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The UK maintains a fairly broad array of amphibious combat capabilities with contributions from the Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the British Army and a number of civilian providers. In many ways, the future looks bright; improvements to naval gunfire, new support helicopters and attack helicopters on the horizon, and of course, the carriers and F-35B capability, joined by development in unmanned systems, all point to a strong future.
But with the impending ‘out of service’ date of HMS Ocean, block out of service of the amphibious shipping in the medium term, a changing threat and political landscape, and the constant pressure on the budget, there are many difficult issues that remain to be resolved. This is a look at existing and planned capabilities, with a few thoughts on the challenges and a handful of suggestions.
The MoD helpfully publishes all the main doctrinal publications.
British Defence Doctrine JDP 0-01 Edition 4 is the main document.
It lists the ten principles of war; Selection and Maintenance of the Aim, Maintenance of Morale; Offensive Action, Security, Surprise, Concentration of Force, Economy of Effort, Flexibility, Cooperation and Sustainability. Subordinate doctrinal documents describe a number of other subjects in which ship to shore logistics has relevance. British Maritime Doctrine as defined by JDP 0-10 , for example, describes one of the attributes and roles of British Maritime Power as Lift Capacity;
For the UK, all major operations need maritime support to deploy, sustain, withdraw, or re-deploy forces. Airpower can be used to achieve extremely rapid effect with light forces for short periods, and provide an air bridge for more substantial operations. It can also be a more practicable method of moving personnel, even large numbers. However, sealift is the only practicable means of deploying equipment and logistic support and then sustaining them at anything other than very small scale, due simply to the sheer volume of equipment involved. Even when an operation is a landlocked state, the majority of lift required to deploy and sustain a joint force will be achieved from the sea. Sealift permits land and amphibious forces to transit to theatre, poise offshore if required, and then enables joint power to be brought to bear ashore. It also may be the only means available for gaining initial theatre entry if access basing and overflight permissions are not forthcoming from other states. The Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary are the only force able to provide sealift in a threat environment. In a benign environment, with maritime force protection teams embarked, the strategic Roll-on/Roll-off ships (RO/ROs) provide the major MOD contribution; larger operations generally utilise commercial chartered shipping. Protecting the unhindered passage of sealift is an important duty for maritime forces.
Another tier of documents, the Joint Tactics, Techniques and Procedures includes 4-05 Operational Infrastructure.
Section 2 is a description of categories of infrastructure;
Marine and maritime operations may be supported for a short time only, by over-the-beach facilities using specialist equipment. However, a seaport provides a significantly greater degree of flexibility and logistic capacity.
Harbours and port facilities can take years to develop. It is highly likely therefore that use will be made of existing ports to support an operation rather than build a new one.
Nevertheless, additional facilities may be required at a port either for ship-to-shore transfer or to store materiel prior to transit. Port infrastructure is generally large, heavy and requires specialist design and manufacture in order to cope with the high loads and damaging environment.
This can be very time consuming.
A key requirement during early planning for an operation will be to confirm that any intended Sea Port of Disembarkation (SPOD) has the requisite handling facilities. Often older ports will have cranes designed to off-load cargo from inside the holds of ships.
More modern ports are designed around bulk container handling.
Military operations are likely to require roll-on, rolloff (Ro-Ro) facilities.
Unfortunately, these are not commonplace in ports worldwide. A deployed force may therefore need to repair and develop indigenous facilities. Annex 3B gives more detail on the requirement for infrastructure to support marine and maritime operations.
Annexe 3B (mentioned above) provides more detail of infrastructure requirements, to summarise;
Sea Port of Disembarkation. A Sea Port of Disembarkation (SPOD) is principally a location to offload personnel, stores, vehicles and other equipment from Strategic Ro-Ro and commercial shipping. RN/RFA use of the SPOD would be determined by Maritime tasking, the extent of the joint operations area and amount of shipping competing for berths at the SPOD.
Forward Logistics Site. A Forward Logistics Site (FLS) provides a dedicated Maritime Intra Theatre Lift (MITL) node for RN/RFA shipping.
Forward Mounting Base. In the context of maritime operations, a Forward Mounting Base (FMB) is a location, possibly sited within the joint operations area, remote from the combat area, which has the facilities to enable the Response Force Task Group (RFTG) to undertake:
(1) Tactical re-stow of munitions, vehicles and equipment within the attributed shipping.
(2) Weapon and equipment upgrades to ships (usually by contractor).
(3) Crew rotation on submarines and RFA.
(4) Recuperation combined with deep maintenance.
(5) Battle damage assessment, repair or recovery and
(6) Other logistic activities that cannot be easily undertaken in a busy SPOD.
Combat Service Support Area. Initial marine landing operations are supported through a temporary Beach Support Area (BSA). This may quickly evolve into a Combat Service Support Area (CSSA).
A CSSA provides a much more substantial degree of support than a beach support area.
It enables the Embarked Military Force (EMF) to replenish and acclimatise prior to further operational tasking.
Infrastructure must provide for the storage for 2nd line stocks and other logistic functions that may be required.
Forward Support Unit. A Forward Support Unit (FSU) provides 1st/2nd line engineering support for vessels. In addition to holding spares an Forward Support Unit may also provide environmentally controlled storage for munitions. It may operate from a forward mounting base.
Annex 3B2 also describes additional requirements;
Berthing facilities for RN, RFA and Chartered Commercial Shipping (with appropriate licensing and Host Nation Support).
Helicopter operating areas.
Ramp to accept Strategic Ro-Ro vessels.
Container crane and other handling equipment required to unload materiel.
Personnel, mail and cargo handling facilities.
Secure storage for all classes of supply (including munitions).
Temperature controlled storage for medical supplies, such as blood products.
Water and fuel supply facilities.
Appropriate hard standing.
Force protection and life support facilities.
Integration with line-of-communications transportation (such as main supply route).
Assured access to logistics Information Systems.
Headquarters and technical accommodation.
Offices for port agency representatives
The final doctrine type publication to look at is JDP 4-00 Logistics for Joint Operations
The diagram below, from JDP 4-00 provides a good overview of how the various elements fit together.
Annexe 4 has the specifics for the maritime environment including this section on Joint Sea Basing;
Joint Sea Basing. Joint Sea Basing (JSB) is an option to complement expeditionary operations by providing land effect from the sea. JSB is not restricted to logistics, but may include strike, command and control (C2), Close Air Support (CAS) and fires. Logistically, the use of properly loaded ships, RFA or commercially chartered, to support other Components may assist in issues such as FP, the environmental impact on stocks and even the Joint Desired Order of Arrival (JDOA), where capability held in the Maritime force could allow earlier movement of FE that might otherwise have had to await lift assets. Use of the JSB for logistic support will be determined by the logistic estimate process and will involve a high level of coordination between the Maritime Component and the JFLogC. The JSB can be used to provide C2 facilities for HQ JFLogC.
Further detailed information can be found in BR 2002 ‘Maritime Operational Logistics and CB 2002 Naval Manual of Logistics for Operations although these are not publicly available.
This wasn’t specifically to discuss doctrine but to explain how amphibious operations sit within a much larger construct.
It should be obvious that going over the beach is only carried out if operational need dictates and then only in limited quantities for a limited duration.
UK amphibious doctrine has long since dropped the need for opposed landings in the traditional D Day/Iwo Jima style and emphasis’s raiding, limited theatre entry or support for other operations, as mentioned above.
Much like our dalliance with effects-based operations, RMA and the whole rapid reaction trend that culminated in FRES there was also a similar trend in maritime and amphibious operations and a whole new raft (see what I did there) of terms, ship to objective manoeuvre (STOM) and operational manoeuvre from the sea (OMFTS). Both have their origins in the USMC with Operational Manoeuvre from the Sea (OMFTS) envisages launching and supporting forces from ships up to 25 miles offshore against targets up to 175-200 miles inshore. It emphasises using the littoral and offshore as a ‘manoeuvre space’
Ship to Objective Manoeuvre (STOM) can be seen as a tactical support concept that allows forces to move swiftly from shipping to inland objectives without the need to establish the traditional lodgement and built-up beach logistics areas. OMFTS is of course nothing new, the Falkland Islands was a classic example, including what might reasonably be called Joint Sea Basing before the term was institutionalised. In that context, Sea Basing was sustaining the force ashore solely from a distributed sea base, or collection of ships but the critical difference between 1982 and what is envisaged by the STOM/JSB concept is that we needed an intermediate step, the shore. STOM in the context of 1982 was shore to operational manoeuvre.
Where STOM differed from the traditional approach was its preference for both manoeuvre and sustainment from the sea base using helicopters and tilt wings. Because water, ammunition and fuel drive the logistic footprint of a deployed force this preference puts a great deal of emphasis on heavy-lift helicopters and due to the distances required fast ones.
Without, therefore, significant rotary lift, this sustainment element becomes impossible or at the very least, extremely difficult. The Falkland Islands demonstrated this perfectly, although we tend to focus on the single Chinook in theatre (BN) the bulk of the rotary lift was carried out by smaller helicopters and lots of them but even with this, sustaining the force was an extreme challenge and one which may well have been impossible to carry on should the campaign have lasted longer.
Logistics ships were very far from being ‘over the horizon’ when moving stores to the shore. They would assemble and get ready well offshore but at night would move to San Carlos and discharge their cargoes within spitting distance of the beaches. The ships were hastily loaded and cargo holds often inaccessible and despite the best efforts of the 17 Port Regiment selective re-stowing on the journey South and at Ascension Island proved problematical, Ascension of course having very little port facilities. Without knowing where everything was and with complete accessibility, the ability of the force commander to make sure that stores arrived at the right place and the right time was hampered.
The lack of a true sea base and rotary lift had significant impacts; STOM was not possible, a conventional Beach Support Area and logistics build-up was required which took time and allowed the Argentine forces to exact heavy losses whilst those combat support and combat service support elements were established ashore. Later in the operation, delays in resupplying, especially ammunition, would result in a number of delays putting British forces at a tactical disadvantage. The basic lack of lift was also compounded by command and control issues such as the amphibious commander being in charge of all helicopter movements and the land force commander not having access to the relevant helicopter radio network.
