Fantasy Fleets – Chris B

A guest post from Chris.B

It appears everyone has been pitching in to the war zone that is “fantasy fleets” and so I decided to have a crack myself. I and others have often been challenged with what I personally believe to be the very tenuous argument of “well at least I’ve made a suggestion, what’s yours?”, by which logic a suggestion to take a long bath in high concentration acid would immediately be validated if no alternative course of action could be suggested.

The goal of this article then is to try and find something of a middle ground between the recent series of posts by IXION and that of DomJ.

The framework then for this is to play a relatively boring game of fantasy fleets, being that it will attempt to meld current financial reality with the current defence situation that faces the UK, while keeping in mind (but certainly not strictly adhering to) the governments plans for the armed forces as laid out in the 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review, or as it’s otherwise known “that bodge job that was used as a cover for cutting spending”.

Just keep in mind that I openly admit now that I haven’t thought of every conceivable angle. There will almost certainly be holes that need to filled in here and there. It’s also possible that the numbers wont exactly add up, to the penny. The purpose of this is more to create a broad outline, into which others might colour in the details 9or I‘ll end up doing a second edition) and to promote a vigorous debate that potentially ends in plenty of well meaning swearing!


To suggest any sort of plan without first looking at the wider situation would be a waste of time. I’m sure we can all agree that cutting the Navy and Air Force down to one dinghy and one hot air balloon respectively in order to purchase an additional 3000 tanks would not be in the best interests of the nation. On the flip side, a 100 ship navy and a 1000 aircraft air force are of no real use if all we can send to seize and hold ground is a courageous and determined fellow with an ASP Baton and a dog handling team.

We must consider that money is tight (more on this in the conclusion), thanks to a combination of various politicians, American mortgage lenders and the major global credit rating agencies. In an ideal world I could take a scythe to the government budget overall, including the International Development Fund (overseas aid) which is projected by the treasury to top £9 billion by 2015. Unfortunately that’s not an option. We have to make the defence establishment fit the defence budget. We also have to consider that there are some tasks we must fulfil and others that we have a choice in, more or less.

The fairly obvious starting point is the protection of the British Isles, its dependencies, and its overseas territories, consisting of; England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, the Isle of Man, the Cayman Islands (Caribbean), the Turks and Caicos Islands (Caribbean), Bermuda (Caribbean), the British Virgin Islands (Caribbean), Anguilla (Caribbean), Montserrat (Caribbean), Gibraltar, Akrotiri & Dhekelia (Cyprus), the British Indian Ocean Territory (Diego Garcia), the Pitcairn Islands (South Pacific), the British Antarctic Territory, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (South Atlantic), Saint Helena (South Atlantic), Ascension Island and Tristan da Cuhna (South Atlantic).

In addition the UK is a member of many organisations that have treaty obligations, such as NATO and the United Nations, occasionally requiring the UK to contribute maritime, air and land forces as part of a multi-lateral coalition.

Now obviously all of these concerns are not equal in terms of how likely they are to require a UK military response. The Pitcairn Islands for example are considered sufficiently free from the threat of aggression to not warrant a strong, permanent Army/Royal Navy/Royal Air Force task force to be stationed there 365 days of the year. The Falkland Islands are another matter entirely.

I’m assuming that after 2015 the British Army will have withdrawn from Afghanistan, leaving little but a token presence to help the Afghan government in its ongoing quest for peace and security. It’s from this point onward that we need to start considering our place in the world and how we will deal with various threats to our national security.

The long and short of it is that we should not try and match every foreign foe ship for ship, plane for plane, and tank for tank, but instead to forge alliances and understandings at every conceivable turn with everyone who will do business with us, such that any enemy can be countered by a combined effort of several nations, with the British featuring prominently no doubt.

The operations over Libya make a fine point. Excluding the US and UK forces, the other nations involved managed to bring together over one hundred aircraft of various types and roles, plus a significant naval task force. This would be the preferable model that the UK would seek to repeat in the future, while still retaining the ability to conduct limited operations on an individual basis.

This means we need to be able to contribute land, sea and air components to a multi-national task force, and in particular we need to get very good at providing a degree of leadership and organisation to these elements in the absence of heavy United States involvement, by drawing on our pool of potential allies across the globe, either as a whole or on a limited, regional basis.

That requires a reasonably balanced force, which is what I’m going to try and achieve over the course of this article; able to deploy land forces for large, one off scraps or limited interventions; that can deploy aircraft for strike or policing purposes; and that can control or deny maritime lines of communication. All of this either alone or with international assistance.

It also signifies the first big change of the “Chris.B. Reforms” – merging the Ministry of Defence with the Foreign and Commonwealth office. It simply doesn’t make sense to have the nations military arm separated from the body that so often decides where it will be employed. Foreign policy and Defence policy are not neighbours, they are bed fellows. One is integral to the other.

As for what to call this new department, by all means I’ll take suggestions because I’ve no idea. The Defence and Diplomacy Office? The Ministry of Defence and Diplomacy? Who knows, but I’m sure someone will conjure up a suitable idea.

The diplomatic angle should not be underestimated. In the absence of large defence spending (in the 1950’s defence spending was about 10% of GDP, now it is about 2.7%) we can longer sustain the ability to act unilaterally on anything but the smallest end of the scale. The forging of understandings and diplomatic ties (though not necessarily binding alliances and treaties) will provide the foundation for the defence of British global interests for years to come.


We might as well start the main reforms here and this is where I have struggled the most. At one point – many weeks ago – I sent TD a draft in which I scythed the army down to just three regular and two commando brigades, the intention being to sweep the rug from under the politicians feet and effectively wrap them up in it, curtailing their ability to deploy large British ground forces abroad.

But then I sat and thought about it for a while.

It occurred to me that the net result of doing this would not be to stop politicians from deploying ground forces, merely it would invite them to do so anyway but without the necessary mass required to have any effect and in such a way as to potentially harm British reputation with its partners. The case in point was brought up by James – I believe – of the French deployment of the 6th Light Armoured Division to the 1991 Gulf War.

This paltry force (in size, not talent) consisted of effectively two infantry battalions, four wheeled reconnaissance regiments, one tank battalion and one artillery battalion. It found itself lined up on the Western most edge of the battle line, kept well away from the concentration of heavy fighting that took place around the Iraq/Kuwait border. The deployment of such a small force almost seemed unwanted and I feel it sends a poor message about the countries commitment.

And this is really the crux of the matter. The influence and “power projection” seemingly craved by us all comes from substantial action, from showing the people that matter that you are in for a penny, in for a pound. Just a few weeks ago I was re-reading a section from the book “Ghost Force; The Secret History Of The SAS – Ken Connor”* about the campaign in Oman, which contained an interesting story that relates to the idea of influence.

*(I highly recommend the book. Despite the sensational title, it’s actually more of the opposite. The book covers nothing really that you wont of heard/read of before, with the exception of the authors personal stories, but it does cast a different light on those events, cutting through some of the more rose tinted accounts to get to the practical heart of the matter, avoiding the hyperbole so often associated with “The Regiment” in favour of a much more calculated and honest view of things).

The story in question involved standing in the airport of an unnamed middle eastern state when a commercial airliner swoops in and with almost unseemly haste is greeted by a security detail and shuffled off to a quite corner of the airfield to be unloaded, before being turned around rapidly and sent on its way. An officer nearby commented to the author that while he and his people were grateful for the American supplies coming in, the fact that the Americans took great pains not to be overtly associated with them made them feel like the Americans were somehow ashamed. Contrast this with the British who openly walked around in uniforms, which gave the people confidence that the British were their true friends and would stand by them when needed.

That’s influence.

Real influence I mean. The sort of influence that comes from actually putting people on the ground and getting involved. Air show performances by the Red Arrows and gleaming vessels stopping off in ports is all very well, but it’s not real influence. It doesn’t fundamentally change the mindset of international partners, neutrals and enemies.

I’m often told that you can exert pressure on foreign governments using things like aircraft carriers and long range bombers. Unfortunately it would appear that people such as Colonel Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein did not get the memo’s in early 2011 and 1991 respectively, nor did the Serbian leadership in the mid to late 90’s. In 1982 someone forget to remind the Argentine military Junta that they were supposed to be influenced by our possession of considerable naval air power and nuclear weapons.

The simple fact is that having the tools is one thing, but it’s the ability to use them and the perceived will to use them that really matters. A good example of this effect can be found in crime statistics. Actual crime in the UK has broadly fallen on a consistent basis for years now, but the fear of crime has risen. People perceive themselves to be at much greater risk now, even though most people are actually safer than they’ve ever been in years.

So it is with defence and influence. It’s not the actual threat that matters, it’s the perceived threat. It’s not the actual level of assistance that can be offered to allies that matters, it’s the perceived level of assistance that counts. Stopping by for a bit of gunboat/fast jet diplomacy is not as effective or as impressive as a genuine commitment to provide training and assistance.

And so it is that if we seek to lead other nations in coalition operations, we cannot simply fall back on the excuse of “well, you’re the continental power, you provide the bodies and we’ll cover you!”. That does not inspire confidence in the likes of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and a whole host of other nations who we might one day call upon to aid us.

That type of approach smacks of expecting everyone else to do the hard grafting while we sit back in the relative comfort and safety of air bases and surface ships, giving orders from the rear. That will simply not suffice. When the next campaign comes around and we start asking the Danish army if it will provide some of its limited manpower to a big operation, they’re going to be rather inclined to say “no” if they believe that we too are not pitching in.

So although the British Army may not be as sexy as fast jets and sleek hulls, it is essential. It is the core around which everything else is built. It’s the job of the RAF to seize the aerial flank and to exploit it in support of the Army. It’s the job of the Navy to seize the Maritime flank and to exploit it, again in support of the Army. I think that’s the shift in thinking that we need to take.

On this note, the Army really needs to grow, not shrink. Five regiments of Challenger II is nothing to be sniffed at, but we can do better. The trouble is, as always, the budget. For that reason I’m going to lay out a slight re-organisation of the Army based on current(ish) manning, then plan for the future.

The starting point for me is the two commando brigades. Even thought strictly speaking the Royal Marines are Royal Navy, it is more appropriate to address them here. On that note I would retain both brigades, though with some changes that are relevant to the Army as a whole under these “reforms”; notably the shift toward brigades that contain three battalions/regiments of infantry/tanks, with their necessary support.

For that reason, 16 Air Assault Brigade would largely retain it’s current structure except that the two Parachute battalions (2nd and 3rd) would be permanently joined by the then current UK based battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, instead of having two infantry battalions attached on a rotation basis. All the other attachments, (Royal Horse Artillery, 16 Medical Regiment, etc) would remain.

In addition, the full Brigade of Gurkha’s (1x UK based battalion/1x Brunei based Battalion (rotating), plus engineers, signals and logistics) would be retained. 3 Commando Brigade would continue in its current structure, minus the 1st Battalion, The Rifles, who would be returned to the regular forces (other than that, the Royal Marines as a whole would be left untouched). The Royal Gibraltar Regiment would stay on it’s own for obvious reasons.

As for the regular army, the first thing to do is to hand back the CBRN role to the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, retrieving it from the grasp of the RAF Regiment (I have other plans for them…). 1st RTR would still be responsible for the Main Battle Tank training squadrons and the commitment to the Land Warfare Centre.

Next thing is to dish out the five Challenger regiments, split between 5 brigades. The first two of these Brigades would be classified “Armoured”, containing a formation reconnaissance regiment, a tank regiment and two armoured infantry battalions (Warrior).

The remaining three would be split between three brigades classified as “mechanised”, containing one each of; formation reconnaissance regiment, tank regiment, armoured infantry battalion (Warrior) and mechanised infantry battalion

(Bulldog). Obviously these brigades would need to be supplemented with engineers, signals, medical, artillery and logistic support as needed.

That leaves one armoured infantry battalion spare which would be assigned to the Land Warfare Centre (LWC) and filled on a rotational basis. I’m assuming there is a reason why the army wants Warriors at the LWC. If Bulldogs will suffice then my preferred option would be to swap a mechanised battalion for an armoured one, leaving us with three “armoured infantry” brigades and now two “mechanised infantry” brigades.

Next come the light infantry which – excluding the elements of 3 Commando, 16 Air Assault and the Special Forces Support Group – would leave us with (I think) 21 light infantry battalions. On that note, I’m going to split them nice and neatly into 7 infantry brigades, each containing 3 battalions of light infantry, plus required support.

That does pose me with one significant problem; I need two battalions for the Cyprus Garrison. Obviously that would mean that one brigade would be left with a spare battalion sitting on its hands. If anyone has any suggestions I’m more than open to them. The possibilities I’ve considered are 1) attach the spare battalion to LWC, 2) use them as a replacement for the RAF Regiment in base protection, 3) (and my preferred option) find somewhere abroad to post them, like a certain group of Islands in the South Atlantic that shall not be named…

Royal Artillery wise we have five AS90 regiments to share about, along with a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) regiment, a light gun equipped regiment, three Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) regiments, and two air defence regiments. My presumption at this point is that these assets would be distributed as needed to the various brigades. I would also like to stand up a regiment (and this will please Jed to no end) equipped with 120mm towed mortars, predominantly for use with the Light Brigades (stop dancing Jed mate, it’s unseemly).

Ideally each of the above brigades would be co-located together for home basing in order to reduce the number of bases needed.

On to the underwater knife fighters, or as they’re known outside of this website, the UK Special Forces Directorate. This group would be left mainly untouched, with the exception of disbanding the two SAS reserve regiments. One of the things that sets the special forces apart from the rest is the amount and quality of the training they conduct. I fail to see how you can be a part time soldier while still maintaining the very high standards demanded of such a regiment.

