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Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
January 12, 2014 1:13 am

And the answer is possibly so – but not at the expense of Frigates – so they should be provided as a part of the renewal of the MHPC vessels, ideally in parallel with the T26 Programme…

An optimistic (?) Gloomy

January 12, 2014 1:30 am

Is this classed as the RFA bailing out the Navy?
Like the Navy apparently did to the Army in Afghan?

January 12, 2014 8:35 am

In my view there would only be 2 reasons why an RFA would be “better” in this role:

– It is better equipped
– There is spare RFA capacity that needs to be kept busy in peacetime

Drug runners in the Caribbean mainly use either fast craft or in some cases mini crude submarines. Apart from being a platform for a lynx and boarding party, the fact that RFAs are slow, have no ASW capabilities and limited search capability then the first point is not true. The fact that the RFTG on average has operated without the target model RFA support would on my view negate the second.

This is exactly where we need those 25kt light frigates / OPVs :)

Peter Elliott
January 12, 2014 8:54 am

Remeber that drug interdiction is not the only task in this part of the world. Hurricane relief is also part of the role and a solid stores ship is better for that than a Combat Ship or a Partol Vessel. More capacity for supplies than one and better sea keeping than the other.

In terms of drug interdiction it depends what offboard systems the ship is hosting. If you put a Merlin and Scan Eagle onbard and you have the ability to search a wide area both above and below the surface.

The key point is that this task is most unlikely to be attacked by a warlike enemy with either torpedos or missiles. So a combat ship is not required. Once you consider that point a large ship with plenty of logistic capacity and the space to host mission specific offbard sytems becomes ideal.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
January 12, 2014 9:12 am

Peter I entirely agree with you.

Thinking slightly wider, the standing tasks for the Navy might bear some scrutiny. Not should they exist at all, but who provides them and which Department of State pays for them.

I’m not necessarily supporting what I now say, but I could make a coherent case for DFID to provide the humanitarian and DR capabilities of the UK government on a permanent basis. How they then source the platforms and people to do that would be up to DFID, but clearly one option might be to buy in RN or RFA support for certain periods or regions. Another might be to appoint a consortium to run a full DR capability from warehouse in Marchwood right through to the provision of a flotilla of role optimised ships (stores, hospital, etc).

Peter Elliott
January 12, 2014 9:21 am

And looking at the political narrative justifying, for instance, a fourth MARS SSS is much less likely to impact on T26 numbers than ordering, say, an addtional class of pointy-looking light frigates.

Pointy looking light frigates (floaty little boats?) are in many cases the worst of all worlds. Lacking in logistic endurance, lacking in wartime survivability, laccking in sea-keeping, while looking to the layman (including HMT) exactly like a propper fighting ship while fooling the eenemy’s professional analysts precisely 0% of the time.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
January 12, 2014 10:09 am

Complete fantasy fleet alert.

If I had Bill Gates’ wealth, I’d buy and pay for the first ten years of costs of a brand new government ship (DFID / RFA TBD).

A hospital / stores ship with a decent helideck and a well deck for ISOs and a couple or 3 modern ISO handling LCUs. Throw in 3 Merlin sized helicopters.

Fill it full of DR type stores, then send it to the developing world to cruise around offering free general healthcare and eye surgery (a particular favourite of mine: minor eye surgery on cataracts can hugely change lives and so the capacity for people in poor countries to look after themselves).

And apart from refits, it never comes back to the UK. Crews rotate.

Base it in west Africa and the Caribbean shuttling between the two. It’s the only ocean we need to care about, unless we need to do a UK NEO in the Med.

Don’t much care who crews it, but it would be part of Britain’s contribution to the world.

January 12, 2014 12:37 pm


“If I had Bill Gates’ wealth, I’d buy and pay for the first ten years of costs of a brand new government ship (DFID / RFA TBD). A hospital / stores ship with a decent helideck and a well deck for ISOs and a couple or 3 modern ISO handling LCUs. Throw in 3 Merlin sized helicopters…”

You’ve been beaten to the punch by a charity (allusion to violence specially for you ;-) ):


About Us

Imagine a ship crewed by doctors, nurses, water engineers and agriculturalists visiting some of the world’s poorest countries. Now imagine their life-changing services offered free of charge…

Right now dedicated volunteers from around the world are bringing hope and healing to thousands of people who could never have believed it possible. Welcome to Mercy Ships, a compassionate response to a world where many have lost hope…

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
January 12, 2014 1:04 pm

@ Dunservin,

Looks encouraging. I’d worry that the problem with charities is that they tend to live hand to mouth, and in general terms, buying a platform incurs long term costs that really should be considered at procurement time and not merely the one off acquisition cost. And as a matter of principle, I’d prefer our country to do this rather than outsource the cost to charitable givers.

Way way back when I was about 9, we had a nurse in my prep school who was one of matron’s staff. She had spent 2 years on the SS Uganda which in addition to being a cruise ship also did some charitable medical work, maybe under charter. I don’t know the details.

She was sacked from the school when it was discovered that she’d posed for some mid 70s men’s mag. Quite who discovered this is unknown. She was quite a looker though.

… All of which is probably irrelevant, other than as background to my opinion that if a charitable purpose is in mind, it still needs a grown up and hard nosed approach with a proper foundation, not an ad hoc approach.

January 12, 2014 1:11 pm

@PE: Understand about the Hurricane Relief aspect, but why use a tanker? A SSS or LSD may be just for the hurricane season, but that would be a very specific tasking.

I am amazed that other navies in the world can accept that having a balance of major vs minor warships is the right thing to do, but the RN is “special”. Utter rubbish in my view.

Peter Elliott
January 12, 2014 1:17 pm

It depends if we actually expect our navy to be able to fight.

The reason the RN is this way is becuase we lost so many ships in the Falklands and learned the hard lessons as a result.

Many of the world’s navies are paper tigers pretending to be larger and moe capable than they actually are. When push comes to shove the ships will be sent are the ones that exist. Those that aren’t up to the task will sink and burn.

The next war at sea (whether our’s or somebody else’s) will shake a lot of these issues out.

