Astute Batch 2 – The Austerity Class

Current plans are for production of Astute Class Submarines to end with Astute 7 (HMS AJAX) in 2022. Production will then move to the first of the successor class of SSBN’s with the first coming of the slip way around 2024. What I would like to propose is to postpone the successor class by around 6 years and instead build an additional three SSN’s of a slightly updated Astute Class.

This is not a fantasy fleet proposal but I believe a very practical way to save the MOD procurement budget from the train wreck it is heading for in the next decade whilst maintain the UK’s ability to design and build nuclear Submarines.

Successor Submarine, Replacing Vanguard

Under the last government the MOD identified a need to start working on a successor submarine to replace the current (and just completed) Vanguard SSBN’s that carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The logic at the time is that it would take 17 years (twice as long as the Apollo program) to design and build a new SSBN (despite the fact that it was likely to borrow heavily from the Astute program).

MOD logic in 2006 indicated that the Vanguard Class would only have a life of 25 years and the absolute maximum that could theoretically be achieved with an overhaul was 30 years of life. This was also a little strange as all MOD budgets and funding requirements prior to 2006 normally indicated a 30 year life for the Vanguard Class as standard.

Things get a little stranger still when in 1998 the US Navy decided that its older Class of Ohio SSBN’s which originally had a 30 year design life would be extended to 44 years. The UK MOD’s 30 year life span is from launch and the USN quotes its figures as actual service time so in fact the Ohio’s will go on for a total of 46 years. It’s also important to note that the Ohio’s have a significantly harder life than the Vanguards as the Ohio’s have two crews and spend up to 2/3rds of their time at sea.

The MOD answers this buy saying that the Ohio’s use a newer design and are built to a higher standard than the Vanguards allowing them to have a longer life.

This I find hard to accept as firstly the Vanguards were built a decade after the first Ohio’s and these vessels are still amongst the most expensive and I am sure best designed the Royal Navy has ever had. They are certainly not a budget option by any stretch of the imagination. They have also had a much easier life than originally intended with patrol levels being reduced as part of the 1998 SDR.

A lot of Cold War equipment from the B52 bomber to our own T23 Frigates has been able to enjoy significantly longer lives than originally intended in large part due to lower usage levels than originally estimated. Yet the MOD was able to categorically state in 2006 that there was no way the first of the Vanguard Class submarines could be running in 2024 (18 years later).

I don’t believe that the Vanguard Class cannot have its life significantly extended as with the Ohio Class and I think there is a different reason why the successor program was moved up.

The Conspiracy Theory

Back in 1998 when the last government conducted a very in depth defence review we were told that the UK must maintain a fleet of 10 SSN’s.  At the time the Astute Class was envisaged as a class of around 6 vessels primarily designed to replace the Swiftsure Class and the older Trafalgar Class Submarines. It was intended to follow Astute with a new class of Submarine known as the Future Attack Submarine (FASM) with deliveries starting around 2017.

So what happened? Well as with so many things in MOD procurement they ran out of money. FASM was scheduled to go for main gate in December 2001. However despite identifying a need to fund the core defence budget at a rate of 2.5% of GDP the previous government never really met their pledge. The budget in the early 2000’s was struggling to cope with a series of cluster f**Ks such as Typhoon, T45 and FRES. While the money to build the vessels would not have to be found until around 2015 they would have to start paying for design work very soon after 2001.

In the end the FASM was canceled and replaced by the usual star trek type design study known as Maritime Underwater Future Capability (MUFC). It was not too long after this cancelation that the revelation of HMS Vanguard needing to be replaced as early as 2017 came to light (strange given the FASM was intended to be built from 2017 until 2025).

It seems fairly obvious that in order to maintain its design team BAE would need a new submarine project to design and the MOD did not have the funds to pay for it. But there was a magic pot of money that could solve the problems for both parties. That magic pot of money came in the form of the Treasury contingency fund which had always separately funded the purchase and development of the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

So job done, The RN would order some extra Astute’s and would kick the submarine design team can so far down the road that surly one day in the future they would find the money to design and build the star trek esk designs identified in the MUFC.

Then came the longest and most expensive series of military campaigns fought in a generation with a continuously falling budget that was eventually capped off by the biggest financial crisis in a century.

When the current government came to power it conducted one of the most brutal cutting exercises ever seen by the British Armed Forces with the cu de gras delivered in the quietly  announced bomb shell that from now on the MOD procurement budget would have to pay for the replacement of the deterrent with no additional support from the treasury.

Suddenly that can that the Admirals thought they had belted well down the road suddenly came back and struck them in the head.

Not only would they have to accommodate an 8% cut followed by two more budget cuts of 2% and figure out how to fill an estimated £38 billion black hole in their procurement plans but they would now simultaneously have to pay for the largest single procurement project in UK military history. A project likely to cost at least £20 billion.

The scale of this problem has yet to be felt. Despite spread sheet Phill’s claims to a balanced 10 year budget, things only stack up if you assume that the Army can go without any FRES UV type replacement, The UK gets away with buying just 48 F35’s and the current set of programs don’t go over budget and eat up his contingency funds and most importantly Osborne and Cameron make good on their pledge of increasing the defence procurement budget by £1 billion a year from 2015 (something they have already back tracked on).

It should also be noted that the bulk of the cost of the successor program (actually building the four Submarines) largely falls after this ten year balanced budget.

Fixing The Problem

I think we can essentially fix a lot of the problem in the MOD procurement budget by following the time honoured tradition of kicking the can down the road.

To maintain a viable submarine industry we will need to churn out one boat every 2 or so years. This in my opinion is a valid reason for building additional submarines as it’s virtually the only element of industrial strategy the holds true. It would be almost impossible for us to buy such vessels from anyone else and we do it really, really well.

If we order three more Astute Submarines we can push the need for the first SSBN successor out to around 2030.

The BAE design team is a slightly harder issue to deal with but they are currently being employed to design the successor submarine. They could continue with this process whilst also working on a modified version of the Astute Class and possibly working up the star trek type design studies for the future. Again looking at the USA they have managed to maintain a viable nuclear submarine design capability with only the modified Virginia class to keep them busy for the last decade. If the USA can do it I am sure we can as well.

The extra three Astute’s will likely cost around £ 1 billion each but it’s going to be significantly easier to swallow a £ 3 billion cost in the next decade than a £12 billion one for building the four successors.

You might say we are simply delaying the problem and not solving it. This is true but one thing we should remember is that large defence procurement projects take time. We will still be paying for projects indicated in the 1998 SDR well into the next decade. The nature of such contracts means it’s very difficult or impossible to stop them.

Placing the successor SSBN into the 2030’s rather than 2020’s means that our purchase of large defence projects such as Typhoon, F35 and FRES will be finished. The bulk of large future programs like T26 will also be finished. It will be significantly easier to plan how to pay for the SSBN’s with more time and less overcrowding from legacy projects.

We can also spread out the procurement of the whole successor program gradually introducing new war heads, reactors, missiles and boats at different times instead of as in the past trying to do it all at the same time with the potential problems that can bring.

Much of the work that has taken place thus far on successor is for the new PWR 3 however as this rector will be used for Astute 7 through ten and eventually the successor program the money will not be wasted. Building the extra three Astute’s will allow this reactor design to be fully tested long before it is incorporated into our future SSBN’s. Other work that has been carried out to date has been for the Common Missile Compartment which again will not be wasted as it will almost certainly be incorporated into both British and American SSBN’s . Currently long lead items for the first successor submarine are on order but as these long lead items are likely to be for the PWR 3 reactor it should be relatively easy to incorporate it into Astute 8 instead of Successor 1.

Shifting successor up to 2030 also allows us to seamlessly coordinate with the USN who’s first new SSBN should be rolling off the slipway around 2029. This will allow for better coordination of weapons on the two classes and may also allow us to cooperate on actual design of the boat’s themselves. It’s also surely a good idea to synchronise our SSBN programs as whatever follows Successor will likely be using American missiles and will face all the same current timing problems.

Building three more Astute’s will also allow us to operate a fleet of ten SSN’s which is probably the ideal number for us. If we wait until after successor to build a new SSN then we are faced with the difficult of replacing HMS Astute after just 20 years of service, leaving a near decade gap in production or trying to operate a ten boat fleet for a few years then dropping back down  When Astute does retire.