STOM, therefore, needs lots of vertical lift if it is to achieve the objective of striking deep inland from over the horizon with any meaningful force size. Sustainment does not necessarily need an over the horizon sea base but having one reduces vulnerability by placing the sustainment bulk over the horizon and away from shore-based threats.
There is nothing at all wrong with STOM as a concept, it is a credible and sensible reaction to increasingly effective shore-based threats and the UK does have the capability, just not at a significant scale.
Even the US forces with their huge amphibious and vertical lift capability recognise that sustainment of the deployed force using just helicopters is impossible except in certain limited scenarios, the tonne-mile calculations just don’t add up and when CASEVAC, aircraft attrition and adverse weather are factored in it becomes even more ridiculous.
Complete asset visibility and the ability to optimise aircraft loading and flight plans so partially loaded flights and wasteful light return journeys are minimised is also a prerequisite, but very difficult to achieve.
This has resulted in a desire to counter this inability to use only helicopters (and in the USMC’s case the V22) with a more lethal and lighter force, mass and protection being substituted for speed and combat power.
Think we have heard this one before.
Forces becoming lighter to match logistics constraints and not because of the need for lighter forces.
With finite lift available a force commander will have to make difficult decisions between using helicopters for combat manoeuvre and logistics support.
STOM and JSB are feasible concepts, they cost an arm and a leg through and as usual, our doctrinal eyes are bigger than our budgetary belly.
We do at least call them different things, Maritime Contribution to Joint operations, Command and Control Warfare, Maritime Fires, Air / Ground Manoeuvre Forces, Force Projection, Sea-Based Logistics and Force Packaging!
So as constituted, the UK’s amphibious capabilities are somewhat perfectly formed, but the challenges of scale remain and with the withdrawal of HMS Ocean, the introduction of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and a threat environment that does not stand still, the future remains unclear.
The basic point of amphibious operations is to come ashore where the enemy is not. This could be to establish a follow on the force, secure a lodgement before obtaining access to a port or conduct some other operation such as raiding or evacuating non-combatants.
Modern ATGW’s, anti-ship missiles, artillery and other weapons make a true opposed landing against conventional forces, untenable, at least for UK forces, unless those forces have been extensively degraded by air and naval gunfire.
Even then, the risk of a single ATGW destroying a landing craft or MANPAD’s destroying a fully laden helicopter remains high.
Mines also remain an extremely serious threat to landing forces; survey and MCM capabilities will be detailed in a separate document, but it is assumed that the mine threat is either non-existent or has been addressed.
The sequence of coming ashore and with what is subject to variation, an air only operations will not require landing craft for example, but making very some broad generalisation on sequencing allows some segmentation for descriptive purposes; helicopter launched forces come ashore first (possibly preceded by Special Forces) to establish a perimeter, then the initial elements by landing craft, then follow on forces, usually with vehicles, and finally, logistics sustainment.
With the doctrinal issues in mind, and accepting the large generalisations above, what follows is a general description of the equipment available for the joint force commander.
Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH)
The Royal Navy has a single LPH in service, HMS Ocean, described by the Royal Navy as;
The dedicated helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ship is designed to deliver troops to the centre of the action.
HMS Ocean was brought into service in 1988 for the modest sum of £154 million although there was a great deal of controversy at the time, mainly regarding competition and build standards. That said, she has given excellent service although sub-optimal component selection caused a number of issues that have been addressed during recent refits.
At over 21,000 tonnes she is a large vessel that can carry an embarked military force of approximately 500 personnel or more in overload conditions.
In addition to the embarked military force, she has a small vehicle deck, four LCVP Mk5 landing craft and a helicopter hangar with enough room for 12-18 aircraft depending on type and size. HMS Ocean has embarked Chinook, Lynx, Apache, Merlin and even US Blackhawk’s during a number of operational deployments.
Although there is no well dock, a small Stern Ramp and Stern Ramp Support Pontoon are fitted to allow vehicle and personnel access to landing craft or Mexeflote’s.
The three pontoon sections are stored on deck and lifted onto the water’s surface using a deck crane.
Vehicle capacity depends on the type of vehicle, obviously, but 20-30 light vehicles and trailers seem to be the norm, Pinzgauer and Land Rover for example. In addition to driving onto the Stern Ramp Support Pontoon, they can also access the flight deck via a ramp.
Although aviation focussed, the landing craft, vehicle deck and access ramp, even though small, makes HMS Ocean very flexible.
On current plans, HMS Ocean is due out of service in 2018.
Landing Platform Dock (LPD)
From the Royal Navy website;
The Albion Class, Landing Platform Dock ships (LPD) primary function is to embark, transport, and deploy and recover (by air and sea) troops and their equipment, vehicles and miscellaneous cargo, forming part of an Amphibious Assault Force.
Four davits carry the LCVP Mk5 landing craft and they are also equipped with a side loading ramp.
The most important feature of this class of vessel is the very large floodable well dock with enough room for four of the large LCU Mk 10’s in two rows or combinations of smaller craft.
The central barrier can also be removed.
Above the well dock is a mobile gantry crane from Houlder and SCX Special Projects that can lift 4.5 tonnes, mainly used for stores pallets for example. The JSP 467 compliant installation used surplus equipment from HMS Ark Royal.
Personnel accommodation depends on overload conditions but normally it is a couple of RM Company plus supporting personnel, about 300 or so, although the exact nature of the embarked force will vary considerably depending on needs and can be increased to around 700 in overload conditions.
Vehicles carried can include everything from Land Rovers to Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks and everything in between at a capacity of approximately 500 lane metres.
Although they have a large Chinook capable flight deck there are no hangar facilities, although the last refit did improve aviation facilities including the ability to operate two Chinook’s simultaneously.
If HMS Ocean has a higher number of personnel but very little in terms of vehicles and stores, the LPD’s reverse that relationship and also include significant command and control facilities as well.
With excellent command and medical facilities, they are without a doubt, powerful and effective vessels.
Unfortunately, SDSR 2010 mandated that one of the pair would be held at extended readiness, rotating in and out of service with the other for refits such that one was always available for tasking and training.
On current plans, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion are due out of service in 2034 and 2033 respectively.
The UK uses two principle landing craft designs, the LCU Mk10 and LCVP Mk5.
Aboard the LPD and LPH are small detachments of Royal Marines that operate the landing craft, aboard HMS Bulwark for example is 6 Assault Squadron RM.
Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) Mk5
These smaller craft are generally used for personnel only, although they can carry small vehicles and light stores up to a weight of 6 tonnes. With a top speed of 24 knots, the LCPV Mk5 is carried on davits on both types of assault ships.
They have also been deployed from other vessels as deck cargo and deployed using cranes. The moveable and removable deck shelter provides essential protection against the elements for personnel aboard, a lesson learned from extensive operations in cold weather.
The UK has 12 LCVP Mk5’s, obtained in two batches and purchased at a cost of £750k each. They are 15.7m long, 4.3m wide and have a range of excess of 200 nautical miles.
Landing Craft Utility (LCU) Mk10
Part of the programme for the Albion and Bulwark LPD’s were the new Landing Craft Utility, Mk 10, replacing the Mk9’s carried aboard HMS Fearless and Intrepid. The LCU Mk10’s are large craft, designed for transporting personnel, stores, armoured vehicles and engineering plant.
Their roll on roll off design (stern and bow ramps) is designed for ease of loading and unloading in the well dock of the assault ships. Up to 120 troops (100 in normal operating conditions), a Challenger main battle tank or other heavy or logistics vehicles can be carried.
The LCU Mk10 can be used for the general movement of equipment and operate independently for up to a couple of weeks with its 9 man crew out to a range of 600 nautical miles. Interestingly, the bow ramp can be used to lift an inflatable raiding craft out of the water when operating as a mother ship for raiding parties and such.
The LCU Mk10 is just under 30m long, with a beam of 7m, a draught of 1.7m when disembarking and a top speed of 9 knots. Click here for details of the engine and propulsion. A total of 8 LCU Mk10’s were brought into service in the £35million programme, all delivered between December 2001 and February 2003, with a pair of prototypes in addition to the eight production models.
The RORO capability is especially useful but as the wheelhouse impinges onto the load area at the stern it is not wide enough to accommodate a TES Challenger 2 vehicle and derivatives.
Although not normally armed they have been seen recently with a range of automatic weapons on manually aimed mounts, mostly from ISTEC
Inflatable and Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB)
Also now manufactured by BAE, the VT Halmatic Arctic and Pacific Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats are used by the Royal Navy for general transport tasks and boarding operations, in service since 2004. Powered by a Yanmar marine diesel engine and Hamilton HJ 241 waterjet they have a top speed of approximately 30 knots. Each has a length of 7.8m, a beam of 2.57m, a draft of 0.5m and a hoist weight of 2.5 tonnes. The slightly smaller Pacific 22 Mk II is also in service.
The small Zodiac FC470 Inflatable Raiding Craft Mk III’s are commonly used where their low weight, shallow draft and ease of deployment are important.
Offshore Raiding Craft
Designed and built by Holyhead Marine, the Offshore Raiding Craft is in service with the Royal Marines, used in insertion, patrol and security operations.
The 9m craft are heavily armed and able to travel at speeds up to 40 knots, available in three versions (mid, rear and front console), they are able to carry up to 8 personnel in addition to the 2 crew.
Beam and draught are 2.9m and 0.6m respectively. The ORC trailer is supplied by Tex Engineering and with the ORC, weighs 5.4 tonnes.
39 are in service.
Feedback from operations in Iraq showed that whilst the in-service Griffon 2000TD was able to withstand greater small arms damage than imagined, the crew were exposed, its replacement would need improvements in this area.
The £1 million Griffon Hoverwork 2400 TD LCAC(L)(R) project is a direct replacement for the 4 existing LCAC’s, featuring armoured panels at key locations and bulletproof glass, in addition to greater performance and equipment fit.
The primary role of the LCAC (L) (R) is as an air-portable, fully amphibious craft capable of the high-speed movement of 16 fully equipped troops and crew of 2 over water, ice, mud, marshland and beach.
