Priorities and Options for SDSR 2015 – A Southern or Middle Eastern Threat


In the Mediterranean, the UK maintains a permanent presence on Cyprus and Gibraltar and there are two Infantry Battalions based on the former.

RAF Akrotiri would provide an operating base for up to three swing-role fighter squadrons, ISTAR, AWACS and aerial tanker aircraft.

British forces do not have adequate access to bases for the deployment of anything more than a Brigade, their helicopters and transport aircraft in addition to an Expeditionary Air Wing.  As a result we would have to rely on allies to provide air bases where troops can be deployed and supported.

The Royal Marines could deploy with a full naval task force.  In this planning scenario one of the QE carriers would operate three F-35B Squadrons – one would be a Naval Air Squadron for fleet air defence/anti-shipping and two would be RAF Squadrons primarily for CAS/SEAD and land strike.

The second QE carrier would operate one Naval Air Squadron of F-35Bs for fleet air defence/anti-shipping but would primarily operate Merlin naval heavy lift helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters.  This carrier would support the Royal Navy’s full amphibious forces.

Long distance support for the naval task force would also be provided by Maritime Patrol Aircraft with the assistance of A330 Voyager aerial tankers.

Altogether the UK would be contributing over 90 swing-role fighters to support the 900+ combat aircraft available to southern European NATO air forces.

Together with France, Italy and Spain, European NATO countries would be able to deploy a total of five aircraft carriers and four amphibious groups.

Mediterranean Operations – the white areas could be covered by Typhoons operating from Gibraltar, Sicily or Cyprus and the blue could be covered by carrier based F-35Bs.

Mediterranean Operations

To provide minimum effective land and naval task forces requires:

  • at least 1 Division strength unit made up from Special Forces, the Air Assault Brigade, Royal Marines Commandos and 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade plus the 2 Infantry Battalions based on Cyprus
  • 5 Apache AH Squadrons
  • 3 Wildcat AH Squadrons – 2 AAC and 1 Royal Marines
  • 1 Lynx AH Squadron and 1 Dauphin LAH Squadron – dedicated to Special Forces
  • 3 A400MC Atlas Squadrons
  • 2 A330MRTT Voyager Squadrons
  • 4 Chinook HC Squadrons
  • 2 Merlin HC Squadrons
  • 2 Puma HC Squadrons
  • 3 swing-role fighter Squadrons
  • 1 E-3 Sentry AWACS Squadron
  • 5 ISTAR Squadrons
  • 1 Maritime Patrol Squadron
  • 2 QE aircraft carriers
  • 4 F-35B Squadrons – 2 fleet air defence/anti-shipping and 2 CAS/SEAD/land strike
  • 2 amphibious transport docks
  • 3 landing ships
  • 9 destroyers/frigates
  • 4 Merlin HMA Squadrons and
  • 2 Wildcat HMA Squadrons.

This would clearly be an international operation in partnership with other NATO members.  Regular training with southern NATO forces would greatly aid the effectiveness, co-operation and inter-operability of all combat forces.  In particular joint operations with local air forces, French, Italian and Spanish aircraft carriers and amphibious groups should be a high priority.

In this region Italy, Turkey and Spain are currently modernising their air forces with F-35 and Typhoon fighters.  Unfortunately Greece has not been able to do this and still operates 50 older F-4s.  We should work with the German government to find a way of providing the Greek Air Force with the necessary finance to replace these aircraft with Eurofighter Typhoons which would strengthen NATO’s southern defences.

The rest of the series

1 – Introduction

2 – Defence of the UK

3 – Other Sovereign Territories

4 – NATO

5 – A Southern or Middle Eastern Threat

6 – An Eastern and Northern Threat

7 – Global Intervention

8 – Land Command 2025; Appendix 1 – Army 2025

9 – Naval Command 2025; Appendix 2 – Royal Navy 2025

10 – Air Command 2025; Appendix 3 – RAF 2025

11 – Conclusion – The Options for Change; Appendix 4 – An Abundance of Riches: MoD Procurement 2015-25

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October 3, 2015 9:35 am

An extremely prepared and presented case which is worth consideration. My only concern, as always is the number of destroyers and frigates required when the RN is so short of them. The case for a fleet of OPV’s for routine and for guarding our back gate around the UK coast and approaches, plus overseas territories becomes much stronger if this proposal were to be adopted. Then again the decisions aren’t ours to make… politicians again!