At this point you’d do well to bear in mind the story that I included earlier by Ken Connor. The Special Forces would be required to do plenty of work overseas as an effective extension of the diplomatic arm, to build relations. If all the story are true then this is roughly what happens anyway. In the age we live in now the need for high quality bodyguards and counter-terrorist teams has never been more acute.

Brazil is an excellent example. In the run up to the 2014 World Cup they’re on a mission to clear some of the major slums around many of the big cities, sending in highly trained police teams to deal with the armed gangs that make their homes in such places. Brazil is also preparing its counter-terrorist forces for their biggest operation to date in guarding the event.

Mexico is another example. The country has experienced quite significant economic growth in recent years and is gradually building a pretty sophisticated manufacturing base. But all of that work could eventually be undermined by the rampant violence and in-fighting that occurs between the various major drug gangs in the country. A well trained hostage rescue and intelligence gathering force would be a major boost.

Although both countries are not exactly on the top of the list of future British Allies, at least not from a military perspective, they do both provide interesting examples of how British Special Forces can be deployed in such a way as to win the ear of Foreign Heads of State, which can lead to future basing deals, military cooperation, diplomatic support and even economic/commercial gain. Indeed all the arms of the forces would be involved in such “diplomatic” training activities.

Next up we need to talk vehicles, and with Afghanistan winding down decisions would also have to be taken as to which vehicles are worth bringing back and which are probably better left with the Afghan security forces. Vehicles like the Foxhound, Husky, Mastiff and Jackal are a double edged sword as far as I can see.

On the one hand we have them now and there is the possibility of integrating them into the main army. On the other hand many are badly worn and some are considered of dubious utility outside of the Afghanistan theatre, and that’s before we get into the logistics or trying to support such a diverse range of vehicles (the anti-thesis of TD’s “ruthless commonality” mantra).

For me their use after the Afghanistan war basically would involve the Mastiff, Ridgeback, Wolfhound and Foxhound vehicles being assigned to the light infantry as in order to provide them with a degree of protected mobility, with the Jackal’s and Husky’s  being transferred to the reconnaissance regiments.

This decision basically stems from the fact that the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) has – to date – chewed up significant sums of cash with no discernable results, while among our commentators here at Think Defence we have James, who has experience with this kind of thing and has suggested the Jackal as a prospective scout vehicle.

Of course that still leaves us with the problematic situation of what to do about the Bulldog vehicle, which it was hoped FRES could one day replace.

The solution I’ve settled on is for a new vehicle, something under 20 tonnes. All I want is a vehicle that has good mobility, range and the ability to protect its crew from small arms fire and shell fragments, with the ability to be upgraded with armour packages in much the same way as our current Protected Patrol Vehicle (PPV) fleet can.

Variants would include infantry carrier, command, recce, light ambulance/medical evacuation, anti-tank and recovery. An air defence variant would be an absolute bonus. But recce, infantry carrier and anti-tank take priority.

I want to re-emphasise the point that I don’t want a tank. I don’t want a “medium weight” beast. This vehicle is designed to replace the Bulldog and the various FV432 variants, not the Challengers. For comparison purposes, the RG-35 by BAE Land Systems South Africa would be coming close to the heaviest end of the scale that I would except, at about 18 tonnes. Whatever it is, it also needs a tow hook for Jed’s mortars!

The full Warrior Capability Sustainment Program (WCSP) would go ahead as planned, including all the various Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicles (ABSV). I’d also want to have a closer look at the 155mm Archer artillery system for the Royal Artillery (already on order for Sweden and Norway) as a future replacement for the AS 90.

The Challenger tank would get it’s Challenger Lethality Improvement Program (CLIP) authorised, fitting a slightly modified version of the 120mm Rheinmetall L55 smoothbore gun (as used on the Leopard 2A6), plus a power pack upgrade in the form of the “EuroPowerPack” (made entirely in Germany…), which provides 1,500 hp in a smaller unit, with better fuel efficiency.

As for helicopters, the Army Air Corps would retain it‘s current and planned assets of Lynx and Apache. The Army would also get its full compliment of Watchkeeper drones that are on order.

Looking into the future of the army, perhaps 2020 and beyond, I’d be keen to take the opportunity to invest in three completely new tank regiments to supplement those already in existence. The idea would be to take one of the armoured infantry battalions out of one of the armoured infantry brigades listed above and just put it to one side for a second.

In it’s place I’d put one of my new tank regiments, creating a proper spearhead armoured brigade that had two tank regiments and one armoured infantry battalion. The spare infantry battalion that I put aside would now be put in a new armoured brigade with the other two new tank regiments. This brigade would also need its own formation reconnaissance regiment, so I suspect the 9th/12th Royal Lancers would be split back into the 9th Queens Royal Lancers and the 12th Royal Lancers to accommodate this.

I’d also like to see the light infantry expanded yet further, with another 9 battalions raised to help the formation of 3 new Light Brigades, taking the total number of light brigades to ten. Further, consideration would be given in consultation with the Army about reducing the length of operational tours from six to four months, in order to combat stress and fatigue in the service while hoping to improve retention rates.

Right, now if you’d kindly wipe that face paint off and stop hiding in that bush, we’re off to sea.

Royal Navy

We’ll start then right at the heart of the matter… the Type 26 Frigate.

Simply put, I think the Type 26 has the potential to be the F-16 of the naval world. Not quite as numerous, I’ll grant you, but if done right I believe Type 26 could be a big seller and would finally put a sock in BAE’s mouth about the demise of British ship building, a tenuous argument at best.

Anyway, Type 26.

Basically I would like to play this smart and if it was me pulling the strings and writing the checks then I would be very keen to achieve a balance between what is acceptable for UK defense and what is best for UK plc. That means working in partnership with the prime contractor to ensure that Type 26 is capable of properly fitting the needs of the Royal Navy without adding so much cost as to drive away other potential users.

The cornerstone of this is to ensure that the ship doesn’t get dragged off into being some kind of 21st century battleship. I greatly fear more than anything the tag that has been attached to Type 26 of being a “general combat ship” or “general purpose frigate”. That to me absolutely smells of the possibility of creep in the design.

Let’s be clear. It’s an Anti-Submarine Frigate first, after which it becomes just a general, run of the mill patrol frigate for basic tasking. That has to be the core of the design. For that reason I would – in my now quite literal fantasy fleet – seek to have Type 26 primarily built around three features; low acoustic signature, the Type 2087 towed sonar Array and the provision of torpedoes.

Now obviously an anti-submarine vessel such as this needs a decent attack sonar too, which is a given, plus room in the hanger for a Merlin helicopter to supplement the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role, but ideally – and given the breadth of potential customers – it should be capable of handling a Chinook helicopter on the flight deck, even if not being able to store it.

Radar would be provided by the BAE Artisan 3D radar, which I believe is being fitted gradually to a number of Type 23 frigates already. Missile wise I’d like to see Type 26 fitted with the Sylver A50 Vertical Launch System (VLS), which is the same missile cells currently used on Type 45. It can hold both the Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles (which share a common “dart”, just a different booster) as well as being able to take a quad pack of the planned Common Anti-air Modular Missile (CAMM) which is a radar guided derivative of the Advanced Short Range Air-Air Missile (ASRAAM) in service now with the RAF.

Notice here that I’ve deliberately avoided both the Sylver A70 launcher and the American Mk.41 VLS, precisely because I’m not interested in over burdening the design with land attack capabilities. I also quite fancy the internal volume that would be saved, which is why I’d like to see the next design choice incorporated, one that is likely to get some people hot under the collar.

See I’d quite like to see Type 26 sacrifice the traditional forward gun mount in favour of a Goalkeeper Close-In Weapons System (CIWS).

The reason for this is two fold. First, like I said, I want that premium internal space that would be saved from reduced deck penetration. Secondly, I just don’t think the Naval Gunfire Support (NGS) role justifies the expense of a large main gun, especially when the loss of space is factored in. The use of this feature has been somewhat limited in the past, and it’s arguable that the need for the ships to close with the shore for bombardment purposes puts them at an unacceptable disadvantage against air and land based attacks.

So why all the desire for free space? Well the more stuff that can be piled up down the front end of the vessel, the more room there is at the back for an empty mission deck, onto which could be loaded vehicles if a suitable ramp facility was provided, maybe ISO containerised systems (Rules of getting an article published on TD, #1; mention ISO containers!) or even just serve as a temporary accommodation space for embarked troops, supplies, or some kind of make shift casualty receiving area. The flexibility to various customers, including the Royal Navy, will be a great selling point.

I’d also like to see two ramps incorporated into the back of the vessel, likely behind or possibly underneath the flight deck, each capable of the rapid launch and recovery of small boats. For an example of what I‘m talking about, take a look at this YouTube video of the new Gowind Offshore Patrol Vessel.

Bad computer graphics aside, you can see that the back end of the finished vessel has a definitive split for the two ramps. This would permit a multi-mission capability, where on ASW missions a rig for the Type 2087 sonar could be installed on one side, while still allowing the other to be used for a small craft or indeed for a second sonar unit if you so desired. On general patrol missions, or for foreign customers, both ramps could be used for boats.

As for number of vessels, the Type 26 would be bought at the very least as like for like replacements of the Type 23, with the strong possibility of additional purchases if the costs could indeed be kept down. The Type 23 is not due out of service for many years yet, so there is plenty of time to get this relatively more simple vessel ready. In the meantime the Type 23’s would be supported and upgraded as needed, including the integration of the CAMM, which almost doubles the air defence range compared to Sea Wolf.

Now I guess we had better stop dodging the bullet and tackle the Carrier issue?

So we basically have one Carrier on the way, the Queen Elizabeth, and another which has had the steel cut and some work started. And unless someone else plans on stumping up the cash to buy it – in which case they’re more than welcome to support British industry – then work would be stopped and Prince Of Wales would be cancelled outright.

Queen Elizabeth would be taken into service, she‘s basically too far along now it would seem… and be plopped right into extended readiness. Unless of course someone wants to buy her, which again they are more than welcome to.

The argument that she could be used as an Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) was one that sounded very appealing at first. I sat and thought about it; 40 helicopters! That’s enough space for an Apache Squadron, a Merlin Squadron, and two Squadrons of transport helicopters such as Puma. Quite a hefty capability.

But then it occurred to me, how many of those could be operated at any one time? What would they do all day? And could we find alternative platforms to operate helicopters from in the short term, knowing that Queen Elizabeth could be brought up to speed in emergency situations if needed?

The answer I think is; yes.

Take the two Albion Class Landing Pad Docks (LPD). They have no hangar, but do have plenty of space on deck for helicopter operations. Currently they are operating on the basis of one at sea, one in extended readiness. In 2014 HMS Bulwark is due to go in and HMS Albion will come out (HMS Bulwark is the current Flagship). This policy would be kept going for the foreseeable future.

HMS Illustrious, the former “through deck cruiser” turned LPH, is due to be decommissioned in 2014. This plan would be scrapped and she would be kept instead be put into a state of extended readiness, with a bit of servicing just to eek out a bit more life. The Amphibious Assault Ship/LPH HMS Ocean will have just come out of it’s planned refit in time to take over. These ships would be kept in service, providing the core of the deployable maritime helicopter force, until replaced by a new Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) vessel. And as it just so happens, I know where we can find one.

Or two.

Missile defense systems, guns for self protection, room for 250 tons of stores, can carry 800 troops, enhanced damage control features, an on board surgery, X-ray machine, intensive care unit, pharmacy and even a dentist, with thought given in the design for disaster relief operations from the start, along with a vehicle deck and facilities, plus a well deck and davits for landing craft.

We can even call them Ark Royal and Hermes if it makes people happy. Maybe Eagle?

This – in my opinion – is much more in keeping with the kind of operations that the UK actually conducts and is likely to conduct. In the future it’s also conceivable that they could carry the F-35B, once cost and risk has gone down. The above linked ship would provide the rough standard for the tender and the goal would be to bring the first vessel into service, at which point Illustrious would be sold off/broken up and Ocean would be taken out of service, but not completely dumped, not until the seconf LHD had arrived.

In addition, and especially in light of the recent TD article surrounding the plans of fitting the AN/APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar to Merlin helicopters in the form of the Lockheed Martin Vigilance Pod, the Navy would be tasked with leading the drive to introduce the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) which would eventually to span the entire British armed forces. This would permit CEC equipped helicopters like Merlin to monitor an air threat axis for targets, sharing targeting data with Type 45/Type 23/Type 26 combat vessels.

To accommodate this some Merlin helicopters would be set aside to fulfil the dedicated role of a Fleet Airborne Warning Squadron (FAWS). In addition to providing radar coverage for a task force, the FAWS would also be able to use the air to ground modes of their AN/APG-81’s to assist land based forces and to enhance the intelligence picture for ground commanders who are about to commit forces ashore.

The transfer of upgraded Merlin’s from the RAF to the RN would go ahead as is currently planned, with a goal to upgrading these helicopters a little further in order to integrate the Sea Skua anti-shipping missile.

Of course at this point and before I meander off too far, there are still two questions to be answered. One is what will be built in the place of the second carrier, because presumably British ship building will be threatened once again (despite the ongoing construction of the Astute-class submarines, the start of the Type 26 project and the plans for the LHD). The second is what becomes of the F-35?

The answers are 1) Type 45 and 2) dead.

Number two will be addressed in more detail later when we get round to the RAF. Suffice to say that the Royal Navy would now transfer its unneeded Hawk trainers to the RAF, retaining only those that they require for the training of crews in air defence and ground (fleet?) controlled intercepts. Number one however is something I’m fairly adamant about.

The Type 45 has turned out to be something of a success, despite the government cut backs which have seen program costs spread across half as many vessels as originally planned and bad press that doesn‘t reflect the progressive approach to fitting the ships out with various weapon systems.