Peter Elliott
January 12, 2014 1:19 pm

Agree an SSS or LSD is more appropriate. We probably sent a tanker becuase that’s all we could spare. The shortage of ships is not imaginary!

January 12, 2014 1:49 pm


SS Uganda, of course, was requisitioned for duties as a troop ship during ‘that war’ but her then peacetime role was as an educational cruise ship:


Then there was the more famous SS Hope along the same lines as the Mercy Ships:


Like the Mercy Ships and SS Hope, etc., RN warships and RFAs can help with disaster relief and humanitarian aid as I remember doing following a volcanic eruption on a remote island in the Windies (West Indies). What Mercy Ships can’t do is turn their hand to helping police put down a local insurrection, provide physical reassurance to the local Brit community, strengthen regional diplomatic and military ties, exercise with and help train local defence forces, catch drug smugglers, salvage an abandoned oil tanker sinking after an engine room fire and explosion or conduct environmental trials on a sneaky new piece of ASW equipment, all of which I experienced during the same deployment.

On a similar tack, we once berthed opposite the Scientologists’ cruise ship Free Winds and were invited on board for some impressive hospitality and entertainment by some lovely young things. As far as I know, they didn’t succeed in converting any of us


As the Officer of the Day and with the Cold War still very much in evidence, I was more concerned about losing sailors to the delights of the Russian cruise liner Aleksandr Pushkin berthed ahead of us in another port. Fortunately, the last one staggered ashore just before she sailed at midnight.

January 12, 2014 2:54 pm

It is, as usual, much simpler than you are making out…

The APT(N) tanker is deployed to do exactly that – be the APT(N) station tanker. The fact that we use it in other ways is simply the Navy getting maximum bang for buck, as always. This is also exactly the reason why we have an APT(S) station tanker as well – currently BLACK ROVER.

Deploy an LSD or other fancy ship, and you lose the station tanker, and our ability to operate at range is compromised. The Atlantic Patrol Task ships need to get fuel from somewhere.

January 12, 2014 3:02 pm


On several occasions the RN deployed approximately 3,000 personnel in Afghanistan, from Harrier squadrons, Commando Helicopter Force and SKASAC, to truck drivers, Royal Marines, logistics and staff. Not all the time, but still, we did it more than once. That’s 10% of the RN deployed in one theatre. Remember that at the same time we maintained our global committments including patrols around the Northern Gulf, South Atlantic, Mediterranean, etc.

Is the modern Army even capable of deploying 10% of it’s fighting strength?

Rocket Banana
January 12, 2014 3:03 pm

Surely then the most flexible solution (considering these vessels are 3-4 weeks away) is to always have a warship and a logistics ship in the AOI. The tanker/supply/logistics will always be larger and carry stores, equipment and (possibly) copters. The frigate/destroyer will always pack more wallop when the chips are down.

I wouldn’t expect any single vessel type to be able to do what a RN and an RFA do.

I agree that our standing commitments should be reviewed in light of current threats and security assumptions. I think we’ll end up with a couple of tasks in the Indian Ocean / EoS area, a couple in the Atlantic and maybe another couple dedicated to transit routes round Africa (inc Med). This is a suspected total of 6 which unfortunately means about 18 escorts and 18 RFA for my plans.


6 T45
12 T26
2 Wave
3 Bay (although I’d like the 4th back)
3 more RFA (Argus, Diligence and Victoria replacements – maybe these will be MARS SSS with medical and repair facilities?)

Job’s a good’n.

Peter Elliott
January 12, 2014 3:09 pm

A few questions follow from that very reasonable explanation:

Where do the big cruise ships in that area get their fuel from?

I understand that for major military operations you need to be able to get large amounts of fuel to the fleet when the local port may be (a) a very long way away or (b) in unfriendly hands.

But for patrolling the carribean there must presumably be other options landside?

Also how deep are the bunkers of a stores or logistic ship compared to a combat ship? Does this choice of ‘primary’ ship affect the amount of tanking required?

Would it be a reasonable amition to get into a situation where we could reduce the requirment fot tanking to support single ship standing tasks?

Rocket Banana
January 12, 2014 3:44 pm


From what I’ve determined over the last few years generally a tanker might be 50% fuel and most other warships about 15% (leaving 35% for everything else from bunks and shelves to bombs and shells).

So for example take the deep displacement of a ship and raise it to the power of 2/3, then multiply by two – that’s about the quantity in tonnes of the fuel needed for 7500nm (3 weeks) – give or take. Now take 50% of the displacement and subtract the two – that’s the quantity of fuel, fluids and supplies a logistics ship might carry, although it does depending hugely on where the stuff is carried.

Whilst you’re at it you may as well raise the displacement to the power of 1/3 and multiply by somewhere between 7 and 7.5 – it generally gives the length of a ship.

Once done, look at what the tankers (in rotation) can deliver to a task group. It is a comfortable quantity to sustain aviation ops on the other side of the world.

I’ll now run for cover. :-)

January 12, 2014 3:45 pm


You cannot guarantee access to a port for fuel. Of course civilian ships have access, that’s a commercial understanding, but even they can be turned away and as always a warship visit is political. Deny diplomatic clearance to enter territorial waters, and you’re stuffed. The Atlantic patrols stretch the endurance of a warship considerably, even the fuel efficient Type 23 struggles to get from, say, the Cape Verde Islands to the Falklands on a single tank. Add in poor weather and an emergent task, and a fixed port is of no use at all.

Fuel quality is also highly variable. Fuel can be dirty, contain water and wax, and can have hugely variable flash points. A recent example saw ten tonnes of fuel turn to waxy sludge when the sea temperature dropped below a certain level, and that was despite the fuel passing all the standard lab tests we apply. UK fuel is dependable, and the tankers bunker from recognised, controlled sources. Imagine taking three hundred tonnes of diesel in a West African port that then ruins your gas turbines? Worst case, but it could happen.

Tankers give the warships reach and the ability to react to emergent tasking. They are fundamental to our operations at range. A Type 23 bunkers 600 tonnes of fuel whilst even the little ROVER class tankers can hold over 3000 tonnes.