There are certainly risks and cost attached with this strategy. The Vanguards will certainly need an extensive overhaul and in particular their steam generators and other parts of the propulsion system will need replacing.  It is possible that the life extension won’t be as successful as hoped and there is a possibility that as the fleet ages we may end up with gaps in CASD towards the end of the next decade.  However I believe that the potential risk of gaps in CASD pales in comparison with the myriad of “capability holidays” our armed forces will have to accept in order to find the budget to replace CASD.

There is also the cost of running the extra three boats. Submarines are expensive to build but with a crew smaller than a frigate and no need to pay for fuel they can be relatively cheap to run. Especially when using the new PWR 3 reactor that will not require a midlife refuelling. A budget as large as the MOD’s can find funds to run three more SSN’s if it wants too and if needs be its probably worth giving up something else to fund it.

In addition to these benefits delaying successor will also come with other advantages. Currently the main gate decision for successor is to be taken in 2016. With the country likely facing yet another hung parliament and the prospect of another five years of austerity it’s probably not the best time to be investing in a costly and controversial long term weapons project. Sweating such an expensive and arguably useless weapon system for 40 years instead of 25 will also reduce future needs to replace the system; twice per century instead of four times will be nice for future generations.

It won’t be easy for the MOD to back track on what is has been saying for the past 8 years. The first step should probably be to conduct an extensive and as independent as possible inspection of the current Vanguards and confirm if they can have their service life extended as with the Ohio’s. This should probably be conducted before 2015 in time for the next SDSR. One thing that I can be certain of is that whichever colour the next government is it will welcome the prospect of kicking the main gate decision down the road another 5 years or so.

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dave haine
dave haine
October 9, 2013 8:52 pm

@ martin

Interesting, it’s about time that someone thought of the impact of defence decisions on industry.

i have a question:
How much of Astute, either block one or two, can be brought across to ‘successor’. I’m thinking in terms of building ‘successor’, by modifying the astute hull to accommodate the common missile compartment and other mission specific stuff, hopefully meaning a continuous production line? Is that practical? feasible? Or do the requirements for each mission/role demand a very different hull?

Paul Robinson
Paul Robinson
October 9, 2013 9:16 pm

Been out of loop of RN procurement, other than pretty pictures for long time, as being WWII warbird nut, keeping up is difficultish when abroad (i’m working undercover,trying to sabotage the French,shh). Not much of a surprise,but did enjoy the joke & near sput me beer out. As ever the updates,technology & capabilities sacrificed. Aw for gawds sake build a few with the new advanced tech. Once world leaders,the UK is sadly sinking backwards to armed kayacks damnitt. Sorry if exaggeration & over dramitisation, but hells teeth, last “technologically advanced” ships, especially subs, have had so many faults to render them negligably useful. We’ve got to invest in the tech again & stop exporting it to the States. Majority of innovation is flowing from UK Research & Development into US projects & not being used for the UK defence industry. Are we so hard up again, flogging design & technology, is more important than using it ourselves?! F35? Say no more – not all US tech. Brit/Irish in France for past 2 years. The Frogs don’t give away their best tech or know how without getting more in return than us Brits do. Time for rethink about national defence & self reliance in case of diverse security policy. Rant over for now.

Challenger
Challenger
October 9, 2013 9:21 pm

Good post Martin, I’m largely on-board with a lot of your thinking!

Does it have to be an extra 3 Astute’s to make your plan work, or is that an ideal figure from both the industrial and service points of view? Could similar results not be achieved by for instance ordering 1/2 extra boats and pushing successor back to 2028?

Either way I think it’s a good idea.

Jeremy M H
October 9, 2013 9:25 pm

Other than incorporating a new reactor what design work would you put into the last 3 boats to keep people busy? I would imagine your cost are going to be much higher than 1 billion per as well. The 4th and 5th boats are close to 1.5 billion pounds presumably incorporating changes from the first 3 to correct issues/improve performance which averaged 1.1 billion or so for the three.

Dropping a new reactor compartment in will hardly be cheap and I would imagine from a pure accounting perspective would bring forward a fairly large chunk of the development cost that would otherwise be lumped in with successor. While we all know that money gets spent one way or another I worry about pitching to politicians SSN’s with hugely elevated price tags right now. I think using it as a reactor testbed is out unless you are very lucky in managing the opinions of politicians and the media who will run screaming about the 3 billion pound submarines you want to build.

Mark
Mark
October 9, 2013 9:45 pm

People here tell me ssbns and casd are the be all and end all of uk defence policy the untouchable defence program therefore conventional capability gaps are what we shall have as the budget is set the choice casd at all costs. Submarines are a strategic priority for this country so we get what we get. We’ve made our bed Pushing this down the road just means it runs into competition with the next thing that need replaced, spending an extra 3b+ on 3 more ssn’s doesn’t save money unless you scrap the ssbns.

Jeremy M H
October 10, 2013 2:08 am

Are you sure that they are putting a new reactor in the 7th Astute? I have not seen and can’t easily find anything indicating that. Got a link to that one? I think there may be confusion here in that the reactor for the final Astute submarine and the first portion of work on the new successor reactor were ordered at the same time. But I don’t think they are the same reactor. It would be very unusual for the MOD to approve what was essentially an wholly unique ship that is neither successor or Astute and I have seen nothing that suggest the PWR3 will be in any Astute type.

And while there may have been a lot of R&D expense in subs 1-3 and I can’t really explain the accounting in the major projects report. Subs 4 and 5 are more than 1-3 cost on a per boat basis so is the R&D in there as well? Are they only going to apply that to ships 1-5 and not ships 6 and 7? The important factors for understanding what the marginal cost of 3 new SSN’s would be would be to know what the R&D breakdown is for the project but I can’t find that number anywhere. The real pain here is the fact that any changes would have to be split across just 3 boats.

Andrew Wood
Andrew Wood
October 10, 2013 8:10 am

I like the idea not least because it delays the development of the Trident replacement SSBN. I have real concerns about the survivability of the Trident D5 missile in the 2030-2060 time period. The basic design first went into service in 1979 and as far as I am aware it has no Chevaline style penetration aids to defeat anti-ballistic missile systems. In addition the Successor class will only have 12 missile tubes versus 16 tubes on Vanguard.

Yet an increasing number of countries are developing increasingly capable anti-missile capabilities. Last year we saw Israel using Iron Dome to shoot down short range missiles and this year the longer range more capable Arrow 3 goes into service. The American have the RIM-161 Standard missile SM-3 which can target intermediate range ballistic missiles. The Russians are developing the S-500 “Samoderzhets” missile (a further development of the S-300 / SA-10 Grumble), the Indians and Chinese are all doing the same. By 2030 it is almost certain that these shorter range systems will have evolved to be able to target ICBM missiles. The problem is that an ICBM is a very difficult target to hit but once you have developed the technology to do it there is very little you can do to alter the tactics of ICBM’s to increase survivability except develop penetration aids which can help a bit.

For the Americans this is less of an issue, they will be able to launch more Trident missiles in total plus land based missiles and aircraft launched nuclear weapons including B2 bombers and nuclear armed cruise missiles so they are much more likely to hit their target.

Successor class with only 12 tubes may not provide a survivable delivery system after 2030. When we last faced this issue in the 1970’s it pushed us towards a very expensive development of Chevaline but that may not be enough this time around.

Jules
Jules
October 10, 2013 8:11 am

I like this idea but could we not just build six successors early? Three of em fitted for but not with? chuckle…
Or three dedicated tomahawk launchers and three for ballistic with them able to be chopped and changed at refit cycles? So if we realy needed four ballistics we could have em?
No TLAM on surface vessels (Flame suit on…GO!)
My preference would be to procure 6-7 Vidars (No OPV’s Flame suit still on, Navy does not appear to want em anyway!) for the same money as three nukes and push out successor as long as possible as long as they are building subs Barrow will be ok, I’m sure there is something BAE can put it’s design team on in the mean time, I can’t believe none of the people on the team have never designed anything else. The build time for Deisel AIP’s would be less than for Nukes I suspect even for about half a dozen, perhaps they could look into LPD/MHPC Motherships to bide their time…
Five of them to replace the bays and the MCM fleet…
Then two more to replace Albion and Bulwark later on…
FANTASY FLEET!