The ship builds upon many of the lessons learned over the years and has apparently been doing rather well on exercises involving the United States, with Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope commenting just this October in an interview with Defense News that We still dine out on being told “could we please switch off our system because we were constraining the training.” We are proud of that, and that shows that we are playing in the right ballpark”. I’m sure the Admiral meant to say cricket ground, a temporary slip of the tongue.

(On a brief note, how much does that above quote suggest the Americans are still yet to learn the lessons of Millennium Challenge ‘02?)

I still think Type 45 has some growth to it and that comes predominantly from fitting the vessels with Harpoon launchers to give them a proper Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) capability, and in the case of my fantasy fleet building a Block II/Mark II/Flight II/Stand II/Timbuck II class of two more vessels, which apart from coming “fitted with from the start” with torpedoes and Harpoon, would also come with 16 shiny new Sylver A70 VLS cells, the space for which has been provisioned between the current VLS and the 4.5” gun.

The Sylver A70 is compatible with the Aster 30, but apparently not the Aster 15? Still, if an all Aster load were used then there would be room for 64 missiles. The A70 cell is also compatible with the CAMM quad pack, should you so chose to misuse these cells.

Of the course the main reason for fitting the A70 cells is to permit the use of future upgrades of the Aster family that are expected to introduce a dedicated Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) version, and for using the naval variant of the Storm Shadow Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) used by the RAF, that has now been tested in both a vertical launch cell and from the torpedo tube of a French attack submarine (SCALP-N).

And for similar reasons to the ones stated in the Type 26 section, the 4.5” main gun would be removed and replaced with a Goalkeeper CIWS, which combined with the aft CIWS should preclude the need to carry two on the sides. The original six Type 45’s would be refitted at the earliest opportunity to match this new batch/standard.

Moving on and the current fleet of Astute-class submarines is expected to end at 7 (Astute, Ambush, Artful, Audacious, Anson, Agamemnon, Ajax). There is a problem though. Recently it was revealed that the government – in its infinite wisdom – has decided to slow down the pace of submarine production, incurring a cost that would be sufficient to buy an extra boat and still have some spare change. The reason for this is to avoid a gap in submarine construction between the Astute-class and the replacement vessels for Vanguard.

Thanks to that bit of budget fudging I’ve now got room to speed production back up again and essentially get an eighth boat for free. What’s more I’m going to order – at the very least – another four. This seems like an optimistic thing to suggest, given the state of the budget, but I’m going to pay for it by toying with the UK’s Nuclear Deterrent.

Simply put, the chances of the UK activating its Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD) in a unilateral manner are basically non-existent. The CASD is a true relic of the cold war and doesn’t properly reflect the position we find ourselves in now. That’s not to say that we don’t need nuclear weapons as the ultimate weapon of self defence, merely that they can be employed in a cheaper and more realistic manner.

That manner is a cruise missile derived system, designed not so much to seek retribution against an initial attack (though that is an option), but more along the lines of being able to light up any potential threat to our Sovereignty.

This new deterrent would take the dual form of submarine carried weapons and air launched weapons, similar to the French system. The air launched side of the issue will be handled later when I get round to the RAF but for now, suffice to say that the Astute class would become the bearers of this new weapon. It would naturally be made very clear to the world that these were weapons of self defense, not aggression, and that the then current at sea submarine tasked with carrying them would never be sent to a conventional theatre of operations, lest anyone start getting nervous.

This would basically remove the need for a Vanguard and Trident replacement, with a much lower cost alternative that would still be able to provide the ultimate deterrence against hostility towards our homeland.

Come 2020 a study would be kicked off (of course the basic work can begin now) regarding an Astute replacement. If it can vertically launch cruise missiles instead of having to shove them out of the torpedo tubes then mores the better.

Next up is the Type 42 Destroyers which are due out of service completely very soon, being replaced one for one by the Type 45. My line of thinking here is just out of pure curiosity surrounding how much life their hulls have left in them and whether they could be stripped of most of their fancy stuff and left with a very basic fit out of defences, allowing conversion into either Fast Armed Transports (that would spend a lot of their remaining life milling around at base until needed), Electronic and Signals Surveillance Vessels, or even conversion to small scale hospital/medical ships, for a bit of medical diplomacy around Africa and South East Asia.

The future of Mine Countermeasures and Hydrographic Survey would be pooled into one ship, which I believe is the current plan anyway. This vessel should be built to meet the Mine Hunting/Countermeasures role first, Hydrographic second, and a third minor capability for use in fisheries patrol etc, which should help to give it a boost on the international market. And when I say minor patrol role, I mean minor. A 20-30mm forward gun, plus some medium (7.62mm) machine guns for protection should suffice. A small sum would be spent on research into Laser Bathymetry and Synthetic Aperture Sonar, as highlighted in Article 10 of TD’s “Future of the Royal Navy” series. The total purchase would be on the order of 20-30 vessels, depending on the Navy’s requirements.

We near the end of the Royal Navy section by looking at the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA), an organisation that continues to baffle me. I understand that the Auxiliary are civilians, but the organisation is beholden to the military? I will need an adequate explanation from someone with more knowledge on this matter as to why the RFA couldn’t just be merged into the Royal Navy, becoming the floating equivalent of the Royal Logistic Corps.

As for their vessels, the three Bay-class Landing Ship Dock (LSD), capable of deploying the Mexeflote,  would be reduced to one at sea, one kept in extended readiness, with a rotation taking place every few years (Rules for getting an article published on Think Defence, #2; mention Mexeflotes). The third vessel would be scrapped/sold. The RFA would also be provided with a two ship class to replace RFA Diligence, the fleets at sea repair vessel. Like Diligence, these would be required to meet the highest standards of ice breaking. A long term plan to replace the Navy’s sole casualty receiving ship RFA Argus (due out of service in 2020) would also be put in place.

The main decision however that will define the future of the RFA is that of the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) program, to replace many of the RFA’s smaller and older vessels. My thinking on this is simple; the Wave-class Fast Fleet Tankers have proven to be very capable and versatile vessels so I would simply ask the makers – BAE (I thought British ship building was dying?) – to create a new class of six vessels based off the Wave-class, preferably ones that have a degree of flexibility in terms of the proportion of liquid versus solid goods that can be carried. Again, the details of this are something that would require an experienced hand to guide me.

Right. Take that cardigan off, leave your fisherman’s friends at check in and pull your goggles down, because things are about to take off!

Royal Air Force

We might as well attack the burning issue head on this time, that being the fate of the F-35 Lightning II and the wider question of Carrier strike. As mentioned earlier, under the “Chris.B. reforms” HMS Queen Elizabeth would be effectively laid up. Carrier Strike would continue to be absent as result from the Royal Navies arsenal. It would remain that way for the foreseeable future.

In short, in my estimate Carrier air is not essential to our defence, it’s a luxury. Our ability to deploy Harriers over the last 30 or so years has been greatly beneficial, as carrier based striking power always will be, but not essential. There was no mission that failed without the presence of a carrier. For all the talk of the Falklands War, Harriers contributed a little over one-third of all Argentine aviation losses. Given the budget situation then I do not believe the best way to spend that money is to purchase two carriers, spend what seems like a grossly over priced sum to fit them with Cats and Traps (see the recent Parliamentary Answers for details) and then equip them with F-35 fighters.

From the Royal Air Force’s perspective though that puts them in something of a quandary. Because while not doubt the officers mess is currently ringing to the sound of Champagne corks popping and cheers of “hurrah for the Chris.B. reforms!”, there will be a moment when one bright spark suddenly stops mid sip, calls for a hush and then points out that without the F-35 there may be no Fleet Air Arm… but there will also be no Tornado replacement for the RAF either.

Champagne down.

On checking the document again what they’d see is that in fact the Tornado will be replaced, just not with the F-35 and not in similar numbers. See I’ve been doing some numbers and based on the available data, there is simply no point in replacing Tornado with the F-35, be it the A, B or C version. When overall performance is combined with the future weapons load out of Typhoon and compared against initial purchasing, training and long term maintenance costs, it makes just as much sense to stick with Typhoon.

Simply put, the Typhoon is better. The F-35 will still be a very capable aircraft, I even wrote an article to that effect a while back. But with the need to operate from Carriers removed an enlarged Typhoon buy makes a lot of sense for the RAF, as well as the heavy involvement of British industry. It’s win-win in my eyes. There fore a Tranche 3 Typhoon purchase would be made to replace the Tornadoes, with the purchase of around 72 aircraft to provide (on paper at least) six squadrons, down from the estimated original F-35 purchase of 150 airframes.

But with great (combat) power comes great responsibility and that means a few things need to be addressed.

The hotels situation for a start. Suffice to say that if accommodation cannot be found on base or next to it, then the two factors of location and minimal cost to the taxpayer should converge beautifully to divert personnel away from anything with more than two stars above the door. I’m also yet to see a satisfactory explanation as to why Group Captains command wings, Wing Commanders are put in charge of Squadrons and Squadron Leaders command flights (what are all the Flight Lieutenants doing?).

Getting into the more serious business, there needs to be a fundamental shift in priority at the highest levels towards the various roles that the RAF performs outside of interceptions. As I said earlier the RAF should be considered doctrinally as an organisation that seizes and then exploits the aerial flank in support of operations on the ground.

To this end I’m planning something a little nefarious and involves a stalwart of the RAF and an export success story; the BAE Hawk.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Oman have all purchased a version of the Hawk known as Hawk 200. This is a single seat variant, with greater range owing to slightly higher fuel capacity and a slightly modified wing. It’s capable of carrying short range air to air missiles, Maverick air to ground missiles and even a Sea Eagle anti-shipping missile on the central pylon. Radar wise it’s fitted with a modified APG-66, similar to the one fitted onto Argentine Skyhawks. It can also fitted with a refuelling probe.

Personally I think a batch of these would go down nicely for some Quick Reaction Alert duties. It’s cheaper to fly, cheaper to maintain, and frees up the Typhoon fleet for more pressing matters such as training alongside the army and navy. I understand that its climb rate isn’t what you’d expect out of an interceptor, mainly because an interceptor it is not.

But I personally believe that for shadowing Russian airborne patrols and acting as a squadron of air support for the Falklands (as opposed to a flight) it is more than adequate, and in the case of the Falklands may bizarrely be more capable on account of its ability to carry an anti-shipping missile.

Now, while the ability to obtain air superiority/supremacy is important, it also needs to be acknowledged that Close Air Support (CAS) for the army, transport and ISTAR are all of equal importance.

That starts with the RAF needing to properly fund the ability of Typhoon to use the full gamut of air-to-ground munitions, including Brimstone, all marks of the Paveway bombs that are kept in the inventory, Storm Shadow cruise missiles, the development of a comparable sensor pod to the Tornadoes RAPTOR, and the funding of a replacement for the Air Launched Anti-Radiation Missile (ALARM) which would equal that missile in terms of operating modes (such as the “loiter” capability) while also improving on range. The RAF would also need to dig out the gunnery manuals and get cracking on some air-to-ground gunfire support.

It also means taking greater strides to increase cooperation with the little green and dark blue men who march or sail beneath them as they whiz through the skies. One of the complaints for example that seems to repeatedly come up is the time lag between the collection of data by RAPTOR in Afghanistan and its arrival at the those places where the information is most desperately needed. This fundamentally has to change. The RAF needs to get deadly serious about how it interacts with and supports the Army and Navy.

I’m reminded of the story of Elwood Quesada, who retired from the USAF in 1951 as a Lieutenant-General. During World War Two the then Lieutenant-Colonel Quesada (who would go on to reach the rank of Major-General before the end of the war) became a champion of tactical air support for ground forces, including the conversion of anti-air radars for use by ground controllers to better organise waiting attack aircraft, as well as being the first to institute a policy of using actual trained fighter pilots as forward air controllers in order to improve the coordination and effectiveness of air attacks against ground targets.

While these tactics are common place now, this is the kind of thinking that needs to permeate all levels of the RAF. It needs to be considered a core mission of the RAF, up there with protecting UK airspace. Being directed in against ground targets under the control of a ground director should be as second nature to a pilot, if not more so, as his air-to-air combat skills.

I would also require as part of the “Chris.B. Reforms” that the RAF keep a squadron of Typhoons at permanent readiness, with the ability to deploy at 24 hours notice to a foreign base in support of operations overseas, with the ability to deploy two further squadrons in the following 48 hours if needed. They’ll need tanking support and armaments, with a plan in place to provide rapid resupply as well. In short, if I’m going to take away the Carriers from the Navy then the RAF had better bloody well get very good at replacing them.

The Typhoon would also find itself in the odd situation, something it certainly wasn’t designed for initially, of becoming part of the countries nuclear deterrent. The Typhoon would be required to carry and launch an Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), probably of new design, which would carry part of the UK deterrent, either at targets approaching through or fixed to mainland Europe, or potentially at a seaborne enemy task force, as part of the organised defence against serious aggression.

Lastly before we leave the land of fighter jets and move on to slower, less sexy machines, we need to address the Tornado again. As I said, I’d like the Tornadoes to be replaced by Typhoons in the long term, but I’d also investigate the possibility of keeping a small compliment of one squadrons worth of Tornadoes (using the out of service machines for spares) for their ability to carry two Storm Shadow missiles, as well the continued use of RAPTOR pods. This is not a high priority though. If it were to go ahead, the option of swapping out the engines for something with a higher by-pass ratio and no afterburner (I’m thinking fuel efficiency here) would be looked at.

Ok, on to the slower and less sexy, less pointy stuff.

The first thing that should leap out here is air to air refuelling and through a cack handed, bodged piece of financial hooliganism the RAF will indeed field 14 Voyager aircraft based on the Airbus A330. My desired plan would be to speak to the group involved with the Private Finance Initiative and see if some accommodation could not be made to allow the RAF to incrementally buy the aircraft over a number of years. It’s perhaps at this point that I should mention that I would permanently ban the MoD from ever again authorising any PFI contract.

