SDSR 2015 – The 2% Version- Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

A Guest Post by Martin


The Royal Navy

Once the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers enter service, the Royal Navy will return to having a very broad spectrum of naval capabilities. In addition it has managed to maintain world beating specialisations in a number of fields including Mine Counter Measures, Hydrography and Anti -Submarine Warfare.

What the Royal Navy lacks is strategic depth in both personnel and equipment. These are the areas I will focus any additional funding on.

Changing Defence Assumptions

The main change in defence assumptions is that a peer threat can no longer be dismissed and in particular we are likely to see an increase in Russian naval activity in the North Atlantic. In addition Chinese naval expansion may represent a future challenge and it may be necessary to consider operating vessels much further east than we currently do on a larger scale.

This will mean bolstering Anti-Submarine capability in the North Atlantic particularly with NATO standing task forces and conducting more training with allies in the Far East.

What’s Already in?

As TD has pointed out in other articles, assuming the current budget is not cut then there should be sufficient funding to procure 13 T26 and 3 MARS SSS vessels. So I will not be considering these items in my additions. There may also be a budget to operate the second CVF however details of this are thin on the ground. So I will assume there is no present budget to fully operate two carriers.

Working Out of Costs?

The best data on annual running cost’s I can find is from Hansard in 1995. To bring these costs up to 2015 prices I have used defence inflation on the T23 frigate as the base line and applied it to other platforms. The figure is an annually compounded rate of 4%. These figures are for running costs only and do not include depreciation or procurement.


The first priority for the RN is to increase manning. So I would like to see a general across the board increase of 5% in staffing levels. I estimate this will cost £100 million per year. This increase is for RN personnel only and not The Royal Marines.


Future plans envisage a fleet of seven Astute Class SSN’s. I do not believe this is a sufficient number to carry out the required tasks and provide any flexibility. So I would like to increase the size of the SSN fleet to nine.

To do this I propose that we firstly copy the US Navy and retire older Trafalgar Class vessels as required by their condition rather than a pre-determined date. Secondly I would look to delay the building of the first successor submarine by three to four years and see if the work schedule at Barrow could be increased slightly to accommodate a quicker build on the last two vessels. This would mean that the four Vanguard Class SSBN’s would require an 8 year life extension instead of the currently planned 5 years.

Having nine SSN’s should allow us to carry out the following standing patrols.

  • Response Force Task Group
  • East of Suez
  • Atlantic

The additional cost of operating a Trafalgar Class SSN is £41 million a year so £82 million for two more. The two additional Astute class boats would cost £2.6 billion. Any additional costs of extending the life of the Vanguards would be easily offset against the saving of moving the Successor Submarine program forward by 4 years.



A fleet of 19 escorts is insufficient to cover the required tasking. I would like to see this fleet increased to 21. To do this I would purchase two more Type 26 Frigates. In addition I would try and keep the Type 23 Frigates in service longer so that the force could be increased sooner.

The annual running cost for two more Type 23 Frigates is £52 million a year. I am estimating that the cost of the Type 26 Frigate will be in the region of £450 million each.


While the current numbers of the destroyer fleet are sufficient to carry out the required task’s the ships still lack significant capabilities. To rectify this I would fit all six vessels with 12 Mk41 strike length vertical launchers. It is impossible to accurately guess the cost of this so I am estimating £50 million per vessel. In addition one T45 will be permanently attached to the RFTG to allow for better training.

Type 2087 Sonar

I would purchase a 9th set of the Type 2087 Sonar Array to equip the T23/26 Frigates. Total Cost is likely to be around £40 million. This will allow us to equip 9 frigates for ASW duty and 6 for general purpose duties.

A fleet of 21 Escorts should allow us to maintain the following standing tasks on a deployed ratio of 3 to 1.

  • T45 Response Force Task Group
  • T23 ASW Response Force Task Group
  • T45 East of Suez
  • T23 ASW East of Suez
  • T23 GP APT (s)
  • T23 GP Fleet Ready Escort
  • T23 ASW NATO Tasking

With higher manning numbers it may be possible to maintain a 5 to 2 ratio which would allow an additional standing task to be under taken. Having this extra margin will help to provide further strategic depth if required for adhoc tasks.

Tomahawk Cruise Missile

To equip the T45’s and eventually the T26 I would make an additional purchase of 100 surface launched TLAM’s at a cost of £60 million. In addition, if it is possible, I would try and get the latest version of TLAM from Raytheon that incorporates a multi-mode seeker that could allow the RN to conduct additional suppression of enemy air defence work in support of the RAF and allied forces.

Response Force Task Group

The RFTG replaced the previous Carrier Strike Group and Amphibious Ready Group of the RN. Even with an increase in escort numbers we still have too few to really keep two task forces at sea. To reinforce the current task force I would make additional funds available to reactivate vessels.

Additional Costs

£70 million per year for second CVF

£25 million per year for second LPD

With the addition of second fully funded RFTG, we should be able to maintain one RFTG in the Mediterranean for much of the year. Here it will be well prepositioned to respond to any tasks required in our most likely area of operation. In addition we should also be able to carry out occasional deployments as far east as Singapore, to conduct training with Five Power Allies as well as other key regional players such as India.

HMS Ocean replacement

I would make no budget for a replacement of HMS Ocean. The two Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers have ample room to accommodate all the aviation assets of the RFTG. Even with an increase in F35B numbers we will be nowhere near filling up the decks of the carriers in all but the most extreme events, with the entire F35B force surged. As standard the QE in the RFTG would carry 12 F35B’s, 8 Merlin HM2’s for ASW and AEW, then a mix of Merlin, Chinook and Apache to support amphibious operations.

The eventual replacement for the Albion Class LPD is likely an LHD but I would put this replacement of into the future until truly required.

The current RFTG is a less ambitious formation that the CSG/ARG it replaced but it is still a highly effective task force that is more in line with our current budgets.

Merlin HM2

To provide additional ASW and AEW capability, I would convert the eight remaining HM1 Merlin’s over to HM2 standard. My figures are a little hazy on the cost of this. With an assumed operating cost of £42,000 per hour (which include depreciation) and assumed operational flight hours of 150 hours per year the total additional cost should be £50 million per year for eight. If anyone has any better figures I would be interested to know.

Batch 2 River Class

I would keep the Batch 2 River Class as an addition to the current River Class vessels. I would copy the current set up with HMS Clyde and keep the vessels forward deployed. These forward deployments would vary with changes in the security situation but I would initially deploy one to Bermuda as a replacement for APT(n) and I would forward deploy two to Gibraltar to cover the West of Africa and the Mediterranean. Having two larger naval vessels permanently based out of Gibraltar should also have the added bonus of sending a message of support to the local population. The additional cost of this would be £18 million per year. To provide additional support to APT(n), the RFA would continue to deploy an asset in the Caribbean during hurricane season. In addition I would examine all methods of giving the Batch 2 Rivers a permanently embarked helicopter.

Total Cost

The total cost of enacting all these changes to the RN would be £657 million per year assuming a 15 year procurement cycle for new equipment.

Additional Funds

VLS Anti-Ship Missile

To give the Type 45 and eventually the Type 26 and enhanced anti-ship capability I would make a purchase of the Long Range Anti-ship Missile from Lockheed Martin if any additional funding is available. We could then husband existing stocks of Harpoon to keep them on T23 for as long as possible or consider a new purchase of updated Harpoon.

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Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 15, 2015 8:20 am

I am afraid this article fails (for me) with the first pair of assumptions.

Firstly, there is likely to be a cut in the Defence budget, with 6, 8, and 10% options being modelled.

Secondly, that it is all about the Navy. There is really no need at all to be thinking of anything east of the Gulf, and rather more pressing challenges closer to home, both land and cyber based.

February 15, 2015 9:02 am

This is a sensible suggestion for capability enhancement for the RN (assuming there is a budget increase of course) without drifting into fantasy fleet realms or new types. It sends the right message to our local neighbours that we are not letting our guard down and would also allow for the proper operation of the carriers in an escorted task group. I would perhaps be slightly more modest and target 20 DD/FF with keeping the B2 Rivers

I do not think we should factor the far east into any DPAs. Let the US continue their pacific shift and Europe takes up the slack west of Suez

What about Argus and the Bays? I assume you propose no cut in the Bays (and ultimately a like for like replacement, albeit with a hanger) and equally no cut in MCMs. I think if we decide not to replace Ocean as such some sort of auxiliary carrier / Argus replacement should considered, perhaps a spin off of the SSS vessel or a Karel Doorman type?

In terms of future plans I agree on LHDs to replace the Albions. Mistral size rather than Juan Carlos with enhanced Bays giving more heavy lift back up.

The only other new type I would factor in ultimately would be a proper HMS Protector replacement with double Lynx hanger. Would be good to squeeze a few more Wildcats out of the order, and possibly look at dipping sonar

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 15, 2015 9:14 am


I had read the first two parts.

I guess my main counterpoint would be that I disagree with your premise of a 2% of GDP Defence budget, and the more minor points of your approach being firstly solely focussed on upgrading what we already have, and secondly not thinking about the changing natures of the threats.

