, a hull-mounted sonar, ECM system, a main gun (minimum Oto Melara 76), two smaller gunmounts, basic AD (Starstreak or CAMM), decoys and torpedo defence, electro-optical sensors
(4) One helo (as they will be in short supply) and one or two VTOL-UAVs
(5) Electric propulsion
(6) Range of 7k nm @ 15kn,
(7) Capability to store some ISO 20ft containers
(8) Cost below £200m, better under £150m
This vessel is the so called baseline-variant.
The rest of the kit would be tailored to mission and could be modularized. First, I thought about containers, but while this is a valid approach to add below-deck facilities, it’s rather complicated to modularize weapons this way. It would also have made it harder to take over state-of-the-art equipment. So I dropped this for the on-deck kit.
To make adaption as easy as possible, I decided that a clear two-end-solution would be best. Have the standard kit and accomodation on the forward section of the vessel, and have a mission deck in the aft section, being open or closed depending on outfit. The helo-pad would be one part of the mission area. The mission area will have a basic ‘interface’ (the Lego-baseplate), which means a pattern of fixing points and networks-connectors. The beam should at least allow to accomodate 8 Sylver-VLS-cells abreast, to open the basic design to high-end options. Handling equipment and roofing get a set of standardized fixing point on both sides of the ‘box’.
CHANGING THE SKILL LEVEL
The ability to be a force in itself + the interface + the supporting low-threshold skillset in shape of a software is the core of the concept. The software allows defining a mission-tailored outfit of the baseline-vessel, and also delivers a fixed blueprint for contracting purposes, as all elements are standardized.
The software should get the following jobs done:
- ‘define’ requirements and generate solution proposals from a knowledge-base
- ‘plug’ existing components to the interface according to mission
- ‘control’ cost of the design process
- ‘assist’ the following contracting cycle
- ‘track’ effectiveness
- ‘deduce’ more efficient ways to keep the knowledge base up-to-date
Remember the Lego-analogy?
The software would act as a virtual brick builder, some type of pseudo-CAD. The software defines the contract, and the supplier has to make his offers against the software. If he cant’, no contract. If he tries to escalate costs, ask where the software described the cost-driver. What is not supported in the software, will not be contracted. To get equipment into the softwares knowledge base as pluggable, the equipment has to be cleared, which includes cost and time deadlines. If a supplier cannot meet the harsh conditions of the new procurement system, he may f*** off.
GREEN OR BLUE
Before we cut steel, one last word to the baseline. By design, I was searching for a predominantly green water solution. But there arises a question: can the basic concept be translated to blue water?
The answer is: absolutely. The baseline-vessel is interchangable, as long as the interface is featured.
So, at any time we could use a vessel which is
- larger overall
- having with deeper draught for better blue-water caps
- ice-strengthened to operate in the Arctic
- having a more risky high-tech hull, such as tumblehome, semiplaning, SWATH, trimaran, you name it
The interface makes sure, that the MoD/RN has the expertise to outfit any vessel featuring it. Using another platform would (at least partially) eliminate the large production run, but even this can be diminished if the basic kit remains the same. Also, the basic kit may not fit neatly into another platform.
INTRODUCING: TYPE 27 – ELECTRA-CLASS
So far, so good. Having laid out the environment, we can carefully begin to make a design proposal.
Due to harsh criticism of the Khareef, I set out a renewed search for a valid design. Only lately I came across the DAMENs website and found the SIGMA range of frigates and corvettes. SIGMA is more or less a ship family, but far more sophisticated and well thought out than the french GOWIND designs. They use a standardized set of basic building bricks, which can be tailored (with a 13m beam) from 69m to 150m.
The first vessels were built in time and to cost for Indonesia. The last contract as signed in 2008 with Morocco, with the first vessel delivered this month. According to GlobalSecurity, the contract called for three vessels, one of them being slightly larger than the other pair, for €510m. Completely equipped with sonar, radar and a basic kit fulfilling the requirement mentioned above.
The article is a very good read, worth a look. It gives an insight into why BAE will never manage to be a major player on the warship world market. At least if they don’t manage to define such basic building blocks.
I also considered that tiny Austal-trimaran, in fact if we had a program togther with Oz, Nz, Canada or Malaysia or Singapore, I would take it. But my guts told me to go steel.
As my baseline vessel I choose the (yet non-existing) SIGMA 11213 (means: 112m length, 13m beam) light frigate design. The modifications are as follows:
- length of 112m to increase fuel capacity
- sustainable max speed is 26kn; we may improve this by adding more powerful diesel engines of 9-11k MW
- shorter superstructure and movement of helopad more to the midships, to allow for a mission bay
- replacement of the SMART-S radar suite by ARTISAN
- if matured and somewhat simplified, introduce a SkySail-system to lower fuel consumption (OK, OK, everyone has it’s engineering p**n, that’s mine
If we estimate cost, with the SIGMA 10513 a a basis.