Able to maintain a speed of 45 knots whilst fully laden, the replacement is much faster than the older version. In addition, to be being able to be deployed from the RN/RFA assault craft, they are air portable by C-130, A400M and C-17.
Their side panels can be retracted to reduce the width to enable air portability.
Four lifting points are fitted that allows it to be crane launched from the deck of shipping. Automatic weapons can also be fitted and it has a range of day/night navigation systems.
In support of amphibious operation could be aircraft potentially from all three services; the Royal Navy (including the Commando Helicopter Force), British Army and Royal Air Force.
Wildcat and Merlin are optimised for the maritime environment and through a series of modifications and patient workup and cooperation by all three services, Apache and Chinook are increasingly part of the ‘carrier enabled power projection’ mix.
Merlin HM2 helicopters have been used to support amphibious operation training and exercises, although it is a sub-optimal and rather wasteful use of such a specialist aircraft.
As the Sea King ‘jungly’ fleet was withdrawn, the Commando Helicopter Force received the RAF Merlin HC.3/3a fleet. Under a £330 million Merlin Life Sustainment Programme contract, they are being converted for maritime use.
Phase 1 saw the delivery of 7 aircraft with interim marinisation features including a powered folding rotor head and tie-down points that enabled the CHF to bridge the gap between the Sea King HC4’s that went out of service in 2016 and the full Merlin HC4/4a package achieving Full Operating Capability in 2020.
Phase 2 will modify the balance of the HC3/3a aircraft and the interim aircraft so that a final identical configuration will enter service as HC4/4a
This final HC4/4a configuration will have the same cockpit as the Merlin HM2, a folding tail, powered folding rotor head, DASS and a range of other improvements and modifications.
The image below shows the first of the HC4s.
The image shows the folding tail and new paint scheme, it would also seem to indicate the Selex Titan EO turret has been removed although it is assumed this is a temporary measure.
Although the Merlin is relatively fast and has a good range with a voluminous cabin able to accommodate in excess of 20 personnel or 16 stretchers, their lift capacity is not brilliant at about 4.5 tonnes (although an improvement on the Sea King).
25 Merlin HC.4/4a is a big improvement over the Sea Kings though, and the commonality advantages are self-explanatory.
The RAF Chinook fleet is also going through a sustainment programme designed to deliver much-needed commonality across the fleet. 36 are in squadron service including a couple in the Falkland Islands, and 24 in the sustainment fleet, which also includes those undergoing conversion and upgrades.
The Chinook helicopter is fast, has a large internal/sling load capacity and is well protected, but it is not optimised for maritime operations. It would, however, add greatly to the offload rate for an amphibious operation and so it is unlikely it would not be considered for deployment if capacity requirements warranted it.
The Amphibious Force
3 Commando Brigade comprises an HQ, a number of battalion-sized units called ‘Commandos’, specialist units and combat support units provided by the British Army.
The Corps of the Royal Marines (RM)
The January 2017 RN/RM Personnel Bulletin lists the Royal Marines strength as 6,790
This is broken down as RM General Service Officers at 740, and 10 RM Band Officers. Other ranks are 5,510 General Service and 340 RM Band.
Organisational constructs do change, the relatively recent Special Purpose Task Group (SPTG) for example saw 150 personnel from 45 and 30 Commando with 29 and 23 Squadron plus other enablers, is an example of the flexibility and ability to re-organise inherent in 3 Commando.
The Commando Training Centre and 1 Assault Group provide training for the brigade.
The following is a high-level overview of the brigade and some of its key equipment and capabilities.
3 Commando Headquarters and the Amphibious Manoeuvre Force
The main amphibious manoeuvre force comprises 40 Commando and 45 Commando, two battalion-sized specialist light infantry groups. A Commando is organised as with a command company, logistic company, two close combat companies and two stand-off companies, the latter providing the heavy weapons and anti-tank guided weapons capability for the unit.
Generally speaking, the Royal Marines are equipped as the British Army.
It is also perhaps a convenient place to mention the Korps Mariniers and the UK/NL Amphibious Force, a model of interoperability that I don’t think is matched anywhere else in NATO and one which has a very long history, as residents of Gibraltar know well!
30 Commando Information Exploitation Group
30 CDO was formed from the old HQ and Signals Squadron and conducts a number of roles, ISTAR, communications, intelligence, reconnaissance, air defence, policing, equipment support and electronic warfare/signals intelligence.
It comprises 4 squadrons; Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron (SR Sqn), Y Squadron, electronic warfare, Communications Squadron and a Logistics Squadron.
Fleet Protection and Maritime Security
42 Commando have recently seen 200 posts removed and transferred to the Royal Navy. Half of the posts are drivers and other administrative tasks that will now be carried out by Reservists and civilians and the other half as a result of the conversion of 42 Commando to a specialised Maritime Operations unit, removing heavy weapons specialists for example.
Roles seem to be boarding groups, SF support, personnel recovery, ship-based maritime security teams and equipment denial for example.
43 Commando Fleet Protection Group is a specialist unit of the Royal Marines whose principal role is that of protecting the UK’s nuclear deterrent and providing a very high readiness force for maritime interdiction and boarding roles.
In addition to the various small craft in service across the wider brigade, 43 Commando also has in service a pair of Island Class patrol vessels, from Holyhead Marine.
The CAMARC designed and Holyhead Marine manufactured Island Class Patrol Boats are used by the Royal Marines to protect high-value Royal Navy shipping on the Clyde, Gare Loch and Long Loch. The pair (Mull and Rona) are a conversion of the more common 15m MoD Police patrol craft also used for similar duties. Six of the MoD Police variant were purchased in 2013 for £7 million, more since. They are 15m, 4.6m wide and have a draught of 1m. All have high specification, ballistic panels, rescue equipment, security cameras and recording systems for example.
Commando Logistic Regiment
The CLR provides combat service support for the brigade, medical, equipment support, logistics management and movement etc.
539 Assault Squadron
The squadron is delivered the brigades integral movement capability, split roughly between the BVs10 Viking tracked vehicles and various landing craft, hovercraft and raiding craft.
The Royal Marines choice of primary mobility vehicle has been largely coloured by their traditional NATO role of operating in Norway, the Hägglunds BV series of vehicles have excellent over-snow performance. This high level of mobility in snow also provides high levels of mobility in another soft terrain such as marsh and beach. The Royal Marines Snow Trac’s were one of the few vehicle types able to operate in the Falkland Islands in 1982 for example.
Currently in service are two main types, the Hägglunds/BAE Bv206 and BVS10 Viking.
Both are used for transporting personnel and light stores with the latter providing a greater degree of protection.
The Bv206 is an extremely versatile tracked articulated amphibious vehicle and with a ground pressure of less than 14kPa/2PSI, highly mobile.
The basic vehicle weighs approximately 4.5 tonnes and with a maximum payload of 2.2 tonnes, it could still be sling loaded by a Chinook. A feature of the vehicle is that the front and rear cars can be detached to create a lighter sling load, in this configuration, by a Merlin for example. It can also be carried on the LCVP Mk5.
In general, the Bv206D is used for non-protected mobility tasks, logistics, mortar carrier and communications (REACHER) for example.
Three Bv206 are also usually carried on HMS Protector, the Royal Navy arctic patrol vessel.
The Royal Marines also use the standard range of light and logistic wheeled vehicles available to the wider British forces, Land Rovers and MAN SVs for example.
The BvS10 Viking is also an articulated all-terrain amphibious vehicle in the mould of the Bv206 but it is more powerful and much better protected. The All-Terrain Vehicle (Protected) were first ordered in 2001, entering service in 2005, and have seen continual service since then, Iraq and Afghanistan. Additional vehicles were ordered in 2008 and 2009, the latter in the Mk2 version.
A £38 million recapitalisation contract was let to BAE in 2012 to rebuild existing vehicles and bring them up to the Mk2 specification, the contract has resulted in 99 Viking BVs10 Mk2 now in service.
The upgrade included new hulls, uprated suspension, brakes and other systems to allow it to be certified for a 14-tonne gross weight limit. The programme also including converting 19 rear cars for use with crew-served weapons using Platt MR550 mounts and 9 rear cars for use with the 81mm mortar. Additional vehicles have been purchased as part of the Watchkeeper UAS programme.
A complete Viking can be sling loaded by a Chinook helicopter but not the Merlin, even when the front and rear cabs are separated.
[Nearly 30 were removed from service after damage sustained during operations in Afghanistan and part of the recapitalisation programme was to return them to amphibious capability.
Variants in service include the Troop Carrying Variant (TCV), Mortar Variant (MOR), Command Variant (CV), Repair and Recovery Variant (RRV) and Watchkeeper Tactical Party variant.
In addition to the protected high mobility vehicles, the Royal Marines have the usual range of light utility and logistics vehicles common with the British Army and specialist equipment such as Skidoos for use in Arctic terrain.
Specialist Vehicles and Engineering Plant
Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicles
To recover damaged, destroyed or broken down vehicles from beach areas during amphibious landings and push beached landing craft back into open water specialised vehicles are needed.
The surf zone is a difficult operating environment and the vehicle must be sufficiently protected, have sufficient pulling and/or pushing power to deal with vehicle casualties and landing craft and be heavy enough so they can operate whilst subject to wave loading.
By 1996 it was obvious a replacement for Centurion BARV’s and Falkland’s veteran was needed.
Invitations to tender were issued in 1999 for the Future Beach Recovery Vehicle and four companies responded, Hägglunds, Pearson Engineering, Marconi Marine Land & Naval Systems and the Dutch company, RDM Technologies, which had developed a Leopard 1 based BARV for the Dutch Marines.
Hägglunds won (who had then become part of Alvis, now BAE) with a design based on a Leopard 1A5 Main Battle Tank. Four were ordered at a total cost of £7.5 million with one dedicated for trials and development.
In 2001 the Hippo Beach Recovery Vehicle was unveiled with Lord Bach stating;
The Hippo is vital for the success of an amphibious assault across a beach. It can manoeuvre in water up to ten feet deep and can be used to clear crippled vehicles from assault lanes and recover stranded landing craft. We hope that these new vehicles will enter service a year ahead of schedule in parallel with the entry into service of the new assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, from which they will operate.