I believe that all three armed services are facing irrelevance, not because of what they can do, but because of what our country might allow, or disallow them to do. To me, a far more nuanced position might be to treble the budget for intelligence and cyber capabilities, to get rid of capabilities that we will not need (across all three services, examples being lots of AFVs, and defensive counter air platforms such as Typhoon Tranche 1 and T45s), and to concentrate solely upon northern Africa and the Middle East.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 15, 2015 9:17 am

…to be clear, I disagree with the likelihood of a 2% Defence budget in the current climate, not that we should not spend an appropriate amount of money on defence….

February 15, 2015 9:57 am

@RT – I agree the debate about relevance and irrelevance needs having and that your suggested shift is where we should have been heading were it not for a reawakening of the prospect of some sort of conflict in Eastern Europe and the apparent rearming plans and more aggressive probing actions by Russia in general. I am not for one minute suggesting a return to cold war mentality or heavy force levels – its just a stop and think moment.

February 15, 2015 10:14 am

I am mostly in with RT.

One thing in naval warfare that has bothered me is that someone decreed seemingly in the mid 90s that submarines were ‘over’. This premise seemingly based on the idea that the Russians had stopped largely playing silly buggers with theirs.

Today if you have the right friends, (and the right cash), the boxheads will sell you AIP super quiet (composite propellers yet), subs of any size you think you need with the best technology Europe can offer.
There are enough of the old ones out there together with Italian French and Russian designs to be a major pain in the arse.

With the exception of the UK until recently western navies seem to have not really had Their eye on the sub ball. Even the UK RN now though has decided to become Elephant keepers.

So with the exception of the anti sub assets and my own fantasy patrol ship fleet, (and even they have a secondary antisub role in my head), I am with RT on where spending and effort needs to go.

Otherwise this is a fantasy fleet excercise… Extra subs, frigates, full commissioning of 2nd Elephant, more manpower etc. Really not sure that envelope of yours is big enough.

Oh and BTW..


China is being used by the Millitary world and his wife to try and scare politicians into opening purse strings.

February 15, 2015 10:30 am

I think the only way we are going to see any – let alone a significant – upshift in personnel numbers for the RN – and we’re talking about sailors here – would be if the RM were shifted over into the army. I know that would get peoples’ hackles up, but we shouldn’t just keep on doing something because that’s how we’ve always done it. Besides, the soldiers on ships used to be army. I accept there may have been/still are very good reasons for moving them over into the RN but are those reasons really so vital?

It’s pointless buying shiny new ships with the latest wiz-bangs if you can’t afford to man them and train those personnel. The army needs more soldiers, the navy needs more sailors – so give the army the navy soldiers, and let the navy use some of the money for more sailors, the rest goes to the army budget.

February 15, 2015 10:42 am

Re: China – I don’t recall anyone on here – well no regulars, perhaps the odd mad passerby – seriously suggesting we go toe-toe with China. But what happens if the US President gets on the hotline to the UK PM and asks for help – are we going to say “Sorry mate, not our problem.”

Also, it’s pointless showboating about in the east if you’re just going to hightail it at the first sign of trouble – why go east in the first place if that’s our plan?

February 15, 2015 10:54 am

I look forward to part 5 – the one that tries to discuss just what we think the UK’s role in the world should be. Arguably we have procrastinated answering this question from purely a British (soon English the way we’re going) point of view since 1945ish. Without a coherent foreign policy objective, how can we ever hope to have a SDSR that really has meaning ?

Whether we like it or not, we are one of the UN 5, we have one of the largest economies in the world (2nd or 3 in Europe), one of the best skilled and equipped militaries’ in the world not withstanding largely incompetent stewardship (management ) of our political class since 1945.

February 15, 2015 11:00 am

With China it’s also worth remembering that despite the distance they could move to threaten people and places we care about as a nation. Most of the nations in the south china sea couldn’t be named by your average Brit but should AUS or NZ somehow be attacked, drawn into something or otherwise threatened, Britain would be out for blood and there’d probably be a general war in the region anyway by that point which would involve many of our allies and inevitably us. A war we’d want ending very quickly for our own reasons.

Not saying we should get involved in the current pissing contests but if it went hot I can’t see us not getting dragged in.

February 15, 2015 11:04 am

@Chuck – Quite.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 15, 2015 11:04 am


You fail to mention a third category, that of “mad regular”….

Re the US President picking up a hotline. If I recall my politics correctly, that is what happened in the early 70s, and Wilson said “no” to British involvement in Vietnam. That said, according to a good friend of my father who commanded an Australian SAS squadron in Vietnam, there were more than a few brotherly young officer exchanges between the hooligans and their Aussie compadres. And several young Australian officers spent time in the province in the early 70s, him included (although not in SAS units, as they were not officially there. Various free-booting intelligence units).

February 15, 2015 11:22 am

Couple of quick issues,

2% target and the assumption if we meet it will generate more money.

The issue is both about timescale and assumption of the growth of the economy.

Firstly the immediate future we are spending marginally more than 2% of GDP, when you are arguing at the level of 2.1 or 2.2, we are not going to know for sure until we know the size of the economy and what we have actually spent this year.

On present known plans of Conservatives there will be small increase in equipment budget and a Standstill flat cash for non equipment, (so amongst other things either several years of no pay rise for anyone or less troops and sailors). However there is also a very large unallocated figure for future savings from expenditure which they are not going to detail till after the election, despite the mood music of it all being taken away from workshy scroungers, some of that saving will come out of defence.

On central assumption about the economy those defence assumptions cross in 2018 or 19 with us falling below 2% target. But that assumes an accurate knowledge of both defence expenditure and the overall economy 4-5 years out.

Cameron has deliberately not given a commitment to 2%.

So in the immediate future there are more cuts coming and you may be able to stay the right side of 2% even with more cuts.

By the time you get to the end of the next Parliament and into the next one it depends on how the overall economy is doing. If the economy is doing badly and we have had very little growth then we can pay 2% of a smaller number but it will not be enough!! If the economy does well over the next decade the priority will be bring the deficit down and then start paying back the debt but there will be more money for defence in a significantly growing economy. However ironically that is the most likely situation of a fall below 2% because, 2% of a bigger than expected number will give more money to defence and no political party sees that as a priority.

2. As someone else has already said: CHINA IS SOMEONE ELSE’S PROBLEM!! I would add NORTH KOREA Is Also SOMEONE ELSE’S PROBLEM.
Sending a ship or a squadron to exercise with traditional friends be that India or the FPDA when we have some slack in our commitments I have no problem, but that is around anti piracy or exercises being good in their own context.

In the context of a full scale war potentially of Japan and China, or India v Pakistan plus potentially China, or a refought Korean war, we are simply an irrelevance and will be even more so over time.

In ground forces you are talking forces in the million plus on either side.
In naval forces think not of what China, India, Japan have today but what there real potential fleets of 2025 will be.

Multiple carrier battle groups on either side, escorts in the 50 plus range for all 3, and we think it makes a strategic difference if we deploy a single T-45.

The Other Monty
The Other Monty
February 15, 2015 11:27 am

I’m enjoying this series, but sadly would have to put it in the Fantasy Fleet category – if somewhat wistfully. There’s a good article in this week’s Economist on Britain’s strategic ambition, which points out that a Tory-led government post election proposes reducing non-protected departmental spending (including the MoD) from £147bn to £86bn by 2020… the MoD would be called upon to make a sizeable commitment to that. And a Labour-led government would probably be even less favourable to defence spending.

The practicalities of retiring T23s ahead of T26s in order to transfer equipment across, plus the drumbeat of production Osborne has outlined, make it very hard to see keeping the frigate fleet at 13, let alone growing it. Of everything mentioned above, I’d personally favour adding two more Astutes above anything else – but where would the skilled, experienced personnel to come from to man them?

Given our strategic shrinkage, I’d be surprised if the Army doesn’t bear the brunt of SDSR2015 – there’s not so much left to cut from the RAF and RN, and politicians very keen to avoid ground entanglements may be keen to move to a situation where we don’t have the capability to get dragged into them in a meaningful way. Disbandment of the RAF Reg, and maybe even moving the RM across, could be the sops provided in return.

For the RN, I’d guess at a frigate fleet dropping to c10, Successor at 3 boats, and PoW rotating out of storage in the same way as the Albions. Something about replacing the MCM fleet with ‘capability’ deployed from other vessels. Some or all Batch 1 Rivers sold off. Possible cuts to the amphib fleet, potentially justified on the grounds that SSS will bring multi-role functionality etc.. To be clear, not what I’d like to see, but what I’d expect.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
February 15, 2015 11:36 am

We are pretty unlikely to go all the way to the South China Sea to pick I fight with the Han Empire…but I wouldn’t in current circumstances rule out their turning up on our South Atlantic doorstep as “Advisors” to their emerging colony in the Argentine, especially if oil is found in significant quantities…nor our finding ourselves as the Five Eyes asset closest to something of interest to those Eyes (who are, in the end, our closest allies emotionally, if not legally) in respect of fun and games they might be having on the far side of the world…like others here, I’m struggling to imagine any British PM who would tell the rest of the English Speaking Peoples to bugger off…especially around the formal agreement that is probably our most important intelligence asset and may prove to be an arrangement with more value and a longer life-span than NATO.