January 12, 2014 4:19 pm


“The question is, are large RFA vessels actually better in this role than say, a Type 23 Frigate?”

No. Sensors. Lack of. I’ve done APT(N) on an RFA and once had to explain to an operator on a USN E-2 Hawkeye that no, we did not hold that air contact we were supposed to be intercepting on our air search radar or on our FLIR because we didn’t have either of those capabilities. He probably wondered why we had bothered turning up. Nav radar and Mk1 Eyeball do not cut it. Our embarked Lynx did have FLIR, but it cannot be airborne all the time, or even at a high alert state all the time.


“Deploy an LSD or other fancy ship, and you lose the station tanker, and our ability to operate at range is compromised. The Atlantic Patrol Task ships need to get fuel from somewhere.”

When there is a warship on station, a tanker is the best complement. When there is no warship, the tanker capability is wasted and if other platforms are available that are in less demand elsewhere (i.e. anything else), we would be better employing such another platform. As we have done with LSD(A), AFSH, Argus, etc.

Peter Elliott,

“Where do the big cruise ships in that area get their fuel from?

Also how deep are the bunkers of a stores or logistic ship compared to a combat ship?”

It isn’t about sourcing fuel, it is about persistence on station and confidence in knowing that you will be able to replenish bunkers after a high speed dash to intercept. Cruise ships cruise from port to port on a daily basis and know exactly where and when their next top-up is coming from. Warships and auxiliaries on counter-narcotics operations can spend weeks at sea – persistence on task that would be lost if you send a singleton DD/FF without tanker support.

January 12, 2014 4:25 pm

@PE: “The reason the RN is this way is becuase we lost so many ships in the Falklands and learned the hard lessons as a result.” Yes, but the world has moved on in two important ways in my view:

– The RN will not be going anywhere “hot” unless it is part of an RFTG (or allied equivalent) or operating within land cover.
– Any RFTG will have layered air defence with the T45, Crownest, significant F35B CAP and hopefully other long ranged surveillance air assets. This was not the case in the Falklands – the fact that enemy aircraft could get so close was criminal. I’m not saying that minor warships should not has close range air defence and decoys, but remember they would be under the wider umbrella. I’m also in favour of more AAW ships as well as minor warships :)

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
January 12, 2014 4:25 pm


I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you say, but my point is more along the lines that if an RFA is already doing the task, then already Pandora’s box (or rather, the Treasury scrutinisers) is open.

Turning to your list of activities (which following the site redesign I cannot copy and paste on an IPhone to address one by one in this comment):

An RFA cannot provide physical presence in a threatening environment any more than any other ship under British government control. Something either needs a warship, or it does not. A DFID Hospital ship is as good as an RFA.

The Navy get somewhat tiresome with the claims of military utility of a warship deployed abroad on the cocktail party circuit. I’ve attended a few. Very nice and pleasant, but nothing more than a cocktail party. And the crew of a warship are laughably unable to affect anything at all on the ground over anything more than a 12 hour period, far less an insurgency.

I think there’s also some wrong thinking going on if the government does not realise that national aims may not better be met by having an enduring regional charitable / humanitarian presence such as a hospital ship, rather than thinking merely in terms of a frankly ill-equipped frigate for 3 weeks in some locality. And that’s before even thinking what kind of additional training and equipment a frigate might need to be useful.

January 12, 2014 4:31 pm

Having a vessel like the French la fayette frigate is what we’re missing I think. They were built to conduct similar missions to the type were conducting in the Atlantic and Africa. Perhaps the direction CDS has been hinting at.

“The niche for more hostile environments is covered by the La Fayette type, designed to operate in complex zones like the Indian Ocean or Djibouti. These ships were to be able to secure the EEZ, but also to operate in naval groups or intelligence gathering missions. “

January 12, 2014 4:44 pm


I apoligise for my flippant remark, I believed that this thread was going to turn into the usual we need more ships we are an island don’t you know, but they all have to be pointy fighty ones.

Although I will add the army deployed more than 10% for the invasion of Iraq and when Telic and Herrick were running concurrently.

The Harrier force was a tri service organisation that even had army engineers assigned to it.

3 Cdo Bde is also a tri service organisation, half manned by army personnel and should be being utilised in a Land campaign.

The use of the Navy in Afghan is a good use of defence resources, the Harriers would still have been used whoever was flying them, same as the commando helicopter force.

We are a small armed force and resources are tight for everyone, we need more intelligent spending and use from all our platforms and organisations.

Rocket Banana
January 12, 2014 4:54 pm


Ahh, the La Fayette, the ship that should really have been an Anglo-French venture (since we have much the same EEZ patrol requirements).

Slightly short-legged for me but otherwise a perfect frigate, rather than the destroyer sized “frigates” we’re trying to build now.

dave haine
dave haine
January 12, 2014 5:50 pm

I think RT’s got a point- Always turning up in a grey warship or auxilary, to help the UK’s influence does seem a little, well, one dimensional…

Rocking up in a ship with a clinic and educational facility….seems less aggressive somehow, and more to the point to the people at the recieving end.

Us aviators can do it:
(Aircraft supplied by United and FedEx, and programme supported by Moorfields Eye hospital and others)

Peter Elliott
January 12, 2014 5:56 pm

Fair comments about fuel quality and the ability to respond to emergent tasks. Also take the point about sensor fit, although this could be overcome to a certain extent as our choice of offboard systems increases. More scan eagle and similar please.

Not sold on Layfayette I’m afraid. The ultimate FFBNW and would have even less persistance than what our current combat ships acheive. A ‘no trick pony’ in combat terms.

To increase flexibility and persistance as well as to carry future weapons like ABM and energy weapons I see combat ships continuing to get larger rather than smaller.

Agree that the RTFG is likely to be present when we are gettig shot at. But it could be a much bigger RFTG than the one we send on exercise. In a serious Op we could have to protect and a Carrier, and Amphib squadron, and do NGS, and do reconnaissance, and escort supply ships forward. All from both air and subsurface threats. To do that lot we’d have to send everything that floats. Which is why I worry about having short legged ‘0-trick ponies’ in the fleet at all.