The design is broadly similar to previous generations but with obvious ergonomic improvements and a revised gearbox that decreases speed but increases torque.
Designed to recover vehicles up to the size and weight of Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank or fully loaded DROPS plus trailer the Hippo has a weight of about 50 tonnes, has two days fuel, protection from small arms and artillery splinters, a crew of four and can operate in up to 2.95m of water.
It is also designed to push the 240-tonne LCU Mk10 and lighter LCVP Mk5 landing craft of the beach.
HMS Albion and Bulwark have one each and the other two are used for training with 11(Amphibious Trials and Training (11 ATT)) Squadron Royal Marines and as a war reserve.
Although one can never have enough heavy plant the beach role creates some very specific requirements.
Sand and shingle beaches might not be able to support the weight of heavy vehicles and shingle especially, can cause many problems for tracked vehicles. Repeated trafficking of a small area will also likely make things worse and so a trackway can be used to enhance the surface.
The UK has a total of 22 Medium Wheeled Tractor Winterised/Waterproof, the JCB 436 EHT, that can each operate at a fording depth of 1.5m with an additional splash height of 0.5m.
It is also modified to be able to operate in -46 degree Celsius temperatures and can be fitted with the Ulrich Trackway Dispenser and a number of other attachments.
The video below shows the Ulrich Trackway Dispenser in action with the Faun Class 30 trackway. Class 30 has now been renamed the Medium Ground Mobility System (MGMS) and Class 70, Heavy Ground Mobility System (HGMS). Heavier vehicles can use the trackway beyond its classification but this depends on the ground bearing capacity and number of passes before the trackway becomes unusable.
Continuous lengths can also be joined using a joining strip.
From Faun’s website;
MGMS is a military specification system that facilitates the launch and recovery of a temporary roadway. A standard MGMS provides one 32m length of roadway as standard, further spools containing additional 32m lengths can be stored and deployed by the same FASTRACK. MGMS can be deployed by a trained two-man team in less than 6 minutes. The aluminium TRACKWAY will withstand repeated loads of up to 30 tonnes (rated to MLC 30). MGMS is suitable for tracked and wheeled vehicles up to 30 ton, and is chassis mounted by crane, MGMS can also be deployed by tractor to create a solid beach landing area, utilising the BEACH DISPENSER system. MGMS provides access for these vehicles into areas where there are no roads, or roads have been damaged. MGMS enables boggy or marshy terrain to become accessible to medium sized vehicles. MGMS is best suited to adverse terrain conditions, including snow, marsh, mud and sand in a variety of climates. MGMS can also be used as shelter and tent flooring. MGMS is in use worldwide in a variety of military engineering applications, including humanitarian and disaster relief.
A couple of Medium Wheeled Tractors, trackway dispensers and other attachments are usually carried onboard one of the LPD’s
Combat Support (CS) functions are provided by the British Army in the form of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and 24 Commando Regiment Royal Engineers. Members of these two are not Royal Marines but have passed the All Arms Commando course.
29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery
The regiment’s main role is to provide fire support for 3 Commando Brigades, comprising an HQ Battery, two 105mm Light Gun Battery’s, a Forward Observation Battery.
Naval Gunfire Support has a great deal of utility and is used much more often than many of the more esoteric systems, the Falklands, Iraq and Libya being recent outings; it is much cheaper than using air-delivered munitions if circumstances permit and can use a graduated force model where a well-aimed smoke or illumination round that signals loud and clear the next one will be of the type that goes bang can influence subsequent activity or neutralise threats both on land and at sea.
The existing 115mm/4.5” Mark 8 Mod 1 gun aboard Royal Navy vessels has its origins in the late sixties and has given excellent service but how reliable they are now is apparently an open question. The HE Extended Range round uses base bleed to propel the round to a maximum range of 27.5km and the existing illumination nature is also still available. In order to maintain a sustained rate of fire of 16-20 rounds per minute and accommodate the more powerful ammunition types, the barrel is 62 calibres long. It has seen extensive service including action off the Falkland Islands (8,000 rounds), Iraq and Libya.
24 Commando Regiment Royal Engineers
24 Commando Engineer Regiment comprises an HQ squadron and three field squadrons; 54 Squadron and 59 Squadron, with 131 Squadron (Reserve).
The two regular squadrons alternate readiness, much like the Royal Artillery Commando regiments
To carry out covert beach or landing area surveys, raiding and other sneaking around tasks, the Special Boat Service (SBS) can use a number of equipment platforms.
A small number of Mk 8 Mod 1 Swimmer Delivery Vehicles are in service that can be launched and recovered from a role fit shelter fitted to the Astute class of SSN’s, designed and built under Project Chalfont by BAE. The SDV can also be deployed using a Chinook helicopter.
The SD Victoria, part of the Serco fleet providing a contract service to the MoD, has also often been seen with special-forces fast boats.
Fast Interceptor Craft
Special forces can of course, also deploy using any of the other means and methods of transport available to the wider force.
At present, no unmanned airborne system is in service with the Royal Navy able to support an amphibious operation although those in service with the RAF and Royal Artillery are used.
The main use for the CHF Wildcat helicopters will be for ISTAR, potentially joined by the Scan Eagle RPAS.
The Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), 846 Naval Air Squadron, operates 6 Wildcat AH.1, the same configuration as those in service with the Army Air Corps.
CHF is part of the Fleet Air Arm, commanded by Joint Helicopter Command (JHC), and comprises personnel from both the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.
Apache AH1 and the announced Apache E variant replacement will provide the littoral manoeuvre force with significant firepower, teaming with Wildcat as required.
With the initial force ashore, sustaining that force falls mainly within the purview of the British Army and Royal Fleet Auxiliary
Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) – LSD(A)
Based on the Dutch/Spanish Enforcer class, the four Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) replaced the five Knights class logistics ships. There were a number of issues bringing them into service the four entered service between 2006 and 2007; Cardigan Bay (2006), Mounts Bay (2006), Lyme Bay (2007) and Largs Bay (2006).
All vessels are operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, not the Royal Navy.
They are large vessels (16,160 tonnes displacement), much larger than the Knights class they replaced but have a relatively small crew of less than 60.
The well dock is smaller than the Albion/Bulwark LPD’s but can still accommodate a single LCU Mk 10 or Mexeflote.
Smaller landing craft or workboats can be carried on deck and lifted to the surface by the 30-tonne capacity deck cranes.
Mexeflote’s are sideloaded, one on either side of the hull.
Capacity includes 1,150 lane meters for vehicles and containers (20x 20ft ISO), 2,000-tonne cargo capacity and accommodation for between 350 and 700 personnel depending on overload conditions. Like the Albion/Bulwark class they have limited aviation facilities apart from a large helicopter deck but stores and vehicle capacity is greater, although landing craft capacity is much lower.
In addition to their amphibious role, they are used to support the mine countermeasures flotilla in the Gulf, acting in the command role where they have also been used to trial the Scan Eagle unmanned system.
Although they have a very large flight deck that can spot two Chinooks the aviation capabilities are relatively austere. To mitigate the lack of a permanent hangar they can be fitted with a Rubb hangar.
Improvement in communications capability and other systems have gradually taken place.
The Bay class of vessels have proven to be flexible and relatively cheap to operate but given the semi-permanent Gulf MCM support tasking, only two would be available to an amphibious force, and that is assuming both were fully manned and not in refit.
Mexeflote and Workboats
In service with the Royal Logistic Corps are a number of powered pontoons and small workboats.
The Mexeflote came into service with the British Army in the early ’60s, a result of work carried out at the Military Engineering Experimental Establishment (of Bailey bridge fame). Technically, it is called the Harbour and Landing Ship Logistics Pontoon Causeway Equipment, the Mexeflote is elegant in its simplicity.
Comprising three types of hollow steel pontoon sections with internal bulkheads they can be pinned together to form lighterage rafts, jetties, piers and floating platforms in the manner of big boys Lego.
Built into the sides and ends of the pontoon section are recessed slots into which connectors are fitted, multiple pins for multiple sections. The bow sections are angled and articulated to facilitate loading and beaching. The manually operated, demountable articulator is mounted in a recess in the aft section and is connected to the forward section by an articulator ram.
The pontoon sections can be carried individually and assembled in-situ but the norm is for the assembled raft to be secured to the sides of the carrying vessel for transit and when required, simply lowered or free dropped into the water.
Initial work established that free dropping created significant deceleration forces in excess of 30G so the hook assembly was modified to disengage at 16 degrees resulting in much lower deceleration and the avoidance of ‘belly flopping’. Their main use when first introduced was not as a ferry but as a 250ft causeway to the beach for the LSL that could open their bow doors and discharge vehicles without beaching.
When in the water the propulsion units are craned over the side and secured in place and that is it, they are more or less ready to go.
Stores and vehicles can either be craned from larger ships or driven onto the raft when docked to a ship equipped with a well deck or ramp. Recovery is the reverse of this process.
Each Mexeflote is usually commanded by a junior NCO and crewed with 4 or 5 other ranks.
Total payload depends on the size of the assembled pontoon;
The Type A raft is 20.12 metres x 7.32 metres x 1.45metres. Capacity 60T
The Type B raft is 38.41 metres x 7.32 metres x 1.45 metres. Capacity 120 T
A Maxi Mexe configuration is also possible and this has a rating of 180 tonnes. .
Although it might not look particularly seaworthy can be used in 1.5m wave height conditions. In 1994 the Army ordered an additional 50 units and in 2000 upgraded most of them. The older Z Drives have now entirely been replaced with OD150N units from Thrustmaster.
The Mexeflote design pre-dates the widespread global containerisation and whilst they can fit inside ISO containers but are not sized to be completely compatible, two, for example, are 50mm too long for a 20 foot ISO containers and when stacked two high, are again slightly too large for a Hi-Cube container. The individual pontoon sections do not have corner castings for ISO twist locks either.
Although it is not used often Mexeflote’s can be used as an intermediary linkspan or beach pontoon to enable landing craft to discharge without beaching. The landing craft can drop its ramp onto the Mexeflote and its vehicles drove off and on to the beach.