To supplement the Voyagers we have the Atlas transport aircraft, more commonly known as the A400M (although “Grizzly” also seems to be gaining traction?). Although these will spend the bulk of their life doing transport work, they can be set up to perform aerial refuelling, a capability which I think would be a huge bonus for them to have, not least in the context of coalition operations. I would also look to extend the Atlas buy, possibly nicking some of the slots that the Germans are trying to sell off to reach a total buy of around 30 aircraft, replacing the venerable Hercules as these aircraft are retired (again, some might be able to be kept to perform AAR).

Continuing the theme of air transport, and in light of the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it might be worth considering the purchase of 3-5 Antonov An-124’s. Hiring them out only when you need them is one strategy and certainly that’s worked ok for us, but the trouble comes that when you urgently need them, often so do other people.

Having a small squadron (flight?) in our back pocket could come in very handy, not least because it’s immense carrying capacity (as much as 150 tons) could realise some long term savings by cutting down the number of flights needed to a given operational theatre, allowing other transport squadrons to ease off the pace and save some of their airframe hours.

For those wagging their fingers and bemoaning the An-124 being out of service, it actually appears that Russia is committed to a purchase of up to 20 new build (An-124-150) aircraft. There was even a proposal put forward a few years ago now to build versions of the aircraft with Rolls-Royce RB-211-524 engines. Perhaps a revival could be on the cards?

For reference, the An 124-150 version has an expected life of around 50,000 flying hours and to give you a few payload over range figures, we’ll use some example ranges that people are likely to be familiar with; roughly 90 tons payload from Ascension Island to the Falklands, or about 130 tons from the UK to Cyprus. Not bad says I.

The biggest gap that currently exists however is the Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) capability now that Nimrod MRA4 has been binned. Most suggestions to replace this aircraft point to the P-8 Poseidon, based on the Boeing 737-800 which has been developed for the US. This also creates an unexpected opportunity because the 737 is also the basis for an Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft (AEW&C, or AWAC‘s in older parlance), in service now with the Royal Australian Air Force (“Wedgetail”), Turkish Air Force and the Republic of Korea Air Force, whilst also purportedly being evaluated by the Italian and United Arab Emirate air forces.

This would allow one aircraft type to replace two as not only could Nimrod be replaced, but also the aging Sentry AEW&C aircraft could be replaced. I’m intrigued by this, but even more so by the EADS/CASA (Airbus) C-295 aircraft, a twin turbo prop powered light transport aircraft that comes in both MPA and AEW&C versions. The MPA version is in service with Chile and Portugal while the AEW&C version is a recent development incorporating a radar built by Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) (

The things that interests me about the C-295 are;

  • likely lower running costs for a turbo prop aircraft vs. full turbine,
  • reported 11 hour loiter time,
  • can purchase base transport variants (71 troops/20,000 lbs payload) as a supplement to lift fleet while still retaining a degree of commonality,
  • unlike the Boeing offering, C-295 has a probe for in-flight refuelling allowing its range to be extended by RAF tankers

Likely purchase numbers would be 5 AEW&C and 10 MPA.

Sticking with aircraft of an electronic nature, Sentinel would be kept in service, as would the Shadow (Beechcraft Super King Air), both of which provide valuable ISTAR services. The planned purchase of 5 additional Reaper unmanned observation/strike drones, to go with original 5, would also go ahead.

The RAF would retain its current fleet of Puma and Chinook helicopters, and would also take delivery of a small batch of new Merlin helicopters, enough to replace the old Sea Kings in the Search and Rescue role. Which is where I’m going next with this.

With the RAF operation of the MPA, the RAF would remain partially on the hook for providing the domestic Search and Rescue capability, which would absolutely not be leased out on a Private Finance Initiative (PFI). I say “partially” because the Navy would also need a search and rescue capability for it’s LPH/Future LHD, and because the RAF would also be required to develop a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) component for the recovery of downed pilots.

This would entail the formation of a Joint Search and Rescue (JSAR) team, that would need to field a single class of helicopter (Merlin) suitable for both domestic duties in support of the Coast Guard, military operations from a RN vessel and travelling from a fixed base and penetrating into hostile territory. The frontline military squadrons would regularly rotate through the civilian assistance role.

This is where the RAF Regiment come in, who would retain their role in the protection of UK air bases here and abroad, but would also provide the ground security element to CSAR operations. They’d need to get used to operating off of Navy vessels as part of their role (imagine if a Tornado had gone down over Libya for example).

As for the future of the RAF fast jets, what will happen now that I’ve robbed the UK of its planned stealth aircraft? My preferred option would be to give BAE a call and see if they cant make that rather attractive “Replica” test mock up they have fly…


Not a separate command I know, but I think the MoD should press for extra funding for the UK Space Agency and work with them to develop our satellite communications ability and also to build imaging satellites; some which would point out at the stars so that we might learn more about the universe, and some that will point in at the Earth, so that we might learn more about those that wish us harm.

This has been a reported issue for a while now and though Skynet 5 is supposedly a big improvement on the previous Skynet, you can never have too much bandwidth, especially as the world of the military shifts towards greater numbers of unmanned vehicles.


Alright, so again not technically a military issue but the impact of projects for the MoD has a knock on effect, as we’ve seen several times now. Bad projects that over run can slurp up money from the budget that should be spent on getting the correct equipment to the front line.

I think the first that needs to be instituted would be to put the Kybosh of future partnerships with foreign nations on defence projects. The list of problems caused by such collaborations is almost endless. Typhoon took nearly ten years just to get a final agreement done. The Horizon project dragged out many years before we finally left. There are concerns that if the UK buys F-35 then we won’t get software codes vital to ongoing maintenance and upgrades.

The problem is we just can’t agree with the rest of the world on anything. We don’t want gun ports in Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) because we consider such vehicles to be battle taxi’s, not battle stations. We wanted the higher powered radar for the Type 45 because we anticipated situations were we would use it away from carrier support and where it would need to throw up a much wider anti-air umbrella than our Italian or French counterparts needed. We insist on putting Boiling Vessels inside just about anything that moves.

The whole point of these partnerships was to reduce costs by spreading out the load. The end result has been the reverse, with costs spiralling at every turn as projects get endlessly delayed while countries fight over the details. That has to stop.

As does the delays part. This is a government failing and I accept that the MoD has little sway over this, but the endless stream of delaying projects and extending out the builds in order to shave off chunks of money in each individual fiscal year, while piling up the costs in the long run, has to stop.

In addition, the way we put together contracts has to change, accepting realistic cost estimates from industry in exchange for full auditing of their spending and sub contracting on MoD work, to the last man hour.


We need to make the British armed forces the employer of choice for bright young people in the UK, which means emphasising the various skills they can earn and promoting a better understanding of how valuable those skills are to civilian employers, especially some of the higher paid, more technical jobs. One impression that I’m always left with after watching any recruitment advert (for any service) on the telly is how little attention is given to the range of qualifications that can be earned by armed services personnel. I think if more young people understood the advantages that they would have post-service, then they would be more inclined to sign up.


The purpose of all this has been to develop a military fit for the 21st century, capable on land, sea and in the air, able to deploy a division sized force of either a light or heavy nature, with special forces support, strike aircraft and ISTAR assets attached, with the way being prepared by Naval TLAM strikes

In addition to the military side though I think the senior officers should be pushing the government actively to look at things like energy security in a more – and I hate this word – “holistic” manner. That means, for example, giving the guys at Green-Tide Turbines in Cambridgeshire a call and asking them what they mean when they say they’ve developed a 5Kw tidal turbine that can be laid safely on the bottom of most river beds (like the Thames for example) and can generate electricity much cheaper and more reliably than wind turbines.

Or they could just ask the government to fund defence properly.

The current funding situation faced by the armed forces is shocking. This is not a nation at peace, this is a nation at war. Coupled with how keen politicians seem to be to throw our military weight around at any and all opportunities, it is bordering on the criminal that they are so poorly funded.

At a time when foreign aid money has pushed over £6 billion and is projected to rise to over £9 billion by 2015, along with contributions to the EU (post rebate) of about the same figure, I find it hard to believe that “we are all in this together”. The country knew from the start that wasn’t the case, but now it’s frankly taking the piss.

This government, like governments before it, likes to act is if we are a mini-USA. If that is the case and indeed to the government truly wants to flex it’s military might at will across the globe, then may I suggest increasing funding to around 4% of GDP, as our American cousins do, which would put defence spending back up closer to £50-60 billion per year.

I’ll finish with another quote from that Ken Connor book I was talking about earlier, something that we’ve all become accustomed to by now.

“The amount of in-fighting that goes on between the different branches of the forces, even in the face of a campaign like the Falklands War, would shock the British public.”

You can buy Ken Connor’s book “Ghost Force – the secret history of the SAS” from Amazon, at this link;

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December 12, 2011 8:01 pm

BZ Chris for length.

I will now go and read it! ;)

December 12, 2011 8:16 pm

Very good, not had chance yet to digest it all yet, so I’ll come back when I have. No doubt it’ll get everyone on here talking.

December 12, 2011 8:20 pm

Chris B just to clarify, did you mean 6 Sqn of Typhoon extra or in total?

December 12, 2011 8:59 pm

I wonder about your belief that the point of the army to to gain influence with allies, not to win wars, which will have to be done in coalitions. The British army is having difficulty providing security in just one part of a province of Afghanistan. Having a large army highlights the UKs weakness, its size. But having a large navy would highlight its strength, its technology. I’d opt for an unbalanced, naval-centric armed forces along the lines of the one proposed over at the Fantasy Fleet blog some time ago.

December 12, 2011 9:57 pm

“well at least I’ve made a suggestion, what’s yours?”,

Now you have made a suggestion. And may I say an interesting one…. Left me thinking.

Still not sure about the larger Army, nor am I sure the costings would work for the Army.

But I would applaud you for putting forward a positive logical well argued rounded piece.

December 12, 2011 10:04 pm

Awesome post Chris
I don’t entirely agree about Type 26. You’re trying to set this up for export but giving potential customers restrictive choices. e.g. Shouldn’t there be a choice between vls launchers. the main gun should probably be fitted for not with, as others might want a 127mm.

For future proofing, the hangar should also be sized as large as possible, as most seem to be heading in the direction of 2 medium helicopters (or 1 plus 2/3 vtuav). And no stupid little kennels with ciws placed on top with small firing arcs like the current designs.

John Hartley
John Hartley
December 12, 2011 10:29 pm

2.7% GDP defence spending? Wish it was. Think it barely makes 2%
I think the 1998 SDR is what we should be aiming for. That was a pretty good attempt to balance capability with affordability. Shame Gordon never funded it.
We could afford it, if we cut foreign aid from 0.7% GDP to 0.5% like other similar nations. That frees up £ 3.45 billion.
As Cameron has used the veto, we might as well take Mrs Thatchers EU rebate back in full.
Then we could cut back on the management consultants, diversity & multi culti workers. Then not pay failed bankers.
The RN needs QE & POW. One fully armed & equipped. The other either in refit, or acting as a training carrier with a skeleton crew.
A 3rd carrier should be an affordable HMS Ocean replacement.
30 escorts. So 12 T45, plus 18 T23/T26.
To keep a UK submarine industry the RN needs 15 submarines. 4 SSBN, 8 SSN, 3 SSK.
RFA needs 2 Rover replacements, perhaps based on RR fast, green , wave piercing cargo design.
RAF needs an 8th C-17. A330 PFI is an expensive, under equipped abomination. We could have bought outright to the higher RAAF standard for less.
If we cannot afford to run enough Typhoon/F-35, the the surplus early SAAB Gripens, could provide a 50 strong Jaguar replacement quite cheaply.
It is a huge mistake to drop the Army below 100,000 strong.
Global economic chaos, could lead to trouble. Strong armed forces are a wise precaution.

paul g
December 12, 2011 11:28 pm

scrap f-35, maybe. scrap the carriers, could work. stop putting BV’s in all vehicles how very dare you sir, i won’t have that talk on here!!

However, just reading john’s comment about the griphen, in keeping with the TD commonality theme,
compare the the EJ200 (ie typhoon engine) with the current engine in the griphen the F414 they are same size (almost) seeing as saab has a design centre in the UK, why not pop along and suggest it, can’t hurt!!!

paul g
December 12, 2011 11:32 pm

should’ve been more specific there, power output and diameter as well (all on wiki) plus it take advantage of the new upgrades EJ220 (20% more power) and obviously thrust vectoring which can only enhance the STOL. There is a photo somewhere of all the weapon systems cleared for griphen, it’s awesome!

December 12, 2011 11:47 pm

paul got a link to the ej200 upgrades?

Rupert Fiennes
Rupert Fiennes
December 12, 2011 11:55 pm

.B: thanks for the post. Thoughts as of now on the post:-

– it’s a bit of a potpurri of stuff, more defined by what we have now rather than what we might need. I like the emphasis on our minimum roles, but we might want to define expanded roles. For example, if we are worried about nuclear threats from the middle east, what should we regard as the minimum target set to hold at risk to attempt deterrence, plus defensive options

– Sorry, carriers just cannot be done without. Stuff the strike, we cannot deploy the Army in any significant numbers without the sea, and cannot defend said sea routes from air and missile attack past the horizon without fast air based at sea. Attempting to base fast air at bases you beg off others puts tremendous political restrictions, and buying the additional fighters and tankers that would be required to sustain said defences would cost far more than the carriers, even at relatively short distances. The F35 is an uneasy compromise aircraft that will be available too late, so just buy 70 F18E/F for the carriers off the shelf

– sensible idea re the Typhoon, especially since we save bugger all money canceling the last 40 Tranche 3. Ideally refit the entire fleet to the same standard. Bin all the Tornado’s once we have them.