January 12, 2014 6:00 pm

The last time we decided to build a ‘cheap’ general purpose frigate was the Type 21, (and the Type 81 before that). Both types were compromise designs (in different ways) and in particular could not be upgraded as tasks and technologies changed and thus had short service lives and significant frailties. I don’t think we need a not very capable little warship – I’d rather have capable, adaptable and upgradable multi-role “ships that are not frigates”, alongside a core fleet of very capable frigates and destroyers. Although frankly, I’d trade some of that in for more SSNs.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 12, 2014 6:23 pm

La Fayette. I really fancy the Saudi version. What with Aster 15 & heavyweight torps. A RN version would have a 4.5″ gun, the Aster 15, heavyweight torps(Spearfish?), Harpoon block II, Swap the French radar & bits for RN kit, + a hangar big enough for a Wildcat. Fantasy fleet on a Sunday afternoon, theres lovely.

January 12, 2014 6:57 pm

“Swap the French radar & bits for RN kit, + a hangar big enough for a Wildcat”

I agree these little ships look good with lots of pointy things hanging off them, but the crux is that sentence above. The Type 21 story is instructive. Vospers were building – for the time – very nice little frigates for Iran and Libya (there is the first mistake), but when it came to adapting them for the Rn -at a reasonable cost – it all went pear shaped. The RN needed an information system to integrate its weapons systems, unlike the Iranians and Libyans, who were happy just to have a lot of kit lashed to the deck. The only cost effective alternative was the CAAIS system used on the Leanders (Bristol had something more whizz-bang but too much cash), and CAAIS weighted a ton and needed to be in the superstructure. To get CAAIS in and prevent instability, top weight had to be reduced and lots of ballast included down below, that meant no big heavy sensors on the masts – so no air search radar – and no hull mounted sonor (with which ASW torps are of no use) – and also the predicted 35kts could not be maintained for long. Then another weight saving wheeze was to build the superstructure out of alloy, which has a lower melting temperature than steel.

Of course the world went digital and all that heavy analogue stuff could be dispensed with by the 1980s, but to redress the Type 21s faults would have required rebuilding the hull and superstructure designed to accommodate CAAIS, which was as expensive as building a new Type 22.

So – devil in those throw away lines methinks…

Still Lafayettes look good.

January 12, 2014 7:16 pm

Simon I would agree I would think we could get 9 la Fayette ships equipped to french standards (helicopter guns, harpoon and 2d radar ) for 5 gp type 26 but leveraging the Singapore navy’s more modern version from crew perspectives.

John the idea would be not to fit all the high end sensors and weapons but have ships with margin to allow an upgrading in the future and maybe even export a few.

The navy knows/knew full well the standing tasks asked of it and the likely budget allowed for defence it has as its entitled to do spec high end asw frigates, aaw destroyer, aircraft carriers, Amphibs and subs and they will be bought in limited numbers. I however have little sympathy when it then complains about lack of ships when it deliberately took the course it did I’m afraid even the USN is buying low end ships in lcs to meet lower end tasks in fact most major western navy’s are going that route french, Spanish Italians ect all have lower end ships.

January 12, 2014 7:31 pm


I agree we need ships to conduct patrol tasks – but not ‘patrol frigates’. Multi-role larger ships based on commercial designs – either adaptable MARS SS types (which can be refitted for a range of roles) or some sort of large OPV. LCS is not low-end – its just small and fiendishly expensive. The allure of patrol frigates is that they look as if they could do both high-end and low-end, but the evidence from RN and other navies is that its all smoke and mirrors.

I reckon an affordable modern patrol vessel programme for a navy that is likely to need to use them should be either:

1.Pretty basic OPV with a lot of accommodation and storage and aircraft facilities – and have plenty of them, or
2. Big (or bigger), with the capacity to re-role to MCM, aviation/UAV, amphibious, casualty clearing, and stores support ship and have fewer.

Both types can be based on commercial shipping design principles – don’t need to be escorts.

January 12, 2014 7:41 pm

If we were looking to go smaller we could build a variant of the Sa’ar 5-class corvette with RN kit

With BAE building the type 26 for us I wonder how much of the design is based on there f2000 corvette that the sell for export.
Looking at picture the just seem to of added a Hanger making the ship longer so it is then classed as a frigate.

Peter Elliott
January 12, 2014 7:43 pm

You speak much sense James F.

And remember the USN has plenty of Burkes and Ticos to escort its task groups around. So can afford the odd expensive folly like LCS. Nevertheless watch them start buying Frigates if the Chinese get any more uppity.

If we seriosuly expect to send our Task Group to war then we will need every ASW capable ship we have. Given the known shortcomings of the T45 design for ASW that means 13 ASW Fuly Fighty Frigates is a minimum fleet. It only takes 1 heavy torpedo from an undetected SSK into an HVU to spoil our day completely.

We also need to evolve to the point where our 19 Combat Ships can be used interchangeably which means not only upgrading T45’s hull sonar but also upscaling the T26 design to cope with all the combat systems we have chosen to put on board becuase we know we need them. A ‘Baby Burke’ indeed.

We already have hulls in the support fleet, both RN and RFA, that have shown their utility for hosting tailored mission crews and offboard systems. All we need is some modest incremental investments as part of the planned renewal cycle and we will have substantially upgraded our ‘patrol’ capability for next to nothing, while not hurting the Combat fleet at all.

January 12, 2014 8:04 pm


There would be no allure for high end tasking you would use the high end type 45 and type 26 for those high tasks and to support are high end task group.

Store ships are store ships and a mcm I think needs to be a dedicated mcm. A patrol frigate/vessel what ever you like to call it is what’s needed the type 21 you could argue is attempting to modify an existing poor design for something it was never originally designed to do, to standards it was never intended to meet. I really don’t see the parallels in the la fayette design for the mission it was designed to do.

The lcs is cheap and low end when compared to a Burke and as a basic hull is no more that a fast opv with a hanger.