During the Falklands conflict, loads of up to 200 tonnes were carried and Mexeflote’s moved two-thirds of all the supplies transferred from the various ships at San Carlos, they were instrumental in the success of Operation Corporate
Since then they have been in continuous use.
For shifting volume and weight, there really is no substitute.
Combat Support Boat
Although mostly used by the Royal Engineers in support of bridging and dive operations the Combat Support Boat is also used by the Royal Logistic Corps to support amphibious and port operations.
The Mk1 CSB, built by Fairey Allday Marine, was used by the Royal Engineers, US Army and Marine Corps, Greece, Turkey and South Korea, and built-in a quantity in excess of 1,000 units. In 2,000 these were replaced by the RTK Marine Mk2, each Mk2 CSB is powered by twin Yanmar 6LP diesel marine engines that drive twin Hamilton HJ274 Waterjets via ZF Model HSW 630 gearboxes.
The top speed is approximately 30 knots and they have a cargo capacity of approximately 2 tonnes or 12 personnel. C130 and Chinook transportable they are powerful for their size and versatile craft.
Unladen weight is 4.75 tonnes, length 8.8m, beam 2.77m and draught 0.65m. BAE now own the design and marketing rights to the CSB although the dedicated trailer is supplied by Oldbury
Army Work Boat
In addition to a number of Combat Support Boats, 51 (Port) Squadron RLC have four Army Work Boats made by Warbreck Engineering in Liverpool, subcontracted to VT Halmatic (now BAE).
The four are named WB41 Storm, WB42 Diablo, WB43 Mistral and WB44 Sirocco, yes, the Army owns a Mistral!
They are 14.75m x 4.3m, weigh 48 tonnes, have a top speed of 10 knots and are equipped with firefighting equipment.
When deployed they are usually carried as deck cargo on a specially designed cradle and craned to the surface as needed.
The UK’s system for supporting an ashore force with bulk fuel is called JOFS, the Joint Operational Fuel System.
In 2010 KBR was awarded a £22m contract to deliver the Joint Operational Fuel System (JOFS).
JOFS is a broad-ranging system designed for both operational and exercise use and is defined as;
JOFS is a generic term covering all special purpose military equipment designed to enable the receipt, storage, testing and treatment, and supply of bulk fuel quickly, safely and efficiently on deployed joint operations, within the Land environment anywhere in the world, in diverse climatic conditions, over extended lines of communication, for extended periods of time and where the Host Nation’s infrastructure is broken, damaged or non-existent
To quote QinetiQ (who were involved with the decision support, bid support modelling)
The goal of the Joint Operational Fuel System was to deliver a fully integrated modular military fuel capability that will receive, store, test/blend, dispense and distribute bulk fuel from ship to shore, by air transport, by bulk carrying vehicle, by rail tanker, by inland waterway and using host nation support. This system will replace ageing fuel handling equipments which will not meet the demands of future expeditionary operations. The current deployable fuel handling capability for expeditionary operations, known as Tactical Fuel Handling Equipment, is supplied by a plethora of individual systems. It is based around cold war designs and is not considered expeditionary by the user community
The project manager added;
In all there were sixteen diﬀerent equipment lines when the project was started. The equipment could only be operated in a static location. Equipment had not been designed for rapid movement and ease of use in the ﬁeld. We needed to develop a solution that delivered the fuel to the right place at the right time and in the right quantity
The complete Joint Operational Fuel System, as can be seen from the images below is pretty comprehensive and includes ship to shore elements.
Joint Operational Fuel Systems Project (JOFS) pumps, 160 of them, come in three flavours, Light Forces Pump (LFP) with a capacity of 400 litres per minute at 4 bar, Medium Duty Pump (MDP) with a capacity of 680 Litres per minute at 6 bar and the Heavy Duty Pump (HDP) with a capacity of 2,000 litres per minute at 6 bar. These pumps can be remotely powered up to 15m away from the Vikoma power packs, this means they are outside of the hazardous area.
The system is compatible with current Air Portable Fuel Containers (APFC) and can be used with either Aviation or Diesel fuel, depending on what assets require re-fuelling. The Small Container Convoy Refuelling System (SCCRS) is designed to provide a 7 point refuelling unit for refuelling multiple vehicles at once. JOFS Phase 2 enables the deployment of a Primary Bulk Fuels Installation (PBFI) which has a capacity of 600,000 Litres with support for aircraft fuelling, aircraft refuelling and bulk road tanker filling.
It can simultaneously refuel and de-fuel either two tankers or up to six aircraft.
Most of the JOFS components are provided by the UK Company, DESMI, who also provide much of the pumping equipment for RN/RFA vessels and RAF fuel installations. DESMI produce some excellent fuel handling systems; the Aviation Fuelling System, Bulk Fuel Installation for Temporary Sites, Containerised Ground Fuel Stations, Air Landed Aircraft Refuelling Point (ALARP), Forward Air Refuelling Point (FARP), Helicopter/Light Aircraft Refuelling System and Air Delivered Bulk Fuel Installation
In 2013, Vikoma were awarded a £2.5 subcontract from KBR to deliver a number of ruggedised powerpacks for pumping equipment and tanker rollover spill containment systems. This new contract was to add to a previous one, the output from which have been successfully used in Afghanistan.
Another manufacturer, Barum and Dewar, provided the specialist storage cases.
The video below shows JOFS in action in a ship to shore role, making use of Army Work Boats, RE Divers and Mexeflote’s to bring aviation fuel ashore, the system is called the Towed Flexible Barge Discharge System (TFBDS), supplied by DESMI and Trelleborg, 5 are in service.
The barge or dracone has a capacity of 300,000 Litres, once it has been filled by connecting to an RFA (or civilian) tanker the barge is towed to within 200m of the shoreline and connected to a manifold raft.
This raft is then connected via flexible pipelines to the onshore installation that uses 136,000 Litre flexible pillow tanks.
Fuel management for 3 Commando Brigade is provided by 383 Petroleum Troop Royal Logistic Corps, based in Plymouth, it is the only British Army element of the Commando logistic Regiment.
The new Tide Class Fleet Tankers will also have a ship to shore capability, at the very least by having the ability to offload to dracones for towing towards the shore.
Moving fuel beyond the bulk storage equipment is carried out with various types of wheeled tanker and air portable fuel containers although in many cases, tankers and containers will be the only methods used, where bulk systems are not needed.
Both the Oshkosh articulated high capacity tankers and lower capacity MAN SV based tankers are distinctive in appearance and beyond differences in capacity and mobility, carry out the same role.
The Unit Support tanker carries 7,000 Litres, the Close Support Tanker 20,000 Litres and the Tactical Aircraft Refueller 15,000 Litres. All have metering, pumping and filtering equipment and carry an assortment of ancillary items like pipeline and manifolds. The UST has also been supplied in a winterised and waterproof variant.
For operations in Afghanistan, the MoD purchased 20 ISO tank container-based Fuel Dispensing Racks from WEW in Germany. These are ground-mounted and not used whilst mounted on the vehicle. These may also be used in an amphibious operation.
Storage and handling of fuels and lubricants is a complex and demanding business, especially the relationships between military and civilian regulations and who does what across the three services and within (RE and RLC), have a read of JSP 317 if you don’t believe me!
Strategic RORO Service
The 1998 SDSR recognised the need for a strategic RORO capability in light of increasing expeditionary requirements and likely trends in the commercial shipping sector. It was predicted that RORO vessel size would increase and evolve leading to a reduction in charter availability. The ships would replace the RFA Sea Crusader and RFA Sea Centurion. A contract was let in 2000 to the AWSR Shipping consortium comprising Andrew Weir, James Fisher, Bibby Line and Houlder Hadley Shipping after competing bids from Novomar, Maersk and Sealion failed. The £1.25 billion PFI specified that 4 of the 6 vessels would be used by the MoD exclusively and the remaining pair available for commercial charter but one on 30 days and the other on 30 days notice to return to MoD service.
AWSR subsequently placed an order for 6 vessels to a German company, Flensburger Schiffbau Gesellschaft or FSG. FSG were to build 4 and Harland and Wolff, the remaining two. Hurst Point, Beachy Head, Eddystone and Longstone were the FSG built ships and Anvil Point and Hartland Point were built by Harland and Wolff. Crews are British when on MoD service and Sponsored Reserves, in a similar model to that used by the Heavy Equipment Transport PFI. AWS provide ship management arrangements, Bibby, crew management, Houlder the finance and construction management and James Fisher a range of other support activities. 18 months ahead of schedule the ships were fully available for service in 2003 and the PFI agreement expires in 2024.
The design chosen was the RoRo 2700, an existing 23,235-tonne design.
All ships have the same characteristics except Beachy Head, Eddystone and Longstone that have more powerful 9 cylinder 8,100kw engines than the others, and therefore have a maximum speed of 21 knots; Hurst Point, Anvil Point and Hartland Point have a maximum speed of 18 knots.
All have bow thrusters and a crew of 22.
The ships are 193m long, 26 metres wide and have a draught of 6.6m
Their capacity is listed as 2,700 lane metres, trailer capacity is 35 on a tank top with a maximum height of 5m, 62 on the main deck with a maximum height of 6.8m and 67 on the upper deck with a maximum height of 6.8m.
Container stowage capacity is 72 TEUs on the tank top, 272 TEUs (double stacked) on the main deck and 324 TEUs (double stacked) on the upper deck, all these on Mafi trailers. Direct stow container capacity is approximately 411 TEU with 60 10kw/32A reefer plugs available for refrigerated containers.
Access to the decks is via a side ramp and a 16.4m long by 17.0m wide stern ramp and internal ramps to all decks. The stern ramp has twelve 2.7m wide fingers to enable access to narrow link spans. Tests have also been conducted to prove the stern ramp can access a Mexeflote at sea for transfer to other ships or direct offloading to shore. None of the ramps is self-supporting but the stern ramp has a rated capacity of 85 tonnes and the side ramp, 75 tonnes. The deck crane has a capacity of 40 tonnes at 25m outreach and 36 tonnes at 28m outreach. Driver’s accommodation is in 6 two-berth cabins.