February 15, 2015 12:32 pm


I would take that Tory financial commitment with a very large pinch of salt. To balance government books, you need to reduce current spending by about 100 billion pa (or about 15 % pa). This isn’t achievable by any political party in the UK. The UK will be spending and borrowing more for longer than any forecast currently shows. We have to bank on real GDP growth to increase the overall tax take to fix the deficit. Overall it is almost certain that there will be net tax rises in the next parliament. About 28 % of government expenditure is on health and pensions in any case. Expect retirement age to increase as well.

For the non-equipment budget, I think the most we can hope to see today is for current expenditure levels to be maintained. Whilst we might get newer equipment, we will have fewer people to run it. I also expect the Army and civil service to see significant manpower reductions.

February 15, 2015 12:37 pm

I fear you are correct.

@GNB meeting the Chinese closer to home is going to be a real possibility, or even likelihood soon.

What they called a Frigate in the early 1990s was a slightly improved 1950s design of barely 2000 ton displacement with no SAM or Helicopter, which were barely safe even in the South China Sea. Today they have something very comparable with a Type23 at least on paper. They have 19 in service another 3 fitting out. They plan to start building a successor class to replace the rest of the older fleet so realistically by the time we see the first Type 26 they could have something of hhe order of 50 comparable ships in service

The step change in Destroyers, is similar.

They have been routinely patrolling of East Africa now for 6 years and counting, the occasional deployment to the Mediterranean is becoming more common, their area of operations will continue to expand

In terms of telling our closest ally no, the obvious example is Vietnam, at the beginning we had our own issues with Malaysia and Indonesia and by the end we were pulling out East of Suez, but both Australia and NZ were there with boots on the ground.

China and us on different sides in a civil war in the Arab world or Africa is believable, as is us both intervening from the outside on the same side. In a China takes Taiwan scenario US politics will have a lot of pressure to support Taiwan, no UK politician is going to try and persuade public opinion it is our critical interest.

February 15, 2015 12:43 pm

Re escorts
Wouldn’t a place escorting our carrier actually be in demand for the smaller European navies? Rather than mooching around locally they would get to go on a proper cruise, with proper scale training, and visit the world whilst letting us worry about the supply ships etc? Plenty of good photos and PR to show they were contributing and be ally-worthy.
Re Chinese threat in Pacific/South China Sea
Surely we couldn’t contribute anything on the surface that could be there in time and make any difference? All the RN could helpfully do is say there is an Astute knocking about (even if there isn’t)
If Aus/NZ were really threatened only air defence and air delivered troops could be there quick enough and more helpful would be a big backfill supply of any weapons stocks they need and lend them some sailors/pilots
If China got feisty our main role would be in economic sanctions, escalating to sailing just East of Suez and blockading their oil supply out of the Gulf.

Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
February 15, 2015 12:52 pm

The China scenario would be best solved by sealing the island chains so that the PLAAN could not get out (or back in again), and trade shuddered to a standstill. The most effective, and least risky way to do this, is by deploying Astutes in support of the USN. The deterrent (and, if necessary, the impact) would be more effective than frigates or destroyers. Hence, back to my grand 20 year plan for a lot more Astutes, long term. A 15 Astute Royal Navy would be a damn sight more capable and frightening adversary than one tweaked by the odd extra FF and/or OPV.

February 15, 2015 12:58 pm

I agree with the need for more SSNs in exchange for a delay or even a reduction in successor boats.

February 15, 2015 1:01 pm

@Aubrey’s Shadow

Tom Clancy has the same idea back in the 1990s

I’ve got the book somewhere; never seen the PC game. I wouldn’t mind a modern version though

February 15, 2015 1:14 pm

Re: Economic sanctions against China – You know what always puts a smile on my face when someone mentions this? The fact that many of the people following this debate will be doing so on devices manufactured/assembled in……China.

February 15, 2015 1:57 pm

All China would have to do is sell its 1.2 trillion dollars of US government bonds and that would cause Intersteing times in western economies. It doesn’t have to shoot at anything.

February 15, 2015 2:06 pm

RE: actually fighting China, surely this is the kind of thing Nelly was built for? I’m sure in such a scenario we could rustle up something at least resembling a CBG, assuming China is polite enough to wait for them to enter service.

February 15, 2015 2:15 pm


If it came to that (WW3) the US wouldn’t even pay any interest on that outstanding debt. The US could even cancel the debt entirely. This would be pretty chaotic if you view it in every day terms, but its normal practice in a war situation. Legally declaring war has a number of serious legal and commercial consequences, which is why it is no longer done, even when you take on Irawq in GW 1.

There wouldnt be that significant consequences for the US from China selling its Investment. The new owner would acquire the same legal rights to repayment and interest as China has. It might dry up funds for new US debt issue, but probably not for that long.

The major looser would be China (in such a fire sale, China wouldnt get current market value of its asset and would loose USD if it dumped the bonds. The Chinese central bank would probably look less able to act as the lender of last resort for Chinese Bank debt which would crash to Chinese banking sector, the value of Chinese property investments in China and crash the whole economy taking most of Asia with it. The collapse of Asian banks would severely hurt western investors/banks. You’d end up with a Global recession (no Chinese/Asian export markets), but western economies as net importers from China would probably suffer less damage at the end of the day.

It would make Lehman crisis look like a damp squib.

Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
February 15, 2015 2:19 pm

With regards to ‘General / Total War’ we are paying for armed services that will deter, through credibility. With Russia / China, it’s not likely that we’ll ever stand cheek-to-cheek, even with Putin’s hormones running wild, yet I fancy that SSBN and SSN fleets of any ability and quantity, do insert a line item within both these countries’ assessments. We have to retain an indigenous submarine design and manufacturing ability (alright, we know about the D5s…..), which means that before, in-between, and certainly after successor’s construction, we must retain the SSN skills which we very nearly disastrously lost. I think that it is more or less inevitable that we end up with an increased SSN fleet; though I concede it will not be my cherished 15 :)

As to more limited war, Argentina, Iran or your Jihadi states having toppled a Government and got their hands on serious kit (odds on Egypt anybody ?) – I think that the submarine has an invaluable role to play; be it TLAM, recon, Int, SF, anti-ship, mining. Or just OPTIONS……. 4 or 5 deployable, all with TLAM gives a lot more options.

As for pirates, well, you have a point, but I wouldn’t build the best part of my navy around them, as a couple of Type 23s retained, flogged to scrapping and forward based out of Bahrain / Oman should suffice.

The Jihadi porn wankers ? Controversial though it is, I don’t see them as a serious threat (differing from the more serious Brotherhood chapters in other places), and therefore no reason to not churn out a few more submarines so that I could keep my eye on the more serious balls.

I’d love a bigger surface fleet, but I tend first towards getting the RAF numbers back up to sensible FJ levels, stopping the Army going Dicky up the Orchard and getting some more SSN hulls in the pipeline. All doable, I would imagine, with careful juggling in this 2% version debate.

February 15, 2015 2:26 pm

@Chuck. If it ever came to that and I don’t think it will then we could presumably deploy a very credible CBG around an F35 / ASW heavy airgroup, half a dozen escorts and 2 or 3 Astutes. I would guess it could be deployed to work with Aus / NZ forces in some sort of commonwealth task group if only to help defend Australia and NZ

I don’t think we should rule it out but neither should we have it on our DPAs though

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 15, 2015 2:36 pm

I wonder how long the Chinese could survive intact if the shipping lines to their ports were completely closed? The rest of us would suffer a bit in terms of a lack of iPads, but we don’t get food or energy from them, so could carry on for a while. They however are completely dependent on exports for currency, and imports for energy.

There probably are a few imports the lack of which might hurt us (rare earth magnets spring to mind), but on a grand scale, they do seem to have placed themselves into a potentially vulnerable position.

February 15, 2015 2:43 pm


There is no ww3 between the likes of China russia america imo it’s either a state of “peace” Cold War style at the most agressive or within about 30 mins none of us need worry because instant sunshine does its thing. The UK will have as much influence in going it alone playing in that league as they did at suez eg none.

There can be proxy conflict like Vietnam or the such like but cyber and economic considerations will ensure conflicts remain localised.

February 15, 2015 2:55 pm

Interesting post Martin.

However, taking it back to first priciples, I would see the following (in order of priority) the top 7 real and present threats to the UK and our interests:

1) Local terrorism to the UK (and our BOTs).
2) Terroism launched from instability in countries boardering the Mediterranean.
3) Cyber Attack either launched by terrorists or hostile / competeting coutries (include Russia and China)
4) Disruption to UK fuel (Oil and Gas) supplies from the Persian Gulf.
5) A resurgent Argentina armed by China causing issues around the Falkland Islands and the Antarctic.
6) Russia increasing raising tensions in the east (on land) and the north around the north Atlantic and Article circle (on sea).
7) China asserting its control in the South China sea (and its impact to our allies in the Five Powers Alliance).