Tom
Tom
October 10, 2013 9:49 am

Quick question: Where is the money to recruit and crew these additional Astutes going to come from? Especially given that the RN are having trouble recruiting for the Submarine service as it is.

HurstLlama
HurstLlama
October 10, 2013 9:56 am

“Are you sure that they are putting a new reactor in the 7th Astute?”

Now, I am sure I read that the 7th boat was going to have PWR3, absolutely bloody certain I saw that announcement. So when I read your question I went off looking for my source and came across a parliamentary question from October 2012 in which to which the minister (Philip Dunne) said, “The seventh Astute class submarine will be powered by Pressurised Water Reactor 2 (PWR2). No design work has been carried out to modify Astute class submarines in order for them to be powered by Pressurised Water Reactor 3 (PWR3), rather than PWR2.”

http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2012-10-17b.122797.h

Now, I know I am getting on but my memory is not that bad, yet. Something has changed.

P.S. Ah, ha! A MoD press release, dated June 2012, on the current PWR3 contact said, “The MOD has secured a supplier to produce new reactor cores for the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines and to upgrade the plant where they will be built. The nuclear reactor cores will be used to power the seventh and final Astute Class submarine and the first of the Royal Navy’s next generation of nuclear deterrent submarines, known as the Successor Class.”

I knew was not that senile, yet. A sloppily worded press release was, perhaps picked up by other news outlets and reported as PWR3 will be in Ajax.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
October 10, 2013 10:27 am

T23s have most certainly not had a lower usage rate than planned. They are soldiering on partly through necessity and partly because the “18 yr life” for which they were built was largely a planning assumption. There are no explicit fatigue life-enders for a ship as there are for aircraft and the ships did not have a specific fatigue life designed into them. However, sooner or later, details in the ships start cracking and the older they get, the more frequent and numerous the cracks. At that point, it becomes too expensive to keep repairing them. Manchester was riddled with cracks on her last APT(S) deployment and they were becoming more and more prevalent on the T42s. The other issue with those ships is their weight growth. They are already 10% heavier than when designed and at some point in the not too distant future are going to exceed their scantling draft, at which point either they will be withdrawn (as LR will not class them) or palliatives will be required. Those palliatives are non-trivial and are likely to cost a shedload of money and take a lot of fleet time.

Vanguard and Ohio comparisons based on Janes fighting ships are all well and good. However, ask yourself these questions.

1. What are the primary design drivers of a submarines life (clues are in the subsequent questions)?
2. Do the UK and the US use the same design requirements for submarines?
3. Do the UK and the US use the same steels and welding processes?
4. Are the reactor designs in Vanguard and Ohio the same?
5. Do you have any idea how expensive it will be to replace the “steam generators and other parts of the propulsion system” and in particular how long and expensive that would be compared to building a new boat?

PWR3 is not intended for Astute in any way shape or form and will not fit in the Astute pressure hull. The statement that a “stretched and slightly wider” Astute will be the basis of Successor is also incorrect. A number of design drivers and the law of Mr Archimedes miilitate against this. We call it a complete redesign.

As for D5 effectiveness, remember that the D5 missile is due for replacement sometime in the 30s, which is part of the overall programme. There is also a difference between boost phase intercept of SRBM and IRBM and killing a proper long-range ballistic missile RV.

Waylander
Waylander
October 10, 2013 11:30 am

If the SSBN replacement program is pushed that far down the road, then it will probably end up being axed. The longer it goes without firm orders being placed, the more opposition there will be, and the political will to build the boats will drain away. Also the RN will never operate ten hunter-killers again, as the trend with all platform numbers is downwards, so it’s either build the bombers, or nothing.

wf
wf
October 10, 2013 1:02 pm

@waylander: absolutely correct I am afraid. Better to just get on with it.

Jeremy M H
October 10, 2013 2:07 pm

@NAB

Thanks, I didn’t have the time to look around that much but figured that it was just confusion from a poorly written press release.

I agree with you that stretched hulls won’t work for Trident boats. While going from 37 feet in beam to 43 feet or so that the common missile compartment will be sounds easy one forgets you also have too add that to the draft of something like Astute. You are adding 5 feet to the sub basically all the way around. That is not an easy thing to do. Your cross-sectional area gets something like 50% bigger doing that. It is just not practical to build boomers and SSN’s on the same basic hull form or with similar drive arrangements.

I just don’t think either the PWR3 or the CMC can be shoehorned into anything that has much commonality (other than subsystems) with the Astute.

Think Defence
Admin
October 10, 2013 2:13 pm
Reply to  Jeremy M H

But isnt that where the real money saving comes from, commonality in sub systems?

Everything from the sonar to the chip fryers!

Jeremy M H
October 10, 2013 2:40 pm

Well the PWR3, derived from a US design which presumably did a fair amount of the legwork, is going to cost 3 billion pounds to bring into service from what I can find. So no, the subsystems are not the biggest thing. They are a good portion of the cost certainly but it really depends on how much you want to innovate elsewhere.

The Astute drive train for example would be wholly insufficient for the much larger successor subs, given that the speed of Astute is reportedly a bit low. These subs will be both bigger and fatter so getting them to a minimum speed means you need to extract more power from the plant. Should not be a problem energy wise but probably means new (or different at least) turbines. That won’t be cheap either.

I have to figure the savings they project are already built into the cost of the program as proposed. It won’t be cheap and I don’t think you could save money putting it off at all.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
October 10, 2013 3:24 pm

I believe (hope) that PWR3 is going to be a primarily UK design, although it’s supposed to be a natural circulation plant (something the US have run since the 70s). On that basis it ain’t part of the “subsystems”. The propulsion system is highly unlikely to be common, because it will have different performance requirements.

What you can do is specify that existing equipment items like torpedo handling systems, furniture, light fittings, pumps, strainers, electric starter motors, valves, compressors etc which are already qualified for submarine use in terms of atmospheres, shock, electrical safety etc are used within teh new system design. It’s a bit more difficult to use electronic components (particularly with embedded software) over such a long period, because it becomes obsolescent so much more quickly these days, which can have safety case implications. You can use the same combat system architectures and sonar algorithms etc, but you may have to figure on them running on different hardware, which requires some element of requalification.

You never save money by putting things off. If you’re lucky it costs you slightly less than if all risks had matured.

Jeremy M H
October 10, 2013 3:35 pm

http://www.rina.org.uk/article1192.html

That is a fairly detailed article on the subject but it does not really clear up what exactly PWR3 is as far as design elements. As with most nuclear things between the US and UK it is confusing as hell to figure out who is doing what. I think the fact that there is no land based prototype is fairly unusual but I am honestly not sure if the USN still builds land based prototypes either. I know the Seawolf had a land based reactor but beyond that I am not sure.

I just can’t imagine putting something like that in a boomer without running it first.

x
x
October 10, 2013 6:58 pm

I thought some Vanguard replacement long lead contracts had been placed?

Opinion3
Opinion3
October 10, 2013 10:29 pm

I like your idea. 10 submarines and a delay is great idea. The clever bit is how to do it. Some extra Astutes would be a handy addition and extra work would be appreciated that is the easy bit. As I understand it

The seventh Astute still has the same PWR2 reactor and not the newer PWR3 design.
The cost of building these extra Astutes will be the marginal cost. As the planned run was seven boats the development cost will have been amortised over the seven boats already contracted for.
The rest of the designing – for Successor or the Astute2 boats presents the difficult challenge of

1. Saving money by using what is already designed or
2. Spending money to design new, but stretching it out thereby introducing obsolesence.

What you wish to achieve seems really difficult to achieve. I see the similarity between the T22 to T26 progressive development but this is for largely exportable subsystems. Do these exist on the Successor Class?

The key objective here being keeping the design teams busy

Pab
Pab
October 11, 2013 10:00 am

Can the reactor be de-coupled from the rest of the boat? what i’m getting at is, could we put non-nuclear propulsion unit in?

If the answer is yes, then exporting boats or their components could be an option.

I’m guessing the answer is a big fat NO.