Rocket Banana
January 12, 2014 8:13 pm


We don’t really need to have interchangeability. With six standing commitments at medium/long range…

6 T45s will make sure one is available for the RFTG.
6 T26-ASW will make sure one is available for the RFTG.
6 T26-GP will make sure one is available for the RFTG.

You then need to “trade up” the number of T26-ASW so that we can deliver more in a full on engagement as the probable expected operational quantity of four will not allow swap-out, swap-in provisioning (sorry, terms from server hardware planning, but the same idea) on the front line.

Peter Elliott
January 12, 2014 8:28 pm


Just to make myself clear I’m not talking about normal tempo activities when we send the RTFG off for a jolly training cruise each summer. I’m talking about when the shit hits the fan and some really bad guys with migs and SSK’s are seriously out to spoil our day while we contemplate doing extreme violence to them and theirs.

For that and we have to put 6 ships in to escort the core carrier group plus more to sweep upthreat, plus more to escort the tankers/storeships/point class/stuft forward to where we need them to be. In that situation we will have no choice but to drop our standing tasks and send what we have., ships or crews at whatever state of readiness. And if we have traded away our T26s for however many under armed ‘patrol frigates’ they will still get sent into the fire becuase we will have nothing else to send. And I fear the results would not be pretty.

Peter Elliott
January 12, 2014 8:38 pm

Oh and back at the lighthouse, just in case you think we haven’t used a high enough percentage of the 19 Comabt Ships yet back at Pompey we are busy reactivating the second carrier and second LPD ready for form a relief task group just in case something horrible does happen to the RTFG. And guess what: they need escorting by Combat Ships too.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
January 12, 2014 9:19 pm

@ Peter Elliot,

2 x QEC + F35s + Crowsnest + T45s + T26s = well north of £35 billion, which is an awful lot of money to be spending on a maritime capability we do not demonstrably need.

What’s your little flotilla going to do if the next war is inland?

January 12, 2014 10:02 pm

So peter you believe a high end Cold War style naval conflict is a likely and growing threat to uk forces in the future and low intensity operations or eez policing missions are less likely to occur going fwd?

Rocket Banana
January 12, 2014 10:18 pm


But of each set of 6 above, 2 will be unavailable, 2 will be “on task”, 1 will be in transit and 1 will be alongside… ish.

So we’d send the 1 alongside and the 1 in transit with the RFTG. Obviously the ones in transit will always have to meet up en route (argh, French) but at least there’s some protection for the first week or so.

I guess we’d then work to bring the “on task” ships home and get the unavailable ones ready to go with the second carrier and amphib. Or just simply work on rotation replacing lost/exhausted ships.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 12, 2014 10:43 pm

I do not see why a La Fayette design tailored for the RN would be impossible. The design is flexible, just look in the variation between the French, Saudi, Singapore & Taiwan versions.
RT You never need any kit until you do. The next war may be all naval with modern versions of the battle of the Atlantic, more likely Nile, or have nothing to do with pointy little boats.
What if the next war only involves the RAF Regiment?

January 12, 2014 11:11 pm

I can only envisage one scenario where we’d need to send a fully tooled up RTFG without being some part of a coalition op and that scenario seems to have been largely classed as very remote. I think there are enough effective escorts in Europe to cover a couple of coalition carrier groups and one combined amphib group, together with supply routes in some sort of coalition op, even without the US. Save sailing around off the coast of China in a hot war, who realistically could threaten such a coalition effort that Europe could put together?

That said, if we are to effectively operate 2 RTFGs on rotation, it seems to me the number of high end escorts needs to be between 15-18, but no more than that. Discounting any sole UK operation we could supply the following naval presence to any future ‘hot’ coalition op:

A ‘strike carrier’ with 5/6 high end escorts (and the ability to rotate that in a prolonged conflict)
A couple of SSNs
An MCM squadron
Amphib for an RM battle group

All with rotatable elements

‘Spare escorts’ to do NGFS, logistic escort could come from other nations

Any genuine OPV force (rather than patrol frigates) would maintain our presence in other areas or be used as choke point cover against asymmetric threats, but no more fighty than that

If we played to our real strength, we’d run Astute to about 9 boats (and have three off the shelf SSKs to provide UK waters cover and a better training path for SSN crews), push T26 out a bit, given T23 is being upgraded and T26 might drop by 1 to 4 ships, push MHPC out as a project also but run to 6-9 larger, simple OPVs (including the three already ordered) for ‘presence’ tasking.

Peter Elliott
January 13, 2014 6:49 am


That’s the same debate over whether we still needs an Armoured Division or 5 squadrons of Air Superiority Fighters. All expensive capabilities. Current assumptions are that we do. The Russians haven’t gone far. And the Levant is bubbling up nicely.

Guessing where the next war will be and what kind has been proven to be a mug’s game. Which is why we maintain a spead of high end capability in all forces.

Don’t discount the value of Conventional Deterrance either. The Victorian RN developed this into a high art form. And Fisher really beleived his Grand Fleet would have prevented WW1 from breaking out had it been deployed to the Baltic in early 1914. And the USN have been doing it for us all since 1945.

So overall – yes I do beleive in a strong top end of conventional force. Its the best insurance aganinst the unknown and simply by remiaining in being is actually helping to achieve security.

Should we seek to improve our gendarmerie too? Yes probably. Whatever vehicle is eventually purchased for the Adaptable Force should be no heavier than medium in weight and be optimised for mobilty and IED protection not for Armoured warfare. So wheeled V-Hull 8×8. On ships Mick P and James F have the right idea of roomy, lightly armed utility ships rather than ‘fish nor fowl’ ‘Patrol Frigates’.

Do we need a bigger fisheries squadron? Probably only if we withdraw from the EU and end up having to chase the Spanish out of our EEZ. And if that happens we may end up needing a strong sovereign RFTG after all. Tricky characters those Spanish.