Looking at the high level (fag packet) UK response to these, I’d say:

1) Is primarily a Police matter, and therefore any increase in funds should be focused here, along with MI5 and GCHQ. However, the military can provide additional capabilities to stop the follow of terrorists and terrorist materials by tightening the monitoring and control of UK / BOT EEZ and airspace.
2) Is primarily a diplomacy issue backed up with military training / equipment supply. However, the UK needs to be able to conduct surgical strikes via TLAM, UAV / Fighter Ground Attack or Surgical Ground Raids; backed up ISTR assets. Additionally, we should provide ISTR / Logistical support such as we did in Mali.
3) Additional funding for GCHQ and a strengthening on MoD and Government networks.
4) Again primarily a diplomacy matter with military training / equipment supply to ensure stability. This backed up with a forward base of UK assets for local reassurance.
5) Additional ground and air defences on the Falkland islands, plus additional protection for the FI and UK Antarctic EEZ.
6) Increased assets to NATO and military training / equipment supply to NATO nations boardering Russia.
7) Diplomacy pressure through partnership with US and UN, regular exercises with regional Allies and military training / equipment supply.

Assuming that MPA remains with the RAF, for this for me translates into the following additional naval requirements if the additional funds were found:

1) Additional Patrol vessels for UK / BOT EEZ constabulatory duties – keep the 3 OPVs and add 5 more (to make 12) with additional ISR and small weaponary. Plus additional large mid shore fast patrol craft (replacing some of the MCMs as the MHC programme progresses).
2) Increase of SSNs to 12 to allow for permenant presence in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Mediterranean and East of Suez.
3) The aquisition of a second Ice Breaker with hangar facilities (like HMS Endurance) for the South Atlantic, freeing up HMS Protector to assist in Patrolling of the Artic.
4) Move HMS Ocean to the RFA when HMS Prince of Wales is completed. This would then be used as a forward base in the Med for SF (and Para / RM) raids.
5) Build of 13 fully equipped ASW T26s. 5 to be permenantly assigned to the “ready” CBG along with the 6 T45s. And have a permenant FF for APT(N), APT(s) and East of Suez.

If the additional funds were not forthcoming and there were cuts in the order of 5% (as expected), I would still go-ahead with much of the above except:

1) Increase the number SSNs to 8 (dropping the Med requirement and keep a part-time presence in the South Atlantic)
2) Move both LPDs also to the RFA and keep both at low readiness. Ultimately the capability to move large landing craft would be performed by new RFA vessels (such as the planned SSS).
3) Decrease the order of T26s to 8, and only assigned 2 permenantly to the CBG along with 4 T45s, allowing for the 3 standing tasks listed.

February 15, 2015 3:12 pm

Exactly the point, by RT
“I wonder how long the Chinese could survive intact if the shipping lines to their ports were completely closed? The rest of us would suffer a bit in terms of a lack of iPads, but we don’t get food or energy from them, so could carry on for a while.”

Europe (EU?) relegated all responsibility for letting China into the WTO to the US to negotiate.

They negotiated a “bad” deal on this premise:
Give then riches
For being able to Catch them,the people will have to receive an education, and you will have a middle class, like it of not
IF they so not being/demand stability (internal brings external), se can take the riches away by a blockade


Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 15, 2015 3:39 pm


Consider a Royal Navy exclusively*** of SSNs and a very few floaty little boats for doing the customs and fisheries nonsense back home. Much more bang for your buck, many fewer targets. Don’t bother trying to play the same game as everyone else.

*** SSBNs being separate, not really seen as part of Defence, even if manned by the Navy.

February 15, 2015 4:04 pm

Looks like the language setting destroyed the punch line:

So, this much later (counting from China’s accession into WTO) they now do have a middle class, and as for my typing:

“IF they so not being/demand stability (internal brings external), se can take the riches away by a blockade”
Should have said:
If they do not see/ demand stability(xxx), so “we” can take the riches away by …

Anyone wondering why there is so much emphasis on the Thirld World (markets & raw materials)? Even though a blockade would still do it, just the political hurdle would be so much higher.

February 15, 2015 4:10 pm

Funnily enough, p.16 figure 9 in the Eq. Plan 2014 document has

“*** SSBNs being separate, not really seen as part of Defence, even if manned by the Navy.”

It exactly like that: “Strategic Programmes”

February 15, 2015 4:18 pm

Please can we knock off the royal navy v the Chinese armed forces..

Apart from the fact I have been assured by most of the carrier junkies that the Elephants were not for deploying vs China…..

I dont see the support forces available, and the chinese airforce may have something to say about it.

I seriousy doubt that appart from it being politically useful to to have us on board, only the Astutes would be useful or even remotely wanted….

I love this site! A contributor contributes some ideas about where we should go in the future kit wise and about how tight money is…. And now the RN are off east of Suez to sink the Chinese navy singlehanded. As no 1 daughter sometimes texts ROFLMFAO.

All together “Rule Britania……


There are plently of people and ships and everything else to face an expansionist China. Japan, Korea, US, India Singapore, Australia, NZ……. Even the Vietnamese. They are there they have the kit the bases and the supplies and the organisation.

Still I am sure the RN is short a few commitments…

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 15, 2015 4:30 pm

Oh Ixion, I disagree. The Nellies have enormous strategic utility, particularly if employed as artificial reefs somewhere off Cornwall to aid the diving / tourist trade.

To be honest, I’m rather hoping that the first one breaks back into its’ constituent blocks on its’ maiden voyage, and the second one is then sold for scrap.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
February 15, 2015 4:37 pm

@RT – Although I hate to admit it, the more I think about it the more I agree that our real priority ought to be matching our major surface vessels 1 for 1 with SSNs…sorting a network of utility and patrol vessels, aircraft and fast jets forward deployed to areas of interest…with the surface fleet concentrating on an RFTG with a decent air wing and an embarked RM Commando Battlegroup, ideally at sea somewhere that needs the attention…

Build more sleek black submarines…buy more TLAM… :-)


Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
February 15, 2015 5:13 pm

We’re getting closer to that 15 fleet of SSNs; I can feel it in my water.

February 15, 2015 5:34 pm

I think to sum it up, I think we are close to agreement that the RN needs to focus on the following capabilities (in order) to meet needs and have relevance in the world.

1) Global SSN presence with ability to surge a force of 3-4 for short periods.
2) Ability to deploy a CBG globally 100% of the time.
3) UK / BOT EEZ patrolling with MCM capability.
4) Launch pad for SF raids (backed by RMs).

February 15, 2015 6:24 pm

Try 8 T26, 2 T45 into extended readiness (as much for the WR21 “problem” as manning), a more reaiistic at sea time for QEC than the 365 day global rubbish, fudge on PoW, a few more MCMV quitely dropped, and another study into a RFA privatisation.

The big problem will come in May if a Labour and Lib Dem coallition need SNP support (on a supply and condifdence basis) to get their proramme through Parliament. You can expect Gibraltar to go too. (If CASD is canned an Astute will be canned too.)

Noise about the Russian threat and ISIS should keep the Army (the rumours of the 60k man force may come to naught) and RAF safe yet again.

February 15, 2015 6:36 pm

Good post Martin!

This isn’t about doing some more in addition to our current commitments, it’s about making sure we have enough resources to sufficiently cope with what we are already setting out to achieve.

To that end i completely agree that 9 Astute, 20-22 high-end escorts, keeping the batch 2 Rivers, using CVF properly, upgrading an extra 8 Merlin’s and above all an increase in manpower are perfectly sensible objectives.

If we want to walk the walk as well as talk the talk when it comes to being a significant world power then things like not having enough aircraft to fill the decks of our carriers, not having sufficient logistical support to keep task-groups at sea for lengthy periods of time, having to choose between either properly escorting a carrier/amphibious force or keeping some standing commitments filled, choosing whether to deploy an Astute to either the Atlantic or East of Suez because we haven’t enough to go around and in all respects being continually stretched to breaking point isn’t the way to go about it.

I’m not biased towards the RN either, this is a common problem that plagues all three services. The lack of MPA and not knowing what’s going on in our backyard with regards to surface or sub-surface movements is an unacceptable situation to be in.

February 15, 2015 11:09 pm

I agree something needs to be done regarding the manning in the royal navy, The easiest way to do so in my opinion would be to seriously slash the number of staff officers, Everyone here who has served in the armed forces will have an idea what these officers are getting paid and that for the same price we could have half a dozen or so junior ranks, The royal navy and the Armed forces as a whole are not going to be viable fighting forces while we have a ratio of 1 staff officer for every 300 or so personnel the ratio should be closer to 1:1500 if not 1:2000, When you have more admirals than escort ships there is something very wrong.

February 15, 2015 11:18 pm

Nice post Martin if the figures can be supported by government will all to the good , ah 2% seems such as small number.
On the more SSN thingy the Successors will have new sheds to be built in leaving the exising SSN sheds available and I read once somewhere that the best submarine killer is another submarine let alone what they can do surface ships and in this age of TLAM land targets too.