– what exactly are all these light brigades going to do? We’ve got effectively 4 mechanised bn’s worth of Mastiff and Ridgeback in Afghan right now operating , supporting 4 “light” bn’s, in a war where the enemy think a Landcruiser is pukka kit. Any deployment to anything other than deep jungle is going to be the same: a couple of light brigades should be just fine.

– I’m not a fan of the RAF being a separate service, I think it will become increasingly irrelevant as the numbers of fast jets and the pilots who comprise them run down. And…this would save a lot of money we could redeploy elsewhere. But this is an aside :-)

– The industrial part I thought was very good. It makes good points on the issues we always have with cooperative programs. They usually end up costing more than if we had just done it ourselves. I’d suggest we define military equipment into a) stuff we require a design and manufacture capability in because there could be unacceptable restrictions on their use without at least some design authority within the UK b) stuff we need a manufacturing capability and c) everything else. If something is desired to fit into a), we need to commit to making enough of them and having no gaps between generations of design activity, or the expertise will die. For b), there has to be minimal gaps in production for the same reason. For c) buy off the shelf, from whereever. Examples:-

a) Nuclear subs, generic combat aircraft (not necessarily manned), generic armoured vehicles, generic missiles, warships, electronic warfare equipment sufficient for terminal , nuclear weapons, NBC equipment

b) ammunition, logistic vehicles, helicopters, radar, sonar, torpedo’s, spare parts and software support sufficient for a time horizon of 3 years

c) everything else

Hope that wasn’t too much :-)


December 13, 2011 12:11 am

@ Chris B,

much to read, and I’m sure much of it of great sense. I’ve got a 24 hour journey to the Phillipines in the next few days so will download to read and think during that.

Just a quick thought: while you are careful to note (and I’m glad) the need for balance between forces, we also need to consider the balance between power projection and the tyranny of time. There’s a sweet spot at about 2-3 weeks, I feel before the world gets bored and moves on, and short of major outrages coalition-needed type interventions, we’d be on the back foot if we were slower.

Plus, no mention of bands or Pipes and Drums. Major failing. ;)

On a serious note, your early point about merging MoD and FCO is a very good one. I’d add in DFID as well. Tories had a section in the 2010 manifesto called “Britain in the Wider World” drawing together all three strands – that’s not a bad concept. If I were a rich man on the lines of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet I’d bankroll the construction of a 500 bed / 1500 outpatient “white” hospital ship / clinic that we could equally use for DFID and humanitarian intervention and as a military hospital ship, and gift it the UK Government. RN could man it. I’d die a happy man if we as a nation had such a vessel to use as part of our foreign policy.

December 13, 2011 2:30 am

Chris B

Magnificent – truly magnificent ! Don’t agree with a word of it, as you might expect, but well written and well argued points sir :-)

Army – why so much Light Infantry ? Are you taking the position (which is being rapidly discredited in the USA) that the future is COIN ? You say the vehicle fleets have been influenced by the conflict we are in, but surely the one lesson is that even “light infantry” needs “protected patrol” vehicles, in other words they are not light infantry of ye olde style at all, but “light mechanised” ??

Navy – believe me the T42 is so old we are not going to use them for anything else ! I have read, and re-read, so excuse me but did you say how many T26 you wanted ??? Only 2 more T45 – BUT – 20 to 30 MCMV/Patrol vessels ? “RN World Police” but with a vessel too small to achieve anything ???

Which is a nice segway into guns (“Guns, we need more guns” Neo, The Matrix)……. Goalkeeper – now pointless, not as pointless as Phalanx, but pretty pointless against many threat missile systems. Useful against Boghammers, I will give you that much. CIWS requires a missile, e.g. US/German RAM. On to the medium calibre, or lack of in your case. We have used NGS quite a bit, FI, ex-Yugoslavia, Gulf, Libya, but I digress. The modern 5 inch / 127mm with precision guided munitions like the Italian Vulcano with it’s IR guided anti-ship version, and it’s laser guided version, is an incredibly flexible weapons system. With the rate of fire of the Italian OTO 127mm Compact, you could probably do something like the DART beam riding sub-munition they developed for their 76mm, giving you a guided, long(ish) range anti-missile round too. In fact, if you dont want 127mm, then at least go for 76mm instead of Goalkeeper, far more flexible :-)

By the way, the Admiral can blow smoke up our arses about the performance of the T45 as much as he likes, but until one fires two Asters in quick succession, against two maneuvering supersonic target drones, then it is literally smoke…….

Can’t be arsed to comment on the Crabs, so I will finish by doing a Homer J Simpson:

“Mmmmm’ RG35 with 120mm mortars……mmmmmmmm”

December 13, 2011 2:37 am

Ooops, forgot, why on earth scrap/sell the 3rd Bay, they are sooooo cheap to run, and you remove any “reserve” capability at all……

December 13, 2011 4:55 am

Hi Chris, A very interesting article. I have a few points to pick at in your overall strategy. I am guestimating that your increase in the Army will bring us up to around 120,000. What exactly does that allow us to do that we can’t do today? Is there any value for the tax payer in having these extra forces? Is it really worth our while to provide yet more ground forces to US operations?
The legality of sending in SAS units to help in Mexico’s drug wars or Brazil’s slum clearance also strikes me as something we do not want to venture into. Would this type of operation really give us much in the way of diplomatic influence with these countries or any one else?
With the cancelation of the F35 what do you expect the knock on effect to the British Aviation industry to be? We are building 15% of this aircraft. That does not sound like much but when we are talking about 3000 aircraft it is. Would the USA still let BAE and RR be involved? Would we lose much of our manufacturing capability as a result of the USA pulling production contracts? Would we save any money? I am not sure but I think we must have some production contract in place as a Tier I partner. Also with China, India and Russia already on the way to developing a 5th generation capability how will we look if we don’t have one. Even Belgium is likely to have F35’s along with such mighty world powers as Singapore and Norway.
While I support the call for reform of the deterrent I don’t think Astute’s and Typhoons launching tactical nukes can really provide this. How do we maintain our position on the Security Council if we are the only nation without SSBN’s?

December 13, 2011 4:57 am

@JS123 Keep reading TD might have a suprise for you by the end of the week.

December 13, 2011 7:52 am

@ Chris B

I do not really see the ability to provide substantial ground elements as the most important coalition enabler. Europe alone has more than 2 million men in its armies and while most of these are short service conscripts many are not. I do take on your point that if we want to go we have to provide a substantial part of the ground force but what constitutes substantial. Would a British deployment of say 15,000 to a European operation of 50,000 not constitute a substantial presence? Also we have to really ask the question I think of whether or not having the ability to sustain two brigades is an ability we really want or need. As you say given the option politicians are always going to end up sending in our forces. While I commend the idea of giving those forces and adequate weight to do the job I would question the desire to commit to such deployments. If Afghanistan has taught us anything surely it is that large scale ground forces even ones as capable and professional as ours cannot win a protracted COIN war through force of arms. If we are to commit to such operations surely it should be on a smaller level more in line with our population size. Perhaps 5000 troops.
The two things Europe and everyone else has in spades are ground forces and fast pointy things. However no one other than the USA has the ability to deploy and control them. Surely this is where we should concentrate the bulk of our tight budget.
I take your point about SAS training foreign forces however as far as I know this is something we already commit too. I think as you say it’s something we really need to focus on doing more of. However I am not sure if the SAS are the bets guys for the job of defence diplomacy. Give the small size of this force would it not be better to have a second special force purely dedicated to the task something along the lines of the US Green Berries.
We can agree to disagree on the 5th Generation capability of F35. However turning Replica into an aircraft is exactly what the F35 is. It was the major reason for Lockheed partnering with BAE. While I don’t doubt there are some key skills that will keep BAE in the loop I doubt we can expect anything like as much if we pull out of purchasing any. The knock on effects to our relations with the US could also be devastating if our withdrawal gives other partner nations the excuse to pull out leaving the US to either cancel its most important military project or foot the bill itself.
I realise there is no formal requirement to have SSBN’s to be on the Security Council. However it’s the one weapon system that all members have and it’s the one weapon system no one else has. We should not underestimate the importance of symbols when it comes to defence diplomacy. We do not have these weapons to defend against invasion of our homeland in a tactical sense. Rather it gives us the ability to devastate an enemy’s home land. How effective would Astute and Typhoon be at achieving this goal against say China? I agree that SSBN’s are expensive and they are something I would love to cut but surely having an SSN with 4 or 6 tubes for trident that could also be backed to carry 7 Tomahawks for conventional assault would be better. We have already paid for Trident 5D and developing a nuclear capable cruise missile is not likely going to be cheap.

December 13, 2011 8:21 am

@ChrisB, fantastic article i’ve read it three times and still don’t think i’ve absorbed it all… I’ve tried starting my own amateurish post and appreciate how hard and time consuming it is… Well done.

Though like Jed I don’t agree with much of it… My main sticking points is the size of the army you propose and the culling of carrier air. Will write more detailed points when I think i’ve understood the whole package.

December 13, 2011 8:23 am

“I and others have often been challenged with what I personally believe to be the very tenuous argument of “well at least I’ve made a suggestion, what’s yours?”, by which logic a suggestion to take a long bath in high concentration acid would immediately be validated if no alternative course of action could be suggested.”

Not had chance to read it all yet (busy today) but thought this needed replying too.
I ask that querstion (well, what would you do) for several reasons.
Firstly, because I am genuinely interested.

But Secondly, to actualy put some thought in.
What I suggested wasnt my ideal force structure. I’d love a 250,000 strong army and a half a million strong militia to back them up.
I’m still working on my third SRPD post.

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
December 13, 2011 8:29 am

‘This brigade would also need its own formation reconnaissance regiment, so I suspect the 9th/12th Royal Lancers would be split back into the 9th Queens Royal Lancers and the 12th Royal Lancers to accommodate this.’

Wow. Just wow. I suspect the HCav (or any regiment in existence) would be a more likely candidate for a split than 9/12. I’m afraid I stopped reading at this point, as anyone who knows anything about the army/recce would have been too busy choking on their cornflakes to continue.

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
December 13, 2011 9:18 am

‘the 9th/12th Lancers are a formation recce unit formed in the 1960′s’. Really? I had no idea.

Formation recce is actually now called Brigade Recce, but never mind that. It’s just that 9/12 are not a ‘pretty good candidate’.

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
December 13, 2011 9:20 am

And Jackal is not an acceptable Recce vehicle in anything other than a COIN environment. Firepower – Mobility – Protection? No. No. No.

December 13, 2011 9:21 am

I am not sure if the premise was to better allocate the current budget (or the smaller one in the future); perhaps it was said, but I overlooked it?

If that was the angle, I can’t agree (in the Jed and Repulse camp, then).I’ve read Martin’s original post about an unbalanced force and if he is going to improve on that (as hinted?), this thread is going to evolve into a nice menu from which everyone will find something to like.

Just a small detail about “Rolls-Royce have effectively been shut out of the program already, with their alternative engine for the B version dropped.”
– yes, they and their partner offered to finish the development with $2bn and the rest coming out of their own funds, but dropping “B” meant that a lot of “friends” dropped us in return, and that offer was not good enough
– they do make the lift fans in Indianapolis (final assembly, so in reality they are made over here; so it is not only BAE who are getting the industrial benefits of the global programme)

December 13, 2011 9:23 am

Re: Joint Combat SAR, i’ve read that there was a plan, i think in 2006, to prepare E Flight, 28 RAF Sqn, and a Flight of 4 Sea King HC4 from CHF, for CSAR role.

One would be manned by the RAF, with RAF regiment personnel for the fighting bit, and one would be Navy, with Marines, for operating in CSAR role in amphibious areas.

The programme was never officially cancelled, but effectively died on its own due to the pressure that the helicopter personnel and fleets have been facing all this time on operation.

Perhaps, when Afghanistan is over, an effort for resurrecting the concept will be made. However the original plan involved experienced SAR crews coming from the national service and rotating in and out of the CSAR role.

If military SAR crews cease to be, it’ll automatically become harder to provide the service.

December 13, 2011 9:26 am

Hi Ed,

Even in a COIN environment (mines and IEDs), isn’t the verdict “Protection? No. No. No.” on this alone for Jackal
– I was voted down when we were speculating about the two Scout (equipped) and one wheeled Squadron make up, at the time when that intention was announced

December 13, 2011 10:05 am

Hi Chris, had time to chew over. Here are some of my thoughts.

Personally I think a batch of these would go down nicely for some Quick Reaction Alert duties. It’s cheaper to fly, cheaper to maintain, and frees up the Typhoon fleet for more pressing matters such as training alongside the army and navy. I understand that its climb rate isn’t what you’d expect out of an interceptor, mainly because an interceptor it is not.

At the moment (as you no doubt know) the reverse is true. I’m not sure using an aircraft designed capable of QRA to a very high standard would be best used in a training role it’s a waste. And likewise using something that is designed as a trainer in QRA is a waste. You’re getting no savings just using a/c in a role they aren’t designed to do. Training can easily be done be the hawk in FAC role leaving typhoon to perform one of it’s key roles. You should look to get the strengths out of each a/c. A small amount of training is still done with front line a/c for fam training. But isn’t that key, many UK facs use foriegn a/c having never worked with them before.

‘The RAF would also need to dig out the gunnery manuals and get cracking on some air-to-ground gunfire support.’

Do you mean in general or specifically towards Typhoon? Generally speaking it already happens. I can’t swear that it happens on Typhoon but (second hand) the gun bay at Coningsby is pretty busy for an aircraft that does no guning!

‘One of the complaints for example that seems to repeatedly come up is the time lag between the collection of data by RAPTOR in Afghanistan and its arrival at the those places where the information is most desperately needed. This fundamentally has to change. The RAF needs to get deadly serious about how it interacts with and supports the Army and Navy.’