Peter Elliott
October 11, 2013 10:26 am

I daresay if you took the nuclear plant out of the Astute design you would be left with a nice big hole. [But maybe it would do bad things to the weight distribution? Perhaps you would end up putting lots of concrete blocks in just to balance things up?]

But its not as if we have a modern AIP Diesel powerplant sitting on the shelf up at Barrow waiting to be used.

Only the Germans really have that and they’re not exactly going to be keen on selling it to us if it creates a direct competitor to the one area of military technology where they are the world leaders.

Plus I bet there are all sorts of complications of rigging up the boat’s secondary systems to a powerplant they weren’t designed to go with. Almost certainly a costly an snag filled exercise.

Plus who would buy it who isn’t already buying a German or German-derived boat?

John Hartey
John Hartey
October 11, 2013 10:27 am

Russia leasing an SSN to India sets the precedent. The UK could lease an Astute to a close ally such as Canada or Australia, as long as a small RN contingent in the crew, looks after the reactor.

Pab
Pab
October 11, 2013 10:38 am

Aren’t Australia and Canada looking for big subs with non-nuke engines?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
October 11, 2013 10:55 am

Yes – but their definition of “big” is about half the size of Astute!

Chris
Chris
October 11, 2013 11:32 am

Ref reactor compartments – RN Subs museum at Gosport had models of (I think) Resolution Polaris boat reactor compartments – built in the days before 3D CAD, the models were to check pipe runs all fitted. About 4ft high – imagine a really dense bramble hedge and you get the idea of how much pipe and how little space there was. Pipework exploded out of each end to go to other compartments if my memory is right. I’m guessing swapping the reactor for a different generator wouldn’t be done using the existing compartment and that the compartment would be cut out and replaced wholesale. (If discussions above are for reworking old boats.) That being the case, the length of the new compartment is not constrained to that of the current, so weight & balance might be sorted without the use of too much dumb ballast.

Ref AIP – back in 2006 or so when last I looked AIP was being investigated and marketed by many yards; it seems they still are – Kockums were looking at a LOx fed high pressure Stirling engine (http://www.kockums.se/en/products-services/submarines/stirling-aip-system/), HDW’s designs were similar based on a multi-cylinder diesel instead of the Stirling engine but now are looking at fuel cells (http://www.thyssenkrupp-marinesystems.com/en/hdw-fuel-cell-aip-system.html), DCNS is using a LOx and diesel steam generator to drive steam turbines (http://en.dcnsgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/61983.pdf), and Rubin is looking at fuel-cells for its new Kilo replacement the Amur (http://www.ckb-rubin.ru/en/projects/naval_engineering/conventional_submarines/amur_1650/). Fincantieri is looking at a JV with Rubin for a small AIP boat (http://www.fincantieri.it/cms/data/prodotti/000022.aspx). I dare say India and China are looking into this technology too, while UK & US designers at the moment appear to reject SSKs whether diesel-electric or AIP.

It seems to me there are hazards with AIP that might not be appreciated – those with fuel cells leave dock with very large tanks of compressed hydrogen on board (presumably also LOx ax its less bulky than compressed air) and the fuel cells depending on technology operate at very high temperatures. I haven’t found out yet if the gas is all consumed by the reaction or if there are waste products to expel. On the other hand, the Stirling engine and diesel boiler solutions will produce exhaust gas – obviously unwelcome inside the sub, so needs to be dumped overboard; as I understand it the way this is done is to run the entire fuel-burning process at outside water-pressure so that the exhaust can exit the boat without difficulty. This means there are a lot of pipes and chambers and valves and assemblies with huge pressures inside them running through the inside of the pressure hull. Or, the generators live outside the pressure hull and pipe mechanical or electrical energy in – fine until maintenance/repair is needed.

There is also a need for refuelling stations capable of delivering very large quantities of compressed/liquid gases.

AIP sounds such a nice easy solution, but the reality I suspect is that its tricky and just a bit hazardous.

Peter Elliott
October 11, 2013 11:45 am

Lots of yards are looking at it but how many of those have a proven viable design MOTS that is proven in service?

Agree with what you say about ‘its harder than it looks’

wf
wf
October 11, 2013 12:14 pm

: what’s the German for HMS Exploder?

Chris
Chris
October 11, 2013 12:31 pm

wf – on good authority “Der Bangedundblastenwirsindgefuchtsheizen” You just read it on a computer so it must be true.

Jeremy M H
October 11, 2013 1:25 pm

RE: AIP

I don’t think you could fit a sufficient AIP unit to something like Astute. The largest AIP subs are in the 2,500 ton range while the more stable projects all appear to be under 2,000 tons. I just can’t see anyone putting together an AIP power plant that could operate something that big.

AIP is great for defensive boats but is really crap for operational boats. If you want to move around very much you need a nuclear sub.

x
x
October 11, 2013 1:36 pm

Propulsion systems “use” volume in hulls in different way. For example GT’s are tiny but need large volumes for fuel and air. Diesels are heavy, low powered so more are needed but they are more fuel efficient and need less air. These are the sorts of things you need to consider.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 11, 2013 1:41 pm

@JMH

The Japanese Soryu class is pretty big but yes overall agree with you.

SSKs are ambush predators, fantastic defensive and sea denial tools. SSNs are about the ability to project power.

Chris
Chris
October 11, 2013 1:52 pm

Been thinking about the size limit for SSKs. British O-boats were about the same overall dimensions as current Trafalgars (though much lighter and I suspect far less frontal area) – big diesel-electrics are obviously workable. Apart from the technical problems that AIPs (of all sizes) have, I guess the operational downside of AIP is endurance – there’s only so much compressed gas you can find space for.

wf
wf
October 11, 2013 2:00 pm

I’m tempted to suggest buying some Type214 AIP boats for SSBN escort and local tasks. Using an Astute doesn’t make much sense…

x
x
October 11, 2013 2:02 pm
Jeremy M H
October 11, 2013 2:37 pm

@APATS

Forgot about Japan. Good catch. I wish they would publish endurance/range figures at higher speeds for such things. That can go a long way at 6.5 knots which is fine for sitting in one place and moving about a bit. The problem is that your power needs are I believe exponentially related to your speed so if you needed to move about at say 12 knots or 20 knots (speeds needed to say catch a CVBG that does not oblige and run right over you so you can shoot at it) then your range drops much faster than one would think.

http://mathscinotes.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/dimensional-analysis-and-submarine-running-time/

That has some great information on the problems AIP subs can run into. This also hurts them badly if they are say being hunted by an MPA and have to evade either detection or weapons dropped on them. I think the a very large degree SSK’s rely upon someone being forced to do something within a specified time frame. Time and distance all work against them because you have to come up for air at some point.

This is where credible MPA and even land and carrier based fighters can really make their life hell in that you can roll back that safe zone where they can snorkel and start making them run down their limited AI (air independent) power earlier and earlier. Given enough time (which you may or may not have) you can wait out AIP subs to a large degree.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
October 11, 2013 2:52 pm

The entire point of AIP systems is to overcome the achilles heel of the SSK, which is battery charge. When you figure that a lead acid battery is at least twice the density of seawater, then you start to get the idea that adding battery weight means you need to make the boat much bigger to carry that weight. Which leads to more hydrodynamic resistance, which leads to more power required. Classic tail chase.

There comes a point where you realise that battery endurance needs to be capped and provision for charging made. That is usually a diesel generator, but to make that work you need to snort and if you snort you are no longer covert. This is where AIP tends to come in. It’s not usually as a pure propulsion device, but more often as a covert battery charging and electric motor powering capability. Essentially you extend your ability to remain covert by a significant factor, but only at low power demands (ie low speeds). You can do burst speeds, but only for short periods, so the adage that an SSK is essentially a defensive system remains true. Once submerged and off snort, the boat is strategically static.

Rocket Banana
October 11, 2013 3:27 pm

Here I go again. I’ll get told off for thinking outside the box.

An SSK is also a great offensive vessel if supported by the fleet.

In this instance it does not bother being covert it simply chugs along taking on fuel from a tanker as do all the other ships in the fleet.

Once the fleet is in position (OTH) the SSKs can be used to creep up to the shore, beach themselves (in my imagination anyway ;-)) and unload a company of infantry. Alternatively they can make hell for any nearby enemy shipping or launch TLAM suddenly from an unexpected direction.