China is being used by the Military world and his wife to try and scare politicians into opening purse strings.”
China is pulling our strings on defence spending in the same way the West pulled the Soviet blocks starting an ever upward spiral of expenditure except in this game China , compared to its size , isn’t really spending that much . The have a couple of different stealth(allegedly) prototype aircraft powered by Russian engines they can’t be bothered to build themselves. The bought a 1970’s designed ex Soviet carrier for scrap , refurbed it and take it out for a spin . China having 50 T26 equivalents by 2020 when we want 15 or more compare our nations size? They are master puppeteers and we are dancing to their tune. China would like to project power into its own back yard the South CHINA sea , would we ignore the North Atlantic? Some posters on this site want the UK to a Global reach but we would not have the worlds largest nation by population and economy not to be able to do that? China will spend as little as it can on defence to get the reaction it wants the US pouring money into defence and getting China to fund it.

February 15, 2015 11:51 pm

SOMEONE ELSES PROBLEM! just stuck it’s oar into our interests in a pretty big way. h/t to monty;

Sounds like they’re actually getting these ones. If the deal goes well it won’t be the last. Pulling our strings indeed.

February 16, 2015 5:47 am

Will be an interesting exercise in the ultimate substitution of capital (upfront) for the most expensive factor of production (manpower, over the whole life… And longer)

February 16, 2015 7:28 am

Martin, yes, surely not in 1:1 terms.

But defence spending should relate to outputs. As we don’t know the specific scenario, outputs can be approximated with broader capabilities.
– 1 SSN for 2.5 T23? Of some other ratio (RT had thought this through?)

February 16, 2015 7:36 am


Not sure of your point? I am totally cool from the British viewpoint about China military power.


Not bothered.
FC1 a very value for money aircraft. Supposedly cheap to buy and maintain, and about as effective as early marks of f16.

Should prove useful target practice for a Typhoon.

There is no arms embargo on Argentina.

China still Someone else’s problem.

February 16, 2015 8:04 am

I was trying unsuccessfully to get over that China’s spending on defence is not all that great compared to its size , physically, economically or population wise. It is experimenting with various headline grabbing technologies , stealth aircraft, carriers etc but is putting little effort into actually putting them into production. My opinion is that China wants the rest of the world to splurge 1000’s of billions on defence every year countering a paper tiger. The USA’s deficit is underwritten by China, India could spend money on much more important things than carriers and acquiring nuclear subs etc.

February 16, 2015 9:55 am

President Xi Jinping is also leader of the Communist Party as you would imagine and also head of the Central Military Commission similar to the US President is. The change from one President is carefully orchestrated by the central committee and ratified by the chamber of delegates , out of almost 3000 one voted no and three abstained from his election to President but he was appointed months earlier to the head of the Party and Military. Nominally there are other candidates but as you can imagine it is a forgone conclusion years before the existing presidents 2×5 year rule is over. In terms of China’s policies not being clear they do officially make sweeping statements on ecology, economics , defence and their policy on the disputed territories just very vague on the detail so it is hard to extrapolate out just where they will draw the line on a particular aspect off a particular policy, inscrutability gives you plenty of room at a negotiating table if no one clearly knows what you want and how much you will concede if anything.

February 16, 2015 10:26 am


Whats wrong with Thatcher like Tories? I much prefer them to any brand of thieving labour parasite.

There is a simple truth to this election that should be borne in mind, the Conservatives don’t give a shit about defence but the Labour party gives even less of a shit about it.

February 16, 2015 11:04 am

Martin – careful; you may not have noticed but your politics is showing… I doubt any politician is ever entirely straight with the public about their intentions or expectations. “We the XXX Party promise to provide five years of lacklustre governance with regular gaffs and embarrassing cases of dubious nest feathering, leaving the country with greater debt and a degraded reputation on the international stage” might be exactly what they would deliver, but wouldn’t win many votes. Which is why they all throw accusations around that ‘the other lot’ would be just as awful as the above suggestion, because they all know its about the best any of them can do.

Anyway, New Labour was not squeaky-clean on its defence record. Here is one example: When UK forces are committed, Labour said in 2005, they will “have the investment, training and strategy they need”. A range of senior military figures has disagreed with Government claims that this is the case, as well as Sir Kevin Tebbit, former permanent secretary to the Ministry of Defence. For a more authoritative view, this might do:

I’m not going to champion the Tory defence record – as I recall the last time the true blues supported greater emphasis on defence was just after the South Atlantic Task Force had saved an isolated stubborn island* that was being ravaged by hostile forces. By jingo they did.

To all modern parties Defence is a bauble to wave in front of Johnny Foreigner to bolster international standing. “See how big and strong we are! (And its all because of ME the Leader!!)” Behind the scenes it is like most of the non-vote-winning departments just a piggy-bank to raid every now & then. But that’s fine because all Social Media enabled politicians know that National Defence is best done by really clever soundbites.

*Called Margaret Thatcher.

The Other Chris
February 16, 2015 11:20 am

I don’t think political campaigning is the right topic here. Too many tales that could be told of all parties on the same topics.

Don’t like Cameron? Your alternatives are Milliballs, Farage, Clegg and Sturgeon*.

Good luck with that!

* If you’re really unfortunate and want to see the country lose headway you’ll get another coalition involving two or more of the above.

Peter Elliott
February 16, 2015 11:25 am

For me Boris us the interesting one. He talks the talk as of he actually understands defence. And he seems to have some historical perspective. But he’s also political to his fingertips so there’s no guarantees of how he’d actually behave if he ever got into high office.

February 16, 2015 11:32 am


Your politics is crowding your judgement and your recollection of history. When Labour came to power in 1997 UK net debt and annual borrowing was falling, as Labour continued to follow Tory spending plans net borrowing actually went negative (there was a surplus), it was only when Labour started moving back to its love of splurging that net borrowing went positive again and never looked back. I will let you work out how much of that borrowed money made it to the Armed Forces. A certain Gordon Brown apology to the House of Commons should help you though. Not to mention, Thatcher oversaw substantial increases in UK defence spending, whereas prior Labour governments had slashed merrily.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 16, 2015 11:33 am

Anyone thinking SSN are either cheaper in running costs or capable of replacing surface ships needs to give their heads a wobble.

While SSN are great for killing things within a relatively defined radius, they’re only allowed to do that once you get to a certain stage in RoE. So, for when we’re not fighting an all-out declared war (that’ll be 99% of the time then), they’re good for intel gathering (up to a point), lobbing limited numbers of TLAM and er, that’s it. They can influence (or deter) through threat of action, those who either know what an SSN is and believe it is on station and will be used against them. They cannot influence those who are either unaware, or believe that the likelihood of an HWT coming their way is extremely low. Surface ships have a much wider range of responses, varying from capture of photographic evidence, ship manoeuvre, harsh words over channel 12, launch of boarding parties, warning shots etc etc.

Essentially, SSN abilityto influence events on the surface and subsurface is entirely dependent on RoE. The tighter the RoE, the smaller the area of influence. They are entirely unable to influence the airspace over the sea.

Making suggestions for ratios between SSN and FF based on output is therefore spurious at best.

Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the safety regime applicable to the boats in terms of manning and support and the infrastructure required for this, would be in no doubt that life cycle costs for a steel tube containing people, tea-kettles, munitions and so forth, subject to a demanding depth and fatigue cycle profile is going to be expensive. Very expensive.

February 16, 2015 12:06 pm

NaB – suggest you use your skill & Judgement to sketch out a submersible then – a surface unit that can duck underwater if necessary for limited periods and to limited depths. Just like we had a century back.

February 16, 2015 12:23 pm

I am encouraged by Boris’s comments at least in the sense of at last there being someone speaking up for the importance of defence, even if there still remains to be tangible evidence to support the words. Defence in the traditional sense of tanks, ships and planes may not be an election vote winner but I think the sell needs to be a broader (and yet joined up) focus on national security. The ‘sell’ needs to be transparency on the risks (on the lines I think IXION set out earlier as a decent starting point). The right kit and resource follows (national security for the avoidance of doubt in my view covers energy and food security, border security, counter terrorism, counter pandemic, cyber defence, and the traditional military defence)

February 16, 2015 12:31 pm
Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 16, 2015 1:12 pm

Ah yes, 100 years ago. When the primary wide area surveillance asset was the mk1 eyeball at sea level or in an airship if very lucky. Which conferred an element of strategic mobility to the SSK.

February 16, 2015 1:20 pm

‘Longest period of economic expansion in British history. 15 years without a recession’

Possibly – but very big boom followed by very big bust. It all evens out over time

February 16, 2015 1:25 pm


It was net borrowing I was referring to. It demonstrates the point perfectly, Labour were elected with a surplus, maintained a surplus as they stuck to Tory spending plans and briefly afterwards then went on a borrowing binge from 2001 onward. Labour, like its voters, just likes squandering other peoples money, most recently the next generations. Your complete blindness to this is hilarious.

February 16, 2015 2:02 pm

NaB: re SSNs vs FF – I think it is clear that a FF has capabilities that a SSN cannot match, though I do not think that’s the argument being made here. My reasoning is that in an ideal world we would have both, but we cannot afford both, so the logic goes what is the optimal global capabilities that the UK can offer the broader world given limited funds (outside of ensuring our defence).