January 13, 2014 7:57 am

Oh for 5 sqns of air superiority fighters peter we don’t have that many! The description of the threat you laid out above was more like having 5 wings of fighters and an armoured corp.

since 2008/9 the airforces fastjet fleet has been cut in half to mainly be replaced by a couple of sqns of reapers a Sqn of king airs and additional investment in helicopters all more suited to low intensity conflict I haven’t seen the navy doing siimilar.

Peter Elliott
January 13, 2014 8:06 am


I am referring to FF2020 which appears to envisage 5 squadrons of Typhoon and 2 of F35B.

In all three services I would say the determining factor is not what percentage of force elemenets have been lost since 1991 or 1998 or 2010, but what is the minimum level needed to preserve: (a) viable deployable capability (b) regeneratable skills base.

January 13, 2014 8:39 am


Yet the French with as near as damned the same level of requirements as us manage with 2 aaw destroyers and 8 high end asw ships and less submarines.

Peter Elliott
January 13, 2014 8:54 am


Do the French actually intend to go and fight at sea against a credible navy?

Or are they simply intending to sit off undefended coasts and bomb black men armed with AK47s?

Becuase if they try to do the former I would expect them to come unstuck.

Rocket Banana
January 13, 2014 9:12 am


1 nuclear aircraft carrier
3 Mistrale LHD
4 AAW (2 Horizon + 2 Cassard)
8 ASW frigates
11 light frigates (5 La Fayette + 6 Floreal)

I’d say that’s very similar to the UK except their split is a little different as it is geared for presence rather than wallop.

January 13, 2014 10:04 am


Regrettably, I am forced to leave too many erroneous posts unchallenged but I will make an exception for these.

“…since 2008/9 the airforces fastjet fleet has been cut in half to mainly be replaced by a couple of sqns of reapers a Sqn of king airs and additional investment in helicopters all more suited to low intensity conflict I haven’t seen the navy doing siimilar.”

At least there was some compensating new capabilities, unlike in the RN:


[blockquote]HOC Research Paper 04/72 dated 17 Sep 2004: The Defence White Paper – Future capabilities

We have looked at what sort of operations we are likely to undertake. The SDR assumptions hold good, but the emphasis has shifted from running two Telic sized operations together, to more numerous small scale ops such as Sierra Leone. We will retain the ability to conduct high intensity ops…

The maritime force structure set down in the Future Capabilities chapter of the White Paper envisages the following changes:

* A reduction in the required number of Type 45 air defence destroyers from 12 to eight. There are currently six Type 45 destroyers on order. [Actual reduction was 12 to 6 with no compensating new capabilities]

* A requirement for 25 destroyers and frigates (there are currently 31: eleven Type 42 destroyers, 16 Type 23 frigates and four Type 22 frigates). This reduction will be achieved by paying-off three Type 42 destroyers (HMS Cardiff, Newcastle and Glasgow) and by paying-off the Type 23 frigates HMS Norfolk, Marlborough and Grafton by March 2006. [Actual reduction was 31 to 19 DD/FF including the 6 x T45s above with no compensating new capabilities]

* A requirement for eight nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs). This will be achieved through the planned paying-off of HMS Superb and HMS Trafalgar as planned by December 2008. The introduction of the three Astute-class submarines, which is currently scheduled for 2008, is, however, expected to provide greater capability. [Actual reduction was 10 to 7 with no compensating new capabilities]

* A reduction in the number of Mine Countermeasures Vessels from a current fleet of 22 to 16. This will be achieved by paying-off the Sandown-class Single Role Minehunters HMS Inverness, Bridport and Sandown by April 2005 and the Hunt class vessels HMS Brecon, Dulverton and Cottesmore by April 2007. [Actual reduction was 22 to 15 with no compensating new capabilities][/blockquote]

“Yet the French with as near as damned the same level of requirements as us manage with 2 aaw destroyers and 8 high end asw ships and less submarines.

The French “manage with 2 aaw destroyers”? They originally required four Horizons (ex-CGNF Project) but only got half the number:


France wanted Anti-aircraft warfare (AAW) escorts for its aircraft carriers, but only a limited range was necessary due to the self-defence capability of the Charles de Gaulle…

On 26 April 1999 the UK announced that it was withdrawing from the CNGF project to pursue its own national design. The Financial Times summarised the main disagreements between the partner countries; the UK wanted a large destroyer which could patrol large areas such as the Atlantic, compared to France’s desire for smaller aircraft carrier escorts and Italy’s intention to use them in the Mediterranean…The Royal Navy, however, required more capable ships which could throw a large defensive “bubble” over a fleet operating in hostile areas…

The French Navy ordered two units, the Forbin (D620) and the Chevalier Paul (D621) to replace the Suffren-class carrier escorts. The project cost France €2.16bn (~US$3bn) at 2009 prices. A further two Horizons were cancelled; instead the two Cassard-class frigates were to be replaced by the FREDA air-defence variant of the Franco-Italian FREMM multipurpose frigate. However these plans were put in doubt by the 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security.

The French “manage with 8 high end asw ships”? They originally required 17 FREMM (incl 9 ASW variants) but will probably have to settle for 8 (incl 6-ish ASW variants):


FREMM multipurpose frigate


Original plans were for 17 FREMM to replace the nine D’Estienne d’Orves-class (A69) avisos and nine anti-submarine frigates of the Tourville class (F67) and Georges Leygues class (F70)… however by 2008 the plan was revised down to just 11 FREMM (9 ASW variants and 2 FREDA air-defence variants)… The 2013 White Paper on Defence and National Security reduced the number of FREMM frigates to enter service with the French Navy from 11 down to 8.

The French “manage with less submarines?”.


The French originally required eight Rubis Class SSNs but got six. These are being replaced by six Barracuda SSNs, only one fewer than the UK’s Astutes. However, the RN needs several more SSNs than the French to support its peacetime ops and potential two CBGs and ATG.

January 13, 2014 11:48 am


Is that not point our balance is wrong given the threat is pretty low anywhere outside of the gulf and Far East.


That’s lovely and all but why not go back to 1998 review much loved by the rn folks and compare that to force 2020. That’s a 65% reduction in fast jet sqns against a 40% reduction in frigates and destroyers not to mention a massive uplift in carrier and amphib capability. Yet the the traditional naval warfare threat remains low and the requirement to use jets to either attack an air defence network or police one remains much higher by comparison.