If they are significantly cheaper than an SSN then you could probably take 2-3 with a fleet and provide SSK protection and/or offense 24-7.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 11, 2013 3:41 pm

@ Simon

Can you even RAS an SSK? I mean at 20kts to keep up with the rest of the TG.

Never thought about it before.

Rocket Banana
October 11, 2013 4:01 pm

APATS,

Probably not at the moment. Wave class is supposed to do 18 knots and a type 212 only 12 surfaced so I guess there’s a bit of a problem there in that one would either have to increase the surfaced speed of the boat or decrease the speed of the tanker (and associated escort) whilst RAS-ing.

Jeremy M H
October 11, 2013 4:04 pm

@APATS

The German’s did it sub to sub in WWII so the mechanics of it are fine. The problem is that range on fuel is not really the issue with that tactical mobility. The issue is range on whatever the AIP system is which this scheme won’t fundamentally change. Tactically the problem remains that the second you need the SSK to be a submarine it is in a relatively fixed position. The problem is not really the overall range of the subs. They can stay out alone longer than they can probably stock food for given their size. It is with the range and ability to move around once forced to actually be a submarine rather than a submersible.

WiseApe
October 11, 2013 4:31 pm

By happy coincidence I watched a submarine documentary last night which mentioned those German support subs. They were called Milchkows (milkcows). There were 10 of them and we sank the lot. Had to surface to refuel a sub which also had to surface. Refuelling took 5 hours.

Observer
Observer
October 11, 2013 5:16 pm

I think I remember a photo of a sub RAS-ing. They did it by helo. It was an Astute though, so not fuel, but it was a liquids transfer, they were using a hose. OTOH, more than one way to skin a cat, so a ship to ship is probably also possible, with the tanker just slowing down for the process.

x
x
October 11, 2013 5:25 pm

@ APATS re RAS SSK

How would the “pressure” be maintained betwixt “slab sided” RFA and “round hulled” SSK coupled with the latter being single screw never mind as you say speed problem?

What we want is a container ship and build into it one of those transom RIB roller dock on a giant scale and drive the SSK up on to it. If we used something like a Maersk Triple-E we could have a giant flight deck too for COD by MV22 en masse…………. ;) :)

x
x
October 11, 2013 5:42 pm

That’s APATS’ day job. :)

JC
JC
October 11, 2013 5:43 pm

@x – what you really want is one of these…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MightyServantRoberts19882turned.jpg

Shame it’s still slower than an RFA…

alienated
alienated
October 11, 2013 9:16 pm

Rather annoying…… my comment has been gobbled up by hostile entities in cyberspace – hope they choke on it.

Anyway, as I was saying, Good idea, Martin. Our world class SSN design and build capability deserves the support that your idea would provide; not to mention the extra Sea Power that would accrue (remenber that, HMG?).
If the extra boats (HMSs Apollo, Agincourt and Avenger?) could carry 2 or 3 Trident tubes in their fins, a relatively modest modification, then perhaps we could save money by only having 3 Successor class boats. Normally the A II class would carry TLAM, Brahmos or USVs in these tubes, for non-nuke applications.
Fantasy fleet, I know; but come the revolution……. ;-)

Rocket Banana
October 12, 2013 11:40 am

The other “out of the box” idea is that if an SSK has electric propulsion it doesn’t actually need RAS-ing. It can simply “plug in” to a generator on board the tanker/supply ship. We then only have to deal with the extra drag of the cable and the chance that it might pull out.

This allows the sub to cruise under the waves.

Essentially the SSK becomes a massive power assisted towed array.

Chris
Chris
October 12, 2013 12:27 pm

Simon – amused by the mental image of a big black boat swimming up behind the RFA coal-fired-power-station-ship and shoving its snout in the trailed charging drogue…

Rocket Banana
October 12, 2013 12:30 pm

Chris,

Almost as mad as this Copter Air to Air Refuel?

x
x
October 12, 2013 1:02 pm

@ Martin

Yes. Astute 8. Can’t argue.

WiseApe
October 12, 2013 2:19 pm

Or we could forget about Successor and just keep building SSNs. Just an idea. Now I know RT would like to see a 30 boat SSN navy, but there are some things you can’t do with an SSN:

http://navaltoday.com/2013/10/11/hms-lancaster-makes-multi-million-caribbean-drugs-bust/

x
x
October 12, 2013 4:29 pm

@ WiseApe

Being sensible, and if you quote me I will deny all knowledge of this post, but I think 12 SSN is the sensible limit for the UK at this time. And the 4 SSBN bombers of course. Um. I think 8 SSK would be nice to have for the Med, Perisher, Thursday War, general submarine training, North Sea, and “special jobs”. But only nice to have. As I have and others said the only thing lacking from Astute is a clutch of VLS. Seven is one too few but I am sure the RN will work with what they have as they always have.

WiseApe
October 12, 2013 5:16 pm

Eight SSKs? With the whole of the Mediterranean to play in the French, Spanish and Italians only field eight SSKs between them. Actually none of them are French.

Perhaps we could get an eighth Astute if we painted it green, put solar panels on the tower and called it Arctic Sunset ;-)

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/features/Greenpeace-responds-to-allegations-by-Russian-authorities/

x
x
October 12, 2013 5:59 pm

@ WiseApe

Well during the Cold War we had 13 O-boats so obviously with no Soviets to counter we don’t need as many. :) But we could find work for four at home on a four-for-one rotation with the tasks I outlined. The Med and the Gulf are better served by SSK. More of a spread for training new captains etc. I think 8 is a perfectly reasonable number.

Repulse
October 12, 2013 7:00 pm

I never understood why the opportunity for the 8th Astute was passed – ok, would have marginally cost more in comparison to a lower drum beat and crew / maintenance costs over time, but would have given more depth to the service.

As I’ve stated before, I would give up the MAD SSBN game for 12 SSNs, but I’ll keep quiet in the minority group :)

If there was more money though, I wouldn’t go for traditional SSKs… I think the following would make an interesting addition to our EEZ defence and special surveillance ops…

http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/dagger/

Also, got a soft spot for the old Spiggen II – 14 days endurance is not bad…

http://www.amphitech.se/images/promo_big.jpg

If you could get these in the T26 mission bay – I might actually start liking them :)

dave haine
dave haine
October 12, 2013 7:08 pm

I know ‘x’ has said that SSK are only a nice to have, but do they have some use? I know the boys certainly used to use them for covert deployments, but what other uses do they have?, maybe lurking around our coast?

x
x
October 12, 2013 7:21 pm

@ Dave H

NaB will shake his head at me posting a video from BMT…………

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryZLb9Ey-1o

Work in shallow seas, special forces ops, training (as mentioned above), increasing subMARINE hull numbers for less cost….

Repulse
October 12, 2013 8:05 pm
x
x
October 12, 2013 8:37 pm

You can have them only after I get my class of 8 nuclear hydrofoils with triple 8in at A,B and Y for my Channel squadron………..

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 12, 2013 9:20 pm

OK its fantasy fleet time. What would be the equivalent of HMS Dreadnought in 2020? Would it be fast, armoured, armed with lasers?

Opinion3
Opinion3
October 12, 2013 10:26 pm

@JH

I feel sure I wasn’t the only person who used to get my pillows, change into my PJs and head downstairs to watch Doctor Who sharing the same chair as my sisters. It was terrifying, even the title music made me shut my eyes. And the DALEKS …….

but they could be defeated by the simple step.

Do lasers make large terrifying bangs? What happens when they hit a mirror? Do they bend around the curvature of the earth? Does light travel in a straight line?

Chris
Chris
October 12, 2013 11:12 pm

Op3 – I don’t know about the others but I can’t remember ever watching Dr Who sharing the same seat with your sisters…

Lasers are I suspect overrated down here on the surface. In the upper reaches of the atmosphere or in orbit I could believe them to be effective at burning holes in things at a distance, but there must be both scatter and attenuation in the thicker dust filled air near the surface. Much more the case on a battlefield where shells & manoeuvres will throw smoke and dust up as a thick blanket. But to answer the questions – Do they make bangs? All electrical equipment makes terrifying bangs, normally once, just before they cease operation. Mirrors? A perfectly clean optically pure mirror would bounce the energy away; imperfections and dirt would allow a proportion of the energy to be absorbed so not the perfect defence. Bendy or straight lines? In absolute terms bendy, but it takes the gravitational force of a star to cause fractions of a degree of bend, so in all practical terms it does straight lines. Scatter or reflection from appropriately positioned mirrors might get some way round obstacles but I’d imagine once deflected its integrity would be corrupted and its effectiveness (other than a dazzling tool) would be lost.