This gives:

1) Global SSN presence with ability to surge a force of 3-4 for short periods.
2) Ability to deploy a CBG globally 100% of the time.
3) SF raids (backed by RMs / Paras).

As you say a SSN is a good deterrent and the threat of one being in the area saved the Falklands prior to 1982. Whilst an SSN is “invisible”, the good bit is that it is “invisible” and can be spun into being in many places at once (a true force multiplier).

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 16, 2015 2:28 pm

“My reasoning is that in an ideal world we would have both, but we cannot afford both”

Last time I looked we have 7 SSN funded and 13 FF.

February 16, 2015 2:30 pm


Lots of words ignoring the obvious reality, the net borrowing chart shows Labour’s borrowing binge starting in 2001, because they love spending other peoples money.

If you support defence spending your best hope is the Conservatives, if you support scrounging and fiscal irresponsibility then your best bet is Labour.

The Other Chris
February 16, 2015 2:57 pm

Structural deficit and Borrowing as GDP% is a half of where it was in 2010 and those are the right numbers to work on moving first, if you want long lasting effect.

We do want a long lasting recovery, right?

It’s easy to drop the deficit value amount from 10% in one year if you want a pre-election headline: Just raid the Defence Equipment Plan Unallocated and Contingency pot of money and cancel Trident you can drop that deficit value by almost a half for one year only (another reason why Trident is not an economic argument), but then what do you do?

Structure and GDP. It’s long-termism. I’d rather see the numbers moving in the right direction over a longer period of time than planned.

After all, it’s my son’s future I’m working for, not whether I can afford a new Samsung for myself this year.

February 16, 2015 6:57 pm

Been following this thread with interest at the knowledge and expertise of contributors.

From the above I agree we should ensure the police and security services are adequately resourced for the terrorist threat; that we should be getting DFID (which is well resourced) to deal with disaster relief; and the USA and Far Eastern allies should deal with the challenge of China particularly in the far east.

3 non-specialist observations: (1) History shows UK has been better at equipping for the last war(s) than the present (or future) war(s); (2) Manpower (NB service pensions as well) is a huge cost driver; (3) If the SNP poll anything like as well as forecast we’re like it or not going to be having a Trident debate.

Do you think SDSR 2015 will need more emphasis on (1) cyber defence and attack capacity; (2) unmanned systems (land, sea and air); (3) ballistic missile defence (possibly based on enhanced T45 radar and sea viper?)

But before SDSR, can someone please point me to where I can find a clear definition of our foreign policy aims now and for the 30 + year period during which our latest defence systems will be operational? In 2050 will UK policy be to be in EU or out of EU? In NATO or in entente with France? Defending Saudi oilfields or defending renewable energy infrastructure like offshore energy farms and inter connectors?

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
February 16, 2015 7:16 pm

@Cassandra – The golden rule of foreign policy has been – we only have five years to get re-elected – the public don’t much care for the serious thinking or long term planning required by foreign policy – so we’ll concentrate on short-term eye catching domestic initiatives to win votes – and give 0.7% to DfID because we are caring people – and leave all that hard stuff with no votes in it to our successors…

Rinse and repeat, and if you do that long enough we end up just about here… :-(


February 16, 2015 8:26 pm

: “I agree about the utility of SSN’s but some times as in 1982 their invisibility can be a weakness. Argentinas invasion was stepped up to try and beat an SSN deployment that was not even happening. If their had been a surface vessel in the area and Argentina knew it had to fight would they have tried the same thing.” – The invisibility was not the issue, the problem was that a politician gave visibility that a SSN wasn’t already there… Of course having a surface ship in the area would have been a visible deterrent, but the wasn’t which couldn’t be disguised in anyway.

February 16, 2015 8:34 pm

@NaB: “Last time I looked we have 7 SSN funded and 13 FF.” – correct, but now look in your crystal ball ahead five years and what do you see?

Even with no reduction in funds perhaps 6 ASW FF and 9 SSN would be a better mix for ASW / Strike capability. Enough to maintain a CBG, APT(N) and FRE and nothing else.

February 16, 2015 10:33 pm

Wiyh my figment of imagination capability ratio (1: 2.5) this

“Agreed on SSN’s. My research suggest operating costs of almost double that of a Frigate. If you had the budget would you increase RN SSN numbers or Frigates? We seem to be short on both at present.”

Is a bargain then?

John Hartley
John Hartley
February 16, 2015 10:53 pm

Playing fantasy fleets, how about a submersible battlecruiser? Say an SSN with large vertical silos for land attack cruise missiles + anti-ship missiles+ a decent SAM (SeaCeptor). Perhaps even a rising gun turret (30 to 127mm). Think of those 1920/30s subs with 8″ + guns. By the end of WW2 U-boats started to slug it out with aircraft using 37mm guns(yes I know shortages often meant 20mm).

February 16, 2015 11:00 pm

Ok, let’s take this further. As the gvmnt borrowing costs are at a historical low, we load up with effective kit now and make up for that with efficient operating of it in the next 20-40 years. So that’s the invest in relatively cheap factor of production to minimise the use of the relatively more expensive factor (over the life, or over any other relevant horizon for analysis)?

So, if we forget about the initial invested capital and use USN data (

If the yearly operating cost of an SSN is 100, then in comparison
An FFG 160
A DDG 200
A CV 1420, and
A CVN 1600-2200.

For the utility ,at the margin, to justify the next ship into the mix to be of one, or the other type, capability would have to compare with an SSN as follows:
1.6 to 2x for surface combatants
14 to 22 x for floating airfields


February 16, 2015 11:13 pm

Another excellent article. Agree with nearly all your suggestions too. Particularly liked the upping RN man power. I’d also like to see a bit more time/money put into improving retention, according an article in the open thread this is something already being tackled but a bit more would seem to me to be a really good use of any additional funds.
SSNs – would love to see 9 Astutes if at all possible. One of my future worries though is that I think i read somewhere tube launched Tomahawk will no longer be supported in a few years? IIRC we also no longer have sub launched Harpoons so this is an area I think we need to make a real priority. Could we pay Raytheon to keep it supported ourselves as i see it as a really useful capability? Despite being more expensive than ship launched its surely cheaper than our only other option – trying to retrofit VLS to the astutes which is surely impossible. Otherwise we have to give up on sub launched missiles (I’d imagine LRASM will be VLS too?). Only other option i can see is Scalp or naval strike missile but these are both new types/less capable and i don’t even know if they could be tube launched? So with that in mind, i wonder if we might be better off with just 8 SSNs and seeing if we can find a way to keep tomahawks supported and maybe buy a few more of the sub launched ones updated to the latest block to give the astutes an ASuW capability.
On escorts – definitely on board for getting the extra VLS on the type 45s. I’d like to see CEC fitted too and possibly explore if theres any way to offer some sort of organic ASW defence rather than the chopper. Similarly with the type 26s, whilst i’d love to see another 2, my priority would be to make sure everything we’ve got is as good as it can be – VLS mags full on every ship (and a decent pile to refill anything we ever use back home) would make me happier than another couple of Type 26s, especially when i hear that some ships go to sea with bugger all on board!
The Rivers – again, i’d like to keep the old ones but other than Clyde I’d let them go if it meant we couldn’t keep the main fleet at their full potential. I’d also like to make sure the wildcats and Merlins can each both use dipping sonar and all available helo laucnhed weapons before we go adding hulls.
LRASM – yes definitely on board for that on as many platforms as possible.
Finally, how about buying a few C-Truk Thors and possibly a very cheap ocean going mothership or 2 for lower intensity/policing roles? Couldn’t such a set up with a helicopter hanger could deal with most of what the old Rivers would be doing? They might also be useful for the Royal marines and even SF type ops too on occasion.

February 16, 2015 11:55 pm

Hartley – “…Say an SSN with large vertical silos for land attack cruise missiles + anti-ship missiles+ a decent SAM (SeaCeptor).”

Four USN Ohio-class SSBNs were converted to SSGNs.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 17, 2015 8:05 am

For clarity, “tube launched TLAM” refers to the variant that is launched horizontally from torpedo tubes. The vast majority of US submarine TLAM are in VLS – a different variant.

February 17, 2015 9:28 am

Martin, there is a further link behind mine straight to the data base where I believe the definitions also reside.

This whole initiative was mandated by the Congress and draws on 125 different, regular sources.

I was initially just making the argument to have some discussion, but maybe our kit budget share reaching 48% of the total (soon) is not so crazy after all? Ehhm… The threats picture, though, has changed since that course was taken (assuming there actually was analysis of what is sustainable).

Btw, averaging frigate and destroyer equivalents gives the ratio (180%, almost twice) that you had indicated?

February 17, 2015 11:15 am

RE: SSN costs; 2 idea’s. I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal evidence(even from yanks), that our subs are better. Quality costs. I’d like to believe it, but I don’t.

More realistically, the LA’s have been much further upgraded over their lives, including the reactor. Older things get, more they cost to maintain. That mixed with economies of scale would be my bet.