The contract has operated with little fuss and no problems but as part of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, an evaluation of needs and costs came to the conclusion that the two non-permanent vessels could be released from the contract. Longstone and Beachy Head were subsequently sold to CLDN becoming the MV Finnmerchant and MV Williamsborg.
In March 2013 the management contract was extended with Andrew Weir Shipping to 2024 and a number of consolidations have seen Foreland Shipping, the owner and operator of the vessels, now fully owned by the Hadley Group. The UK offers the residual capacity of the 4 permanently available vessels to the NATO Sealift Consortium as part of the Sealift Capability Package (SCP). This also includes three RORO ships on assured access, the residual capacity of 5 Danish/German ARK RORO ships and a single Norwegian vessel.
The recent Exercise TRACTABLE also saw one of the vessels being used with Mexeflote’s for direct offload to the shore.
Mobile plant, especially mechanical handling equipment is vital to the success of amphibious operations.
The Royal Logistics Corps and Royal Engineers, through the C Vehicle PFI, have a number of important pieces of MHE used onboard ships and at ports and on the beach support area. Medium and Light Wheeled Tractors are used for a variety of engineering roles; earthmoving, excavating, mechanical handling trenching, dozing, grading and digging.
Supplementing the wheeled tractors are a couple of telehandler designs, also from JCB.
These are the most numerous of C Vehicle equipment and have a broad span of users replacing the Volvo 4440’s and JCB 410’s (both of which are not telehandlers but converted loaders).
The requirement for loading and unloading ISO containers dictated some of the size and mobility specifications and there are two models, the Telehandler 2,400Kg which is a JCB 524-50 and the higher capacity JCB 541-70 called the Telehandler 4,000Kg.
Each has a number of variants with the smaller version coming in standard (150), standard with side-shift (150), winterised (15) and winterised with side-shift (15).
The larger version has two variants, standard with side-shift (85) and winterised (6).
If the above is for loading and unloading containers, handling pallets and other logistics tasks the role of handling the containers themselves falls to the RLC’s Kalmar Rough Terrain Container Handlers (RTCH).
They are relatively manoeuvrable and the extendable boom, rotation and side-shift top handler allow precise placement of the container.
The designers have also built in an ingenious system for reducing its height, by moving the operator’s cab to one side, lowering it and then sinking the boom next to the cab the total height of the container handler is less than 3metres, thus enabling transport in a C-17 aircraft but at 53.5 tonnes it is a big lift, filling the C17 with its 3.65m width, 15m length and 2.98m height in the shipping configuration. This preparation for air transport can be carried out in less than 30 minutes by one person with no external assistance, and without removing or dismantling any part of the machine.
The reduced height also greatly simplifies road moves, bloody clever.
Unlike most container handlers the RTCH uses a single tyre arrangement. Both axles are driven and steered; crab-steer is possible and all steering is computer-controlled for precise tracking. The axles are unsprung and two-wheel drive and single-axle steer is possible for road travel.
About 20 RTCH were obtained under an Urgent Operational requirement for Operation Telic and the National Audit Office report noted that over 9,000 containers were used;
Although you can pick up containers with a crane that requires more personnel and is much slower, moving containers is a specialist function that needs specialist equipment. The RTCH is not specifically tasked with beach operations there is no reason why they couldn’t be used in an amphibious operation support role.
At Marchwood, there is also a range of specialist MHE that although not used when deployed, is still a vital element of the supply chain. The MoD recently let an £87m contract to Briggs Equipment for the Defence Mechanical Handling Equipment requirement that includes just over 3,000 pieces of equipment ranging from forklift trucks to container handling equipment.
Hopefully, from the previous three sections, you can see that the UK’s amphibious force has the full spread of capabilities, especially those such as beach recovery vehicles, specialist plans and bulk fuel transfer.
Nothing to do with the British Armed Forces is ever completely simple though, there are clouds on the horizon, but equally, there are many bright spots.
A look at future plans and issues…
Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP)
The most obvious future change will be the introduction of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, the QE Class aircraft carriers (you might have heard of them!)
With the withdrawal of HMS Ocean without a direct replacement, the current plan is that one of the carriers will act in the same role. HMS Prince of Wales is set to receive some additional changes from HMS Queen Elizabeth to make her more suited to amphibious operations.
These have not been publicly defined although the scope is likely to be relatively modest.
Although the new carriers will be worlds apart from HMS Ocean in pretty much every aspect, it should be noted they will not be able to embark any landing craft. There will be no separate vehicle hangar or vehicular access to the sea via a support pontoon. There is some potential for modifications to allow LCVP’s instead of ships boats but this seems unlikely.
In essence, they will be firmly aviation only, unless we want to mix vehicles and aircraft in the hangar and accept sling loading for vehicles only. This is not the end of the world necessarily, because other aspects outweigh the loss, but it is important to at least recognise the difference. In many pictures of HMS Ocean, she is quite close to the shore, not a location that the new carriers are likely to find themselves in either, for any number of reasons.
Current plans suggest that both carriers will be in service, fully manned, rotating into readiness and synchronising maintenance/training periods in such a manner that the UK has one at constant readiness.
This is a flexible approach, following the basic principle of ‘one is none, two is one
However, it does mean the one in the hot seat, as it were, cannot do two things at once, carrier strike and amphibious.
The journey towards full capability for CEPP will likely be complete by 2023, by which time all the moving pieces will be in place; aircraft carriers (plural), F-35B’s. CROWSNEST, logistics support, training and of course, the people.
Between then, and HMS Ocean going out of service is rather a large gap.
Carrier Enabled Power Project is defined as;
An integrated and sustainable joint capability, interoperable with NATO, that enables the projection of UK Carrier Strike and Littoral Manoeuvre power as well as delivering humanitarian assistance and defence diplomacy, enabling joint effect across the maritime, land and air environments at a time and place of political choosing.
The total number of aircraft on board a QE class carrier seems to evoke huge interest online but for CEPP and the amphibious role, it should be envisaged as a big flexible box into which ‘stuff’ is added as needs dictated.
If the requirement is for a maximum strike, maximising the number of F-35B’s will be the order of the day, with Merlin HM.2 and CROWSNEST. Other scenarios might see F-35B’s reduced for more HM.2, yet others may see a more balanced air manoeuvre group that mixes F-35B’s with Apache, Wildcat, Merlin HC4/4a and Chinook. A couple of Commando companies would be the norm in this configuration. It should also be noted that a scenario that has the aircraft carrier full of helicopters and Royal Marines, completely devoid of F-35B’s is also not an impossible scenario.
The point here is that the size of the QE class enables this flexibility, task-based, entirely as it should be.
It should also not be overlooked that the carrier might not be the only place where an embarked force is carried. Chinook’s or Merlin’s flying from a carrier could fly to Albion and pick up personnel from there.
Finally, for CEPP, it is crucial to understand that it does not operate in isolation. Fire support from frigates and destroyers, communications from a Skynet satellite, land-based refuelling aircraft and ISTAR from a Royal Artillery
Under, on and over water, the unmanned revolution with the Royal Navy, after a slow start, is gaining momentum.
Most of the activity has been centred on Mine Countermeasures and Survey tasks but following a number of contract awards and the hugely innovative and impressive Unmanned Warrior trials and development activities, other roles such as ISTAR and security are being explored.
One such example at Unmanned Warrior was a joint development from BAE and ASV.
Unmanned technology with the potential to change the face of naval operations within a decade has successfully been demonstrated for the first time by BAE Systems in partnership with ASV at a site near Portsmouth Naval Base. The new system will allow crews to carry out vital tasks such as high speed reconnaissance and remote surveillance while keeping sailors out of harm’s way. The modified boat is capable of operating autonomously for up to 12 hours at a time on either a pre-planned route or via remote control. It can reach speeds in excess of 38 knots (44 miles per hour), providing unique ship-launched manoeuvrability and enhanced situational awareness to support the decision-making of its operators. The technology is designed to be fitted to the Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) like those already used extensively by the Royal Navy.
Underpinning the system’s ability to operate autonomously is its complex array of sensors, including a navigation radar, 360 degree panoramic infrared camera array and laser range finder which offer operators a detailed picture within a significant range of the vessel. “This technology delivers an extremely robust and fast-moving unmanned boat that is able to perform a number of surveillance and reconnaissance roles, even when operating at high speed or in choppy water,” said Les Gregory, Product and Training Services Director at BAE Systems. “BAE Systems has a wealth of experience in the development and integration of unmanned systems. The successful demonstration highlights the enhanced capability this technology offers. While other programmes are primarily designed for larger, slower boats to tackle mine counter-measure scenarios, this system provides an extremely manoeuvrable multi-role vessel.”
The unmanned system and software algorithms controlling the boat were provided by Portchester-based unmanned and autonomous specialist, ASV. BAE Systems has been working closely with ASV to integrate the technology and prove the concept through the demonstrator. The next stage in its development is to create the sensor suite before ensuring a seamless integration with the combat management system on the parent ship. Dan Hook, Managing Director for ASV said: “The algorithms we’re developing with BAE Systems allow the boat to perform complex missions and navigate through waters avoiding collisions.
“This gives it the flexibility and sophistication to operate in a number of different tactical roles, whether it’s patrolling areas of interest, providing surveillance and reconnaissance ahead of manned missions, or protecting larger ships in the fleet.” The boats will be able to operate up to 40km away from their parent ship. As well as being completely autonomous they can also be remote-controlled by crew on land, from the ship via a hand-held controller or piloted as usual.[/su_note]
The technology is designed as a retrofit to the manned Pacific 24 RIB already deployed across Type 23 Frigates and Type 45 Destroyers. These boats might also go on to the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers once they enter service.
The Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle has an interesting history, initially designed to assist tuna fishing fleets it has evolved into a mature, low cost, flexible and highly effective family of vehicles and payloads. After a 2006 trial with HMS Sutherland, the Royal Navy contracted for an extended trial period with Scan Eagle and it has proven to be very valuable during operations in the Gulf. There is also a larger version called the RQ-21 Blackjack, or Integrator. A number of losses have been experienced and the extended trial has now been terminated.