I recall all sorts of innovative weaponry that was going to change the face of warfare, but none did. Subsonic disruptors? Neutron bombs? EM railguns? Ekranoplans?

The most convincing example of laser weaponry was in Goldfinger’s laboratory: “I shupposhe you ekshpect me to talk?” “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!”

Anyway. Back to JohnH’s question – there is only one shape of Dreadnought and that’s the vast Edwardian grey battleship with lots of big guns and real maritime presence. All the modern ones (with the exception of big black boats) look far to dainty and delicate to be proper battleships.

Observer
Observer
October 13, 2013 6:47 am

High powered laser, as in the “death ray, boils your blood” type of laser hitting a mirror will cause the mirror to blow. Not about light or reflection, but heat transfer. The light may be reflected, but the thermal energy is still being dumped into that one spot. The problem with lasers is that they radiate, which means that they lose energy to their surroundings in the inverse squared rule. This means that to get a decent killing laser, you need to pump a hellacious amount of energy into the beam at the start. Lasers are overrated.

Chris, of the list that you put out, neutron bombs DID make it into service, it was simply configuring the bomb to emit lots of radiation instead of heat and light. In fact, you could make a case that the Davy Crockett was in concept a “neutron bomb” type weapon as it was designed mainly to kill with radiation. Fortunately or unfortunately they found that maintenance on neutron bombs were a pain, with a service life expectancy of about a decade.

As for the 2040 (2020 is too close for any to end up in service) battleship, the concept has been around for a long long time, but no one has found the real need to build one yet. It’s the arsenal ship that some of us here are so fond of. A huge missile battery in place of big guns for greater range and flexibility, semi-submersible to reduce RCS on station, in the end, it’s something very similar to the SSGN Ohios the USN came up with, just a lot more seaworthy on the surface.

Repulse
October 13, 2013 7:31 am

http://alternathistory.org.ua/files/users/user1577/0.jpeg

Going back to SK mini subs :) … the fact that it cannot recharge it’s own batteries is an interesting concept (as the do not need to surface to recharge batteries) and whilst the speeds are slow they could act as a significant threat to surface vessels, especially at choke points. 2 Heavy tubes plus 4 small, plus a VLS – not bad, wonder if you could get some TLAM in the heavy tubes…

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 13, 2013 8:13 am

Reason I mentioned lasers, is that the USN is playing with one now. Its an oval pod sitting on the flight deck of a destroyer. The laser looks like a telescope & rises out of the pod. Guided by a phalanx radar, Its either at tactical-life.com or defensenews. I will see if I can find it.

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 13, 2013 8:23 am

USN Laser. Its at tactical-life.com the article is “Weapons Insider-US Navy weapons system” 20 Aug 2013. Its a solid state laser onboard the USS Dewey. They hope to begin combat operations in the Persian Gulf with it in 2014.

Rocket Banana
October 13, 2013 8:51 am

Mini sub? Mini sub? Nah, go for a big one that opens at the front to let a Commando Coy disembark up the beach ;-)

Also… Electrolaser which looks interesting.

Opinion3
Opinion3
October 13, 2013 8:52 am

@Observer

Am I right in thinking a semi-submersable would be like getting stuck on a waltzer for six months?

Opinion3
Opinion3
October 13, 2013 9:00 am

I think lasers are over-rated but a light sabre – I fancy one of those :-) and a laser hand gun could be handy too.

Repulse
October 13, 2013 9:25 am

@Simon: You mean adapting something like this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_Cargo_Vessel… Similar overall size to an Albion… :)

My evolving philosophy on UK defence is that we need the following 3 things:

– A big shield: MPA, BMD, Interceptor Typhoons, Reserve Army Units, Patrol OPVs / FRE and a limited Nuclear Defence
– A big stick: RFTG, F35s, Air transport, Army/RM reaction brigades, SFs and SSNs
– 20/20 glasses: Satellites, MI6 / GCHQ, Long range UAVs and Light Stealth Patrol Frigates, SSNs and yes, stealth mini subs :)

Repulse
October 13, 2013 9:37 am

Further to my last post, I think that to be acceptability of having a visible forward presence by the UK military is going to be increasingly difficult outside of Oversea Territories, NATO and Australia / New Zealand in the longer term and would need to be a civilian effort. Therefore, stealth is the only way (hence the glasses :))

Repulse
October 13, 2013 9:39 am

@Simon: Also, there is always the Nazi Seeteufel concept:

http://modelscale.free.fr/analyses/MS2003_9P/SCRH_SeeTeufel/SCRH_STeuf_plage.JPG

Chris
Chris
October 13, 2013 10:02 am

Repulse – I recall a bit of a stir in the early 80s when a rumour spread that one of the NATO forces had found the unmistakable impressions of caterpillar tracks on the seabed near the coast of Sweden or Norway? One report, lots of bluster, silence. Shortly after that the fictional Red Oktober popped out of page and screen powered by – a caterpillar drive. I never worked out if the book paid tongue-in-cheek tribute to the intelligence agencies and their discoveries, or if the intelligence agencies mistook Clancy’s fiction for fact…

But now its clear! Alles Klar! SeeTeufel had been out playing peekaboo with the Scandinavians!

Opinion3
Opinion3
October 13, 2013 11:18 am


“My evolving philosophy on UK defence is that we need the following 3 things:

– A big shield: MPA, BMD, Interceptor Typhoons, Reserve Army Units, Patrol OPVs / FRE and a limited Nuclear Defence
– A big stick: RFTG, F35s, Air transport, Army/RM reaction brigades, SFs and SSNs
– 20/20 glasses: Satellites, MI6 / GCHQ, Long range UAVs and Light Stealth Patrol Frigates, SSNs and yes, stealth mini subs :)”

I like the thinking, however true to my posting name I offer my opinion :-)

A Big shield – As above but I putting the SSNs in the shield section.
A Big Stick – I assume the fleet is pretty much in the RFTG, but I think it lacks offensive and defensive capabilities. The T26 will hopefully resolve the offensive aspect and as pointed out by others a patrol/black swan could hopefully be built quickly and cover the defensive. I would however get three or four MARS SSS and have them capable of being upgraded to similar to the LPD San Antonio class. Lots of room – room for silos, and plenty of deck spots and hangar space. I’d lose Ocean. Always fancied a revolver missile launcher in an A330 (LR bomber) too.
20/20 – My MRAs would have BAMS, and we lack satelites and UAVs. If we had somewhere to land the things UAVs would be ideal for naval oversight.

Opinion3
Opinion3
October 13, 2013 11:21 am

If an austere Astute is £1Bn. Would three Astutes be better than some indigenous UAV stealth bombers? comme taranis?

Chris
Chris
October 13, 2013 11:48 am

Op3 – in my ‘umble opinion the Geneva Convention should be updated to ban outright all autonomous weapon deployment (possible exception immediate self-protection such as DAS hard kill or ERA). I think common humanity demands someone somewhere has the manual responsibility for killing someone else. Whether that’s a finger on the trigger of an SA80 or the POTUS finger on the nuclear button doesn’t really matter – someone makes the final decision based on the immediately preceding events whether to kill or not. Having UAVs wandering the skies picking targets to kill after maybe hours off-tether is just not right. Not only is the timing out of human control, but you’d also be entrusting life or death decisions to modern software. You may have read elsewhere I trust no software these days – all far too complex and indeterminate, behaving differently every time its reset, demonstrating rafts of fault behaviour that show different reactions to the same apparent trigger event. From evidence it is unpredictable. I expect any system or operator with weapon release authority to be predictable, reliable and controllable, and I don’t believe object-oriented software is anywhere near good enough.

Three Astutes therefore win hands down.

HurstLlama
HurstLlama
October 13, 2013 11:50 am

@Opinion3

Who do are we likely to want to bomb? I think the UK is now out of the offensive (i.e. optional) war business and such defence spending that is still left (and there will be even less after 2015) needs to be spent on forces and kit that can defend – submarines can, bombers cannot (though I suppose we could hook up some anti-shipping weapons to a Taranis, but something will still need to find the targets).