- Original vessel £148m
- savings in the superstructure will pay for aditional section.
- Changes in machinery will add around £4m, this will have lower impact as we buy 64 instead of 2, 4 or even 16 engines, but we leave it.
- ARTISAN vs. current SMART-S adds £6m (it’s an estimate based on available public source docs +50% to quiet criticism)
- that’s it; bottom line: £158m, OK, let’s round it to £160m
As most equipment is procured at higher numbers, we could use management techniques from the corporate sector. Through this, numbers may fall – and thats a careful guess – by up to 20%. But this is not in the scope of this proposal and therefore not calced into the numbers.
This is the point, where I can see the large-ship-steel-is-cheap-and-air-is-free-chaps getting a rush of blood to the head. Calm down, boys. This is no cargo vessel and no Arctic-ASW-combatant BY DESIGN.
As mentioned above, making such would pose no problem, but this also is not in the focus of this proposal.
OPENING OPPORTUNITIES TO GET BACK ON TRACK
So we have a viable plan to replace T23. But we are still overspent, and we still lack the numbers. How can we fix this?
If we add-up the current surface fleet, we get something like the following picture, with all prices being the bare minimum:
- £6.0b = 6 T45 or eventual replacements
- £4.0b = 13 T26
- £1.4b = x MHPC
Makes £11.4b. Available due to the total 30-years budget are £7.5b.
This is were the concept of a one-tier surface fleet and the supporting tooling will show it’s power.
- we put a 24- or even a 48-cell VLS on the mission area?
- we put a hundred CAMMs aboard + adding a pair of those french land-based ASTER-launchers?
- we put that reusable hypersonic UAV fired from VLS into the mission area, that possibly makes up AD in 2030
All this would mean, short of SAMPSON, we could replace T45 by a T27. Certainly, we would pay more than £158m or even £200m, but we would not need any development of a whole new vessel. Each vessel would cost a third or a fourth of a large AD-combatant. This all means, if we take 12 AD outfits instead of 6 T45-successors, to current prices we would save up to £4.5b. This is more or less the number to build 30 baseline vessels. Plus we could use the MHPC-money for another 8 or 10.
So, the new plan would look like this, economies of scale excluded:
£6.4b = 40 T27
£1.0b = for developing/integrating new equipment options for the interface
Savings are £4b, and we will just fit into the 30-years budget. In other words: back on track. In fact, with the 100m left, we build the SIMSS-prototype.
Also, we would have made a comback on numbers, and we would be ruthlessly common.
The only high-end capability not reproducable using this pattern is SAMPSON. Instead we would have a network of ARTISANs and UAVs. The connected computing power of the battlegroup will certainly outperform the single one-trick pony of today. One T27 may in itself never be as good as a T45 on AD. But if the T45 must compete with 2, 3 or even 4 T27 affordable for the price tag of one T45, it would be outclassed.
WHERE TO START
Well, the obvious is the nearest.
The next construction programme is MHPC. It looks as the RN is looking for something in the 90-100m range.
Why not taking the Type 27?
It adds actually very low risk to the program itself and it fits darn well into the price tag intended.
As it is, we could get 8 light frigates out of MHPC, and would still have some money to adapt the MIW and hydrography equipment.
When the vessels for MHPC are delivered, JUST KEEP BUILDING. Actually, we could instantly cancel the £127m T26-contract and turn it into something material.
Bottom line, let’s recapitulate a bit.
All numbers I mentioned may be hampered by the fact of general availability to the public domain. To prevent criticism, I have added a 50% margin of error, apart from numbers being backed by a source.
This proposal has shown evolving the surface force to the next decades by very simply, atomic measures:
- (re)introducing a very basic design-skillset into MoD by using a simple software, doing basic shipbucketing, cost analysis and contracting assistance
- connecting this skillset to the real world by introducing a standardized outfitting-interface aka mission bay + plugs
- using a basic light frigate seaframe featuring this interface as a baseline
- achieving economies of scale by ordering the baselines equipment in larger numbers
- this way getting an affordable alternative to T26 AND T45(-successor) to get the budget back on track
- avoiding duplication by always asking for adaption of the baseline, if a new requirement emerge
What it doesn’t deliver is anything kind of a high-end asset. No more floating imperial star destroyers.
What it delivers is a basic war vessel, patrol-capable OOTB and flexible by design, and an evolutionary fluid entry into a new set of thinking in acquisition. Individual vessels can well be outfitted with a VDS or even a volume-search radar, and can grow to the necessary height if required.
The latter is is just plain good old British tradition, isn’t it?