That is a network problem IIRC. The system in afghan can’t handle the amount of data that is needed. The problem is further down the line than TIW.

‘It needs to be considered a core mission of the RAF, up there with protecting UK airspace. Being directed in against ground targets under the control of a ground director should be as second nature to a pilot, if not more so, as his air-to-air combat skills.’

Would already be so on say the GR4 fleet, they’ve being doing it for years. Their air-air skills very much take a back seat.

‘I would also require as part of the “Chris.B. Reforms” that the RAF keep a squadron of Typhoons at permanent readiness, with the ability to deploy at 24 hours notice to a foreign base in support of operations overseas, with the ability to deploy two further squadrons in the following 48 hours if needed.’

Wow! That would eat up a very large % of your fleet, (3 out of 11?) it would have an enormous impact on training, you’re tying down a lot of people. To support something like that we would have to have a supply chain, like we’ve never seen on Typhoon ever (and will never) and across the RAF not seen in decades (if ever!).

This is not a high priority though. If it were to go ahead, the option of swapping out the engines for something with a higher by-pass ratio and no afterburner (I’m thinking fuel efficiency here) would be looked at.

It wouldn’t really be possible, the RB199 is quite a small engine something with a higher bypass ratio would take up too much space. Reheat would still be needed to get off the ground with safety. On SS missions you generally as close to the max weight as a GR4 has been. You need that extra thrust. The costs of redesign would dwarf any fuel savings especially on a one sqn fleet.

‘Continuing the theme of air transport, and in light of the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it might be worth considering the purchase of 3-5 Antonov An-124’s’

This was looked at in the late 90’s pre C17. There is a copy of it on Hansards as to why they didn’t go down the russian route. The idea against it was, a lot of it would be redesigned in the cockpit, ie it’s in russian and metres. They was also a concern about safety. The rest was political, our heavy lift would be depended on russian support, the engineering authority all the major servicing, parts, repair etc all in russia. It was something they didn’t want to expose themselves to.

‘Although these will spend the bulk of their life doing transport work, they can be set up to perform aerial refuelling,’

Not sure if it’s an urban myth but I think it’s expensive or undoable under the PFI for the A330s.

‘This is where the RAF Regiment come in, who would retain their role in the protection of UK air bases here and abroad, but would also provide the ground security element to CSAR operations.’

They already do that to a lesser extent, in E flight on 28 Sqn. Although if you wanted to do it more like the US system I think that would be a good idea. Although some cap badges in the army might have a collective seizure!

December 13, 2011 11:58 am

“The Permanent membership of the Security Council is not dependent on the possession of Nuclear weapons, let along SSBN’s.”

Agreed ChrisB,

An interesting article with a lot of detail, I particularly like the idea of making greater use of the Hawk (but perhaps for forward presence / conflict prevention), but I do totally disagree with the main thrust of the article (i.e. ditch carriers and expand army).

December 13, 2011 12:08 pm

To weigh in on my specialist subject:

“I will need an adequate explanation from someone with more knowledge on this matter as to why the RFA couldn’t just be merged into the Royal Navy, becoming the floating equivalent of the Royal Logistic Corps.”

It already is, just with a civvy cap badge: 1) You can’t really conscript 2000 civil servants, 2) Civvies are cheaper. Point 2) is why the Bays are still RFA manned despite an RN grab for them a few years ago.

Diligence is not an icebreaker and why do you want two?

Waves have minimal dry stores capability: a hold the size of your garage and space for a few fridgecons on deck. A repeat Wave – which is roughly what the MARS Fleet Tanker is, but with corners cut for cost-saving – would be fine for the tanker element, but no good for dry stores or munitions. Mixing significant dry stores and liquid cargo capacity on one ship leads to either major compromises or a huge, expensive vessel.

Bays “not doing a lot”?!!! You didn’t notice Cardigan sat up the NAG for years? Lyme out there now doing MCMV support? Largs on APT(N) (and even APT(S)!)? Without even mentioning the regular support to amphibious and land exercises? The Bays are worked hard.

December 13, 2011 12:12 pm

With my earlier caveat of not having read it all.

Just a thought regarding “interceptions”
Does the UK make a habit of parking bombers 11 miles out to sea?
If not, what realisticaly could someone “do” if we said “we will consider all military aircraft without permission a threat” and proceded to shoot them down rather than follow them around in a very expensive fighter?

December 13, 2011 12:14 pm

Regarding the RAF – as Chris B suggests but for entirely different reasons – it’s hard to see the argument for the RAF to buy the F35 whichever way you look at it.

As it stands the SDSR proposes the RAF retire 50 Typhoons and the entire Tornado fleet prematurely, to create space on the organisational chart to replace those with an unspecified number of F35. This strategy, if you can call it that, is probably a hangover from the notion pre the SDSR that the RAF would gain the F35A as a new long range strike capability and incidentally replacing the Tornado in the general ground attack role. Typhoon by default would remain for air defence which is probably why the RAF didn’t pursue the Typhoon’s swing role capability with any great vigour.

However, with the SDSR now giving the navy the F35C, the role of long range strike is now in the navy’s camp unless the government wants to pay for it twice, and the RAF is left to argue that it needs the F35 anyway to replace the Typhoon as a general ground attack aircraft. Which it doesn’t need to do at all.

December 13, 2011 12:16 pm

I still cant take these things seriously…

Also, Typhoon’scannon is cleared for A2G work, and was carried out stateside, though training may not be priority atm

December 13, 2011 1:22 pm

The RFA is in a constant stage of metamorphasis. To carry out military duties the Merchant Shipping Act was adapted and amended to allow certain military duties to be performed and keep things lawful. When in ‘harms way’ however their legal standing changes to that of retained/reserve forces and the Naval Dis Act applied to all crew members at which time they ‘cease’ to be civilians as such. Senior officers go on the various warfare and command courses offered by the MOD (N)and the civilian crew members train on the self defence weaponry fitted to the vessels, much the same as the RNR would do, as of course they are in normal times civilians as well.

December 13, 2011 2:11 pm

Jackal. It has it’s uses certainly. But there’s barely any armour on the thing. No way I’d want to use it in a conventional fight. It’s useful for light forces and COIN.

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
December 13, 2011 2:28 pm

So one ‘ex recce chap’ thinks they are suitable? Right. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be rolling into Iran 24 hours ahead of the armour in one! I just find your hypothesis that the 9/12 would be split ludicrous. Why not HCav into Blues and Royals and Life Guards, QRL into 17/21 and 16/5, QDG into….etc etc. It is simply so unlikely that it is mind boggling!

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
December 13, 2011 2:49 pm

‘Well one thing occured to me is with the Warriors being extended out, how much of an arse ache would it be to do a life extension on the FV432 fleet? Possibly the 40mm CTA on Scimitar etc?’

If your area of expertise is the Navy, stick to that. A life extension of the FV432 fleet? More bolted on, bodged Scimitar upgrades? And this is your ‘fantasy fleet’? You MUST work in the MOD procurement business (and probably in the armoured vehicles department). Seriously, I am a believer in the view that, when it comes to the Army, if enough people talk about something then it generally happens; which is why these sort of suggestions need to be squashed at the point of conception.
I am sure it wouldn’t be an arse ache, other than for the poor souls asked to live and fight in the damn things. Still more money left over to spend on boats or something. Cue anger….

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
December 13, 2011 3:10 pm

‘Trying being less of a toss pot and maybe people will open their ears to your infinite wisdom.’


December 13, 2011 3:12 pm

The Typhoons training is more for their own benefit, as in the fact that we currently have so few pilots qualified air to ground in the Typhoon. The other issue that has come up has been the low availability of Typhoon. Taking it away from the QRA frees up squadrons who are otherwise tied to this role.

Not really I priority at the moment with the GR4 fleet. I’ve no doubt you could, but to me QRA is the Typhoon’s number one role and in the defence of the UK, the RAF. Using Hawks for something like QRA when we have better a/c is something I don’t get. Most of the availability issues are spares, moving roles won’t change that.

Per RAPTOR and the problems, there is a problem which needs solving. We need solutions and they need to be prioritised.

I agree, however pointing the finger at the RAF, as if it were hanging about with finger in proverbial isn’t really accurate. The problem is further down the line.

‘Per air to ground, their is a perception, either warranted or unwarranted, that the RAF is not as interested as it needs to be in providing CAS to the army, particularly with the Typhoon.’

I’d rather people deal with the reality rather than the perceptions. There’s already too much of it happening in this country.

‘Per squadrons and expeditionary air, the current Typhoon batch will – after the retirement of the Tranche 1′s sit at over 100. On paper that’s at least 8 squadrons, plus the further six outlined which brings the tally to 14. Only one of these would be on the 24 hour notice. The remaining two would plucked from other duties.’

100 would get you 5 sqns not 8, the extra ones would give you a total of about 9 sqns(+ocu & oeu) not 14. It’s very diificult to place a unit on 48 hours to move then have them do ‘other duties’ to any real extent. They are either on stand by or not. Along with the Nuclear role you would want them to take, it would be streched force. Away from the sqns you would also have a massively increased RAF. The supply side would have to increase hugely and the security and all aspects of nuclear weapons is large and expensive,(and long gone in the raf).

‘Per Tornadoes, that was – as mentioned – not a high priority and like the Type 42 section in the Navy, more of a speculative “if it could be done then fine, if not then F**k it” type thing.’

Fair enough.

‘Per AN-124, we hire them out anyway for major operations. I’m sure it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to do the needed deal to get the support UK based, especially as the Russians could use the cash to get that project off the ground.’

I see, putting them under some sort of permanant lease would make more sense.

‘Per A330 PFI, I believe that is a myth.’

I thought it might be.

‘Per CSAR, yes, it would be more along the US system.’

Expensive but worth it, we’ve got away with it for years with large gaps in that area.

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
December 13, 2011 3:22 pm

I just don’t think that you should be making comments on subjects that you clearly have little or no knowledge of. I don’t know one end of a ISO container or bridging asset from another, so don’t comment on those posts. Recce/CVRt/Armoured vehicle are things that I am pretty well versed in, so if you don’t like what I have to say then boo hoo. I just abhor idiots talking about extending the life of 40 year old vehicles and advocating Jackal as a recce car, whilst demonstrating a five year old’s view of the regimental system: ie. That regiment is made of two numbers, so we could split it!

Mike W
December 13, 2011 3:28 pm


What an outstanding post, Chris. I think andyw’s word “awesome” describes it fittingly.

It therefore seems carping to point to omissions or rather to points only touched on. However, I thought I would mention one point concerning the Army that occurs to me. At least two recent conflicts which we have taken part in have involved COIN warfare rather than high intensity, conventional combat. In those conflicts mine and IED detection and clearance have been of the highest importance. I notice that you do not give much prominence to capabilities such as Talisman.

I’m not sure exactly how to express this because I haven’t formulated the idea fully in my own mind. However, would it not perhaps be a good idea if at least one of your brigades were to specialize in COIN capabilities e.g. heavily protected vehicles (Mastiffs, Ridgbacks, Wolfhounds, etc.), with the Engineers’ component having state-of-the-art anti-mine and IED systems, etc. etc. The brigade could also be well equipped with drones and other capabilities essential in COIN warfare.

That brigade would then be the one of the earliest (although not the first, which is more likely to be a rapid deployment formation) to be deployed to any trouble spot which turns out to involve COIN warfare. If you like, the unit could be smaller than a Brigade. I don’t know whether there is any mileage in the idea of a specialist COIN formation as one of the five brigades.

Buffalo mine-protected clearance vehicle and the High Mobility Engineer Excavator (HMEE).

For me their use after the Afghanistan war basically would involve the Mastiff, Ridgeback, Wolfhound and Foxhound vehicles being assigned to the light infantry as in order to provide them with a degree of protected mobility, with the Jackal’s and Husky’s being transferred to the reconnaissance regiments.

Mike W
December 13, 2011 3:32 pm

Sorry! Those last two paragraphs should not be there.

December 13, 2011 3:37 pm

‘Lot of Army bods who would argue the reality. ‘

I’m sure they would, but it doesn’t make it so.

‘If an RAF squadron is 12 aircraft, with 4 dedicated to OCU/OEU and 8 for duties, then 100 aircraft should give you more than 5 squadrons. Unless Sqaudron strength has risen to 20 since I last checked?’

No it doesn’t work like that, there would 12 on each sqn. But some are away on maintaince in TMU, there’s about 20 aircraft at any one point, some are at warton the OEU has 5, the OCU has about 17 a/c. Add in attritional spares and that’s how many sqns you would get.

‘If they truly can’t react with 48 hours notice to move then the people calling for the disbandment of RAF might well be on to something.’

‘Reacting’ isn’t the issue, it’s being able to do something useful like deploy in 48 hrs whilst your putting them on other duties. Not only that having the support such as supply how are you goint to fill out that many PEPs?

December 13, 2011 3:42 pm

Sorry, should have added at the end.

Shortage of spares is an issue, I’m not saying you can’t do it, you would have to bulk out the tail end of the RAF. You just didn’t mention it that’s all, if that’s the case I would support it. [can you tell what service I’m in :-)] For examples of rapid deployment look at 5 AC Sqn in GW1 or 41(F) Sqn in SL.

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
December 13, 2011 3:44 pm

Funny, considering one of your counter proposal was simply to break up another regiment into two, because it it has four numbered squadrons in it?

That was a clearly failed attempt to highlight the absurdity of your suggestion. And if you have no expertise in an area I wouldn’t expect you to recognise another’s. I eagerly anticipate you next article on putting an AS90 turret on a Spartan or something.