Yet the only answer to the problem put fwd by the rn to bring its ship numbers up is let’s cut even more from the other services cause the rn has been so hard done by.

Peter Elliott
January 13, 2014 12:04 pm


The spectacle of any service trying to win a bleeding hearts comptition by declaring how much has previously been cut is pretty undedifying. Its not a trouser measuring competition.

Different force and budgetry shares will be appropriate for different times and circumstances. We should try and stick to objective criteria of what’s needed in the future. How much of that force is branded red, blue or purple atually doesn’t matter that much.

January 13, 2014 1:02 pm


“That’s lovely and all but why not go back to 1998 review much loved by the rn folks and compare that to force 2020…”

Because your post specified 2008/9 (which was bad enough).

“…Yet the only answer to the problem put fwd by the rn to bring its ship numbers up is let’s cut even more from the other services cause the rn has been so hard done by.”

Where have I mentioned anything about cutting the other services?

Rocket Banana
January 13, 2014 2:47 pm


…our balance is wrong given the threat is pretty low anywhere outside of the gulf and Far East

I suppose that depends on what you think we need really need. If you believe (like I do) that we actually need an CBG/ARG task forcy type thing then we really must have two AAW, two ASW and a couple of GP ships.

This means a minimum of four of each because one will likely be in planned maintenance, one might be in un-planned maintenance (broken) and two will be available for the task force.

So, even without our standing task requirements we’re at 12 escorts.

Then there’s the supply line, which (even though some don’t seem to think so) needs escorting. So at 1-month range that’s two en route to give a monthly replenishment. So we need at least another two available escorts. I’d suggest that these need to be ASW escorts as it would be a sub that would likely take out a tanker or supply ship.

We might be able to field 4 of 6 meaning these extra two might not need any more for contingency. So we’re now at 14 (high-end) escorts (4 AAW + 6 ASW + 4 GP).

We then need a little contingency as I would suspect that sub-hunting is a pretty dangerous game. Obviously, I’m going to pick another two ASW frigates, but I understand if you think we don’t need them. (4 AAW + 8 ASW + 4 GP)

Lastly, we have to have cyclic replacement of the on task AAW. They only have 96 missiles between them and will likely need to be replaced with a freshly stocked ship every now and again. Add another two AAW. If one expects only a short-lived RFTG deployment then maybe we don’t need six and can get away with four. (6 AAW + 8 ASW + 4 GP)

I’m trying to be fair here. I really think that 18 is the minimum number of high-end escorts we can get away with. The only way to reduce the numbers is to a) not do sustained deployments [wait for my next post], or b) replace the GP variants with something cheaper and less capable.

January 13, 2014 2:52 pm

Why, exactly, is it our job to be giving rides to US Coast Guard in order to help them prevent drug smuggling into the US? Presumably the USCG is returning the favour by, say, helping stop illegal fishing in UK waters or something? Or not.

January 13, 2014 2:58 pm


‘If we played to our real strength, we’d run Astute to about 9 boats (and have three off the shelf SSKs to provide UK waters cover and a better training path for SSN crews), push T26 out a bit, given T23 is being upgraded and T26 might drop by 1 to 4 ships, push MHPC out as a project also but run to 6-9 larger, simple OPVs (including the three already ordered) for ‘presence’ tasking’

Coming late to this discussion but yeah that all sounds pretty good!

I’d definitely be pursuing a class of 8 cheap and cheerful OPV’s of an Amazonas or River derivative, 4 built now for forward based constabulary tasks and 4 built in a few years time to replace the River’s in UK waters.

The one thing I do think would be a mistake was if we pursued some kind of light-frigate or heavy corvette. An interim, middle ground class would only offer the worst of both worlds (over-equipped for minor tasks, under-equipped for high-end threats), all at considerable expense and probably only achieved by sacrificing more full fat escorts.

Big, well kitted out and fighty, or small, spartan and cheap, not some vague mishmash that brings little benefit and is a luxury which we can’t afford.

Brian Black
Brian Black
January 13, 2014 3:01 pm

Clearly what’s needed is a return to the C3 idea. A cheap and cheerful large patrol vessel, or corvette, or whatever you’d like to call it.

If tankers are needed on station in the north and south Atlantic to support even frigates and destroyers, then using an OPV with a little less endurance is hardly an issue.

And to say that the Navy shouldn’t have any ship that isn’t a type 26 or 45 presupposes the nature of all future wars that the Navy will be involved in. If the Navy wants to operate in shallow and restricted waters, then something smaller than a T26 could well be extremely useful. If all future naval wars are going to be fought in the middle of the ocean, then might as well sell off everything that isn’t a submarine. Claiming that corvettes, little frigates, or OPVs have no place in the Navy is like arguing that the Army shouldn’t have Foxhound because it would be unsuitable for taking on tank regiments.

Also of course provides a replacement hull for MCM that can travel with a task group.

January 13, 2014 4:37 pm

@BB – that’s my though – in essence we get C1 (T26) and C3 (OPV initially but later some sort of MHPC vessel). C2 is neither fish nor fowl. I’d squash the T26 GP variant and push for 9-12 full ASW versions with strike cells giving us 15-18 high end escorts. I’d build on the 3 OPVs planned to have 6-9. No missiles just light guns. Possibly some can squeeze a hanger on for a lynx but broadly as the Amazonas / River platform. I am very clearly of the view we should be high – low, not high – middle – low. The more numerous cheaper OPVs can do constabulary / routine presence and leave the high end more focussed for Task Group work. I do advocate an increase in the submarine fleet even if it means pushing successor out and we have to drop to 3 boats in service for a relatively short time. SSNs are a real strength and highly flexible asset and we should leverage the investment in the Astute class while we can.

January 13, 2014 5:47 pm


“Why, exactly, is it our job to be giving rides to US Coast Guard in order to help them prevent drug smuggling into the US?”