October 3, 2015 11:35 am

That’s an interesting ORBAT. But what’s the threat? The threat/enemy determines the order of battle and forces that need to be generated in order to meet it. Defne the threat or enemy and THEN generate the forces. Not the other way around. In this and the last post you have both carriers deploying at once without a counting for their availability. Once their joint deployment ends they will enter into a maintenance cycle followed by training. Nine frigates is no sufficient to protect your posited fleet assets. For the size of force you are looking at deploying you’ll need all six Point class Ro-Ro ships. Etc, etc, etc.

October 3, 2015 12:12 pm

A nice post, if you take in the historic perspective, e.g. that the RM went down from four Cdos to three when the “Mediterranean Fire Bde” was deemed surplus to rqrmnt.

Until we get the wheeled medium bde to deploy, I would suggest that the TES versions of Warrior should be kept on Cyprus (aircon and all that), so that the force immediately available is just a tad heavier, RE
” 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade plus the 2 Infantry Battalions based on Cyprus”.

A small detail, the Spanish carrier is tied up to the quayside, as an economy measure (and unlikely to come back, APATS may or may not want to confirm this?). Even though their “intervention” ships were dimensioned to take F35s, this is unlikely to happen in practice. The Italian carrier is very small for any meaningful projection of airpower, but then again their assets can be deployed by means of the NATO airtanker capacity… not insignificant, though I can’t remember when the French order is going to be delivered (the Italians have theirs already).

BTW, the comment by the reborn Marshall T. is a valid one: what is the threat?

October 3, 2015 2:55 pm

I think this continues to highlight the question around HMS Ocean.

This is the 2nd article where we are using the 2nd carrier as a helicopter platform. Are we assuming HMS Ocean will be scrapped when HMS PoW enters service and not replaced? I guess this is the only option and a logical one, since we really don’t have enough destroyers to protect all 3 of them plus the 2 albion class, plus it would free up sailors and budget to run the 2 carriers.

October 3, 2015 3:03 pm

Drawing circles on the map is a bit deceptive. How many of those countries will tell your aircraft to “Stay the F out of my 12 mile limit if you have nothing to do.” Look at the number of countries those circles overlap. Not all of them are going to let you fly warbirds through their territory without discussion, so extend those land borders by 12 miles and you’ll see that there really isn’t a lot of places the planes can fly without being very rude.

October 3, 2015 3:30 pm

We are British, we wouldn’t be rude, we would fly past them saying “i’m sorry i’m sorry, pardon me” and then carry on bombing away ;)

But more seriously, a good point, but as we have seen there is a disconnect between countries allowing us to overfly them and countries allowing us to use them as a base for bombing operations.

stephen duckworth
October 3, 2015 3:42 pm

With the F35B’s operating from the Italian and Spanish Carriers they will need much more regular top ups of jet fuel as the F35B uses double the fuel to operate at the outside of its envelope than the AV8B. Granted the fleet could operating at the same range from target area as the Harrier II missions to enable more loiter time etc but you can see the mission planners pulling the fleet further back from the area of operations for increased security can’t you. The new USS America class has double the bunkerage of the previous class for jet fuel to allow for this.

October 3, 2015 4:20 pm


“Are we assuming HMS Ocean will be scrapped when HMS PoW enters service and not replaced?”

Nothing to assume about it, it is pretty much stated by the MOD and RN that Ocean is being retired without dedicated replacement with the QE class subsuming the role. In all likelihood Ocean will be scrapped as she has had a heavy life and will be costly to maintain if a buyer was found.

Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil
October 3, 2015 6:55 pm

One thing that the map does show is that the F35C´s increased range wasn´t required for the Mediterranean theatre, which is the most likely theatre for the UK to be operating in the next ten years.

October 3, 2015 7:10 pm

Increased range is something that is always in demand. One of the reasons AAR is at such in demand on ops everywhere including the med.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
October 3, 2015 9:00 pm
Reply to  Topman

Which does nothing to change the fact that the OP is correct. We plan Ops to utilise all available resources. So we tank when and if we can. However what is illustrated perfectly here is that in the Mix theatre it us a nice not an essential.

October 4, 2015 1:07 am
Reply to  ArmChairCivvy

I assume he is referring to the amphibious assault ship Juan Carlos I, which has effectively replaced the decommissioned light carrier Principe de Asturias. The LHD has a ski ramp for STOVL operations, although the Spanish navy only has a dozen AV-8Bs.