Other technology programmes have since been launched including the establishment of 700X NAS that focuses on unmanned aircraft and trials of 3D printed systems from Southampton University in the UK and on HMS Protector in the South Atlantic.
The RN also let the Rotary Wing Unmanned Air System (RWUAS) Capability Concept Demonstrator (CCD) contract in 2013.
The purpose of this contract was;
to understand whether a multi-role Rotary Wing Unmanned Air System (RWUAS) can provide utility in the Mine Counter Measures (MCM), Hydrography & Meteorology (HM), Offensive Surface Warfare (OSuW) and general Situational Awareness (SA) capability areas
Further details on the programme were detailed in the contract notification;
A CCD seeks to investigate issues with the use of relatively mature technologies and does not involve significant equipment development or integration. DE&S and Dstl previously conducted a Scoping Study which identified the potential of a small (100 – 1000kg) or medium (1000 – 3000kg) Rotary Wing UAS to deliver the maritime capabilities being sought. The CCD will need to assess platform integration issues and the impact across the Defence Lines of Development (DLoDs) of bringing an RWUAS into service. DE&S intend to progress to the demonstration & analysis phase of the CCD which is expected to involve a package of physical demonstrations of a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAS and specialist sensors, supported by simulation and synthetic environment experiments. Interested parties were advised to note the CCD is not intended as a test of a particular system and does not form part of a current acquisition programme. Rather it will inform future maritime UAS requirements, potentially leading to an acquisition programme in the second decade. DE&S expects the UAS (Vehicle, Control Station & Comms Link) that is offered to be suitably mature (TRL 7 or above) to undertake the demonstration activities with a low probability of delay due to unplanned maintenance or technical issues. Specialist sensors and payload systems at TRL 5 would be acceptable as DE&S recognises that the capabilities being investigated are novel and the technologies may not be mature yet. The CCD is also interested in identifying and assessing future sensor technologies of lower TRLs that are not ready for demonstration but may be suitable for simulation or other activities.
AgustaWestland was selected as the prime contractor for this programme, perhaps unsurprisingly given their position at the centre of the UK Rotary Wing Strategy. It was also interesting to see that Mine Counter Measures (MCM) and Hydrography & Meteorology (HM) were included in the scope of the £2.3 million contracts.
AW proposed to use the SW-4 Solo fitted with flight control systems from Thales, the same system also used for trials for the Italian MoD.
The contract has recently completed, the SW-4 Solo completing 27 hours of flight trials with 22 autonomous landings. The trials also included integration with the DNA(2) ship combat management software and mission planning activities.
In March 2017, the MoD announced a Phase II £8m contract had been let to continue this work
Unmanned Warrior 2016 is a trial and demonstration event designed to offer over 40 manufacturers and research organisations an opportunity to showcase their systems in a realistic environment.
Commander Peter Pipkin, Fleet Robotics Officer, commented;
Unmanned Warrior is going to provide a showcase for the demonstration of products in a tactically relevant environment. The overall value will be in transforming the market as a whole by creating increased demand for these technologies, not seeking specific business opportunities within the event. We have deliberately adopted a different approach to capability demonstration, in that the MOD is inviting participants to offer their thoughts on what future capability might look like and where technology can be exploited without any preconception. This recognises that we (Defence) do not always have a crystal ball but are willing to look at the full breadth of possible technology exploitation paths.
Naval Gunfire Support
The Mark 45 Mod 4 from BAE, as used by the US Navy, South Korea, Denmark, Australia and others, is a 5”/127mm system with a 62 calibre barrel and is capable of a rate of fire up to 20 rounds per minute, the magazine will contain 196 rounds.
BAE describe it as;
The 5-inch (127-mm) 62-caliber Mk 45 Mod 4 Naval Gun system is in U.S. Navy and Allied service today, and is ready to significantly enhance Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) and overall mission performance. Major upgrades of the Mk 45 Mod 4 include a 62-caliber barrel, strengthened gun and mount subsystems, advanced control system enhancement, and a reduced signature, low maintenance gun shield. The Mk 45 Mod 4 provides NSFS range of more than 20 nautical miles (36 km) with the Navy’s new 5-inch Cargo projectile and an improved propelling charge. Operation and performance of extended-range munitions are tailored for optimal effect and range in unison with the major subsystem upgrades of the Mk 45 Mod 4 Naval Gun.
A large installed base allows development costs of precision, proximity, IR illumination or smoke natures to be spread across many users. Adopting such a widely used system means natures such as IR Illumination are immediately available without expensive development programmes.
The magazine and palletised handling system will be a new design for Type 26, taking the existing arrangement and adding improvements derived from the DDG-1000 programme.
Type 26 GCS doesn’t necessarily need the precision-guided ammunition straight away, the existing Mk45 Mod 4 will provide a modern, accurate and powerful weapon system in its own right, again, another system much improved over Type 23. However, if there is a requirement for precision and additional range, options exist, albeit ones not yet completely in service in the maritime domain.
There are a couple of options for extended range and precision effects, Raytheon with their Excalibur and BAE, the Multi-Service Standard Guided Projectile.
Raytheon has recently successfully fired their 5″/127mm Excalibur N5 precision-guided projectile from a Mk 45 test mount.
From the press release;
Excalibur N5’s range, precision and lethality will revolutionize naval gunfire and increase the offensive firepower of our Navy’s destroyers and cruisers. This demonstration showcases the N5’s maturity as a proven low-risk solution, and is ready for the Navy now. Excalibur N5 can be used to support several critical mission areas including Naval Surface Fire Support, Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) and countering Fast Attack Craft (FAC). With the significant amount of re-use from the Army’s Excalibur program, the N5 provides the Navy with an affordable, direct path to employ a critical capability, We continue to build on Excalibur’s unmatched reliability and performance by investing in a fire-and-forget, dual-mode seeker that will vastly improve the 5-inch gun’s current ASuW and counter-FAC capability
Using technology from the 155mm Excalibur, the company funded N5 may well find its way onto Type 26, it has a range in excess of 25 nautical miles with the same accuracy as the in-service Excalibur 1b. Raytheon is also developing a dual-mode seeker allowing the shell to be guided to target by a laser designator.
In competition with Excalibur is the BAE MS-SGP.
This is a rocket-assisted projectile with a longer range than Excalibur N5, over 50 nautical miles. The Mk 45 Mod 4 can fire 10 rounds per minute and 3 rounds within 2 seconds for Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact fire missions if needed. Each round weighs 50kg with an explosive content of 16kg.
The cost of an Excalibur 1B is reported to be $68,000, with a very high degree of commonality between the 155mm and 127mm versions. This opens up the potential for economies of scale between the British Army and Royal Navy for precision fires, even accepting the different calibres.
Raytheon is also developing millimetric radar guidance systems for N5, specifically for attacking small boats in poor weather without external designation.
Whether the UK takes any of the options and if so, when, is open for discussion, but at least there are relatively low-risk options available, although, as mentioned above, none is yet in full naval service.
For supporting amphibious operations, Type 26 provided NGS will be a significant improvement.
The Not So good
Being Pushed Offshore
As the USMC and USN develop their amphibious concepts with sea basing and over the horizon capabilities there is a possibility, a distinct one at that, the UK and other European nations fall so far behind that they face obsolescence and the likelihood of being unable to take part in USMC operations as equals.
The problem is a simple one; operating the joint seabase further offshore because of proliferating threats such as mines, anti-ship missiles, precision artillery and even ATGW’s means the issue is cycle time. When the amphibious vessel is close inshore, landing craft has short forward and return journeys, so even though they are slow, forces can still be built up relatively quickly.
Using the same slow landing craft but over much-increased distances mean cycle time is so great, landing operations become so extended as to be untenable.
Recognising this change the Royal Marines instigated a couple of equipment programmes to get from ship to shore at a much faster pace than with the LCVP and LCU craft.
The fast landing craft, Partial Air Cushion Supported Catamaran (PACSCAT) was an innovative design that had similar dimensions to the LCU Mk10 but could travel at 40 knots unladen and about half that with a Challenger 2. The trials programme validated the concept although noise and fuel consumption were reportedly significant.
None of these programmes progressed.
Defending the Amphibious Gap from Predatory Budgets
With HNS Ocean out of service in 2018 and CEPP not realistically available until 2022/4, the Royal Navy will have to defend its ‘amphibious capability’ from other budgetary priorities.
Obviously, carrier strike is going to consume a great deal of the Royal navy’s budget but at least that is known and relatively stable. Yet to come though, is Type 26 and Type 31 and the huge grey shaped thing in the room, Successor.
The reduction 42 Commando by 200 posts is a clear sign that the Royal Navy has significant manning challenges and that the Royal Marines are under pressure.
From a political perspective, it now means that the only thing left to cut from the Royal Marines are the two manoeuvre elements, 40 and 45, and if these are reduced, in reality, it means the end of the amphibious force, which I suspect is well known by those that planned the change as it presents the MoD with a difficult public relations issue.
Impending Out of Service Dates
By 2030, CEPP will have been in service for about half a decade and the LPD’s and LSD(A)’s will be approaching out of service.
- RFA Mounts Bay: 2031
- RFA Cardigan Bay: 2031
- RFA Lyme Bay: 2032
- HMS Albion: 2033
- HMS Bulwark: 2034
This means by CEPP In-Service Date, a replacement for the LPD’s are going to have to be in the concept stage at least, else it is likely that Mr Capability Gap will be making yet another appearance. If this replacement is a like for like, or perhaps something more akin to a Mistral-class is certainly open for discussion. But if it is the latter, the whole basis on which the UK delivers amphibious forces would have to change.
What are the current plans for replacement?
An October 2106 FOI answer provides the answer;
This is perhaps a bit of a problem, although to be fair, I expect the naval shipbuilding planning capacity is absorbed with T26 and T31 at the minute and there is still plenty of time between now and having to start work on replacement programmes.
There is also the political problem of introducing a vessel that looks like an aircraft carrier if the chosen solution looks like a Mistral or Juan Carlos I.
In addition to the LPD’s, the Royal Marines Bv206’s are also well overdue for replacement. In fact, a couple of attempts at doing such have come and gone with no replacement in sight. BAE has proposed a variant of the BvS10 called the Beowulf which would seem a low-risk option, but no news on actually purchasing it.