Firstly, congratulations for making a post related to the original topic rather than indulging in yet another round of fantasy fleets. :-)

Second, are you certain that this shipment – and others intercepted by USCG/RN/RFA/others in the Caribbean – was en-route to the US? If so, I must congratulate you on having excellent sources of intelligence (sources within the responsible cartel?) as that certainly wasn’t stated in the article, though it did mention “putting a stop to the illegal movement of drugs from South America into the Caribbean and onwards to the UK.” Unless things have changed radically from the last time I did APT(N), a lot of drugs are smuggled to the UK via the Caribbean. What is in it for the USCG to help us act against this smuggling to the UK?

January 13, 2014 6:21 pm


I agree. It is however almost as unedifying as creating fantasy threat senerios that demand we have a fleet of a certain size or capability to suit a view point.


Yes I did mention 2009 you however then brought up reviews from 2004 so that was my suggestion to go back to 98 and compare and contrast as that was considered a strategic bench mark, I do note you didn’t disagree that destroyer/frigate fleet did not reduce by half from 2009 or even from 98. I hope you will therefore see the fastjet fleet was cut harder numbers wise to allow additional low intensity platforms to be acquired which is the point I was making
The second pt was not directed at you more a general comment which appears to the default position of how to pay for more ships. I would also add relating to your previous post I have no issue what so ever of making fighty ships as fighty as possible. Again the link you posted on French forces just proves the point either by design or more likely by fiscal reality they are making do with significantly less high end platforms than we are. They are a p5 member nation of similar size to ourselves so I think its an interesting comparison are they skimping on there responsibilities as a global power or are we attempting to punch above our weight perhaps a bit of both.


What do I think we should be doing is essentially what sdsr2010 says we should be doing, we live in the most peaceful side of the world now. So to me the max effort is to send a fleet to sea roughly equivalent to what was sent to Iraq in 2003. That’s all tasks other than securing the seas around the uk home waters and patrol vessel at nameless islands cancelled and of we go for a one off ask kicking effort. I don’t think the 5 proposed gp frigates add much other than wishfull thinking of future milk and honey that never comes.
It is why I think something along the lines of la fayette and more particularly its propulsion, sensor and weapons fit out could be procured in slightly more number to allow both Atlantic presence tasks to have a dedicated ship and depending on how many the budget would stretch to either take up one of the two frigate tasks East of suez or be the uk home water fleet ready escort. Two French la Fayettes were with the French forces in Libya and have had a RN flight stationed aboard one off Somalia so I think they are far from useless in police actions.

January 13, 2014 6:31 pm

“Second, are you certain that this shipment – and others intercepted by USCG/RN/RFA/others in the Caribbean – was en-route to the US? If so, I must congratulate you on having excellent sources of intelligence (sources within the responsible cartel?) as that certainly wasn’t stated in the article”

No, but if you click through to the Operation Martillo site, you get the following description of what it achieved the year before last:

“In 2012, international and cooperative interagency efforts coordinated through JIATF South [Joint Interagency Task Force South – part of the US Southern Command, and responsible for Operation Martillo] resulted in the disruption of 152 metric tons of cocaine and 21 metric tons of marijuana with a wholesale value of about $3 billion, before it could reach destinations in the United States.”

See here as well, for that matter. http://justf.org/blog/2013/03/12/operation-martillo-southcoms-counternarcotics-operation-central-americas-coasts… certainly seems to be fairly US focussed. Simply because the US is a much bigger and closer market, most of the stuff going through the Caribbean is going to be US-bound!

Don’t get me started on the fact that a lot of the stuff being seized (including the cargo of the Miss Kameney) is now legal in (some parts of) the US as of 1 January…

January 13, 2014 7:08 pm

This bust was cannabis, and without bothering to conduct any research I tend to agree that cannabis production in the Americas is more likely to be for export to the USA than to Europe, but the vast majority of cocaine production is in South America, regardless of the target export market, and most of that is shipped out through Central America or the Caribbean.

Note the proportion of cocaine seized relative to cannabis.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
January 13, 2014 7:59 pm

@Anixtu – quite right – furthermore the Cartels cheerfully sell into the UK and US markets, and a collective aim of disrupting their business seems pretty sound to me – and a US report of events would inevitably stress the possible damage to them, just as a UK report would emphasise the damage to us…is this stuff really labelled with a known end user in one place or another?


January 14, 2014 10:37 am

I tend to agree that cannabis production in the Americas is more likely to be for export to the USA than to Europe

Certainly not to the UK, I would think, because, thanks to all those grow-ops in North London and elsewhere, the UK has been for several years a net _exporter_ of cannabis.

…so, in fact, by interrupting shipments of cannabis from the Caribbean to Europe, we are actually helping our own export industry! (But, possibly, breaking EU rules on state subsidies.)

January 14, 2014 11:51 am


There is no hard evidence that UK is a net exporter of cannabis.

Granted there’s a lot more domestic production but nothing in UNODC or EMCDDA reporting I could find to support your claim, apart from a few tabloid headlines

eg see http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/topics/cannabis

January 16, 2014 2:08 pm

Twecky: my source is a conversation with members of the Met’s Drugs Squad, a couple of years ago. They seemed fairly sure of it.

January 16, 2014 2:48 pm

No way are we a net exporter of Cannabis. Not yet at any rate….

January 16, 2014 3:26 pm

ACPO Report: UK National Problem Profile – Commercial Cultivation of Cannabis 2012


…The size of the demand by the UK market as depicted by the number of seizures and estimates of self reported use makes it unlikely that the UK is exporting cannabis on a significant basis. Intelligence indicates that UK OCGs [Organised Crime Groups] may supply drugs to the continent to fill a gap in the market but there is no evidence of widespread export…

Cannabis continues to be the most commonly used illegal drug UK. The majority of cannabis is now home grown rather than imported. Historically, resin and herbal cannabis (imported from the Caribbean, West Africa and Asia) were the most popular forms of cannabis. This trend has changed significantly in recent years and SOCA estimates that between 1994 and 2004 the market share of skunk cannabis (intensively cultivated, domestic cannabis or sensimilla), rose from 11% to 65%…