El Sid
El Sid
February 17, 2015 11:23 am

averaging frigate and destroyer equivalents

Horrible idea – you’re mixing different generations, with very different ratios of manpower and technology. Just stick with the classes that are actually in service – SSN-688’s and DDG-51’s and CVN-68’s

Trouble with nukes is that there are huge fixed costs, see eg
We estimate that the current cost of supporting the SSBN and SSN fleets averages around £600 million a year. This figure covers the costs of maintaining the submarines themselves, including for replacement parts and systems, equipment and the operating costs of the naval bases that provide support. It does not include costs associated with supporting the strategic weapons system (ie the missiles and their launch systems and the warheads) installed on the SSBNs.

On average the £600 million is divided more or less evenly between the SSBN and SSN fleets, but there is some variation from year to year reflecting peaks and troughs in major maintenance periods. A substantial proportion of these submarine support costs (around 80%) are considered to be fixed, that is they are not directly activity dependent. Ending SSBN operations could therefore be expected to generate only relatively modest savings in submarine support costs, of less than £100 million a year.

So you could argue that four V boats were costing us £100m/year for the whole fleet as the marginal cost in 2006 – but if eg Germany wanted to buy four SSBNs they would find themselves paying closer to £500m/year. So is the annual cost of a Vanguard £25m or £75m or £125m? In fact it’s higher still now – ISTR numbers of £2bn/year for the annual costs of Faslane+Coulport, although that includes missiles which are excluded from the above numbers.

The US benefits even more from these kinds of economies of scale.

February 17, 2015 11:52 am

@hohum, unfortunately I think you are wrong on the defence and political parties issues. Post WW2 the only time defence spending has increased in real terms was under the Wilson and Callaghan governments both Labour , true there was a slight blip up post Falkland’s, but the original Conservative plan was the Nott review which would have been disastrous. The Conservatives always cut defence more than Labour, but get away with ‘we are the party of defence’ image. I fear a Conservative majority Government with Osborne as Chancellor, we can say goodbye to any semblance of effective armed forces if that is the case. David Cameron is very keen to tell other NATO members to spend 2% of defence, yet he will not commit to that. His failure to practice what he has preached to others, telegraphs exactly what is going to happen to the Defence budget, by 2020 under Treasury plans it will only be 1.3 – 1.4% of GDP. True we will have some shiny new equipment, but not enough man power to operate it all.

The Other Chris
February 17, 2015 12:38 pm

Beware Confirmation Bias. That’s not what El Sid was communicating.

February 17, 2015 2:06 pm

“the US cost of operating an LA class is around 50% of our cost to operate a T boat. Could it be a larger US fleet gives them a reduction in operating cost of that much?”


February 17, 2015 2:10 pm

@ el Sid,

“averaging frigate and destroyer equivalents
Horrible idea – you’re mixing different generations, with very different ratios of manpower and technology. Just stick with the classes that are actually in service”


I was doing the averaging to compare with Martin’s calculation, which he did not share. But more importantly, to query why he admitted to have been wrong, when that measure was actually in line with what he had come up with.

February 17, 2015 2:18 pm

My point, with a little bit of warming up discussion:

“On average the £600 million is divided more or less evenly between the SSBN and SSN fleets, but there is some variation from year to year reflecting peaks and troughs in major maintenance periods. A substantial proportion of these submarine support costs (around 80%) are considered to be fixed, that is they are not directly activity dependent. Ending SSBN operations could therefore be expected to generate only relatively modest savings in submarine support costs, of less than £100 million a year.
So you could argue that four V boats were costing us £100m/year for the whole fleet as the marginal cost in 2006 – but if eg Germany wanted to buy four SSBNs they would find themselves paying closer to £500m/year”

1. Did the report on CASD say that? After all, it was for the Parlamentarians to decide on it
– he – heh: we strike the line”strategic projects”… And now there is more room in the defence budget for the other lines

2. A small matter: it would make the SSN (sea denial) capability much more expensive
– so, would the RN actually come through that “process” as a world-class navy? That is in capability, not in quality, terms

February 18, 2015 7:11 am

Martin, I definitely did not say it isn’t world class today.

What I did say that if you push up the cost per unit (the large fixed cost falling on only a handful) and then lose the SSN element (in the long run), what sea denial capabikity will be left… And a navy without one, can it be called world class anymore (despite an enhanced expeditionary power projection capability)?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 18, 2015 11:10 am

There are nine navies that operate f/w aircraft from ships (assuming that we’re one of them) – Brazil, China, France, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, UK, US (I think the RTN AV8As have gone). There are six navies that currently operate SSN (of which 5 can currently build their own) – China, France, India, Russia, UK, US.

Not exactly lots vs very few.

February 18, 2015 11:52 am

– Good article and even better discussion in the comments!

Could someone please explain to a newbie like me what a 5 to 2 ratio of ship deployments would look like?

shark bait
shark bait
February 19, 2015 12:35 am

I have been watching the comments on this thread, some very interesting points. Pushing back trident and building more astute seems like an excellent idea. Its a world class capability that we could always use more of.

Although I cant agree with some the rest, particularly extra type 26. Besides it being a pipe dream they could be entering service over 25 years from now, that’s too far IMO. I think the navy will be fine with 19 escorts especially if we’re co-operating with the USN and other European nations more. In the land of infinite budgets we could always use more, but in reality I think the money could be used better else where

In particular I would like to propose a different scenario; a complete overhaul of the solid support ship program. The last renders I saw had a triple hanger and double flight deck. Why not just go the full way and go for a LPH. To me that would provide the resupply mission well plus potential for many more roles.
There is much potential for a multi mission vessel.

Resupply ships – the ships could be jointly operated by the RAF an RN depending on the role that is required. The ships have cranes internally and on deck to provide stores handling, and ramps for vehicles. It would certainly be a step up from the forts with lots of internal space and surely some containers can be lashed to the deck.

Amphibious assault – well deck + big hanger + big flight deck = perfect for amphibious assault

Hospital ship – each mistral has a hospital on board, if those facilities are not extensive enough perhaps they could be extended with some containerised facilities when mass casualty receiving is expected

Humanitarian aid – lots of storage space, a hospital and hellys would make the ship very useful when responding to a disaster.

MCM – if we do develaop an unmanned MCM, similar to the one demonstrated with the small hazard motor bot, such a ship could prove quite capable in an unconventional roll for such a ship. The hazard motor boat would be easily deployable from the well deck and controlled from a container in the hanger. The equipment could be rapidly sent where ever the ship is by atlas and Chinook.

ASW – Perhaps negating the need for more T26, they could full fill a role similar to the invincible class during the cold war and be used as an antisubmarine platform to launch our excellent ASW helicopters. Could a towed array be fitted in the well deck? An ASW platform, more astutes and T26 could make a potent anti submarine force.

Repair ship – I actually thing a commercial support vessel is a better diligence replacement. But maybe with a containerised workshop such a ship could provide some repair capability to the fleet.

Dream land – finally If we ever have a large amount of F35’s, and if the situation ever became heated enough their is potential to operate a couple of F35’s from such a vessel. It would only be a few but its extra capability that may be useful as a deterrent.

All of the above could be provided from one vessel with only small changes to on-board equipment. There is potential to replace the albions, forts, ocean, diligence & argus with once class scoring some good commonality points and operational savings. New infrastructure cost should be minimal as they could be shared with the carriers.

Both the classes mentioned above have been exported before so there is a working framework n place. Hopefully they could be built under licence in the UK. We should have some good expertise in building large warships in the country now and could carry on in Rosyth where the CVF left off. The aircraft carrier alliance could easily manage the construction similarly to the CVF. The closure of Portsmouth shouldn’t be an issue as these will be smaller and will require less modules.

Modern ships, more automation and less crew (mistral 160 vs albion 325) would assume lower operational costs than the current fleet. Through commonality maintenance costs should also be lower.

I wouldn’t suggest replacing the classes I mentioned on a 1 for 1 basis as the new ones would be much for capable. I haven’t done the maths on what numbers we would need either.

To summarise, If the navy get some extra cash I would use it for a couple more Astutes, and a program to replace a number of ships with a multifunctional platform ship similar to a minstal that will hopefully boost capability with the possibility of lowering operational costs.

shark bait
shark bait
February 19, 2015 10:50 am

Agreed they are defiantly needed for delivering stores.
Its been a long time since I’ve seen any thing new on these, but it looked a support ship with amphibious capabilities. I was suggesting changing it to an amphibious platform with support facilities and getting a more flexible vessels to hopefully give you more cababily for your pound.
I also wouldn’t suggest mixing the roles as such. Most of the time I would have them under RFA control just providing sport role, that’s where the main requirement is. The perhaps rotating one into the RN to be used for some of the roles I mentioned above which is where you get your value added capabilities.