Half a dozen SSKs might be of better use than three more Astute class SSNs, but by the time we have designed them and built them they would almost certainly cost more and be a decade later in entering service.

x
x
October 13, 2013 12:09 pm

There may be overlap between what an SSN does and what an SSK does but it isn’t a one for more swap. It is apples and oranges. Rather like when I argue for more cruise over manned deep strike. Similar but different. It is a question of what you want to do. The UK needs a long range high endurance naval (intelligence) capability in the Indian Ocean and the SSK doesn’t give us that.

HurstLlama
HurstLlama
October 13, 2013 12:30 pm

@X

I couldn’t agree more but I was not arguing for a cut in the SSN squadron, quite the reverse. Six SSKs might be of more use in defending this Sceptred Isle than 3 MORE Astutes. However, as the SSKs would, once the MoD bureaucracy had got their paws on the idea, cost more and be donkeys years later in delivering, 3 more Astutes would be a better bet.

That said as neither option is, or is likely to be, on the table we are just indulging in Fantasy Fleets (aka, in American parlance, jerking off).

P.S. I read last week that Typhoon has cost us 17.6 billion pounds, the most expensive project in UK history. And what does the Typhoon do that other Aeroplanes can’t? Maybe we would have been better off buying from abroad and giving every BAe worker on the project a million pounds to feck off and go away.

mike
mike
October 13, 2013 12:51 pm

Ah more fantasy fleet stuff.

In reality, the RN is firmly out of the SSK business. The SSN mafia and Treasury has long since made sure of that. Besides, a lot of our sub use is long range… in the cold war there was reason/need for SSK’s… but now?

Jeremy M H
October 13, 2013 1:02 pm

That would be an almost impossible rule to write because a great may weapons systems are on their own once let go and make the final determination on targeting themselves. The Brimstone fired under its original mode is basically making that call on its own. So are almost all longer range Anti-shipping missiles. So I would imagine the first thing that would happen is such negotiations is that nations behind on UCAV tech would ask to restrict such weapons. And the reply would be that such a definition should also include things like Brahmos, DF-21D and so on. You would get bogged down into where something crosses over whatever line you decide to set.

x
x
October 13, 2013 1:10 pm

@ Hurt Llama

It was just a general observation not aimed at anyone specific born from reading too many posts here written from the incorrect view that ships are all much of a muchness, can all do the same stuff, and so are interchangeable. Note what happens when I ever I suggest a cruise missile can be launched from a ship that can go on to other things and not from a fast airplane with a much narrower set of capabilities and you will see textual howls of anguish. :)

Chris
Chris
October 13, 2013 1:37 pm

Jeremy – I should perhaps be a little clearer – it is the autonomy of target select and weapon release (or equivalent) that I find unacceptable. Self guidance based on GPS marker, bitmap comparison to targeting data, emission signature or even dumb IR seeking is to my mind quite different. In these cases someone has decided the weapon should seek a target of defined parameter and launched it at the target intended. Man in the loop. Quite different from a Global Hawk running down a yes/no parameter checklist in its fuzzy software brain and dropping bombs whenever the target gets a score above 43.7%. No intelligence, no judgement call.

x
x
October 13, 2013 2:25 pm

@ Mike

Mediterranean, littorals anywhere, archipelagos to the north and east of Australia. All sorts of reasons. Though I understand that politically there could be reasons for scuppering any talk of SSK it doesn’t mean they don’t have their uses for a globally deployed force like the RN.

rec
rec
October 13, 2013 2:42 pm

Personally, to give the Subamrine service enough units to make it a viable career path, and to bring back SSK production, and to have ship building capability outside of Scotland and to cahllenge BAE’s monopoly I would propose the following.

1) An 8th Astute as per the original drumbeat plan, faster production means cheaper unit costs.
2) 7 Sweedish SSKs, the first 3 built in Sweeden, the next 4 built under license in the UK.
3) 6 Holland class OPV, the 2 surplus ones bought, 2 built in Holland, and 2 built under license at Camel Laird.
4) 2 Additional Rivers (Clyde spec) built at Portsmouth
The 6 Hollands would provide the West Indies/Falklands/ Anti priracy patrols, this would free Frigates for working up to a full operational role, and Clyde can return to the Uk for UK costal role.
5) A further 5 Type 26s ordering from 2014 (12 ASW, 6 GP)
To pay for this use some contingency reservce, and even not replace Trident.

Opinion3
Opinion3
October 13, 2013 3:48 pm

Other than SSKs being cheaper what are the pros and cons. I realise they are horses for courses, but extra Astutes would probably win in terms of flexibility – fewer numbers but more capable and common with the current fleet.

If buying off the shelf do not the Germans make the best sub?

Jeremy M H
October 13, 2013 5:11 pm

Sorry, still not buying it.

So it is fine to let loose an anti-shipping missile that will go to point X, activate it sensors and then kill whatever fits its programmed targets the best but it is not acceptable to tell a drone to fly to point X, active its sensors and then kill whatever target fits its program the best?

Why exactly? After all a man both programmed and dispatched both systems. The only possible argument you could really make is the time scale involved.

Rocket Banana
October 13, 2013 6:41 pm

Typhoon has cost us 17.6 billion pounds

If that’s for the 160 then it’s VFM considering Typhoon is the greatest (okay, maybe second greatest) jet fighter on planet Earth.

Also we’d probably get 4:1 SSK:SSN in terms of cost. 6 x SSK for patrolling the seas around Britain could be money well spent? You wouldn’t need an SSBN escort allowing us to concentrate the efforts of the SSN fleet to supporting expeditionary warfare – or as someone mentioned – intelligence gathering. Perhaps you could also afford to not have dedicated MPA too?

JMH,

Regarding the “legality” of unmanned systems. Perhaps it is to do with the extra collateral damage (incidental passers by, changing target picture) that could be caused by something that loiters for 12 hours rather than a missile that is defunct after 20 minutes?

Jeremy M H
October 13, 2013 10:58 pm

@Simon

Ok, so what is the agreed upon cutoff time after which that becomes a concern? That is a rhetorical question but the point is that no one could ever agree on a cutoff time so you can’t really make such a rule. Hell, TLAM’s fly for over an hour before they get to targets at times.

Chris
Chris
October 13, 2013 11:50 pm

JMH – it seems Simon is thinking along similar lines (in terms of rationale if not necessarily agreeing with the principle) – timing is everything. Using your argument I could ask you why a bomb is considered an acceptable weapon but a landmine is not – to save you the effort of answering may I suggest its that the one does its damage within seconds of being dropped (by a weapons officer/bomb aimer) where the landmine sits in the grass for years waiting to be trodden on. Both go bang, both hurt people – one is released upon those the operator/weapons officer/bomb aimer intends to neutralise, the other is triggered at a time determined entirely by the mine finding a target that meets the right criteria. Similarly in the States there might be justification in using a firearm against a burglar who had broken into your home, where rigging the house with trip-wire and IR sensor triggered firearms that shoot anything that moves would not be considered legal (I hope!)

Rocket Banana
October 14, 2013 6:45 am

Chris,

I think you get round the “trip wire and bomb” thing with a sign saying “Warning – premises man-trapped” ;-)

JMH,

As Chris says, it could be the potentially indiscriminate nature of loitering or lingering weapons.

Jeremy M H
October 14, 2013 1:12 pm

and Simon

Then it should be simple to set a time and criteria then right? I actually think the landmine treaty is an excellent example of why this won’t work. You have no hope of getting nations with real security concerns to sign such a thing nor to expect really anyone to pay attention to it if/when a major conflict comes to be. Everyone can thump their chest and pretend that they did something useful. But deep down they know they didn’t, even though it is something for the press to eat up.

And I still ask the question, is an anti-shipping missile loosed into the wild any more or less indiscriminate than a drone? Some artificial constraints of 20 minutes of making your own decisions is ok but 2 hours is not will be small comfort to the passengers of a cruise liner hit by an ASM that mistakes it for a carrier after all. A treaty has to have some specific terms and the only criteria I have seen that you (or anyone else) can set is a certain amount of time from release.