December 13, 2011 3:55 pm

Ed Z

WTF ? Give the man a break ! If TD lets him make a guest post with Fantasy in the tittle what exactly do you expect for the level of detailed content ? I presume your serving or ex-Squaddie with armoured recce experience, so to you it may well be blindingly obvious to split the HCar back into its recently amalgamated Blues & Royals and the Lifeguards; that is specific domain knowledge you have, and indeed I am some awareness of having a Dad who was the old Blues, and having worked with the modern Blues and Royals.

So, rather than just making snotty short comments, why not take some time, and use your domain expertise to point out the fallacies, mistakes etc as presented by Chris’ approach ? Educate your reader as to why constantly “upgrading” (picture the massive air qoutes around that one) crappy old kit like FV432/Bulldog or CVR(T) is a bad idea – it would be far more useful to the rest of us, and the debate in general than your just diving in and berating Chris for being an idiot because he is not ex-Recce !

December 13, 2011 3:56 pm

Chris you can’t split an amalgamated Cavalry Regiment. There’d be set piece battles and advances to contact over the Regimental silver and plate and all the other random stuff they’ve nicked over the years from friend and foe. Everyone would have to learn new old toasts and idiosyncrasies all over again and OPTEMPO is too high for those sort of shenanigans. Plus new mess dress, ruinous man!

December 13, 2011 4:00 pm

Fair enough if money is no object then yes it could be done, but do you still feel it meets ‘being that it will attempt to meld current financial reality with the current defence situation that faces the UK’ ?

Think Defence
December 13, 2011 4:11 pm

Time to wade in…

Chris has taken the time to create a very thought provoking and broad brush document that sets out similarly broad choices on equipment, as per the title.

Lets not get too bogged down in the detail but it seems to be that 4WD open top vehicles have always been part of the recce mix so why would Jackal not continue in that vein?

We have discussed everything from using CR2 in the recce role to the role of Facebook in the same role, we can be constructive and make an effort to educate each other.

On the regimental issue, I despair, I really do.

As soon as the Regimental systems historical and completey anachronistic and counter productive baggage is kicked into touch the better we will be

December 13, 2011 4:17 pm

Diligence – may have an ice class hull, especially as she was built in Sweden for Stena, but that just means she can operate in areas where she may encounter ice up to a certain thickness, either free floating or when following an actual icebreaker through a lead in pack ice, but she cannot icebreak on her own. Ice class hulls are quite common, the Bays have them for example.

Swing-role replenishment is +/- impossible. Your hull spaces must be either tanks for liquid cargo with pumps and pipes or holds for solid cargo equipped with MHE, lifts and cranes. Combining them in multirole leads to large, expensive ships like the newer Fort class. The expense and disproportionately low performance of such is why Fort George was disposed of in the SDSR rather than the much older solid-only Fort Austin or Fort Rosalie.

Ref Bays… If there were ships available suited to the task! APT(N) is actually quite appropriate, given the Bay’s capacity for disaster relief – look at Largs performance in Haiti. ISTR the figure of £5-10million per year to run a Bay. Peanuts!

December 13, 2011 4:45 pm

chris b assuming budgets at the level you have implied with your choices. I would say somewhere in the mid 40s for a one off then high 20s on a more long term basis. Assuming 172 ac in the fleet.

December 13, 2011 4:51 pm

just a note fleet planners now think in terms of ac deployed rather than sqns. How quickly could they deploy if they had the kit and tanked then fast. 5 sqn deployed and started flying over saudi in 48 hours. I’m not saying your plan to have large numbers on stand by couldn’t be done just that it would eat up a lot me logs and cost a lot.

December 13, 2011 5:13 pm

like i said with enough spares, cash, logs support, AT etc and nothing else is ‘on the board’ then yes.

December 13, 2011 5:18 pm

Chris B – just to be clear, I am not calling you and idiot, I enjoyed your piece, and I take it at face value as response to other such peices, and way to perpetuate / push the debate.

Like I said, apart from the appeal of Rg35’s and 120mm mortars, I don’t personally agree with much of it, especially the large number of light infantry brigades, but I value your time and effort in writing it, and feel that getting into stupid squabbles over which regiments should / could be split is frakkin ridiculous :-)

I bet the Cylons don’t even give their base ships names, and they’re gonna find us, eventually…..

December 13, 2011 5:33 pm

@ Topman – “just a note fleet planners now think in terms of ac deployed rather than sqns.”

This is the FEAR acronym; Force Elements at Readiness?

What FEaR is tornado fleet expected to provide, that may well prove a useful benchmark for RAF power-projection in future.

December 13, 2011 5:45 pm

@jedi yes that’s the new phrase. When the fleet is reduced to 96 i think it around 18 sorry can’t remember the exact figure off the top of my head. @ chris b no problem :-)

paul g
December 13, 2011 5:58 pm

@ topman, couldn’t find a link to the EJ220, or the EJ2x0. A bit on wikki, which i know doesn’t really count, however whilst searching there was a forum blog thingy, where they were discussing supercruise without afterburner. In amongst the squabbling some swedish came up and said the gripen had been designed to take the EJ200 as well as the F414, reason it wasn’t in was no-one had asked for it.
So there must be some designs, paperwork etc etc on this, so CAS for RAF and sea G for navy (unless chris gets to FSL)!! and with the typhoon it’s all one engine for spares, publications etc.

bit of copy and paste ref An-124, it has passed euro certification and obviously points to note 2012 sees the assembly line reopening, with western engines back in the frame for the chinese. They do like to say they are ukranian not russian on their website!!

The An-124-100-150 “Ruslan” passed certificate testing on 25 April 2007. At the final stage of the trial, a piloting-and-navigation system (PNS) was put on the test. The purpose was to make sure it meets the requirements of basic and accurate zonal navigation (B-RNAV and P-RNAV) when performing terminal taking-off and arrival procedures to European airports, where these procedures are certified and should be performed by means of zonal navigation method.

The An-124-100M aircraft, with western avionics and a payload of 150 tons, was to be the initial product of renewed assembly by the Antonov Design Bureau and Volga-Dnipro group of companies, which had signed a contract in 2003 to resume production of the An-124 Ruslan aircraft. The An-124-100M variant complies with chapter 4 ICAO and other new technical requirements.

The An-124-100M-150, a modernized Ruslan with a cargo capacity of 150 tons, is planned for series production starting in 2012 in a broad Russian-Ukrainian cooperation. The new version of the airplane certified by the interstate aviation committee in June of 2007 complies with requirements of European control of zonal navigation P-RNAV, as well as accuracy requirements of piloting airplanes ?-RNP-1. Preparation for the validation of certificate of type by the EASA was already started in 2008. Ruslan International Ltd (UK) established by the partners in 2006 acts as the marketing agent of the Ukrainian and Russian operators. Volga-Dnepr and ANTK Antonov intend to renew the production of the transport airplanes, placing an order on 17 aircraft. Motor Sich will design a modified D-18T engine of 4th series especially for these aircraft.

The proposed An-124-210, with 264-kN Rolls-Royce RB.211-524H-T engines in lieu of the 229-kN ZMKB Progress D-18T offers better field performance, requiring a 2,300m strip for takeoff instead of 2,800 m for the current An-124-100 model.

The An-124-300 is a new version Antonov would like to produce which would use more powerful Western turbofan engines and be able to carry an increased load of 150 tons. Design work is underway to create a supersized An-124-300 designed for nonstop transcontinental flights. The Chinese PLA would ostensibly purchase this freighter to become more competitive in commercial outsized cargo transport.

paul g
December 13, 2011 6:01 pm

oh yes forgot RG-35’s all the way, 4×4 version for light gun tractor, 6×6 for command of light gun batteries and flat bed version for resupply. see 6×6 for everything else!!!

Phil Z29
Phil Z29
December 13, 2011 6:19 pm

Chris B,
That’s an awesome post. Well done. Like you say, you have to put your ideas out there!
Firstly, in my humble opinion, it’s unaffordable and not sustainable.
The 1% increase in defence spending post 2015 is looking dodgy in my view.
Royal Navy; I think we are stuck with 2 carriers, when really we could have managed with one as the French do. I watched Mr Hammond interviewed by the Defence select committee; I was interested to hear him say the best deal for the MoD on the fast jet for the carriers had not been decided. I wouldn’t rule out the F18 or Rafale just yet. I think 19 destroyer/frigates are simple not enough. If there is any spare money, it must go towards increasing that number. (And that’s coming from an ex pongo!).
The permanent at sea nuclear deterrent is a political decision, and not one I support just on cost.
I would prefer 3 more Astute’s with some sort of nuclear capability instead.
The Army; The pour cousin, I would love to have a blank cheque book and buy the army the new vehicles it badly needs. However, its has been leaked that the army will be cut to 25 infantry battalions and 6 Royal Armoured Corps Regiments. It’s stuck with vehicles most of which will be in storage, some salvaged from Afghanistan, some over 60 years old, most unsuitable for its current role.
RAF; Yes, Typhoons are what the RAF will be left with, but as I understand it only 60 are operational at any one time. I can’t see them getting any F35s, or whatever the RN get. I would like another C17 also.
We desperately need maritime patrol aircraft, 8 off the self Orion’s seems the best deal, but I would give them to the RN, for safe keeping, (no offence).
But, well done on your post, well expressed and written.
Phil Z

December 13, 2011 6:48 pm

Jed said “I bet the Cylons don’t even give their base ships names, and they’re gonna find us, eventually…..”

The French name the mounts on their ships.

Do the RAF C-17s have names? I note that the Belfasts all had name……

December 13, 2011 6:52 pm

@ x No i don’t believe that they do. Without sound dense what’s a mount on a ship?

December 13, 2011 7:14 pm

B, sorry if I have missed it but were does the TA and other reserve forces fit into your plan? I think fundamentally increasing the size of the regular army for COIN or other land campaigns is wrong and a waste of resources. As I said before, being able to deploy a brigade sized commando unit anywhere in the world within weeks is a very strong message in it self which only the US can do currently. Being able to scale overtime with a 50/50 split of regular to reserves would be possible with a bit of thought and could support Divisional sized commitments if given enough warning.

I would go for following highlevel structure:
– One expeditionary division made up of 4 brigades of 4 battalions / commandos – RMs, 16 Airbourne + 2 brigades of mixed light infantry / mechanised / armoured units. Would also include special forces.
– Two homeland security divisions (north and south) – each with 50 / 50 regular to reserve ratios. Each would have 5 brigades – 2 infantry, 2 mechanised and one armoured. Also would include reserve special forces units.

The northern division would be based in the north of England, Scotland and NI and also be responsible for the defence of UK dependencies / commitments in the northern hemisphere (e.g. Gibraltar, Cyprus etc). The southern division would be based in the south of England and Wales and be responsible for southern hemisphere commitments (Falklands, Brunei etc).

December 13, 2011 7:20 pm

Great post Chris B, a lot of stuff in there I agree with. Hawk 2000 is a good example of that, is it possible to stick in CAPTOR and PIRATE in the nose cone (anyone guess where I’m going with this)? It makes sense for one aircraft type to be used for as many roles as we can. Has anyone mentioned Goshawk yet? If not they should have. The Hawks should be carrier capable. I’m all for the two big flat tops and we should have more than just one type capable of being flown off them.

The C-295 is another one. As you pointed out it can fill many roles, so we should let it. AEW, MPA, Medic-vac, tactical lift, running personnel from one end of the UK to the other and dare I say it; ELINT, ISTAR and EW. Stick some common as muck Rolls-Royce engines on and an off-the-shelf DAS unit to keep costs down. Leave the A400m and the C17’s for the important stuff and save their flying hours by using C-295’s.

I don’t agree with keeping Typhoon on. F-35 is here to stay and with the US behind it, it will be upgraded and adapted throughout its service life. We’d do well to buy into the money that could save us. We should sell/scrap as many as we can, whilst keeping a fleet of FGR4’s for Quick Reaction Alert duties.

On the Type 26 again I agree, but I would keep a (smaller) big gun around the 105mm range. They still have uses. A Type 45 batch 2 makes sense, but I would keep the batch 1’s as is. Save money. More Astute’s would be nice, some decent SSK’s more so. Four Astute Mark 2’s for the SSBN role (stretched to fit 6 ICBM’s) and four Astute-Light for the SSK role (smaller, but same technology).

Overall we should look at what we’ve got and either build more of it or develop it. That would/should save money and give us more of it.

Phil Z29
Phil Z29
December 13, 2011 7:22 pm

Thanks Chris B.
I have posted before, but not often.
Topman, Is that something Matlo’s do after 6 weeks at sea? I joke!
Phil Z29

December 13, 2011 7:28 pm

@ DMN ‘I don’t agree with keeping Typhoon on’

Can I ask why?

December 13, 2011 7:35 pm

Purely on cost terms I see F-35 working out cheaper in the long run.

December 13, 2011 7:35 pm

@ Topman

You would call it the gun. Turret sounds a bit lame.

December 13, 2011 7:38 pm

@ Chris B,

just a passing comment of detail, re Jackal as a recce wagon.

There used to be (84-2003, my years in green) a fundamental argument about how best to do formation recce. There were 4 recce Regts: 16/5L who I was with from 83-93, QDG, 9/12L and 13/18H. Plus the Tins in Windsor, but they didn’t count. 16/5L and 13/18H always went for “light/agile” as a style of recce, QDG and 9/12L for “fight from the wagon”. There were merits to both, but in truth it depends on the nature of the terrain and the distances you expect to be from the enemy.

Light/agile = get out of the wagon, use your feet, carry a rifle, climb a tree, use a man pack radio, keep the wagon in dead ground. Fight from the wagon = sights up to crestlines, enhanced comms, very quick reaction, fight for information when necessary using vehicle weapons.

Jackal lends itself to light/agile, FRES SV to fight from the wagon. I like Jackal, but there’s a perfectly respectable argument for FRES SV. The cost is however radically different.

Ed Zeppelin seems to have a view as well.