The Light Gun is also likely to be out of service in the not too distant future and if it is replaced with a 155mm system the logistics overhead may not be wholly met with the existing lift available.
Whilst the QE Class carriers represent a significant improvement and the various unmanned systems in development or on show at Unmanned Warrior show great potential, as ever, budgets remain a challenge.
The real problems facing the Royal Marines are twofold;
First; in light of increasing threats and trends to move offshore, the traditional operating concept is likely to face risks of obsolescence and being left behind by the USMC. What role would they then play in either a UK only operation (small scale) or coalition operation with the USMC? Whilst the UK may well be able to afford to play with the USMC in the aviation domain, it cannot afford to do so in the aviation domain, and amphibious.
Second; it is the perennial one facing many UK defence capabilities, cash. With delegated budgets, Successor, Carrier Strike and the Surface Fleet all will be at home to significant bills during exactly the same period that the Royal Marines need to spend money on vehicles and ship replacement programmes. These competing priorities mean that the Royal Marines are likely to be a fairly low priority for funding.
To summarise, there are troubling times ahead.
Thoughts on the Future
Hopefully from the pages above, it should be clear that the UK’s joint amphibious forces are capable and have all the pieces of the jigsaw in place, right down to specialist engineering plant, pontoons and floating fuel tanks.
It has a hard-won and enviable reputation for excellence.
With CEPP and the carriers, various unmanned developments and new naval gunfire systems on type 26, the future looks good.
But equally, and perhaps more specifically to the amphibious force, there is an obvious problem with funding priorities, slowly reducing mass and a number of fundamental questions about operability in a contemporary operating environment without significant funding increases.
This brings me to a few thoughts on the future of the Royal Marines and the UK’s wider amphibious/littoral capabilities.
The Contemporary Operating Environment and Tasks
As can be seen from the above, the Royal Marines have many roles beyond the traditional image of amphibious assault.
Deterrent protection and maritime security remain critical roles, Non-Combatant Evacuation, SF and SF support, boarding, arctic training and even the RM Band take up personnel resources and yet are difficult to see changed.
As CEPP evolves, it is also easy to envisage an increased demand for personnel and equipment recovery, especially given the likelihood of downed pilots appearing in an orange boilersuited YouTube video.
This leaves that traditional amphibious landing roles; raids, securing a Sea Port of Disembarkation (SPOD) or similar.
This is the role the UK has just diminished with the changes to 42 Commando, and this is the role that will need significant investment in the next decade or so.
Does anyone see a problem?
We also have to be realistic about threats and stop ourselves from falling into the trap of thinking that the world has not changed since 1982 in the South Atlantic.
Skip forward to 2003 and a planned beach landing was cancelled because of the threat of mines, not actual mines, but the threat of mines. We had no effective and fast means of surf zone mine clearance then, and we still don’t know.
Since 2003, the IED and ATGW treat has grown significantly, as witnessed by Iraq and Syria
How has 3CDO Brigades’ defence against mines, IED’s and ATGW’s evolved since then?
The physical environment is changing rapidly as well.
No more are pristine beaches with the optimal soil conditions, gradients and slopes commonplace. Increasingly, shorelines are being developed, urban sprawl is encroaching onshore environments at an increasingly rapid pace.
Actually getting on to a shore will be increasingly difficult, off it more so.
Climate change will also change shorelines.
The requirement is getting difficult to fulfil without lots more funding.
Can we play the USN/USMC Way?
Seabasing and manoeuvre from the joint seabase to the objective, in force, with sustainment from a seabase in the multi-domain battle seems financially unachievable for the UK.
Sorry everyone, it just does.
No, we are not going to buy V-22’s, and no, we are not going to invest in sea basing.
This interesting paper published in 2005 from Major Jack van Baarsel (Royal Netherlands Marine Corps) asked exactly the same but from a European wide perspective. It is interesting to see the difference between the forces described then with what is actually in service now.
Playing the American way seems even further away now than it did then.
What about the European Way?
The European way (including Australia!) is to move away from different classes of amphibious ships where landing craft and helicopters are operated from different platforms (i.e. Ocean and Albion), and the doctrinal approach that drives this, to a one size fits all vessel that is certainly more flexible, but arguably nowhere near as operationally capable.
A little bit of everything in an LHD, as per Mistral and Juan Carlos I, but at a very small scale, and they still have to be in close inshore to be effective.
It will be interesting to see how the Spanish-Italian amphibious battlegroup evolves.
Like many of these articles, the author has to choose whether to propose increasing funding for capability A or B, usually depending on their own biases.
It would be quite easy to argue the UK should go on a shopping spree to match the USMC with all sorts of over the horizon multi-domain battle high-speed connector amphibiosity.
But would that in any way be remotely rooted in reality?
Arguing for the status quo would also be easy.
Between 2031 and 2034, all the Royal Navy and RFA’s amphibious shipping will be out of service.
The status quo is to carry as now with Albion/Bulwark/Bays and accept the Ocean gap until CEPP is fully in service, and then hope all five of those vessels will be replaced with some equivalent [Insert favourite options here]
This is probably more likely than going on a shopping spree but as we have seen, the status quo does not address any of the issues of the operating environment
We also have to suspend thinking about costs of Successor, Carrier Strike and the Surface Fleet.
Both of the above options are equally valid I suppose, but in the interests of promoting some discussion, I thought it would be more interesting to propose something a little more radical.
Radical does not necessarily mean unachievable, it is not unachievable because I am willing to recognise the need to trade away numbers in return, creating space in the budget, the budget that is likely to be smaller in any case.
A Proposal for ‘Something Else’
This is not a costed proposal, but simply a few ideas, hopefully pragmatic, that puts the UK’s littoral and amphibious force on a more sustainable basis, more aligned with the contemporary political, economic and operating environment.
Proposal 1 – All Environment Rapid Response Brigade
First, this is not a proposal to merge the Royal Marines and Parachute Regiment.
It is, however, a proposal that recognises holding 2 and 3 PARA and 40 and 45 CDO at a sustainable readiness cycle is going to be challenging going forward. And, the same for the subunits of 24 Commando RE and 29 Commando RA.
Out of those 4 units (plus CS), I propose to create a single All Environment Rapid Response Brigade from the constituent parts of 16 Air Assault Brigades and 3 Commando Brigades.
Primarily helicopter-borne, some elements would be parachute capable.
Now I can already see people recoiling from the very notion, but to labour, the point, am trying to be pragmatic about both 3CDO and 16AAB. Indeed, both 3CDO and 16AAB have many of the same risks, challenges in the contemporary operating environment, and capability gaps.
The new brigade would have three manoeuvre units to enable a more sustainable force readiness cycle to be maintained.
This means that 3CDO would lose at least a CDO and the Combat Support regiments, a subunit and HQ between them.
HQ’s would also be consolidated, as would logistics functions.
The Royal Marines and Army Commando units would therefore take a fairly significant reduction in personnel numbers but out of that, a strong All Environment Rapid Response Brigade, including CS/CSS, on a sustainable readiness cycle would be created.
This would then link with the British Army’s new Strike Brigade concept and new sea/airport development capabilities with posts redistributed in other areas.
Proposal 2 – Personnel Recovery
This is a must, and it is an area that whilst not unique in Europe, is not common. It, therefore, binds us into operating only with the support of the USA.
The UK’s carrier strike has the potential to be a cornerstone capability, one that might not look identical to the US Navy, but equally, one that looks similar.
CEPP will have considerable political power.
In short, it needs to be resourced properly, and this means personnel recovery.
The proposal is to form a joint RM/RAF/AAC capability that establishes a Chinook/Merlin helicopter force able to be refuelled in flight by UK aircraft, potentially A400M but more likely C-130.
A defining feature must be its ability to operate from land or sea, with supporting assets from land bases.
Proposal 3 – Littoral Security Group
As populations urbanise and move to coastal cities, the urban and complex littoral is likely to become an area of increasing instability. Threats in the Arctic are also likely to require securing the littoral and defending it against amphibious assault, principally from Russian forces.
This proposal is to expand on the 42 CDO maritime security force, building up raiding, patrolling and security capabilities.
Recognising the huge capability delivered by HMS Albion/Bulwark, the LSG would be based on these vessels, with one of the carriers (of course)
Proposal 4 – Arctic Training and Capability Development
Cold weather operations are likely an increasing likelihood but we cannot afford for this not to be a whole force activity. The existing Royal Marine Arctic training function would be retained and expanded to include capability development for a wider range of capabilities.
Proposal 5 – Transfer Posts to the Royal Navy and RFA
That the Royal Navy is struggling with sustaining the force is no secret, same with the RFA.
By releasing posts as part of Proposal 1, I propose to transfer some to the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary to enable CEPP and surface fleet manning to be established on a sustainable footing.
Proposal 6 – CROWSNEST and HM
The submarine threat is not diminishing, in fact, it is increasing.
Some of the HC.4/4a’s would be converted to enable carriage of the CROWSNEST airborne early warning and control systems. This would relieve pressure on the Merlin HM.2 fleet and allow them to concentrate on their ASW role, especially in high threat scenarios.
With the RM Band, the fleet security and maritime security/raiding tasks remaining, the essential ethos and integrity of the Royal Marines is retained.
Establishing a joint personnel recovery function, creating a more capable littoral security force from 42 CDO and expanding the Arctic training and development group allows roles that I think are more needed and relevant to the contemporary environment to be generated.
This is at the expense of the joint capability to land and sustain a force over the beach.
Personnel slots would be shifted to both sustain the Royal Navy and RFA, whilst the creation of a joint rapid response brigade, centred on 16AAB, would also be on a sustainable basis.
Many of these proposals will be detailed in future documents/posts.
Much of this group of proposals is people-centric, it is about creating capabilities that do not rely on service personnel’s goodwill and the tolerance of their families.
If this means recognising a few uncomfortable truths, then so be it.
To labour the point, this is not a series of proposals that is the ideal solution, the ideal solution would not involve robbing Peter to pay Paul, which is what this is, but we do not live in an ideal world.
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