What it really come down to with any weapon that is self guiding is the quality of the programming and command and control that decides to use it, not the amount of time a system is by itself. You can’t assess the ability of people to do that very well due to a myriad of issues. Nations are already cautious with how they use such systems (hence why Harpoon has been rarely used even when naval targets present themselves and why Brimstone was redesigned to include a man in the loop mode). I don’t really see the need for any such treaty even if one could put forth a concrete and agreed upon definition of when something because too autonomous to be allowed (which no one can).

Chris
Chris
October 14, 2013 1:39 pm

JMH – I understand the difficulties you describe. But such difficulties are not to my mind adequate reason to let the world build hundreds of loitering killers with full international blessing. When your local Police force posts automat sharpshooter drones on street corners of your town, explaining they have the latest face recognition software with which to recognize dangerous criminals (and then neutralize them) I presume you will be quite happy. Just another self-determining high-tech software-guided killer, right? And its only a few small indistinct steps from a UAV with gun or missile, so obviously these streetside execution drones can’t be ruled illegal. Its too difficult.

The steps from the first election win (as a patriotic political movement) for the German National Socialists towards industrial scale genocide were all really small; adjustments to the accepted rule of law, each so insignificant that they were not worth protesting about. By the argument of “too difficult to draw a line” then wholesale genocide ought to be legally acceptable? Not in my world.

I accept there might be all sorts of difficulties getting rules that have proper controls and that cannot be bypassed by painting the system a different colour or by giving it a fancy new name. Difficult does not mean wrong.

Just this weekend there were clips of JFK on the TV declaring in the early 60s that America chose to go to the moon “not because these things are easy but because they are hard.” Sometimes doing the difficult thing is exactly the right thing to do.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
October 14, 2013 7:29 pm

@Mr HurstLlama – If we are genuinely out of the Offensive War Business we need a couple of squadrons of fast jets, a patrol ship Navy and a Crown Militia…anything else is just froth…

@rec – Nice shopping list, bar the throw away about CASD…any Government that decided to abandon that would be working towards the plan outlined above not building up conventional capability…

GNB

HurstLlama
HurstLlama
October 14, 2013 8:27 pm

@GNB

“If we are genuinely out of the Offensive War Business we need a couple of squadrons of fast jets, a patrol ship Navy and a Crown Militia”

I think you understate the defence requirements (submarines and MPA must be part of the mix) but that is essentially where we are going. It would be nice is HMG, of whatever stripe, would admit the fact and plan for it rather than pretend we can still be a “player” – at least we would end up with a coherent defence force rather than the salami-sliced mish-mash we are heading for.

Mark
Mark
October 14, 2013 8:52 pm

Ok could some of the doom and gloom people point me in the direction of who exactly are the “players” and what make them a player.

Uavs like reaper have a man in the loop he/she sees what there looking at and pulls the trigger that’s fine by me. However take today’s tech and go to what was initially being pushed as Ucavs. This requires a drone to operate in contested airspace which requires a low observable design. That is extremely difficult to do if a command feed of pictures ect is being transmitted 1000s of miles away so it was portraying the need for the ucav to “think” for itself to avoid this constant control this is where it becomes unacceptable in my mind and where the choice to use armed force is to simple and easy.

Jeremy M H
October 15, 2013 1:49 pm

What is that load of nonsense? I have not once stated a preference for either allowing such automated weapons or disallowing them. I have simply stated that a treaty to do so is functionally impossible and you have still been unable to answer the basic question which is where exactly do you draw the difference between munitions and UAV’s in treaty language. You can’t because it is almost impossible to draft such language.

Mark hits on the real limitation and that is the practical side of things that no one will likely just turn a drone 100% loose for operational and political reasons to begin with, at least not without testing the software to death first. I agree with that and think any true, operate on their own UAV’s are further away than people think.

I just think your attempt at some sort of legal distinction is silly and pointless. People hit wrongly by poorly targeted weapons or UCAVs are both just as dead. For that matter so are those who get bombed by a pilot that makes a mistake because of the stress they are under. Trying to set undefinable legal boundaries is pretty pointless because you will never get agreement on the issues you need to draft a treaty.

If you want to resort to the internet nonsense of “your position is the kind of thing that let the Nazi’s come to pass” or “you want to let the cops murder criminals with sniper drones” then this whole exercise is pointless. That has long been the realm of the intellectually lazy in debate it to try and tie something to the Nazi’s. I mean the task to you is really simple since you are advocating for international action on this. Define with some level of precision the attributes of what you want to ban with terms that can be enforced internationally. You can’t just say I know it when I see it in a treaty.

Chris
Chris
October 15, 2013 3:05 pm

JMH – let’s not get all cross about this and start slinging insults – this is just a discussion of viewpoints. What I meant by the Germany analogy is that a country of something over 60 million citizens failed to prevent state genocide not because they were in favour of it (I hope!) but because they never saw a big enough step change in state policies that they could universally declare unacceptable. If the only way there is to set a rule is if that which is subject to the rule is clearly very different from all else then the politicians, diplomats and lawyers should pack their bags and go find a job to which they are better suited.

Anyway. To the question of what criteria; I thought I had stated it earlier but here goes again – weapon systems that detect, recognize and identify their own targets, and initiate their own attack by whatever means they choose – these are bad. Should be marked ‘Do Not Use’ in big letters. Weapons directly tasked by an operator to prosecute a target detected by, recognised by and identified by the operator and supplied target parameters by the operator (emission signature, image bitmap, GPS location, range/bearing (dumb weapons) or the like are still nasty but because of the direct human control, they constitute normal ‘acceptable’ weapons. In your earlier note where you suggest anti-ship missiles are set loose over a large patch of ocean to pick & choose their own target? I hope such don’t exist but I’d have them clearly in the ‘bad’ list.

To be truthful I don’t approve of remote control warfare (as in killing) either, because it changes the psychology of risk too much – I am positive that forces personnel in theatre engaged with an enemy will, because of the risk of hurt to themselves or their close colleagues (their pals in UK speak), consider the impact of their candidate actions with a great deal more focus before committing themselves than if they were sat in a safe comfortable control station miles or even continents away. But at least such remote weapons are still being controlled and committed by real people with all the awareness and responsibility that entails. As we are on a Submarine thread, its clear the personnel aboard SSBNs are remote from their target, but from what I have read they are all very aware of the responsibility they bear. As they should be.

I’m sorry the street-corner killer example annoyed you. But consider an alternative; that in 20 years time when North Korea has autonomous weapon carrying long range UAVs (Chinese technology of course) and sends them over the US to cause damage, the loitering self-targeting drone would be performing exactly the same sorts of processing to determine what to target as the street drone labelled nonsense. It would be at maybe 24000feet over your street and have a different owner, but the process and the effect would be much the same. The machine is not evil; it has no brain, no feelings, certainly no politics – just a program to follow. Whether the machine is owned by Grand Leader Kim or the local police chief is entirely irrelevant to the machine. Find a target, kill a target. No human vito, no human conscience. Its just wrong, no matter who owns them.

El Sid
El Sid
October 15, 2013 9:35 pm

Returning to submarines, albeit still pretty OT, hat-tip to Galrahn for this piece on how the Germans are trying to squeeze out Sweden from the submarine market since Thyssen bought Kockums. One for the “ownership doesn’t matter” crowd to consider :

http://www.thelocal.de/article.php?ID=52407&print=true
The Germans’ efforts to sink Sweden’s submarine industry have been ongoing since at least 2011, according to the source, when TKMS CEO Hans Christoph Atzpodien denied Kockums the opportunity to bid on a project in Singapore for the construction of new submarines, despite the Swedish firm’s long-standing relationship in the country….

“A raging war is taking place between Kockums and TKMS,” he said, explaining that the Singapore deal has brought the situation into sharp relief.

One of the more jaw-dropping stories from the post-Cold-War period, the Russians taking “guns for butter” a bit literally, offering the Kiwis an SSN to pay for butter imports :
http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/business/9282619/Russia-offered-MiGs-tanks-to-settle-NZ-debt
Told by Mr Bolger that New Zealand had a nuclear-free policy, Moscow’s response was to suggest “we tie it up in some port and connect it to the national grid”, Mr Lind said