October 4, 2015 6:16 am

Waylander, I guess so … I just found this statement to be a bit inflated:
“Together with France, Italy and Spain, European NATO countries would be able to deploy a total of five aircraft carriers and four amphibious groups.”

When the JC design came out (was not named yet?) they were called intervention ships.

The thrust of the article is right, though, just that one of the driving forces behind the push for carriers has been USN indications that
– they will not be having a carrier group in the Med (this was the default in the years past)
– if Europe wants to have the freedom of navigation from the Gulf preserved, then they’d better be prepared to participate as the Pivot to the Pacific will be the first priority, going forward.

October 4, 2015 8:28 am

Biggest threat to the UK?

….it’s called Scotland and the SNP.

October 4, 2015 4:06 pm
Reply to  ArmChairCivvy

Yes, it’s a bit misleading to say “European NATO countries would be able to deploy a total of five aircraft carriers”, when there is such a vast difference in the capability of the platforms, for example the 65,000 t QEC with a “warload” of two dozen F-35s and 14 Merlins, compared with the 26,000 t JC LHD with an air group of perhaps half a dozen ageing AV-8Bs and a dozen helos .
Same applies to the Amphibious Groups, only the RN has the capability (just about) to land a brigade from the sea, even the Marine Nationale, despite having three Mistral LHDs in service has quite a limited sealift capability, as only two Mistrals can be deployed at once, so the maximum force that could be carried by both ships for a long duration operation would be around 1,000 troops and 120 vehicles. The MN of course has no LPDs, LSDs or RoRos.
I have always thought the Mistrals were too small at just 21,000 t, if your going to combine the LPH and LPD roles then it has to be a platform of at least Cavour size (30,000 t), especially if the LHDs are not going to be supported by LSDs.

The QEC carriers will no doubt mainly operate in the Med and Gulf, for several reasons: the US Asia pivot, the need to show that the UK can support it’s Gulf allies, and also to secure the vital LNG imports etc, hence the increased RN presence in the Gulf, the expanded RN headquarters and support facility at Juffair, Bahrain and the new Forward Operating Base that is being built at Mina Salman, that will enable a QEC carrier Strike Group to be forward based in the Gulf.
If a QEC carrier was forward based, at least part of the time, then a RN CSG could obviously be deployed much more rapidly to the far east, in the event of some future crisis, either a humanitarian disaster like Typhoon Haiyan, or perhaps in response to a threat to one of the FPDA nations.

October 4, 2015 6:07 pm

From a material point of view we lack a lot of landing craft. I think this is the capacity that can be acquired quickly and at low cost. For our BPC, 450 military by ship is totally insufficient to storm a beach. After does that in the Army and the Navy, the idea of amphibious assault is an important place in the doctrine, to entry in first on a ground. I doubt.

October 5, 2015 4:00 am

One of these days, I’d love to see a LPD/LHD/LPH designer use an LCU deck for LCUs on davits. That should allow for a fair degree of self sufficiency when it comes to deploying small craft.

Steve Coltman
Steve Coltman
October 5, 2015 4:19 pm

It would be interesting to know what the availability of the QE class is likely to be. That of destroyers and frigates is about 66%, US carriers seem to be higher than that but even an 80% availability is two carriers 64% of the time, and some of that time one carrier will be still working up, newly commissioned. We can never count on having two carriers even if we had enough aircraft.

Peter Elliott
October 5, 2015 4:30 pm

With a 2 ship class a % based availability isn’t really a useful measure.

My best stab is that we guarantee to have 1 ship at some degree of readiness at all times. But how many days it takes to get to where it’s needed with crew, stores and TAG all present and correct will be completely dependent on circumstances. Part of that can be mitigated by analysis and planning, part is pure luck of when events unfold and where.

By the same token it will be pure luck how long it takes us to bring the second carrier to readiness depending what stage of the cycle is at and which role we suddenly need it to perform.

October 5, 2015 4:46 pm

@SC, the planning parameter for the carriers was 70%. Which navy’s fr & destr combined availability is 66%? For the T23s it has been close to 80, but now one at a time being in refit will surely dent that.

October 5, 2015 9:09 pm

Which software do you use?

I wonder because it doesn’t look improvised with a graphics program, yet the circles appear circular instead of oval, and IIRC they should be oval because of map projection math stuff. Same reason why straight flight routes (such as Atlantic crossings) on a map aren’t straight lines, but bent lines.

October 6, 2015 11:54 am

I tested it and while they still don’t really look oval, it’s obvious that they extend farther above than below the centre if I place one far north.