February 19, 2015 11:17 am

Chinooks, LCVPs on davits, 5000 tons of armour capable of Rolling itself to the crane, for lifting to shore…what is there not to like? RE

“The Karel Doorman joint logistic support ship can be deployed to provide logistics support from the sea (seabasing), resupply maritime units at sea, and to provide strategic sea transport. It can also perform helicopter operations, training, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, and repair and maintenance support missions.
The ship was officially named and commissioned in March 2014, and is expected to be operational by mid-2015.
Karel Doorman construction

Keel for the vessel was laid down at the Damen shipyard in Galati, Romania, in June 2011. The ship was launched in October 2012 and shifted to the Vlissingen shipyard for final systems outfitting and commissioning in July 2013.”

February 19, 2015 11:40 am
February 19, 2015 12:37 pm

Martin – if the new STOVL for Fleet Air Arm is called Dave, the options for lead T26 might include HMS Cleggy, HMS Stilldave, HMS Faraajhe or HMS Milliballs.

shark bait
shark bait
February 19, 2015 1:59 pm

, a well deck can be valuable for for ship to shore logistics, especially in rough seas, I would very much like to see one in the design. Bays have shown they can be done cheaply and I believe they have proved useful in the gulf.

The carriers have a boat boarding area but if I’m correct no boats. Perhaps boats could come from the well deck of the SSS. Stretching the capability slightly the well deck could also be used for a towed array and mine clearance vessels making the ship more capable. Its clear the royal navy needs to do more with less, I think this could be a way of achieving that.

February 19, 2015 3:23 pm

@shark bait

It would be nice to see MARS SSS with a well-deck but one issue may be that with something like the Bay class it was all designed and built around having one, unlike a replenishment vessel which is a different beast that could require modification to the basic design to make it work.

I agree with Martin that something like a triple hangar/double flight-deck is a luxury that wouldn’t dramatically effect the cost or distort the basic design whereas a well-deck on the other hand is a luxury that could be quite difficult to get right and provide an even more niche capability.

Wasn’t there one design for MARS SSS that featured a simpler stern boat ramp? Could be an acceptable compromise? Better than nothing!

February 19, 2015 3:26 pm

I don’t really like sycophantic names like Queen Elizabeth or Prince of Wales but we have plenty of others to choose from.

Warspite, Glorious, Furious, the R class names all haven’t been used in a while.

The Other Chris
February 20, 2015 6:48 am

Ark Royal will be the third CVF as TOBA kicks in to cover the next T26 gap!

February 20, 2015 8:37 am

PoW was contracted for so much lower price than the first copy that we could easily afford a third one…joking.

But when I was looking for the breakdown of the original build contract, I did come across of this interview by breakingdefence (excerpt only):

” To afford the carriers, as well as other high-capability, high-cost warships like Astute­-class attack submarines and Daring-class Type 45 air defense destroyers, the Royal Navy has retired large numbers of smaller vessels, ships arguably inadequate for a war with Russia or China, but perfectly serviceable for showing the flag, chasing Somali pirates, and building relationships with partners around the world. This trade-off echoes the decision of another First Sea Lord 110 years ago, Jackie “Scrap the Lot!” Fisher, to junk geriatric ships used for colonial patrols and invest instead in dreadnoughts and battlecruisers to face the rising power of Imperial Germany.

“You’ve completely got it,” Zambellas said when I summed up the trade-off. “You aim for high end and you accept the risk your footprint’s reduced globally… ”

Now, how many escorts does that translate to?

The Other Chris
February 20, 2015 9:03 am

Indeed ;)

February 20, 2015 9:11 am

Zambellas said when I summed up the trade-off. “You aim for high end and you accept the risk your footprint’s reduced globally… ”

But we have yet to reduce our footprint.

February 20, 2015 9:23 am

Yep, that’s why I pasted it in. APATS as the flag bearer for the RN has been steadfast in defence, so I wonder if the new” way” is still in the making?

The Other Chris
February 20, 2015 11:23 am

We have a reduced footprint de facto, if not du jure. Have a quick flick through the RN Deployments and note the numbers gapped or covered by tokens:

In contrast it’s interesting to note the deployments that we are heavily engaged in, and that they’re “high end” in requirement. Of particular note are the T45 and T23 escorts (you’ll need to search the latest news for details) being supplied and responsible for both the Carl Vinson and Charles de Gaulle CBG’s.

The Other Chris
February 20, 2015 11:29 am

Also, the recent agreement with Ireland means we’ll be cooperating far more within each others EEZ and AOI’s, so add in the likes of the Samuel Beckett’s into our considerations of what’s guarding our combined coastlines and note that the UK will be providing more support to RoI’s own global deployments in return.

February 20, 2015 6:01 pm


Cooperating with the Irish Naval Service makes a lot of sense.

On the long debated subject of the RN and global deployments i agree that an aspect which isn’t often flagged up is that actually when looked at we have in many ways already withdrawn from or gapped or filled with a token/occasional presence a lot of previously consistently maintained commitments.

Apart from providing a West Indies guard-ship and contributing to anti-piracy ops in the Indian Ocean everything else, from a strong presence in the South Atlantic, to heading up Operation Kipion in the Gulf to providing credible TAS and FRE platforms to exercising with and slotting into American or French carrier groups all require high-end assets that bring specialist AAW or ASW capabilities to the party, otherwise what’s the point!

You can have an RFA or OPV chasing drug-runners or pirates or offloading aid bundles, but providing top-notch area anti-air or anti-submarine capabilities (as well as other things like command and control) doesn’t come cheap and can’t be replicated or faked with a bargain basement alternative.

shark bait
shark bait
February 20, 2015 6:16 pm

An image I took from a BMT paper. if they can make that vehicle deck high enough for a Chinook and a lift to the flight deck at the rear that could make an excellent multi roll vessel for the RN, without compromising the solid support role. Ramp/Steel beach and well deck at the back are both proposed by the paper for increasing the multi role capability.

I think that’s the best image I can find to describe my suggestion. No need for more T26, a few of these could provide a good multi role capability.

February 20, 2015 7:02 pm

‘Have a quick flick through the RN Deployments and note the numbers gapped or covered by tokens:’

Thats not the same as reducing our footprint. Reducing our footprint would require us to take a hard look at what standing tasks we can withdraw from completely.

February 20, 2015 7:39 pm

This “Of particular note are the T45 and T23 escorts (you’ll need to search the latest news for details) being supplied and responsible for both the Carl Vinson and Charles de Gaulle CBG’s.”
Is v good.

Makes me then worry when someone here said that 5 to 2 is the current formula for T45s. Where is Duncan, or is it another one missing?

The Other Chris
February 20, 2015 8:32 pm


Hence the de facto and du jure comments.

Let’s see, most recent news:

Daring – Back from 44,000 mile journey last year
Dauntless – East of Suez with 5th Fleet
Diamond – R&R? (Being given Freedom of Coventry)
Dragon – APT(S)
Defender – Returning from 5th Fleet?
Duncan – Completed training in North Sea

Note what Duncan is now sporting behind her Sylver A50’s (photo on the Tyne):

Think Defence
February 20, 2015 8:34 pm

I don’t so much think the hype is an RAF thing but a concerted effort across all three services ex somethings to raise the profile of defence in the run up to the election, which maybe is not that bad a thing

February 21, 2015 7:25 am


Yeah sorry wrong phrase on my part. what I mean is we have gapped the Standing Standing NRF Maritime Group 1 & NRF Maritime Group 2 both of which are part of the NATO reaction force and cover some areas such as the med that are slowly becoming areas of concern while we were still sending a surface combatant to carry out the Atlantic Patrol Tasking North.

That is what I should have written properly to begin with, Zambellas also said during the same interview

“You aim for high end and you accept the risk your footprint’s reduced globally… I absolutely reject the idea of an ostensibly [larger] number of smaller platforms that might have a wider footprint.”

But then followed with

“The Navy has to be both credible and [have] balance. If you lose either of those qualities, you’re not in the first division and a very large-potted investment doesn’t make sense”

“So if, for example, a brand new Type 26 is off the Somali coast doing counterpiracy, a relatively modest policing capability. The next thing is required to move to a hotter, more dangerous environment, you’re not in the position to say, “Oh, hang on; I’ll just change the crew. I’ll reconfigure this or that.”
You’ve got to be there.”

My question to begin with is
if you can just drop the tasking you are on to move to another tasking is it important enough for a high end vessel? would it not be simpler to have a QRF vessel in the UK or forward deployed for such contingency’s?

He also mentioned a balanced fleet but in respect to the quality of the output effect from those platforms — subsurface, surface and air but in the sense of the fleet as a whole and it’s tasking’s he is quoted as saying

‘I absolutely reject the idea of an ostensibly [larger] number of smaller platforms that might have a wider footprint’

But is that not what the RN has been doing with providing tokens (although in some respects the so called tokens have been just as capable of the tasking). If we are constantly gapping tasking’s with NATO in favour of a few chosen allies due to a lack of suitable vessels then we are at critical mass already and the argument for an entire fleet of high end vessels is moot is it not?

Plus if we will just pull our vessels away from tasking’s that probably did not require such a high end vessel to begin with, then who fills the gap? If it is another nation then how are we a reliable ally when another nationhave to suddenly find a vessel to cover what they believed we were carrying out for a period of time?