December 13, 2011 7:39 pm

@ Topman

Here you have two Mk6 mounts (in A and B positions) with twin 4.5 semi-automatic guns.

From Wikipedia,

“During the 1950s, a change was made in designating the weapons systems which focussed on the gun mount rather than the gun itself. Together with a change from Roman numerals, the Gun QF Mark V on mounting BD Mark VI became simply the Mark 6.”

Shame about the C17s. Odd for the RAF to miss PR opportunity.

December 13, 2011 7:39 pm

To expand; I’d sell/scrap/put into reserve 50% of them and keep the rest going to their out of service date, but I would be very unwilling to spend any money on upgrades. All the while I’d be ramping up the number of F-35’s.

December 13, 2011 7:40 pm

as an alternative, what about completely replacing Hawk with Gripen? BAE is a major shareholder and they have a development centre in the UK, there’s also some commonality with Eurofighter (helmet HMDS is a derivative, same cannon, meteor and pave way will be integrated), and as mentioned above ej200 can be fitted.

December 13, 2011 7:41 pm

‘Purely on cost terms I see F-35 working out cheaper in the long run.’

Hard to say at the moment, we really don’t how much it will cost. Although keeping a small number of Typhoons going won’t be cheap just for QRA.

December 13, 2011 7:44 pm

Odd for the RAF to miss PR opportunity.

@ X Not sure there is one to miss out on.

@ DMN and in the mean time do what, use the gr4 fleet as is?

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
December 13, 2011 7:48 pm

‘Light/agile = get out of the wagon, use your feet, carry a rifle, climb a tree, use a man pack radio, keep the wagon in dead ground. Fight from the wagon = sights up to crestlines, enhanced comms, very quick reaction, fight for information when necessary using vehicle weapons.

Jackal lends itself to light/agile, FRES SV to fight from the wagon. I like Jackal, but there’s a perfectly respectable argument for FRES SV. The cost is however radically different.’

Couldn’t agree more with what you are saying. However, one can easily dismount with a manpack from a FRES SV and go down the light/agile route. You cannot easily fight from the wagon in a Jackal. A half way house could be 5 vehicle toops: 3 FRES SV, 2 Jackals.

December 13, 2011 7:52 pm

@andyw that would work, but we use Hawk as a trainer anyway. Why bring in another supply chain?

@Topman; yep bring 50% of the current fleet up to full FGR4 standard. Keep those that can’t be sold as spares until their scrapped. I like Typhoon, but ultimately its not carrier capable. I’m not Navy-centric, but given we’re an Island it seems silly we have so many non-marinised aircraft.

December 13, 2011 7:56 pm

“A repeat Wave – which is roughly what the MARS Fleet Tanker is, but with corners cut for cost-saving – would be fine for the tanker element, but no good for dry stores or munitions. Mixing significant dry stores and liquid cargo capacity on one ship leads to either major compromises or a huge, expensive vessel.”

Not sure MARS FT is much of a “corner-cut” Wave.
Its original budget was 800 million per 6 ships, and judging from requirements (of course the details aren’t known) the 4 desired vessels could still be very capable, possibly more than the Wave, in anything but speed. (Waves being Fast Fleet Tankers).

Fincantieri, one of the bidders still running for MARS FT, recently built two very capable replenishers for India:

the Deepak cost just 160 million euro, of which 20.81 million are spares and support for service. She can do 20 knots (the RN would be happy with 15, and this already pushes down costs a lot), can operate a Merlin, carry 510 tonnes of dry stores and 15250 tonnes of fuels.

MARS FT should deliver ships with a 18.000 cubic meters fuels capacity, of sizes roughly comparable with the Deepak, but possibly with a greater focus on aviation fuel, and possibly more dry stores.
In addition it will almost certainly get the new Rolls Royce RAS stations that move 5 tons pallets instead of 2 tons ones, like the one that has been ordered already for the new on-shore training facility. (an important improvement, also because F35 engine pallets are too big and heavy for current RAS cranes)

With some wisdom, MARS FT can still deliver very good and very useful vessels.

By the way, one of the main things i just cannot agree in this article is Naval Gunfire Support.

We’ve just seen it used multiple times in Libya, France fired thousands of shells. It was used in Iraq 2003 too.
A french gunship was firing recently on Somalia as well to support Kenyan ops in there, reportedly.

NGS is definitely not vanishing anytime soon, and the requirement has not at all diminished.

December 13, 2011 8:00 pm

Bae sold its remain share in gripen earlier this year.

December 13, 2011 8:05 pm

@ Ed Z,

fully agree with you as well, cost being not considered. I’d also prefer to keep types of wagons separate in Squadrons. You can’t send B Squadron to an emergency flank guard 60 clicks away if 3 troops do 30 kih average and 2 troops 60 kih average. But all of that is really in the weeds (where a proper recce soldier lives, muddy and happy and unseen).

paul g
December 13, 2011 8:12 pm

@mark, that’s goes under the reasons for buying section in my book!

December 13, 2011 8:17 pm

DMN, your thinking seems to be a in a bit of a muddle, on one hand you say you don’t want to spend any money on upgrades then on another you say you want to upgrade 50% of them?

December 13, 2011 8:31 pm

I said unwilling.

December 13, 2011 8:39 pm

@ DMN, er ok unwilling but would have to do it anyway. Would you keep any to deploy overseas as AS or not or leave it to F-35?

December 13, 2011 9:07 pm

@Topman, that would depend mainly on the number of FGR4’s we’d have and how many are taken up with QRA duties?

December 13, 2011 9:34 pm

I don’t know it’s your plan not mine ;-)

December 13, 2011 11:31 pm

RE “Your thoughts perhaps on the RG35 as an alternative”
– for recce, would it be more like RG32, RG35 being more of a troop transport?

December 14, 2011 4:02 am

wow…where do i start? lets see the development of a rather large army that can’t go anywhere except friendly country that allow landing rights, which are in your scenario right next to the country that you want to put down the ‘trouble’ in…a RAF that hasn’t shown much in the sorts of wanting to provide CAS in the manner that the ground forces want and is definitely biased toward air superiority and quick reaction exercises and a Navy that is much more akin to a coast guard rather than a proper fighting force…and might i add the idea to turn the Type 23 into an Absalon or LCS is pure fantasy.

bad idea all around Chris but to each his own. i can imagine that if this were to become the standard on which UK forces are built, that they will find themselves quickly irrelevant in almost every major campaign that the west is involved in…be it humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping in third world countries etc.

notice in Haiti and Japan it was naval forces that were needed.

notice in Libya that it was naval forces that formed the vanguard of that action…if it were a few hundred miles further away then they would have been the only force available…land based air would have been hard pressed (it was already hard pressed as it was) to provide the limited strikes they did perform.

December 14, 2011 4:32 am

I think its an interesting idea to develop the Hawk for QRA. At the end of the day unless our security situation deteriates all its likley to ever be assked to do is shoot down an airliner or escort a Russian Bear. Eurofighter is over kill to the nth degree for such missions. What about using a US system where reservists units provide this allowing the full time RAF to concnentrate on deployment. Would there be any issue in this. The original Hawk was actually designed to provide point air defence for the RAF. With its slower speed we would probably have to deploy a wider geographical force with a force of two ready in Northern Scotland, Southern England, North East England or Southern Scotland and Western England but the likley savings would still be massive not to mention we might end up with a better force for airliner interception.

December 14, 2011 4:36 am

really Martin? do you know the cruise speed for the 787 or the 350xwb?

i don’t know the exact stats on the BAE Hawk but it might be hard pressed to do anything but a point interception on those airliners…additionally you’re going to have to have some outstanding vectors to get it in position to intercept a Bear if its going full tilt boogie.

December 14, 2011 4:50 am

Interesting coment about the Hawk of the carrier. I think we quite often forget the Hawk when talking about alternatives but its a British built aircraft that all ready comes in a carrier variant T45. Might be possible given the delays of the F35 to purchase a navala varinat of the HAwk to be used on the carriers while waiting for F35 then transfer them to RAF to replace Typhoon on QRA then allowing for all Typhoons to be upgraded to Tranche 3 for CAS and Deep Strike Missions.

December 14, 2011 5:09 am

Hi Solomon, That is an interesting point. 787’s speed is 0.89 Mach about the same as a Hawk. How well would a Eurofighter be able to intercept an airliner over London flying from Coningsby in comparison to a Hawk flying from nearer the city . Whats the Interception speed of the Meteor Mach 4 +. I am not aware of anything that would stop a Hawk carrying a single Meteor.

December 14, 2011 6:47 am

besides the drag penalty you’re talking about it having to close on a target that’s flying as fast as it is from a chase position.

yeah you can load up darn near any capable air to air missile to shoot a plane down but that kinda negates the escort part of the equation.

my only point was as desirable as the Hawk might be as a replacement for the air sovereignty mission, it just isn’t up to the job.

December 14, 2011 6:52 am

oh and as far as the Hawks operating off the carriers then what’s the point? you already had a carrier capable airplane in the form of the Harrier (remember the one’s you just sold the USMC…thanks guys! you’re great!) why would you re-invent the wheel if that was a capability that you actually wanted to preserve?

oh and the idea that you can use EMALS with the Hawk but not the Harrier is little consolation. i’ve heard everything from these carriers being helo-carriers to sold off to being full up carriers again. nope the dye is cast with that…either you go with F-35, Rafale or F-18 or even Gripen but anything else will blow out your cost curve…and that includes helo-carriers–you could have gone smaller and cheaper and either used Harriers or stuck with the B model.

that’s another point on all this. make bad decisions now and it’ll cost money and national pride later.

in my opinion a fabulously large but land locked Army is duplicating a Germany. the UK should be following the Japanese or S. Korean or Dutch model…capable naval forces and technologically advanced, capable but medium sized armies.

December 14, 2011 8:37 am

Qra can involve 4-6 hours shadowing a/c to use a hawk for this roles would require a significant increase in aar assets assigned to the qra roles which you then can’t use to deploy and at least a doubling of qra stations to provide minimum cover. In short save this money and increase typhoon spares and a/c personnel numbers to an appropriate level

December 14, 2011 8:41 am

@ Martin
‘What about using a US system where reservists units provide this allowing the full time RAF to concnentrate on deployment. Would there be any issue in this.’

Money being the main problem and staying current. The RAF did the same up until the 50s, but then binned it. The USAF do it because they can afford, we can’t.

‘The original Hawk was actually designed to provide point air defence for the RAF.’

No it’s original design brief was to produce a trainer. I believe you’re thinking of the Hawks that were at Chivenor in the 80s. They were fitted with 2xAIM-9. The idea was two of them would be guided by an F3. How effective they would have been is unknown.

@ Solomon

‘RAF that hasn’t shown much in the sorts of wanting to provide CAS in the manner that the ground forces want and is definitely biased toward air superiority and quick reaction exercises’

Such as?

I still don’t get the need to use them for QRA, it’s one of Typhoons primary roles and one that it’s good at. Why would you want to reduce the capability to that of a modified trainer?

December 14, 2011 8:51 am

“in my opinion a fabulously large but land locked Army is duplicating a Germany. the UK should be following the Japanese or S. Korean or Dutch model…capable naval forces and technologically advanced, capable but medium sized armies.”

Agreed Solomon.

Re Hawk: i rather like it having a secondary combat role, perhaps in an RAF version of the forward presence / defence diplomacy role.

December 14, 2011 9:08 am

Re Hawk: i rather like it having a secondary combat role, perhaps in an RAF version of the forward presence / defence diplomacy role.

You mean have the RAF man QRA stations overseas?

December 14, 2011 10:31 am

I have a very relevant question to make. I don’t know if it has already been posed, apologizes if it has.

What kind of planning assumption are you assuming for your larger army?
Would there be a significant uplift in the number of men that can be deployed and sustained long-term abroad, compared to a 6500-strong brigade plus support that is indicated for FF2020?

Because this is really important to know. I admire, on human terms, the aim of lowering deployment time from six to four months, but it kind of feels, to me at least, an improvement paid dearly in money (you are still arguining for a very significant increase in the budget if i understood correctly) and in capabilities lost elsewhere.

December 14, 2011 10:38 am

@ Topman – “Hawk: i rather like it having a secondary combat role, perhaps in an RAF version of the forward presence / defence diplomacy role.”

Leaning more to the training role as an embedded unit in the local force, as envisaged with the army in its new conflict prevention focus, but also acting as a forward-presence capability and tripwire, like the USMC MEU in Oz.

December 14, 2011 10:47 am

Gabriele: “Not sure MARS FT is much of a “corner-cut” Wave.”

The main corner cut between Waves and MARS FT is the speed, but I’ve either seen project documentation online (there was a good Powerpoint that I can’t find any more) or talked to people involved in the project who have said “like a Wave, but simplified and cheaper”. There are slides from the presentation at Richard Beedall’s Navy Matters site, but not the cost one that I’m thinking of.

FT is unlikely to be fitted with HRAS issuing gear, it’s a tanker not a stores ship. HRAS is for the Fort replacements.

December 14, 2011 10:58 am

@gabby don’t forget 4 monthers has a saving on the AT fleet. What do you mean loss me skills? @ jedi interesting idea. Could we have one in hawaii, with lots of raf posts? Just asking :-)

December 14, 2011 11:16 am

@ Gabby re MARS

Yes I would go with the Deepaks. Though there was some concern about steel the Italians used.

My main problem with MARS is once again MoD(N) are messing about re-inventing the wheel. There is an awful lot of innovative work going on within shipping at the moment with regards to fuel efficiency (and environmental considerations.) And again the civilian sector seems to work that much more quickly and more efficiently. Take this design which would be a good starting point for a dry stores ship.

That’s be designed and tank tested in about the third of the time the MARS programme has been afloat, or not as the case may be.